Friday, December 15, 2023

All Good Things...

by Abir

Some Book Recommendations




Some time back, I was asked by a bunch of wonderful writers to join them in writing a blog post every fortnight on all matters crime fiction. I was honoured to say yes, and since then (almost) without fail, come rain or shine or global pandemic, I’ve produced a post, sometimes topical but a lot of the time, just me ranting at the publishing industry or life in general. It’s been a wonderful experience and probably the most disciplined thing I’ve ever done. In contrast, I keep meaning to do another dispatch of my own newsletter, but I’ve been putting it off for two years.


Five years have passed since my first post on this blog, and while it’s been an absolute pleasure being part of this wonderful team, I feel now is the time to move on and let a fresh Criminal Mind take over. I have made some wonderful friends here and I hope to pop up now and again as guest (if the rest of the Minds will still have me!).


So this is my last regular post, and it’s a nice way to finish: a list of some of the books I’ve enjoyed the most over the last year. It’s not a ‘Best Of’ list – because that implies that my choices have any definitive weight, and regular readers of my blog posts will know that nothing I say ever carries any weight.


So let’s get to it.


2023 has been a good year in terms of reading for me. I’ve been lucky enough to read some absolute crackers, some by authors who’ve been among my favourites for years and others who are new to me.

Past Lying – Val McDermid

The fiendishly clever Past Lying sees a much-anticipated return of McDermid's DCI Karen Pirie. A student’s disappearance seems to mimic the unfinished plot of an author’s manuscript. This is a tale about the perfect crime and centres on crime a couple of mystery writers and a crime which may or may not have been turned into the draft of a novel. It’s a real insight into the world of the Scottish crime writing fraternity, liberally sprinkled with real authors as well as the fictional ones.  A lot of the fun is guessing who is who. McDermid is a legend, still at the top of her game and an inspiration to so many of us.


The Last Dance - Mark Billingham

There are some writers you wish weren’t so bloody brilliant. Very few possess the gift of being able to keep you on the edge of your seat while simultaneously making you laugh out loud. Unfortunately for the rest of us, Mark Billingham is one such writer. The Last Dance introduces us to his latest creations, detectives Declan Miller and Sara Xiu, perfectly drawn, perfectly flawed characters, investigating a double murder in Blackpool, the Vegas of the English North West. Fresh, funny, fantastic, this is the sickeningly talented Billingham at his best.


The Trees – Percival Everett

This was recommended to me by a friend and it was wonderful. Set mainly in the Deep South, it’s the satirical tale of white men, the descendants of those involved in lynchings, being found murdered, with the same dead black men turning up next to them. It’s powerful, it’s funny, it challenges our views on what constitutes justice and it deserves to be read by everyone.


The Little Rebel – Jerome Leroy

The account of a  terror attack on a school in unnamed city in the west of France, The Little Rebel is a satirical look at modern French society and issues of immigration and radicalisation of a forgotten underclass. In the hands of a less accomplished writer, this would be a difficult task, but Leroy is a master and he takes a scalpel to the subject matter. Insightful and beautiful, more of Leroy’s work needs to be translated into English.


Tenth of December by George Saunders

A collection of short stories by the US writer and Booker Prize winner, which examine modern day, polarised, malaise filled America in a way that only Saunders can. He has a gift for getting inside the head of his characters in a way that is impossible to resist and which forces you to care about them. I had to stop reading at one point because I became too invested in one of the characters and had this feeling that something bad was about to happen to him. Powerful, funny and poignant.


The House of Whispers – Anna Mazzola

Set on the eve of the second world war, in a country descending into the madness of racial purity, The House of Whispers tells the tale of Eva, a young pianist hiding more than one secret amidst the crushing conformity and paranoia of Il Duce’s Italy. When Eva finds herself falling in love with widower Dante, she enters a world where mysterious forces lurk no longer just outside, but within the very walls of his house. Powerful, spine-tingling and beautifully penned, this is gothic historical fiction at its very best and cements Mazzola as one of its most talented exponents.


The Square of Sevens – Laura Shepherd Robinson

What can I tell you about Laura Shepherd-Robinson? She is a writer of such immense talent that I’m sure she’s going to be one of the biggest names in historical crime fiction over the next few decades. Her first two novels, Blood and Sugar, and Daughters of Night were hugely impressive books. The Square of Sevens is better still. It’s the tale of Red, the daughter of a Cornish fortune-teller, who travels with her father making a living predicting fortunes using the ancient method: the Square of Sevens. When her father suddenly dies, Red becomes the ward of a gentleman scholar who introduces her to Georgian High-Society. Not only is this a wonderfully told story, Shepherd-Robinson’s mastery of historical detail is encyclopaedic, immersing you in the world of Georgian England. This book is phenomenal.


The Secret Hours – Mick Herron

Too many people are showing love for Mick Herron. This pains me, mainly because he is a good friend and the two of us have spent several years taking the piss out of each other. This is becoming increasingly difficult now that he is a literary god and beloved of all. It gives me absolutely no pleasure to tell you that The Secret Hours is his best work to date. A standalone-novel, though still part of the Slough House canon and providing some of the backstory to the corpulent head of the slow horses, Jackson Lamb, it’s more cerebral and less action focussed than most of the Slough House books but maintains Herron’s singular wit. Herron is a uniquely talented writer, and, it hurts me to say, one of the nicest, most generous people in the world of crime fiction. A true gentleman. Read his books.




So that’s it. It’s been a pleasure and an honour writing for this blog over the last few years, but as they say, all good things must come to an end. I wish you all health and happiness for 2024 and the future.


Happy reading!

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Some Really Good Books I Read This Year from James W. Ziskin

End-of-year book recommendations

I’ve posted here before to say that I’m not crazy about the Best Books of the Year lists. To be clear, I don’t object to the great books on those lists. They deserve accolades. I only wish the reviewers could use a better description for their annual lists. Kristopher Zgorski of BOLO Books does exactly that. He’s always careful to note that he’s not proclaiming his choices as “the best books of the year.” He calls them instead his “Top Reads” of the year.

Furthermore, mostly only the biggest names make the lists. And they don’t need my recommendation to boost their sales. So I try to highlight less-famous, talented writers in this space.

I didn’t have the chance to read as much in 2023 as I normally do. That’s because I have a new position teaching high school French. And, since that’s more than a full-time job for someone like me, I only had the summer to write my own novel this year. Well, I managed to get that done. The Prank is currently with my agent, so we’ll see if she can find a home for it.

Though this single-tasker had his hands full and attention strained, I nevertheless managed to read twenty-some books. Some haven’t been published yet, so I can’t comment publicly on those. But here, in no particular order, are some highlights of what I read and enjoyed over the past twelve months.


Liz Nugent has become one of my go-to authors. Sally Diamond grabbed me from the very start. I couldn’t stop reading this remarkable book. With a supremely memorable protagonist, Strange Sally Diamond is Nugent’s best yet. And that’s saying a lot! A huge international hit, superbly creative and complex. Get it and read it! You’re welcome.



Killer Story shows how ambition can lead to unexpected results. Even the best intentions can twist into something entirely different. Readers will root for Petra as she tries to solve the murder and make her career. But will they be happy with the results? A fascinating and troubling cautionary tale, bravely told. This one will keep you thinking.


The Sorrowful Girl takes us on a compelling visit to western Massachusetts in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Liam Barrett, honor-bound and decent lawman, battles anti-Irish prejudice, corrupt police, and scheming robber barons as he searches for answers in the murder of a young Catholic girl. Desperate to escape her humble origins and bleak future, Deirdre Monaghan dares to dream of a better life, but meets her tragic end in a dark wood instead. Echoes of Celtic myths whisper through the Berkshires in this powerful historical mystery. The Sorrowful Girl packs an emotional wallop. Damn good!

THE GET, Dietrich Kalteis

Beautifully written in jagged, bruising rhythms, our own Dietrich Kalteis’s The Get crackles with poetic dialogue, desperate cold-blooded thugs, and an airtight plot that twists into a perfect knot. Inevitable and perfect.



A tantalizing peek behind the curtain of the world-renown Santa Fe Opera. There’s plenty of mayhem on the bill, rich spirituality, sumptuous history, and metaphysical frights, too. So much to enjoy in Erica Miner’s new novel. But it’s the music that steals the show. Concertmaster Julia Kogan, on loan to Santa Fe from the Metropolitan Opera, returns (after Aria for Murder), and finds herself smack in the middle of a clever and dramatic mystery set against bloody arias and deadly recitativo.

RAVEN’S GRAVE, Charlotte Stuart

This is a deeply moving story of murder and cultural erosion in an Alaskan Tlingit fishing village during the late 1970s. Charlotte Stuart paints the magnificent, unforgiving land- and seascapes with a sharp eye and steady hand. She endows her characters with true dimension and complexity, particularly the principled lawman, Jonah St Clair. You can't read Raven's Grave without being touched by the author's love and respect for the region and the people she portrays. Teeming with authenticity and rich cultural detail. A wonderfully satisfying novel.


A poetic inevitability emerges from the dark, secret past of damaged lives forever linked. Taut and, at turns, haunting and terrifying, Liv Andersson’s Leave the Lights on twists and turns then twists again, defying readers’ expectations and assumptions about naïveté, betrayal, and revenge. Beatrice Wicker is a compellingly imperfect heroine, whose very survival depends on cunning and endurance in a decades-long game of hide-and-seek. Tense, chilling, and absorbing, Leave the Lights on is a superb psychological thriller.


Josephine Mele’s Incident in India is a rich blend of discovery and danger, as two friends—Helen and June—tour India’s most beautiful forts, palaces, and wildlife sanctuaries. Dripping with fascinating cultural detail, Incident in India also tackles the disturbing practice of honor killings. Dauntless guides and brave champions for justice, Helen and June will take readers on the safari of their lives.


I haven’t read enough of Josephine Tey, and I am poorer for it. Alan Grant and company are wonderfully inviting in this tale of a false—or is it?—accusation against a woman and her elderly mother. Great insights into human nature and the fickleness of public opinion.


McKinty always delivers brilliant writing, troubled characters, and fascinating erudition in his books, never more so than in his Sean Duffy novels. Duffy is leaving full-time duty on the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary). It’s been a long, hellish ride through the 1980s and the Troubles, but Sean wants to live quietly, work a couple of days a month to ensure his pension, and spend time in his new home across the water in Scotland. But there’s one last case to solve. A young female “traveller” (the Irish nomadic community) has gone missing and the police seem to have fumbled the ball. Duffy steps up and pokes and provokes relentlessly, all the while trying to stay alive before he leaves the peelers. A fantastic read.



Surprised by this one? We read this for my tenth-grade French class this year. A veritable nineteenth-century soap opera, MC is a wonderful read. There may be more than a few coincidences to strain credulity, but what the hell? Just sit back and enjoy it all. 

THE LAST HOPE, Susan Elia MacNeal

Finally, I’m in the middle of reading the very last Maggie Hope novel from Susan Elia MacNeal’s captivating, immersive series. I love Maggie and will miss her. She’s complex, at times reckless, brilliant, and brave. Such a rich character you’ll never forget. I was lucky enough to receive an advance reader copy a couple of days ago. The Last Hope comes out May 21, 2024, so you’ll have to wait.





Wednesday, December 13, 2023

A few of my favorite things

Here they are, my recommended books that I've read over the past year.

by Dietrich

Like Terry, I'm quite taken by Mick Herron's Slough House books. Slow Horses, from 2010, is the first in this remarkable series about Slough House, where washed-up MI5 agents are relegated to while away what's left of their failed careers. But when a Pakistani youth is kidnapped and threatened with beheading by a right-wing extremist group, the Slow Horses spring into action, and in spite of their shortcomings they’ll have you rooting for them all the way.

Dead Lions, 2013, is the second in the series, and in this one the top slow horse, Jackson Lamb, uncovers a Russian spy with an old grudge to settle. All of the rest in the series are also great reads: Real Tigers, Spook Street, London Rules, Joe Country, Slough House, and Bad Actors. If you’re looking for a gift idea, the whole series is available as a boxed set.

I also enjoyed reading the Lew Griffin stories by James Sallis, published between 1994 and 2001. Start with The Long-Legged Fly, 1992, and you’ll be moving on to Moth, Black Hornet, Eye of the Cricket, Bluebottle, and Ghost of a Flea. Lew Griffin is a PI living in New Orleans and the stories revolve around the mysterious events that just keep coming his way.

Another entry in one of my favorite series is The Spread by Dana King, 2023. He just has a way of bringing the characters, situations, and the whole fictional town of Penns River to life. Crime fiction/police procedurals of the first order.

Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy, 2022, is the companion novel to The Passenger, and the final novel published before his death. The novel is a series of conversations between a patient who’s a math prodigy, conflicted by her father’s contribution to the development of the atomic bomb, and her psychiatrist. The dialogue is just what you'd expect from McCarthy, it's absolutely brilliant.

And there were some great stand-alones that I read this year. First up is Drive from 2005, another one by James Sallis. It tells the story of a Hollywood stunt driver who goes simply by Driver, and who does some getaway work on the side. As far as the crimes go, he just drives — that is till he’s double-crossed. It’s a well-paced story, with interesting characters and plot twists, and it’s told with style, and there’s the equally good sequel from 2012, Driven.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is one incredible debut novel. It's moving and funny with delightful characters. It tells the story of black maids working in white Southern homes in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Gutterson, from 1994, was another favorite — the tale of a Japanese fisherman accused of murdering a man in a close-knit community in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington State.

Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye from 1970 was her debut and a true literary masterpiece that looks hard at race, class, and gender. 

The Trackers by Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain, was published this past year. It takes readers through ramshackle towns, and it’s a terrific look at depression-era America as seen through the eyes of a painter who goes in search of a woman who mysteriously fled home.

The Ice Harvest was the debut for Scott Phillips, published in 2000. It’s Christmas Eve in Wichita, and a mob lawyer skips town with the money. What could go wrong? Yet, the only thing for sure is readers will be in for a dark, funny, and tightly-knit crime novel. 

There's no crime in it, but if you need a laugh or two, you won’t go far wrong with the weirdly, sometimes inappropriate, often foul-mouthed I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas, by Lewis Black, originally published in 2010.

I wish everyone the best over the Holidays, and here’s to a great New Year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Holiday Cheer!


Terry here: The year-end book review is one of my favorite blog posts. I love to read what others recommend. And I enjoy going back over the books I’ve read during the year and remembering why I either loved them or not so much. Occasionally because I was on a conference panel or was given a book as a gift, I discovered writers I might never have otherwise read, and that can be so rewarding! 

 Be prepared. I read a LOT of books this year, and this is a long list. I tried to pare it down, but every one that I recommended I felt really deserved recognition. 

 Here they are in the order I read them. 

 Bombay Monsoon, James Ziskin. Set in 1975, it’s the story of a young journalist who is sent on assignment to India and ends up falling for the wrong woman. Although it’s about a reporter, the book had the feel of a spy novel. 

 All Her Little Secrets, Wanda Morris. Who doesn’t know by now that Wanda Morris is an exceptional writer. This is the story of a lawyer who has kept her past hidden and gets her comeuppance when the man she has been sleeping with gets murdered and she is promoted into his position. The writing is superb, the story engrossing.

Here are two books I probably would never have picked up had I not been moderating a panel that included these writers: 

Device Free Weekend, Sean Doolittle. Techno thriller about Ryan Cloverhill, who made billions of dollars on a tech career. He invites seven friends to an all-expenses-paid weekend on his private island. The friends are allowed no devices—phones, tablets, or laptops. The book goes from an intriguing setup to a breath-taking plot. Ingenious and fast-paced. 

 Dance of the Returned, Devon A. Mihesuah—about American Indian time travel. Leroy Red Bear Ears is the instigator of the portal to the past for this Choctaw tribe. This is for sure something I never would have picked up on my own and I’m so glad I did. It’s beautifully written, with well-drawn characters and a deep plot. It digs deep into Choctaw culture, which is understandable because Mihesuah is a member of the Choctaw nation. 

 Hide, Tracy Clark. In Hide Clark really steps up her game. Part thriller, part police procedural, it introduces Harriet Foster, a cop who lost her partner to suicide and has been reassigned to a different police department. Very textured, well-written story.

 For a change of pace from my usual thriller/cop fare, I read Susan Shea’s Murder Visits a French Village. Loved this book. It’s a true mystery, but also has wonderful descriptions of French cooking and French culture. 

 Exit Wounds, Shannon Baker-A perfectly executed mystery. A huge family is surprised when their elusive mother, an artist, kills a man. Baker’s ability to describe people is unparalleled. I was completely engrossed and felt like I knew these characters. 

 For another book that’s a little different, read Gerald Elias’s Roundtree Days. It’s a hoot, a send-up of Longmire Days, the festival held each year based on Craig Johnson’s famous Sheriff Longmire. Characters and situations are hilarious.

 Relentless, Shawn Wilson—Another “panel” discovery. The perfect blend of police procedure and personal life. Partnership between the two cops really easy and believable. 

 Dead Drop, James L’Etoile—Terrific thriller. Non-stop action, with great descriptions, interesting characters, and very well written. 

 The Dog Stars, Peter Heller. Not really a mystery. I love Heller’s writing. It’s always lyrical and he weaves such a good story. This one is sad, but worth every minute of the read. 

Dead Lions, Real Tigers, and Spook Street, Mick Herron. I am gaga over the Slough House Series. I’m reading them slowly because I don’t want to come to the end of the series. After I read one of the books, I hardly remember the plot. It’s the characters that completely engage me. And I love the wicked, snarky wit in Herron’s writing. 

All That is Mine I Carry With Me, William Landay—Two things make me recommend this book. One, an intriguing plot with a truly surprise twist at the end. Two, the structure is interesting. It alternates between present-day action and another story-line with the dead woman telling what actually happened. Not always easy to pull off, but Landay nails it. 


Brilliant, engaging, serious, philosophical, violent, really an amazing book. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Set in the near future, it will grab you and hold onto you through the whole book. 

Another “panel” read: 

Helpless, Anette Dashofy—great thriller. Seat-of-your-chair action. Really well written. About a horrific set of murders in a small town. When I say I couldn’t put it down, I mean it. 

This is another one outside my usual reading: Play the Fool, Lina Chern. Great debut novel about a woman who reads Tarot cards and gets involved in a murder by a gangster. Very funny and well-written. 

 Saving Myles, Carl Vonderau—excellent read. Banker’s difficult son is kidnapped and the banker has to work for a crooked bank to pay back a loan to save him. 

 Here are a couple of non-mysteries I really enjoyed: 

 Return to Valetto, Dominic Smith. A professor returns to a dying Italian town where he used to spend his summers. A woman has moved into the house where his mother lived, claiming it was given to her by the man’s grandfather, who disappeared during WWII. It’s beautifully written, good plot, great characters. 

 Late Bloomers, Deepa Varadarajan. A delightfully unexpected book about an older East Indian couple who had an arranged marriage. The wife gets tired of husband’s gloom and doom and griping and divorces him. It’s funny and warm and the characters are memorable. 

 Ending with BSP: If you’re looking for a good read, my latest Craddock novel, Guilt Strikes at Granger’s Store, just got named one of the top mysteries of 2023 by Library Journal. 

 Happy Reading and Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 10, 2023

My Book Selection for 2023!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

I'll reiterate what Josh and other Minds have said -- book-giving is a wonderful thing, no matter the time of year. I've done lots of reading since last holiday season and have a few recommendations, although on my own book-giving list, I attempt to match reader to their own preferences. Not everyone loves crime fiction as much as we do!

The book that made the most impact on me is Tom Lake by Ann Patchett. A family comes together on the family cherry farm to weather the pandemic. The mother tells her three grown daughters stories from her time working summer stock, including a love affair with another actor before meeting their dad. The book is beautifully written and the story unfolds seamlessly. I loved everything about it from the characters to the setting.

In the lighter crime fiction category, I have three recommendations. First is Scot Mist by Catriona McPherson. This is the first in Catriona's series that I've read, and the situation - a group camping out in a motel during the pandemic with the motel owner being a germaphobe - is a setting ripe for humour. The protagonist, Lexy, is a therapist living on a boat near the motel, and she's part of the gang in isolation, one of whom turns up dead.

Next up is You Light Up My Death by Mary Jane Maffini. The book brings back Camilla McPhee, one of Mary Jane's funniest protagonists (in my humble opinion), and involves a romp through Cape Breton. Camilla and her police boyfriend Ray drive there to elope, but he gets drawn into a murder investigation involving old police colleagues and disappears. Camilla, believing herself jilted, sets out to track him down. Hilarity ensues.

I also enjoyed Going to Beautiful by Anthony Bilduka. This book won Crime Writers of Canada best novel for 2022! Jake Hardy's husband falls off their balcony and dies while Jake sick in bed with the flu. Heartbroken, he goes to the town of Beautiful, Saskatchewan to uncover more of his husband's past. The prairie setting in winter is gorgeously drawn. Humour, pathos and sympathetic characters make this a terrific read.

In the harder-hitting crime fiction category, I recommend Adrian McKinty's latest Sean Duffy novel The Detective Up Late, although I must confess that I am only a third of the way through. Big changes are happening in Sean's life as he attempts to solve one last murder case. Just a great series if you haven't happened upon it yet.

I also found Open Grave by Kjell Eriksson (Swedish translation) to be an interesting, well-written read. Told from a number of perspectives, the story centres around an elderly professor who wins a Nobel Prize for his work in the lab, even though he is heartily disliked by nearly everyone around him. Dark secrets eventually lead to murder.

In the thriller genre, Amy Stuart's Death at the Party is a good choice. The story is told in first person by Nadine, who is throwing a 60th birthday party for her mother, a famous author. Nadine's aunt was murdered thirty years earlier when Nadine was fifteen and has remained unsolved ... until the killer's identity comes to light. 

Finally, in the non-fiction category, I recommend Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. Meticulously researched, the book tells the story of the Osage people in the 1920s. They became ridiculously wealthy when oil was found on their land; unfortunately, white 'guardians' were appointed to control their money. Larceny and murder ensued in a horrific, monstrous network of evil. An important book to read as we come to terms with past wrongs done to Indigenous peoples.

These are some of the books that made my favourite list this year, but there are many, many more deserving books that would make great gifts. 

Thank you to each of you for continuing to support us authors and for telling others about our books. The love of reading is a gift that keeps on giving not only this year but throughout our lives.

I wish you peace and moments of joy this holiday season in addition to pockets of time to curl up with a good book :-) 


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Friday, December 8, 2023

5 Books Everyone Should Read, by Josh Stallings

Regardless of your holiday traditions - beliefs - or complete lack thereof, there is NEVER a bad time to gift someone with a book. Here are five books that moved me deeply over the last year. We each fall in love with books for particular and personal reasons. A book I love today, I may not in years to come. We all bring where we are at that very moment to our opinions of books. Any “best of” list is merely a snap-shot of where I’m at right this moment.

Margret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin (2000)

Over the last year or two I have fallen in love with Margret Atwood. My brother Larkin turned me on to the MaddAddam Trilogy, an amazing speculative apocalypse tale told from multiple points of view. The Blind Assassin is entirely different, but equally brilliant. Critical acclaim, it won both the Booker Prize and the Hammett Prize. Knowing Atwood's work, no one should be surprised that The Blind Assassin also deals with the high price women pay for living under the patriarchy. It is structurally a wonderfully odd multi-thread novel. One thread follows the lives of two aristocratic sisters from early 1900’s up until the 1980s. A second thread is the novel within the novel, a pulp sci-fi book called The Blind Assassin. In that novel is a love story between the people writing the pulp novel. It is a Matryoshka doll of meta storytelling. It is also about the craft of writing, not instructional but about the nature of the beast that is crafting words into ideas and emotions.

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”

— The Blind Assassin: A Novel by Margaret Atwood 

Jonathan Lethem’s Brooklyn Crime Novel, (2023)

Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude are two of finest books I’ve read. Now with Brooklyn Crime Novel he delivers a masterpiece of a very modern novel. The main character is Brooklyn itself. Over fifty years we watch as it changes, and is assaulted by criminals, yuppies, gentrifiers, grifters. Wait, I’m making it sound cold, and it is anything but. Lethem’s voice sings through it all. It is a memoir but one where the writer continually points out it is both true and fictional. He steps out of the narrative to rant about “show don’t tell,” and explains what the blank spaces between sections mean to him. He is a writer’s writer and this is a writer’s book. It might not be every reader’s cup-a-joe, but it should be.

Lou Berney’s Dark Ride (2023)

This is an action filled thriller who’s hero isn’t a person of action. Children are in danger, lives will be ruined, our only hope lays in the hands of a stoner slacker, who's main accomplishment so far is working as a ghost cowboy in a small time amusement park. It reads like The Big Lebowski but with real stakes. Berney always delivers complicated fully realized characters, who are both flawed and worth rooting for. He continues to be one of my favorite crime writers. 

James McBride's Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, (2023)

Deacon King Kong made me a fan of James McBride, Heaven & Earth Grocery Store made me an acolyte. A book so damn good I wish I had the skill to write with this much passion and depth. I have gushed about it in earlier posts. So today I’ll just say - READ THE DAMN BOOK. 

Adrian McKinty’s The Detective Up Late, (2023) 

I was up too late last night reading this one. The latest Sean Duffy novel, set in Belfast 1990. It is hard and brilliant, if you haven't read the earlier six Sean Duffy books, you’re in for a real treat. McKinty has written a flawed protagonist, but one who knows he is and is working to be a better person. He nails the period and place without ever resorting to trite references.    

BONUS - Audio Production:

Brokedown Prophets by S. A. Cosby

Full cast includes Kevin Hart, Charlamagne Tha God and more.

I’ve always felt S.A. Cosby’s dialogue sings with authenticity and wit. This original audio play proves me correct about just how good he is. The entire story is told through dialogue, no narration, expositional newscaster or nothing. And it really works. What’s it about? A group of small time crooks rip off the wrong evil bastard. Mayhem ensues. Hearts and vows are broken.  

BONUS - Children's book:

Zilot & Other Important Rhymes by Bob Odenkirk, Erin Odenkirk 

Here is a child's book of poetry, written by Bob Odenkirk with art by his daughter. It is both fully original and reminiscent of Shel Silverstein’s poetry. Every night Bob Odenkirk made up poems to tell his kids. He wanted to be sure they understood anybody can create a book and a story. We gifted our grand niece, Georgia Jane with a copy. You are never too young to enjoy poetry. I don't think the holidays are the only time of year to give children books. Erika and I give them whenever they cross our minds. Our kids had a huge library of books before they could read. Books that they could pick up and drool on. A good book should always be in easy reach regardless of your age.