Friday, May 31, 2019

The Demon Dog of Father’s Day

Father’s Day is June 16th – so there’s time for you to recommend some crime-themed reading that could be a useful gift idea for dads of different ages, and with different interests…and allow those reading the blog to order it, and get it in time to wrap it!
I thought this time around I’d stick with one author for this Father’s Day recommendation: James Ellroy. Seems that people either love him or hate him, both as a person and his books. I’m (mostly) in the dig him daddio category.
He’s a trip. His writing is a trip. His books are a trip. They would be good for anyone who’s into new noir with a retro setting, LA history buffs and the usual suspects.
He writes both fiction and non-fiction, short stories and novels, but I’m only going to focus on the novels here. In the fiction category he’s probably best known for his L.A. Quartet (The Black Dahlia, 1987; The Big Nowhere, 1988; L.A. Confidential, 1990; and White Jazz, 1992.) And, while I’m not going to talk about every novel of his here, I do like most of them with the exceptions mentioned here.

I like the way he deals with corruption and the sultry grittiness of his works. They also deal with the other side of the American Dream. And there's an inner core of darkness and corruption in society, a feeling of fear and paranoia. There's a moral ambiguity. They are the equivalent of an Edward Hopper painting with its cold light and shadows, filled with a sense of alienation and angst.
Ellroy is something to behold, both stylistically and if you've ever seen one of his "readings." The Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction started out with a mild roar, crescendoed to a roar on steroids through a Marshall stack with his L.A. Quartet, but seems to have overdosed on Evelyn Wood (remember her?) speed-writing, making some of his works hard to sink your teeth into.

I used to go to all of his readings. At one event he even had a band with him. And one Thanksgiving my sister-in-law's cousin joined us at my parents’. He was working in a bookstore at the time and had been force-fed a reading by Ellroy. Of course, he thought Ellroy an a-hole in so many ways for his "schtick.” And those were the nice things he had to say. So was it the books or his spiel?  Well, he hadn't read the books but he'd heard a little of one in the reading. That was enough for him. But you have to know him and his mindset and the context of the books. That said, if you’re sensitive and need trigger warnings, Ellroy might not be for you or your dad. But the thing with Ellroy is a lot of it is schtick and he’s trying to get your attention…which he does.
The first book in the L.A. Quartet is The Black Dahlia and that’s the first book I read by him. I remember it took me a while to get into it, but once I did I was hooked on the book and hooked on Ellroy. He had several books before The Black Dahlia, but that’s the book that put him on the map. After reading that I read all of his earlier books and couldn’t wait for each subsequent book.

The Big Nowhere is my favorite book in the L.A. Quartet: All are good, but if I had to pick one as a fave it would be The Big Nowhere. To try to describe Ellroy’s fever dream style is an exercise in futility. The story is set in LA in the 50s right after WWII. In part, it follows Sheriff’s deputy Danny Upshaw through the investigation of a series of mutilation crimes and exposes corruption and hypocrisy amid the “red scare”.
Towards the end of the L.A. Quartet series his writing style became more choppy and staccato. I liked it at first, but with later books it got to be too much. His next series was the Underworld USA Trilogy. And I liked American Tabloid, but Blood’s a Rover and the Cold Six-Thousand left me cold. And much of the reason for that was the style.

His most recent book, Perfidia (2014) seems more back to form for me and is the start of a Second L.A. Quartet. And I’m looking forward to his new book This Storm , releasing on June 4th…just in time for Father’s Day.

Some of his books, L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia and Brown’s Requiem (filmed under the title Cop), have been made into movies. And he’s worked on screenplays for other films including Rampart, Dark Blue and others.

Here’s a list of his books:


Brown's Requiem (1981)
Clandestine (1982)
Killer on the Road (originally published as Silent Terror) (1986)

Lloyd Hopkins Trilogy:

Blood on the Moon (1984)
Because the Night (1984)
Suicide Hill (1986)

L.A. Quartet:

The Black Dahlia (1987)
The Big Nowhere (1988)
L.A. Confidential (1990)
White Jazz (1992)

Underworld USA Trilogy:

American Tabloid (1995)
The Cold Six Thousand (2001)
Blood's a Rover (2009)

The Second L.A. Quartet:

Perfidia (2014)
This Storm (2019)

I’d also like to say that my books might make good Father’s Day gifts, too. For the most part, they’re gritty L.A.-set stories. Novels: White Heat, Broken Windows, Vortex (stand-alone) and L.A. Late @ Night, a collection of previously published stories. And two collections of short stories that I co-edited with Andy McAleer: Coast to Coast: Private Eyes (14 award nominations, two stories chosen for Best American Mysteries of 2018), Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea.


And now for the usual BSP:

New May issue of Mystery Weekly is out. And I'm honored to have my new story The Box featured on the cover. Hope you'll check it out. -- This link is to the Kindle version, but there's also a paper version available.


My short story House of the Rising Sun and lots of other great stories are in Switchblade - Issue 9, which is available on Amazon (Kindle version): The paperback version is also available:

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Tie, cufflinks, jokey soap?

Question: Father’s Day is June 16th – so there’s time for you to recommend some crime-themed reading that could be a useful gift idea for dads of different ages, and with different interests…and allow those reading the blog to order it, and get it in time to wrap it!

by Catriona

Ha! For a start, I would never get my dad a book. He has read every day of his life since he learned to read, avidly and voraciously, and so have I but I don't think we've ever read the same thing. Not once.

Except wait. I bought him Pete Souza's OBAMA: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT for Christmas last year. (Not only bought it, but posted it to Scotland. Ouch. (This last Christmas, the population of the UK was mostly giving each other Michele Obama's BECOMING. Multiple copies changed hands in the same households. Our count was a modest three.))

But taking dads in general, rather than my dad in particular:

How about a Texas twofer? One of Bill Crider's Dan Rhodes mysteries and one of Terry Shames' Samuel Craddock mysteries would make a nice Father's Day bundle. I'd probably go for:

which is one of the more delightfully daffy entries in Bill's series, but I'd start off with Terry's debut:

And as I handed the books over, I'd deliver the great news that there are many more in each series.

For a complete change of pace, place, and voice - maybe for an Anglophile dad, one who used to insist he wasn't actually watching Masterpiece Theatre on a Sunday night on PBS, he was just being on the couch while it showed, but who slowly got hooked, one who'sall over the detectives and The Crown now, and working up to Call The Midwife? For him:

Despite the title and the girl on the jacket, this fantastic series opener is set in various arenas of a man's world: a special ops unit during WWII, the seedy last days of variety theatre and the Brighton police force of the 1950s. You can smell the mothballs and taste the Spam. 

An absolute shoo-in for a Father's day present  would be any one of Naomi Hirahara's Mas Arai mysteries. They all concern a Pasadena gardener-landscaper (Mas Arai) and Naomi's own dad Isamu was a Pasadena gardener-landscaper. Come on! Actually, on second thoughts, letting a dad know that a writer has created a seven-novel-long tribute to her own father is maybe raising the bar a bit too high. But the books are all total bangers and, not to trade on cliches and masculine stereoptypes, but one of them has got sports too.

But what if the dad in question is a new dad - harried and knackered and covered in sour milk that was briefly stored in a small stomach before hitting his shirt? He might not be in the market for any kind of novel at all. That's a job for short story, non? You could do a lot worse than one of Eric Beetner's UNLOADED anthologies. 

Now, granted, these two collections are chockful of my pals but I'm not shilling; it's the other way round. These writers are people I've sought out as pals because they've got the kind of wit, heart and entertaining take on life that happens to make for a good short story too. 

So, there's my smorgasbord of dad-worthy crime fiction. Have a happy Father's Day.

By the way, the title of this blog is a quote from Dinnerladies (extreme Brit TV), when Bren is trying to guess what a man might want for a present. Tony's answer is "Never get a man a tie. We've got them. It's like getting a plumber a bit of copper piping."

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Daddy's girl... by Cathy Ace

Question: Father’s Day is June 16th – so there’s time for you to recommend some crime-themed reading that could be a useful gift idea for dads of different ages, and with different interests…and allow those reading the blog to order it, and get it in time to wrap it!

Answer: Here’s a photo (from 2002) of my dad, and my husband...who’s a father too.

My dad died more than a dozen years ago. His death was what made me realize that mortality is a “real thing”, and gave me the kick up the backside I needed to get on with writing fiction. I’d had nine marketing textbooks published, and I’d also had a short fiction story published in 1988, which was then republished in an anthology for the O level/GCSE English Language syllabus in the UK (the exams everyone takes at 16 years of age) and was produced for BBC Radio 4. 

Dad almost burst with pride when it aired, and his death made me determined to get some fiction books onto bookshelves in Mum’s local library so she could be the happiest, most boastful mum in Swansea. (I can tell you she is!)
Mum at Swansea library, having spotted one of my books on the shelf

Dad enjoyed reading, though not as much as he enjoyed watching TV. He did, however, have a small collection of books which fascinated me when I was a child – largely because they were on shelves so high I couldn’t reach them. I finally discovered they were books by Ian Fleming and Alistair MacLean, which – when I eventually read them – engaged and entranced me. 

My dad was pretty traditional in his tastes, enjoyed a good yarn, and seemed fascinated by tales set during World War Two, and the Cold War period. If only I had the chance nowadays, I’d be encouraging him to read Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson and Harry Palmer books…though I suspect he’d have already read them. They are some of my favourite books. 

As for newer publications? The Slough House books by Mick Herron are excellent – featuring jaded, washed-up spies (the “Slow Horses”) and complex, delightful plots - and is a series I believe he’d relish. 

I’m also pretty sure he’d have been thrilled to know that I now belong to a collective of crime writers all of whom have Welsh crime as their focus. Crime Cymru's authors turn out some excellent books across as wide a range of crime fiction (and non-fiction) as any reader could hope, so I'd lead him to the website (click here) let him browse what the authors have to say about their work, then order him whatever took his fancy. 

As for encouraging a dad who's pretty set in his ways to "try something new" (my dad, in other words)? Well, I'd try to get him to read Sue Grafton's alphabet series featuring Kinsey Millhone. I think the books have enough action in them to allow someone used to such things to be carried along, and the plots are twisty enough for most readers. They are not cosy, they feature a female lead character who's realistic enough to engage both male and female readers, and I think he might enjoy them. 

For my husband? He reads widely, and our tastes match up pretty well – which is useful when sharing a Kindle account, though we diverge at certain points too.

I know I could buy him any of Lee Child's Jack Reacher books and he'd be happy to read them (though I'd have to check which ones he's already read!). He hasn’t yet followed me into Icelandic Noir territory, but I know he’ll enjoy it when he does. Yrsa  Sigurðardóttir and Ragnar Jonasson are the two authors I’ll recommend to him most highly, starting with Yrsa’s Thora Gudmundsdottir books, and quickly moving to her Children’s House series. 

I have also recently introduced him to Martina Cole’s books – which he can hardly read fast enough…success!

As I said, he's an eclectic reader, so it's no surprise to me that he “not so secretly” enjoys MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin TV series, so I think he’d also enjoy those books. Luckily, there are LOTS of them! 

Even if, like me, your dad is no longer around to be treated royally on Fathers' Day, it doesn't mean you can't give him some thought. I just hope you've been fortunate enough to have good father-figures in your life so that you want to celebrate fatherhood. 

A bit of blatant self-promotion now...please consider reading my books? You can find out all about my traditional series, my cozier series, my collections of short and long stories and my most recent psychological suspense by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

It Doesn't Matter What You Buy Your Dad, He'll Hate It.

No, I'm kidding. Sort of. I mean, some of us dads are conditioned to expect to hate our gifts from the years of socks and ties and pictures from the kids that we had to try to decipher to avoid breaking a young heart.

[Peering at the drawing] "Is it.... a spider? A horse? Oh, I see, it's a car. No? A building? Really? I mean...oh, yeah, of course. I see it. Great building, kiddo."

To hell with that. Get your dad something he wants, and that you can afford.

I'd like to say you can't go wrong with a book, but we all know how untrue that is. When people ask me for a recommendation, I do what you probably do -- ask them what they like. I'm not going to recommend a Parker or Grofield novel to a cozy reader, or Pane and Suffering to someone who counts Pulp Fiction as a top ten fave.

That said, here's a few ideas for crime novels in few different sub genres and all kinds of different dads.


Second Story Man by Charles SalzbergMaybe your pops is rough and tumble, or at least likes his fiction that way. If that's the case, I'd say go for Charles Salzberg's Second Story Man. It's the only book I've seen with three protagonists that all have a first person point of view. Two cops and a master burglar. Salzberg captures the distinct voice of each, and makes it hard to know who to root for.

If you want it southern, you could give dad What We Reckon by Eryk Pruitt. This one gets pretty crazy and then goes even farther. Drugs in a hollowed out King James bible and... well, what more do you need to know after that?

Eryk pops up on my podcast, and he's a funny guy. Check it out.

If you want to go old school, there's always Lemons Never Lie by Richard Stark (nee Donald Westlake). Known more for his Parker novels than his Grofield ones, Stark still gave Alan Grofield the lead in a few books. The erstwhile actor and thief isn't as tough as Parker, but he might be more of a thinker. Whereas Parker novels are full of tension and action, Grofield entries have a little touch of humor, too.


class reunions are murderMaybe your dad is exactly the opposite. Maybe he likes cozy crime fiction. If so, why not get him Pane and Suffering by Cheryl Hollon. Part of her Webb's Glass Shop series (see how that title thing works...?), it has an amateur sleuth and a dog in it. Do you need to know more? No, you don't. It's kind of like the King James Bible thing.

Or there's Libby Klein. Now, I have to confess -- cozy isn't my thing. But I met both Cheryl and Libby at Left Coast Crime in Vancouver in March of 2019, and was impressed. Libby was one of the funniest people this side of Catriona MacPherson, and she's operating without the advantage of an awesome accent like Catriona has. So it's impressive, is all I'm saying. While I have not yet read her ...Can Be Murder series, I'm willing to give it a go, because if she writes half as funny as she is in person, it'll be a gut buster. The one she talked about at the conference was Class Reunions Can Be Murder, so that's my recommendation.


Okay, this is right in my wheelhouse. My own River City series is procedural, and so is the new book I wrote with Colin ConwayCharlie-316.

So I'm going to start with Colin's first book in his Crime Stories of the 509 series, The Side Hustle. So far, it's the only one released, but there are several about to follow in short order. What's cool about this series is that while there are recurring characters, the focus and the narration shifts around considerably. For instance, the main two cops in The Side Hustle, Delaney and Burkett, become minor, supporting characters in The Long Cold Winter, and secondary characters in The Suit. It's an interesting approach that gives the author a lot of latitude for storytelling, and variety for the reader to enjoy.

In The Side Hustle, a prominent financial blogger dies from an apparent fall, but both the cops and his good friend (another blogger) come to believe there is more at play. Conway's procedural is rock solid, and he introduces some components you don't often see in books like these.

Plus, it's free. Yeah, free in the same way that first rock of crack cocaine is free, but it's still free, man. Can't beat that.

You like more of an East Coast feel? Okay, then how about the procedural series Penns River by Dana King? Set in a small town near Pittsburg, PA, this series follows a main character, Doc, through a variety of different cases. If your dad digs the "howdunit" element of a procedural, this one's for him. The most recent is Ten-Seven, but you can start anywhere in the series and be fine. Dana is another alumi of the podcast.

Old school? Get him some Joseph Waumbaugh or W.E.B. Griffin's Badge of Honor series. Can't go wrong with any of either one of these classics. Every former cop writing today owes a debt to Waumbaugh, and Griffin does a fantastic job of exploring everything from the street to the mayor's office, even before The Wire was doing it (though, admittedly, the show did it even better).


If Daddy-O likes his investigators private, he's in luck. He can feast on Lawrence Block's classic
Matt Scudder series, which is something like eighteen novels at this point. Scudder, a disgraced cop who works as an off the books PI, remind me somewhat of James Garner's Jim Rockford without quite as much sarcasm. He tends to use his brain, embraces his subconscious, and can mix it up if he has to do so. Also, he's a drunk for the first several books, and a recovering drunk for the rest. Scudder ages in real time as the series progresses, which adds an interesting element that I like, even though I find it melancholy.

The series starts with The Sins of the Fathers, which is very good but not the best of them.

Want a female PI? Good old Kinsey Millhone is your woman. Sue Grafton penned alphabet themed series, starting with A is for Alibi, and made it all the way to Y is for Yesterday. Millhone is a great character, and Grafton's mysteries are fun to unravel. They're not quite hardboiled, but definitely not cozy.

As a male reader, I like Kinsey because she was tough, but in a very realistic way. She could be tough physically, but most of her toughness was mental, born of tenacity. If Dad is someone who has trouble identifying with female leads, Kinsey is a good place to start.

Grafton has unfortunately left us, but what a great legacy to leave behind.


Okay, this is Dad we're talking about here, so no glitter vampires. But maybe the supernatural is something your dad digs. If you want that but within some semblance of crime fiction, Kat Richardson's Greywalker series fits the bill. Greywalker is the first, and the premise is simple.  PI Blaine Harper has a near-fatal accident, and when she recovers, she develops the ability to see and move through the nether realm. She encounters ghosts, werewolves, and yes, even vampires.

Kat Richardson is hella smart, and a cool person. She came on my podcast a while back, so give it a listen.


37942540Slightly different category. And for that, I go back to my friend, Kat Richardson. Writing as K.R. Richardson, her sci-fi noir novel,  Blood Orbit is a good option.

Set in the future, this one has an investigator, a mass murder, a conspiracy, and a all-powerful corporation, and.... well, we're back to the heroin in the hollow-out King James bible again, aren't we? I mean, I should have had you at sci-fi noir... if strains of the Vangelis Blade Runner score aren't tickling your mind's ear right now, I don't know what to say. I'm sorry?

Even if you don't like the idea, Dad will. He liked your building picture, didn't he?


If your pops has a short attention span, maybe a novella is more his speed. For that, you could give him Cleaning Up Finn by Sarah M. Chen. It's about a bartender whose pecadillos with young women lands him in one trouble one fateful night....

Or S.W. Lauden's Crosswise is another good option for a novella. Former cop turned security guard Tommy Ruzzo encounters a mystery at the retirement community he patrols. I know it sounds like it, bu it's not a cozy.

Both of these novellas were nominated for an Anthony Award. And Sarah and Steve have been on my podcast to talk about these exact books, if you want to learn more before buying.


So that's it. Yeah, I know, I skipped historical crime fiction, and probably some other stuff, too. But if none of these recommendations grab you as being better than socks or a terrible tie for Dad, then do this:  Click on any or all of the 7 Criminal Minds authors and cruise around our personal websites. You'll find every manner of crime fiction there, from noir to cozy to historical and back again. Several of us have multiple series in multiple subgenres. There's a lot to choose from.

If your dad reads, you'll find him something.

If he doesn't read, YOU find him something. Maybe he'll read it and love it.

Either way, it's better than socks, right?

Happy Dad's Day.

Blatant Self-Promotion, brought to you by me

The aforementioned Charlie-316 comes out on June 10, 2019, in plenty of time for Dad's day. I'm pretty stoked about this one, folks. It may well be the best book I've written yet, and I think you'll like it.

Our own Jim Ziskin said about it: “A hard-hitting police conspiracy tale turned on its head, CHARLIE-316 bristles with authenticity and rich detail. Conway and Zafiro deliver an engrossing socio-political drama that packs plenty of action and intrigue, while asking the difficult questions. Corruption, conspiracy, and compromise frame the downfall of a perfect cop. And Wardell Clint is the most nuanced, fascinating detective I’ve read in a very long time.

This one tackles tough issues and will leave no reader indifferent. Compelling.”

Trust Jim.

Monday, May 27, 2019


Q: Father’s Day is June 16th – so there’s time for you to recommend some crime-themed reading that could be a useful gift idea for dads of different ages, and with different interests…and allow those reading the blog to order it, and get it in time to wrap it!

from Susan

Both my father and my step-father are long since deceased and my relationship with both was complicated. My father was a war correspondent in WWII, whom my mother divorced when I was five or six and whom I really didn't know since he was in Europe, then the Philippines, then Paris. I re-met him when I was a teenager and he was a TYV anchor and newsman. He was rather a cold fish. 

My step-father was a documentary filmmaker, way to the left of any political center, a man of high ideals and a subversive nature. He covered the labor movement (he was for unions), integration of schools (he was passionate in the move toward equality) , American farming's move to industrial farming (totally opposed), and American manufacturing. On the latter, he apparently suffused his films for the Department of Agriculture with sly attacks on the negative ways he saw workers being undercut and profits increased at their cost (this was in the 1950s), so much so that a whole chapter in a recent scholarly book was dedicated to an admiring examination of the sub-messages in his films. I'm pretty sure I get my values from him! Oh, and he was called before HUAC but didn't give names.

Neither of them, Ivy League educated from prominent families would have needed any book recommendations from me and I'm quite sure they read more widely and deeply than I do.

So, here's to all the less-complicated father-child relationships. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

For my old man

By Abir

Father’s day is a special day. A day of love for the man who was probably one of the most important formative influences on your life. For many of us, especially boys and men, our father’s approval means a lot, possibly even too much. My own father, to whom my first novel was dedicated, passed away a few years ago, just before that novel was published. He knew it was coming, but didn’t live to see it in print. So for me, there’s a special poignancy to the subject of my dad and books. Here are some crime classics, I wish I’d been able to share with my dad.

Laidlaw – William McIlvanney

Glasgow was home-made ginger biscuits and Jennifer Lawson dead in the park.”

My dad left sunny India and chose to make his home in Glasgow, Scotand and there’s a special place in my heart for this book. In my opinion, it’s one the finest works of crime fiction ever written, and was the rock upon which most of the great Scottish crime fiction of the last thirty years has been built. McIlvaney’s detective, Laidlaw, is hunting the killer of a teenage girl from one of the rougher parts of Glasgow. But the book is no ordinary crime novel - the reader is introduced to the killer early on – rather it is an exploration of the dark side of human nature. It’s also a love song to the city of Glasgow and its uniqueness and its contradictions. Finally, there’s the wonderful imagery which McIlvaney imbues throughout the book. No matter how many times I read it, I always find some turn of phrase that stops me in my tracks.

Doors Open – Ian Rankin

I’m a huge fan of Ian Rankin and have read all of the Rebus books. However it’s one of his stand-alone books, Doors Open, which is one of the novels that inspired me to write. It tells of how a gang of ordinary guys (albeit one of them’s a millionaire) set out to steal a number of paintings. The plot is inspired and the twist in the tail is fantastic. In many ways, it’s the perfect crime. I rather hoped Mr Rankin would write a sequel to it, but he hasn’t yet.  

A Quiet Flame – Philip Kerr

 Philip Kerr was one of my favourite writers. His character, Bernie Gunther, an investigator in Nazi Germany and in the post war period, is a brilliant creation. I love novels with an ambiguous, conflicted protagonist, and for me, Bernie Gunther is the gold standard. All of the Gunther novels are excellent and I’ve been hooked since I picked up his Berlin Noir Trilogy more than a decade ago. 

My favourite though, is A Quiet Flame, in which Bernie finds himself in post war Argentina, alongside a bunch of unsavoury characters including Adolf Eichmann. Bernie is tasked with hunting down a serial killer targeting young girls in a method very similar to another crime he investigated back in Berlin.

Gorky Park – Martin Cruz Smith

To me this book is a real classic. It is the first of Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels, and still my favourite. Set in the late Cold War period, Renko is chief investigator for the Moscow Militsiya, who is assigned to a case involving three corpses found in Gorky Park, who have had their faces and fingertips cut off by the murderer to prevent identification.

I first read this book when I was still at school and I thought it was brilliant. It’s the novel that first piqued my interest in the sub-genre of good detectives upholding a corrupt system, and it’s one of the few books I’ve read several times.

The Byomkesh Bakshi stories -  Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay

Not so much any one book, but a whole series of stories this time. Byomkesh Bakshi is an Indian detective created in the 1930s by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. Byomkesh is India’s answer to Sherlock Holmes, though he prefers the term ‘Seeker of Truth’ to ‘detective’. The stories are set in Calcutta and have been Indian favourites for generations. 

I’m sure my father would have read and enjoyed these novels as a boy, and I’ll make sure my own sons read them. I like to think there’s a sense of continuity in that.

Killing Floor – Lee Child

More than anyone else, it was Lee Child who inspired me to write. I was running late one morning and caught an interview with Lee Child on breakfast TV. He recounted how, having never really written before, he’d started writing at the age of forty. I’d never read any of his work till then, but I went out that day and bought a copy of his first book, Killing Floor, and devoured it within forty-eight hours. I was amazed at how simply written and well plotted it was. I’d recently had an idea for a story centered on a British detective who travels to India after the First World War, and reading Killing Floor gave me the motivation to put pen to paper.

So there we are. Books I wish I'd been able to share with my dad, because doing so would have given him a better insight into his son, and that would have brought us closer.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Father’s Day

The topic for this week is what crime fiction would you recommend for a Father’s Day gift?

From Jim

I grew up in a large family. I remember the fun times of playing sports in our yard with my brothers and the neighborhood kids. We played football in torrential downpours, especially enjoying sliding through the mud. The wetter the better. I suspect my mother enjoyed it less than we did, at least when we presented our muddy clothes for washing. And our games tore up the lawn. Dad urged us to stop doing that.

We also had a basketball hoop against our garage. In our teens, when we were nearly fully grown, we discovered a cool workaround that made us feel like NBA all stars.

If we drove straight at the basket—dribbling at full speed—planted a foot against the wall and pushed off skyward with all our might, we could dunk the ball on a regulation ten-foot basket. Very satisfying for five kids who would never otherwise be able to play above the rim. The footprints on the white paint were a extra bonus. Our dad loved those.

Another time, when organizing a baseball game, we realized our last ball had been left outside and was completely waterlogged—ruined and unusable. So we did the unthinkable. We took the souvenir foul ball we’d caught at a Cardinals-Cubs game in 1969 (Ferguson Jenkins pitching, Joe Torre batting), removed it from the plastic globe we’d bought to enshrine and protect it, then took it outside for a sandlot game.

The ball never stood a chance. Left outside, completely waterlogged, ruined and unusable within three days. Dad was incredulous.

Growing up in a large family—six boys and two girls—was a veritable Darwinian struggle for survival. If your older brothers weren’t beating you up, they were hogging the best seat on the couch in front of the television. With no remote control back then, we engaged in epic battles of wills on a daily basis. To leave the couch to change the channel meant losing one’s plum spot. How many episodes of Family Affair did we suffer through in our tests of endurance, all for selfishness on the part of the haves and stubborn spite from the have-nots? This in-fighting was a constant drone in our father’s ear. Maybe that’s why he worked so hard. Precious respite from eight rambunctious little heathens, for, make no mistake, we were godless howler monkeys on a permanent sugar high.

So, for all the late-night wars of Scrabble or Risk, usually ending with our dad closing down the game so he could get some sleep and go to work in the morning; for the times we did flips off the roof of the house into a snowbank, ending up damaging the shingles and tracking slush into the house; for the times the police dragged one of us home as a courtesy to our dad, instead of locking us up for drinking beer in the fields; and for the unauthorized parties we threw when our parents were out of town, especially the one that left a miniature replica of the Spinario (boy with thorn) statue decapitated;

and for so many other idiotic, annoying, and dangerous stunts we pulled— too numerous to catalogue here—for all those, our dad deserves thanks and a nice gift for Father’s Day. It doesn’t have to be a book or crime fiction or even the last popsicle in the freezer (though that was a prize none of us ever passed up, whether we wanted it or not, because we knew it wouldn’t be there later if we didn’t grab it), no. None of those things. Just give something nice to Dad on Father’s Day. He gave everything for you.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A baker’s dozen

by Dietrich

Although not all crime fiction and not all current, here are my top picks from the books that I’ve recently enjoyed, and ones that I would recommend for anyone looking for the perfect pick for their dad.

First up, I revisited Deliverance by James Dickey. It was poet Dickey’s first novel, and it sure hasn’t lost any of its spark after its original pub date of nearly fifty years ago. It’s prose is as sharp as it gets — a whitewater page-turner of survival in the Georgia wilderness. 

“I was standing in the most absolute aloneness that I had ever been given.” James Dickey

Another classic that stands the test of time is A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, originally published in 1962. Its the tale of Alex, a youth in revolt who gets captured and subjected to some scientific mind altering designed to cure criminals of their violent urges. The perfect choice if your dad leans to dystopian satire with touches of dark comedy and brilliant writing. 

The Wanted by Robert Crais was published in 2017. I always look forward to the next Robert Crais installment. In this one, PI Elvis Cole is back, along with his sidekick Joe Pike, in some bad-to-worse kickass action. After a couple of teenagers pull off some burglaries and rob the wrong man, they end up being pursued by a couple of killers. There’s something about Crais’ pacing and voice that make his novels hard to put down.

House of Earth by Woody Guthrie, a previously unpublished gem from 1947 was finally printed in 2013. It’s Guthrie’s only novel, and tells about life in Dust Bowl America. Guthrie was an amazing talent and possessed a true and powerful voice.

Just Kids by Patti Smith is a great memoir from a legendary rock star who proves she’s an equally talented writer. It takes an insightful look at her life along with friend Robert Mapplethorpe, living in New York, among the aspiring artists during the late 60s and early 70s. A time your dad might remember.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith from 2008, a great introduction to the five book series that brought us the ultimate bad-boy, sociopath Tom Ripley.

The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke from 2016. It’s one of his best and completes the trilogy he began with Wayfaring Stranger in 2014 and House of the Rising Sun in 2015. When a quarrel erupts between Valerie and her country-club boyfriend Grady, Aaron Holland steps in. And he ticks off the wrong person. Things soon escalate, and he finds himself surrounded by criminals and corrupt cops. It’s just a great book.

Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty, published in 2015 has detective inspector Sean Duffy back at it in the fifth installment in this well-told series, set in Northern Ireland in the 80s. It’s truly a first-rate crime thriller.

Men Walking on Water by the talented Emily Schultz, published in 2017, is a mix of crime and historical fiction set during prohibition and takes a look at rum-running from Canadian shores to Detroit.

The Good German by Joseph Canon, from 2001, is a moving and complex mystery and love story set in a battered post-war Berlin in the grips of geopolitical control. The story follows American journalist, Jake Geismer, as he sets out to find answers among the secrets and criminals hiding among the rubble in this great historical tale.

The Border by Don Winslow is the epic conclusion to the Cartel trilogy, The Cartel and The Power of the Dog. Released at the end of February, I'd been waiting to get into this one, and it didn't disappoint — a crime thriller as good as it gets.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood, published in 1964, is a short novel about a gay English professor living in California in the midst of unresolved grief after losing his lover in a car crash. The novel takes place over the course of a single day and explores the human animal and shows some masterful writing.

I also revisited The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood ahead of her upcoming sequel The Testaments coming this September. Another dystopian tale told by one of Canada’s best authors.

There you have it, a little of this and a little of that, some new and some old, some crime fiction, some classics, but something for any dad who loves to read.