I sat down to figure out what books I read during 2017, and which ones I wanted to talk about, with the idea that I had, once again, read more old books than new this year. To my surprise, I came up with a nearly even split, and decided, for the purpose at hand, to stick with new books published over the last 12 months. Not much else to do but get to it.
She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper is probably a book everyone has heard of at this point, and with good reason. Eleven-year-old Polly McClusky is one of the best characters to appear in a crime novel in some time. That may sound like a gamble, and maybe it is, but the words throughout hum and sing, never hitting a false note or even hinting at one. It’s a hell of a good story, and I haven’t read a better debut novel since Scott Phillips’s The Ice Harvest.
Steph Post’s Lightwood was one of two novels that really set my year of reading off with a bang. Post has a style that is lyrical and direct at the same time, and her novel about the Cannon family of Florida and the bonds of blood hits every chord just right. I don’t often say I’m looking forward to the sequel, but in this case, bring it on.
The other novel in the January 2017 combo was The Neon Lights Are Veins by Nolan Knight. I tend to enjoy a good novel about Los Angeles, and this sucker is no slouch. Gritty and low without wallowing in it. As far as I know, this fine novel is still an orphan from the 280 Steps debacle. If that doesn’t change soon, I’d urge anyone who hasn’t read it to hunt down a copy before they become too scarce.
What We Reckon by Eryk Pruitt does more than fulfill the promise of Dirtbags and Hashtag, it rockets so far ahead you might think the good Reverend is practicing some black arts over in Durham. The prose is wild and fiery, and there wasn’t a novel I read this year that was more of a good time than this one, even if I did have to keep checking to make sure my wallet was still in my pocket. As with the novels of Harper and Post, Pruitt’s latest raises the bar for the level of quality storytelling and attention to craft in crime fiction.
Punk rock and crime fiction go well together, if you ask me. Zero Avenue by Dietrich Kalteis more than proves the point. Kalteis writes fun novels, and this, his fifth, is his best work yet. This book was probably destined to be a favorite the moment Joey Shithead made an appearance. This is the perfect novel for the fan of both punk and crime fiction in your life.
Eva Dolan’s Watch Her Disappear is the fourth in her series of Zigic and Ferreira novels. I don’t read a lot of procedural novels, but whenever a new one from Eva Dolan comes out, I get to it pronto. Always compelling and socially relevant, Dolan has the skill to talk about things that are important without ever going near a soapbox or pulpit. Highly recommended, especially if you think this kind of crime fiction isn’t your kind of thing.
If someone said to me, “What’s a crime novel?” With The Right Enemies by Rob Pierce would be one of a few select books I’d pull of the shelf. This is front to back solid as hell crime writing. You like crime fiction? Rob Pierce is your guy.
Which brings me to American Static by Tom Pitts. I’d call this Tom’s masterpiece, but I’ve got a feeling he’s just getting started. This one is a hell of a ride. The pages fly on this one, and it’s a hard book to put down once you’ve started. If a novel had a volume knob, you’d play this one loud.
One might say Glenn Gray’s Transgemination isn’t what you expect from him, but delivering something other than what’s expected is where Glenn comes in. If you ever wondered what a Saturday afternoon horror/sci-fi movie would be like if the science was sound, this short novel is the ticket. A truly enjoyable story, and one that I will most definitely read again.
Ed’s Dead by Russel D. McLean is the sequel to last year’s And When I Die. This is full tilt boogie crime fiction where you get both quality and flash. The book works fine with or without having read its predecessor. If you know Russel’s McNee novels, all of which I’d recommend without reservation, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by Ed’s Dead. If you’ve never read McLean before, here’s a great place to start.
Over the last few years, Gallic has been bringing out the novels of Pascal Garnier translated into English for the first time. This year’s release is the novel Low Heights, and it does not disappoint. I’m all for brevity, and Garnier’s novels do more in 150 pages or so than most author’s can muster in four or five times the pages. If noir is your thing, grab all of the Garnier novels and read them.
I’m reasonably sure it was William Boyle who pointed me in the direction of Yuri Herrera at some point in the last year. Like the departed Frenchman Garnier, Herrera shows a dedication to keeping his novels short, and they are all the better for it. Both hardboiled and surreal, Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera is the antidote to the malaise that can sometimes set in when you read a lot of books.
All Things Violent by Nikki Dolson came out back in August and proved to be an immediately memorable debut novel. It’s violent, but Dolson also deals in atmosphere and (at least I think so) humor which makes some of the grim goings on less so. Back in 2012, Anthony Neil Smith organized an event here in Chicago called The Wrong Kind Of Reading. The writer who was new to me that night happened to be Nikki Dolson, and her story broke the ice in the room and set the tone for everything that followed. I became and fan then, and it’s great to finally have a novel from this talented writer.
Speaking of Anthony Neil Smith, his debut novel Psychosomatic was reissued this year by Down & Out Books. Danny Gardner’s debut novel, A Negro And An Ofay, one of my favorite reads of 2015, also received the reissue treatment from Down & Out this year. If you missed out on these books the first time around, definitely check them out.
Getting Carter by Nick Triplow is a book I wanted to read before it was ever announced. I’d seen and was a fan of the Mike Hodges movie Get Carter, but it didn’t immediately strike me to hunt down the book it was based on. Instead, it was seeing a paperback copy of GBH by Ted Lewis that got me going. Thing is, I didn’t pick it up because of some recognition from Lewis’s name and the film, it was the book’s title that did it. Back in the 80s, I became a fan of the UK band GBH (sometimes known as Charged GBH), and when I saw the Lewis book on the shelf, I was compelled to pick it up. A quick check of the back cover and yeah, I knew it was going to be my kind of thing. After that, I was on a hunt for the works of Ted Lewis (If I had waited 20 years or so, it would have gone a lot easier.). Triplow has done an amazing and valuable job with this book. It’s a real pleasure to read, and Ted Lewis is done a well-deserved service in its pages. The U.S. publication date isn’t until May of 2018, but, having waited for a book on Lewis like this for so long, I coughed up the extra cash and ordered my copy from the UK.
My favorite movie of 2013 was a dark gem called Cheap Thrills, written by Trent Haaga and directed by E.L. Katz. This year, Haaga wrote and directed 68 Kill, based on the novel of the same name by Bryan Smith. Katz returned to the director’s chair this year with Small Crimes, based on the novel by Dave Zeltserman, with Katz and Macon Blair collaborating on the screenplay. There’s never a shortage of good books being turned into bad movies, but Haaga and Katz both did it right with their respective adaptations. Generally, I think using the source novel or story as the screenplay is a poor idea. The screenwriters of 68 Kill and Small Crimes avoided going down that road, and while, if you’ve read the novels, there’s plenty to recognize and the overall feel of the respective sources remains intact, the films stand on their own. I’m a big fan of small scale crime films, and this fine pair really scratched that itch for me this year. Check them out if you haven’t already, and grab the books by Smith and Zeltserman while you’re at it.