Friday, December 13, 2019

Blind Date With a Book

Books make wonderful gifts. What are your recommendations this year?

by Amy Marks and Paul D. Marks

I thought I’d do something a little different this time. Instead of me recommending books I’m turning it over to my wife, Amy, and some books she’s read and enjoyed. And I’ll have some non-fiction recommendations at the end. So take it away, Amy:

Picking books as gifts is kind of like setting up a friend for a blind date. You never know if they’re going to hit if off or have a miserable time. But, as they say, it’s the thought that counts. So, with that disclaimer, here are my recommendations for mystery/suspense books to gift. I like them and there’s gotta be someone else out there who will like them too.

In The Woods by Tana French

A twelve year old girl is found murdered in the woods near a suburb of Dublin, Ireland. The detectives assigned to the case, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, are cop-buddies who have each other’s backs and share a secret from the past. Twenty years earlier, three children went missing in the very same woods. One was found with his shirt torn and his shoes filled with blood, but with no memory of what happened. The two missing children are never found. What Rob and Cassie know is that Rob was that third child, the one who was found. His family had moved away after the incident in order to escape the accusations from the locals. And Adam (Rob) was sent to a boarding school in England where he started using his middle name, Rob. He returned to Dublin as an adult to join the murder squad. Cassie knows Rob’s secret and agrees to keep silent when he convinces her that they are the only detectives who can really investigate this murder. But the demons of the past cling and threaten to tear Rob and Cassie apart. Tana French writes with an intimacy that makes you feel that you know these characters personally. You can imagine throwing back a few pints with them at the pub. And you can feel the darkness surround you as you enter the woods with them.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Oslo police officer Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman. Her young son wakes up to find his mother gone and a mysterious snowman constructed outside their home facing the house, as if looking inside, and wearing the scarf he gave her as a present. Harry discovers a pattern of similar disappearances and murders and the hunt for a serial killer begins. Harry Hole is like the Dirty Harry of Norway. He breaks the rules and stops at nothing to find the killer. The murders are grisly and shocking, so this not for the faint of heart. But what makes this a great thriller are the intriguing plot twists and Harry’s tortured, alcoholic personality.

By Gaslight by Steven Price

William Pinkerton, son of the famous Allan Pinkerton, who created the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, and famous in his own right, travels to Victorian London in search of the con man, Edward Shade, who eluded and haunted his father for decades. At the same time we follow the story of Adam Foole, who Pinkerton suspects knows the whereabouts of Edward Shade. If you know someone who loves Victorian London, the fog, the mysterious atmosphere and the whole steampunk thing, they will enjoy this book.

This Body of Death by Elizabeth George
This is book 16 in the Inspector Thomas Lynley series, but it was the first Elizabeth George book I read and I loved it. You can easily pick up any book in the series and don’t have to start at the beginning (although I am going back now and reading her books from the beginning after reading a few out of order). A woman who has recently relocated from Hampshire to London is found murdered in a London cemetery. The story is interwoven with the description of a shocking child murder that happened several years in the past. Don’t let the description of Thomas Lynley as an aristocratic Scotland Yard detective fool you. This is not one of your cozy British crime mysteries where they solve murders in between playing croquette and sipping tea. They are very gritty and meticulously plotted. And the characters are complex and realistic.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

Harriet “Hal” Westaway receives a letter from a lawyer saying her grandmother has died and the family is gathering for her funeral and the reading of her will at her estate. There’s just one problem, Hal’s grandmother died years ago and this is just a case of mistaken identity. But Hal, whose mother died a year ago, is in trouble with a loan shark and is desperate for money. She decides to take a chance on trying to impersonate Mrs. Westaway’s granddaughter in hopes of maybe getting a little bit of cash to get her out of her situation. What happens after that is pure gothic mystery complete with ill-tempered, mysterious housekeeper. This book is one of those guilty pleasures. If you analyze the plot too much, you’ll say “this couldn’t happen, it’s not realistic,” but you just have to go with the flow on this one and enjoy it.

Still Life by Louise Penny

Is it a cozy or isn’t it? It has the small cozy village of Three Pines, the bistro where the characters are always eating freshly baked croissants, the bookstore where everyone knows everyone, and snow is always falling in beautiful sparkly drifts. But the plots and characters are so much deeper and more interesting than most cozies I’ve read. I’m not putting down cozies, I love a good cozy as much as anyone else, but face it, some of them are the equivalent of Hallmark Christmas movies. Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books are both warm and cozy, but also deep, mysterious and haunting. In this one the body of an elderly woman is found in the woods, the apparent victim of a hunting accident, but Gamache suspects foul play. You could probably pick any book in the series, but I like starting with the first one in this case.

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black

This is the first book in the Quirke series. Set in Dublin (yes, I have a thing for novels set in Dublin) in the 1950s, it deals with Quirke, an alcoholic pathologist, who begins to suspect his brother-in-law when he finds him tampering with the death records of the corpse of a young woman brought into the morgue. He begins to investigate the woman’s death and it leads to uncovering a conspiracy that takes him to Boston and back to Dublin again. Benjamin Black is the pseudonym for Man Booker prize winner, John Banville. Banville’s writing is wonderful. His descriptions, insights and voice are almost like reading poetry. I started by reading the Silver Swan, which is the second book in the series, and do think it’s best with this series to read from the beginning as many things that happen in this book influence what happens in the next.

Oh, and two other books I’d recommend are White Heat and Broken Windows by Paul D. Marks. These crime thrillers follow PI Duke Rogers and his un-PC sidekick Jack Riggs through 1990’s Los Angeles and deal with real-life issues that continue to be in the news today: racism and immigration. I know you won’t believe me if I say I’m totally unbiased, so I just won’t say that. But give them a read and see what you think.

So maybe you’ll hate the blind date I picked out for you and you’ll take me off your gift list next year. Or, maybe it will be a match and you’ll be reading happily ever after with your new favorite writer. Happy Holidays and happy reading!


Thank you, Amy!

And just for good measure, I’m (Paul) tossing three non-fiction books into the mix:

The Annotated Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson, Anthony Dean Rizzuto, Foreward by Jonathan Lethem

I think on this the list of authors is longer than my comment. One of the classics of American crime literature and really all literature. And this book gives the context of the times and the place to The Big Sleep. It helps lead to a greater understanding and thus enjoyment of a great novel.

Pulp According to David Goodis by Jay A. Gertzman, Forward by Richard Godwin

As I’ve mentioned many times and in many places, David Goodis is one of my favorite crime writers. Geoffrey O'Brien called him the “poet of the losers”. And though he had some success as both a novelist/short story writer and a screenwriter, he definitely had some personality quirks. But until recently it’s been hard to come by much good biographical writing on him. There was Goodis: A Life in Black and White Paperback by Philippe Garnier, with an introduction by Eddie Muller. For years that book only appeared in French so it was wonderful when the English translation finally came out. And there was Difficult Lives: Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Chester Himes by James Sallis. And good as it is it’s relatively short and covers three writers. So now, with all three of these books, David Goodis fans can finally dive deep into Goodis, his life and his writing.

High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic Hardcover by Glenn Frankel

A look at the Hollywood Blacklist via the making of High Noon, which starred Gary Cooper, definitely not a left-winger. But the movie was made by many people on the left. A fascinating look at the blacklist and the Red Scare era through the prism of the making of one classic movie.

Thanks for stopping by. And Happy Holidays! See you next year.


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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Five Go-old Books!

by Catriona .

Sorry for the ear worm. You can dislodge it with a quick verse and chorus of Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad" (For readers in the UK - this is a song even more ubiquitous and annoying/amazing than Slade's "Merry Christmas, Everybody" (For readers who don't know either of these songs: do NOT click the links. Save yourselves.))

Aaaaannyway, here we are again, buying books for our nearest and dearest and dropping hints like anvils for the books we'd like to find in our own stockings.

Last year, I had poetry, memoir, YA and all sorts in my Criminal Minds list, as I remember. This year I'm keeping it to crime fiction but I'm covering a lot of the genre.

First and last, most and best, I'm recommending my personal Book of the Year: Steph Cha's aboslute banger YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY.

It's the page-turning, heart-breaking, thought-provoking, touching, enraging and beautifully written story of two LA families bound together by two brutal acts, decades apart. Last year, Angie Thomas's THUG did a marvelous job (for white readers like me) of shining a light on black lives lived under the scourge of racism in contemporary America. Cha's book sets the pain and complexity of racial tension slipping into racial violence even more squarely in its bitter context. Yet this is far from a bleak read - it's full of warmth, humour and love.

Second in my top five, is Ann Cleeve's series debut THE LONG CALL.

Talk about a safe pair of hands! The author of the Vera and Shetland books is in her element here, with a grim rural setting - Midsomer it ain't - a flawed, irresistible, infuriating protagonist in Detective Matthew Venn, and a set of characters whose relationships shift and reform as often as the North Devon tides. The scene is set for a third brilliant Cleeves series. Yay!

My third choice is another series debut.

Sujata Massey's series is two books deep now but you'll want to start here with THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL. It's 1921, Bombay, and Perveen Mistry is the only female lawyer in the city - which gives her the unique ability to investigate murder inside a house where the three widows of a wealthy Muslim businessman live in strict purdah. This book is rich with detail - historical, cultural, and geographical - but it never derails the propulsive plot.

So where are we? Ripped from the headlines, procedural, historical . . . how about a spot of noir next? And it's rural noir: my favourite.

Michael Wiley's MONUMENT ROAD introduces Franky Dast, downtrodden and browbeaten, product of a family that puts a capital D on Dysfunction, as he's released from death row after serving eight years for a murder he didn't commit. For anyone else that would be a change in luck, but not for Franky. To stay free and slay his ghosts he must embark on an investigation that takes every scrap of his tattered belief in justice. Wiley's wry affection for Northern Florida is clear and he has conjured one of its finest fictional inhabitants in Franky Dast.

One slot left.

See what I did there? I wanted to choose a PI novel to add to my genrepalooza but I cannot pick one and discard the other out of these two.

(In alphabetical order) Tracy Clark's Cass Raines is a tough-talking former cop - but with a mordant wit and a soft side, a classic lone gunslinger - but with a rabblesome scooby gang she can't escape, and a seeker of peace and security - but . . . guess how well that goes in BORROWED TIME.

Kristen Lepionka's Roxane Weary is grieving her father, surviving the rest of her family (just), making one good decision out of every ten when it comes to life and love, but she has a passion for justice that carries her through and makes her easy to root for. In THE STORIES YOU TELL her home and work life start to tangle and Roxane's defences crack wide open.

It wasn't easy to choose five (okay, six) books out of this year's reading. Honourable mentions go to  Jeff Cohen - who makes me laugh out loud like no one else; Jess Lourey - whose UNSPEAKABLE THINGS is out on Kindle Firstreads right now; Christine Poulson - whose science-lab-based series is refreshingly authentic and enjoyable . . .

So here's to 2019 - another year of wonderful books in a less-than-wonderful world. And Alex Marwood's THE POISON GARDEN is coming in January!

Have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Killer Kwanza, Fabulous Festivus, Cool Yule and here's to a bright and beautiful 2020.


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Books for people who "don't read" by Cathy Ace

Books make wonderful gifts. What are your recommendations this year?

Indeed, books do make wonderful gifts. The best gifts. I still have books that were given to me as gifts decades ago. They have traveled around the world with me, have entertained me, have inspired to me to do a great many things in life. And more. So, yes – if you can, give books when a gift is needed, for whatever reason.

Then the question is – which book to give? You might know someone for whom a book with baking recipes is perfect, or who would relish being gifted a book that will allow them to travel more knowledgeably to a place they have in mind…or many other types of books for reasons specific to that person. Great – give them that book.

But…I am going to do something novel (geddit??) because I’m going to match our members’ work with the tastes of folks who “don’t read” – but who really enjoy watching TV/movies. 

Yes, I’m asking you to consider “creating a reader” this gift-giving season. Go on…you know you want to! And, just in case you were wondering, the authors who blog here create work that can satisfy most needs!

Loves gritty, dark, noirish private eye or cop stories like the old Bogart movies,The Wire, "Once Upon a Time In Hollywood", or have a yen for the darker side of things? Give books/collections by Dietrich Kalteis, Frank Zafiro, Paul D Marks.

Loves “gentle crime” like Agatha Raisin, Midsomer Murders? Give Cathy Ace's WISE Enquiries Agency books, Catriona McPherson’s “Dandy Gilver” books, Susan C Shea’s books.

Loves “usually gentle-ish police procedurals” like Morse/Lewis, Vera, Inspector Banks, Inspector Lynley, Major Crimes, etc? Give Brenda Chapman’s books, or Terry Shames’ books.

Loves psychological thrillers and suspense like The Sinner, Sharp Objects etc? Give Catriona McPherson’s standalone psychological suspense books, or Cathy Ace's The Wrong Boy.

Loves period crime dramas like Murdoch Mysteries, Foyle’s War? Give James W. Ziskin’s books, Catriona McPherson’s “Dandy Gilver” books, or Abir Mukherjee’s books.

Loves the classics/traditional mysteries like adaptations of Agatha Christie, or the recent Knives Out movie etc? Give Terry Shames’ books, my Cait Morgan Mysteries, James W. Ziskin’s books, Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver books.

Loves to travel? Choose any of our works…something we all have in common is a real sense of place in our creative output. 

Happy gift-giving season…and I hope YOU get some books you enjoy too (self-gifting is allowed, you know!). CLICK HERE to reach my website. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Stuff the Stocking!

Books make wonderful gifts. What are your recommendations this year?
- from Frank
Everyone's tastes vary, but here are some book that I don't think you can go wrong with, if you dig the subgenre they're in.

I'm only including ones I've already read. If  I drew from my TBR pile, either this list would scroll forever, or my head would explode in an attempt to pare things down to a reasonable number of entries.

Also, it is my goal to eventually read books by all of my fellow Criminal Minds bloggers in 2020, if I haven't already. Each of them is now on my TBR list, either physically sitting on my nightstand, or on my Kindle, waiting its turn in line. I hope you'll join me in this endeavor and explore some great, varied fiction.

Onto the list...

Cast the First Stone by Jim Ziskin

DSP0101207It took me forever to finish this book, because as I was reading it, a glut of books I'd reserved at the library repeatedly came available. Since I own my copy of Jim's book, it was easy to pause where I was and come back to it once I'd read the library book with a due date. Now, some might take it as a criticism that Ellie Stone was easy to put down and pick back up, but it isn't. It is a testament to good writing that I could come back to the pages after a week or two away and fall right back into the story.

The story is a classic slow burn mystery, and done masterfully. Even with stretches of time in between reading sessions, I experienced no fall off in story tension. My interest remained in seeing how Ellie would resolve the mystery, and I was instantly back in the early 1960s Hollywood setting within just a few paragraphs.

This is a classy book.

The Long Cold Winter by Colin Conway

TLCW - Transparent - Cropped.pngNot the first (or last) book in the 509 series, but my favorite one. Conway does a lot right here. He handles two separate mysteries, one new and one very cold case, while letting us share the grief of Detective Dallas Nash throughout the investigation. Recently a widower, Nash's grief is palpable on every page. This runs the risk of dragging down the tale or becoming too much, but the way Conway handles it causes just the opposite. Nash's journey through his grief is one the reader experiences and explores as much as Nash does, and the novel device of Nash waking with music in his head keeps this experience fresh (as well as adding another small mystery).

In the end, this book is an excellent police procedural in its own right, and fans of that genre will be well pleased on that count. But The Long Cold Winter goes even further to capture the heart-wrenching internal journey that we usually only find in noir or detective stories. I found it to be emotionally engaging, and it left an impression on me that hasn't faded yet.

All the Way Down by Eric Beetner

All V6.jpgHow this wasn't a runaway hit, I'll never know. A high-concept thriller with a bad guy cop who maybe wants to turn back to good but can't thanks to the drug dealer he's been doing dirt with...and then he gets a final shot of redemption when the mayor's daughter has been taken hostage. She's held in the top of floor of a fifteen floor building in an abandoned industrial park, a veritable gangster fortress. The action starts in earnest when the hero goes to the top to get her and they have to fight their way out floor by floor, trying to get...all the way down.

Written in rapid-fire, breathless bursts, this book doesn't take a break. Part Die Hard, part Game of Death, and all classic Eric Beetner, All the Way Down is a thrill ride.

For best results and maximum contrast, read immediately before or after Ziskin's book. Both books are amazing, but stylistically polar opposites. It really makes you appreciate the art of both men if you experience it one after the other.

Under a Dark Sky by Lori Radar-Day

Under a Dark SkySince I first became aware of Lori Radar Day when Eryk Pruitt referenced her during my podcast interview with him ("She scares me," he confided), it was clear she doesn't need me to pump her tires. Her fans and peers alike have attested to how good her books are, and if you're reading this blog, you probably know, too. But let me tell you what did it for me when I read this novel.

It wasn't that it was a good mystery (it was), or that it was set in an interesting locale (it was). It wasn't that the locale had a meaning several layers deep (it did), or that Radar-Day wrote about a lead character that wasn't a cookie-cutter hero (she did). And it wasn't that there were surprises along the way, either (there were). All of these elements were enough to make this a worthwhile entry. But what put it over the top for me was simply this -- at some point in the novel, I suspected virtually every character of being the culprit...including even the narrator, who I wondered if she might be an unreliable one.

That's a mean trick to pull off. Two or three good suspects is hard enough. For almost every single character to be a potential suspect takes some serious skill.

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Recursion: A Novel2016s Dark Matter was a mind-bender, and I loved it. I'm a sucker for time travel or multiple reality stories. I loved Stephen King's Dark Tower series and 11/22/63 for exactly these reasons. Dark Matter took me for a ride, and so I was looking forward to Recursion quite a bit. Blake's reading at Bouchercon 2019's Noir at the Bar did little to dampen my enthusiasm.

The core of this story resides in an examination of our memories, and what they mean to who we are. Not only who we are, but to our entire life experience. Kristi and I recently started watching a sci-fi show on Netflix, ironically also called Dark Matter, in which six spacefarers awaken from cryo-sleep with no memory of who they are or how they got there. For much of the first season, they are trying to discover their pasts, which turn out to be unsavory. The question becomes, are they still those people, if they don't remember being that?

Crouch takes a step further in his novel, with memory implants giving people new lives. Of course, this wreaks havoc with the fabric of time and space, and as the story progresses, the stakes go from personal to existential.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

Image result for a wizard of earthsea"Let me close with a classic that I hadn't read since my teen years. I recently listened to the audiobook production, which was well done, and I am interspersing the rest of the series into my rotation every so often as a palate shift from crime fiction. Barring a new one from G.R.R. Martin, I'll get my fantasy fix here for a while.

I grew up on fantasy and science fiction - Tolkien, Piers Anthony, Lloyd Alexander, Andre Norton, Spokane's own David Eddings...and LeGuin. I've always held this first Earthsea book in high regard, loved the tale of how Sparrowhawk became the wizard of renown from humble beginnings and after causing great pain to himself and others. It is a wonderful fantasy story, beautifully and simply written. The younger me appreciated all of that, and the older me didn't miss the allegorical nature of the tale, either. Face your demons, people. Don't run from them. Ms. LeGuin had the right of it.

And a few more, offered without comment...

Land of the Blind by Jess Walter
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper
(yeah, I know the least two are probably on someone else's list a couple of years ago, but still...great books).
Lamb by Christopher Moore
That Was Then, This Is Now by S.E. Hinton
Dune by Frank Herbert (put on your big reader pants and do it).

If you try any of these books (or have already read 'em), I'd love to hear your thoughts on them in the comments.

Blatant Self Promotion Brought To You By Me

Next month, my new novel, In the Cut, will be released by Down and Out Books in January. It is avaliable for pre-order now.

This novel is the second in my SpoCompton series, which focuses on telling stories from the perspective of those on the wrong side of the thin blue line -- the criminals. 

Boone has been prospecting with the Iron Brotherhood outlaw motorcycle gang for almost a year, trying to earn his patch with the club. When a simple muscle job goes terribly wrong, his world changes forever. He is quickly plunged deeper into a world of drug and intimidation, and the lines between right and wrong blur. The bonds of brotherhood that he forges with other members clash with the dark actions they take. His girlfriend, Faith, represents a danger of another kind, but Boone can’t stop himself where she is concerned, either.

When someone closest to him dies, and rampant rumors of a rat in the clubhouse puts everyone in danger, Boone comes to learn what it really means to live his life…in the cut. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

A Few Good Books

-from Susan

By now, you’ve read a zillion “best books of 2019” lists, so I am going to spare you and give you just five diverse fiction and two non-fiction books that I particularly appreciated, one of which was published in 2018 but which deserved special attention. I make no claims that my choices are “best.” These are books I responded to strongly and that have stayed with me. Their settings, characters, stories, and prose styles held me in their grasp. I would happily give any one of them to a dear friend (and, in fact, will). So, without further ado:

THEY ALL FALL DOWN, Rachel Howzell Hall’s new standalone mystery is a new take on the classic Agatha Christie trope of strangers stuck on an island together, each with a secret. Crime fiction doyenne Sara Paretsky called it “an intense, feverish novel with riveting plot twists.” 

A STEP SO GRAVE, the latest in Catriona McPherson’s delightful series about a restless, inquisitive woman who performs her detective work in some of Scotland’s most distinctive  - mostly cold – environments. This one has her training her sights on her oldest son’s potential in-laws, each of whom seems to suspect another member of the clan in the murder of the lady of the house. Dandy (short for Dandelion) Gilver is as much fun to know as any of classical fiction’s sleuths.

BOXING THE OCTOPUS, Tim Maleeny. Like so many of his fans, I rejoiced at the news that Tim had published a new crime novel. He writes quirky characters I believe in and drops them into odd criminal situations that I wouldn’t believe in anyone else’s writing. And, yes, there is an octopus in the book: “Cut off its arms,” said the Doctor. “It’ll be a lot easier.” Trust me, this is not quite what you think and it’s not over yet.

A BITTER FEAST, the new book in Deborah Crombie’s long running, much loved series about two London police officers and their growing – and growing up – family, and close friends. I relish all of her novels but this one is one of the best. Gemma and Duncan and family are invited to the elegant Cotswold home of one of their police colleagues for a little time off. Hah. You know murder will follow them, and the author’s ability to fold together various plots and character arcs into a perfectly satisfying omelet is one reason she’s ranked amoug the best in the business.

HIROSHIMA BOY, Naomi Hirahara’s final novel in this series can be read as a standalone, although if you’re like me you’ll be glad there are others to go back and read. A finalist for the 2019 Edgar award, this story is a window into the culture of the generation of Japanese and Japanese Americans who lived through the agony of the 1945 atomic bombing of their cities and still live with the ghosts. But it’s a gentle story because Mas Arai, Hirahari’s protagonist, is an old man now, whose temper is muted by age and wisdom and the ability to forgive, or at least to live and let live. I thoroughly enjoyed his last, almost casual investigation into the death of a lonely teenage boy. 

WE ARE INDIVISIBLE, written by the two young co-founders of Indivisible, Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin, is not a dry political screed but a lively, often humorous, and always engaging story of how their experiences as staffers to two Democratic Congressmen during the rage days of the Tea Party led to a light bulb moment after the 2016 election. Published online modestly as “Indivisible Guide” for a few friends, their insights as to how to really make change (hint: every member of Congress wakes up every morning thinking about how to get re-elected) instantly took off like a rocket. 

ONE LONG RIVER OF SONG just came out December 3. I haven’t got my copy yet, but I have been an admirer of his writing for a long time – he’s been called a writer’s writer- and I know I’ll relish it. I knew him somewhat. Brian, who died way too young at 60 of a virulent brain tumor, was admired, liked, and even loved by people who had the pleasure of knowing him or reading his novels and poetry and the University of Portland Magazine he edited and enriched for decades. He was a lovely person, a practicing Catholic whose spiritual life was embedded un-dogmatically into a view of the world that embraced so much. One reviewer defined his work as “a feeling eerily like a warm hand brushed against your cheek, and you sit there, near tears, smiling, and then you stand up. Changed.” Trust me, his prose will reach far beyond religion to a level of loving kindness we can all use some of these days.

 Here's hoping you have a lovely, book-rich holiday and good reading into the new year!

 My holiday-themed novel from last year: 

Friday, December 6, 2019

You Might Want to Read These...

By Abir

It’s that time of year again, when the airwaves are filled with the sound of Michael BublĂ© coming out of hibernation and the papers are filled with critics’ Best Of lists.

Like Jim yesterday, I make no claim that my choices are a best of anything, merely a list of books I enjoyed this year. I’m going to start with a confession, though. There was no book that I read in 2019 which wowed me in the way certain books (like Attica Locke’s Bluebird Bluebird or Denise Mina’s The Long Drop) have in previous years, but that’s probably a reflection of the fact that I haven’t read enough this year.

So, where to start?

Return of the Old Favourites:
There are some authors who have achieved membership into Mukherjee’s Pantheon of the Greats, and at least two of these had books out this year which I devoured. 

First up, Metropolis by the wonderful Philip Kerr. Kerr passed away last year, but he left the manuscript for this, his final novel, Metropolis, featuring his iconic German detective, Bernie Gunther. Metropolis sees a young Bernie transported back to one of his earliest cases. It’s packed with the usual black humour and Kerr genius and made more poignant by the knowledge that it's the last we’ll ever see of Bernie.

It’s fair to say that my love of historical thrillers was sparked by Martin Cruz Smith and his standout novel, Gorky Park, which introduced us to detective Arkady Renko of the Moscow Militsia. That was in the early 1980s and a hell of a lot has happened to Russia and Renko in the intervening decades. 

The Siberian Dilemma is Cruz Smith’s latest, and finds Renko in Siberia, chasing after his girlfriend and getting mixed up in the murky world of oligarchs and Russian politics. The Renko novels have always been a fascinating insight into a land so utterly different from the West as well as rollercoasters of tension, and this one’s no different. If it lacks the taught, high drama of Gorky Park, it makes up for it with up to the minute commentary on the situation in Russia today. If you like your crime fiction with a political narrative, you should read this.

Standout Young Blood
There are several authors whose work I read for the first time this year and which stood out from the crowd. 

I’ll start here with the wonderfully talented Steph Cha and her novel, Your House Will Fall, which tells the tale of two families, one African American, the other Korean American, both affected by a shooting which took place at the time of the LA riots in the 1980s. It’s a poignant, thoughtful novel, offering the perspectives of both families, still reeling from that tragedy almost forty years later.

MW Craven is a tough looking Englishman from Cumbria, the border lands between England and Scotland. He’s also a wonderful bloke, and his novel The Puppet Show, recently won the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year. I think his new novel, Black Summer, is even better. It features Craven’s detective duo Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, and the case of a man who Poe put away for the murder of his daughter, but whose daughter then turns up alive. 

Best Cosy

I don’t read much ‘cosy crime’ – it’s not really my cup of tea, but I’ll always make an exception for my friend Vaseem Khan and his Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series, set in present day Mumbai and featuring retired police inspector, Ashwin Chopra and his pet baby elephant, Ganesh. Khan’s latest novel, Bad Day at the Vulture Club sees Chopra and Ganesh investigate the death of one of Mumbai's wealthiest citizens, a murder with ramifications for its poorest. Chopra is uneasy entering a world of power and privilege, and is soon plagued by doubts about the case. But murder is murder, and in Mumbai, wealth and corruption go in hand in hand. This is the best Chopra novel to date. Khan is really coming into his own and can be ranked alongside the greats of the sub-genre such as Alexander McCall Smith.
Brilliant, Just Brilliant

There are some authors who you just know you’re in safe hands with. Their writing is sublime, thought-provoking, and often tinged with wit. Mick Herron is one such author, and he’s on the fast-track to entering my Pantheon of the Greats. His latest, Joe Country, is once again set amidst the ‘slow horses’ of Slough House, the spies and spooks who’ve fallen out of favour at MI6 and have been hidden away in the hopes that they’ll be forgotten about. Joe Country sees the spies investigate the kidnapping of the child of one of their former colleagues who was murdered in the line of duty. As with all of Heron’s novels, it’s the portrait he paints of these so human, hum-drum and fallible spies, which really set his books apart from the herd.

Non Fiction

Sometimes the truth can be more gripping than any fiction. That’s definitely the case with Ben MacIntryre’s The Spy and the Traitor, the story of Oleg Gordievsky, a senior KGB officer who became an MI6 agent and, for more than a decade, supplied his British spymasters with a stream of priceless secrets from deep within the Soviet intelligence machine. No spy had done more to damage the KGB. When Gordievsky is recalled to Moscow and feels he’s about to be uncovered by the KGB, he sends a signal seeking extraction. And so begins one of the most daring missions of the Cold War. This is a brilliant book and had me hooked from the first to the last page. If you’re interested in the Cold War, you should read this.

Books I want to read.
As usual, there are a number of books which came out at the end of the year which I haven’t yet had a chance to read. Straight to the top of the pile go Westwind, a tech thriller written by Ian Rankin a few decades ago but never released until now, and Agent Running in the Field by John Le CarrĂ©. I hope to get through these before the end of the year, because whatever else 2020 has in store, I’m sure there’ll be a slew of great new books to read.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Some Really Good Books I Read in 2019

Question: Books make wonderful gifts. What are your recommendations this year?

From Jim

I made a list like this one last year, so I suppose this will become an annual post from me. I don’t like to make a “best of” list because, for one thing, who the hell am I? And, for another, I haven’t read enough (all) books to make any such pronouncements. I have, however, enjoyed quite a few books this year.

In August, I posted here a list of books I’d read in the first half of 2019.
Now here’s a complete list for the entire year.

I’ve divided the books into the following (arbitrary) categories: MY FELLOW NOMINEES; HISTORICALS; HYSTERICALS; COPS AND BOBBIES; THRILLERS, CHILLERS, REPORTERS, AND JURIES; and I WISH I’D DISCOVERED A LONG TIME AGO. Nota bene, I have repeated some titles in different categories in order to give an idea of what kind of books they are.

My sixth Ellie Stone mystery, A Stone’s Throw, was a finalist for the 2019 Lefty for Best Mystery. These excellent books were nominated alongside mine, and I can’t recommend them strongly enough.

November Road, Lou Berney (Winner)
Wrong Light, Matt Coyle
Kingdom of the Blind, Louise Penny
Under a Dark Sky, Lori Rader-Day
A Reckoning in the Back Country, Terry Shames

A Stone’s Throw was also up for the Anthony Best Paperback Original Award in 2019. These were the other nominees. I really loved all these books. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

Under a Dark Sky, Lori Rader-Day (Winner)
Hollywood Ending, Kellye Garrett
If I Die Tonight, Alison Gaylin
Hiroshima Boy, Naomi Hirahara 


The Prisoner in the Castle, Susan Elia MacNeil
The King’s Justice, Susan Elia MacNeil
When Hell Struck Twelve, James R. Benn
The Enemy We Don’t Know, Mary Sutton
The Widows of Malabar Hill, Sujata Massey
Murder at the Mena House, Erica Ruth Neubauer
The Pearl Dagger, L. A. Chandlar
Judge Thee Not, Edith Maxwell


Finding Zelda, Sue Ann Jaffarian
Hollywood Ending, Kellye Garrett
Murder at the Mena House, Erica Ruth Neubauer
The Pearl Dagger, L. A. Chandlar


Charlie-316, Colin Conway & Frank Zafiro
Valley of Shadows, Steven Cooper 
A Voice in the Night, Andrea Camilleri
A Bitter Feast, Deborah Crombie
Kingdom of the Blind, Louise Penny
A Reckoning in the Back Country, Terry Shames


Careful What You Wish For, Hallie Ephron
Dread of Winter, Susan Bickford
Below the Fold, R. G. Belsky
We, the Jury, Robert Rotstein
If I Die Tonight, Alison Gaylin


Blanche on the Lam, Barbara Neely

This is by no means a “best of” list. Many of these books weren’t even released in 2019. But it’s a list of really good books you should consider buying or borrowing. Don’t steal them.