Most of the reading I did in these two months was in preparation for Kris Rusch’s Mystery Writing workshop. As a result, most of these recommendations come from that genre.
Bruen, Ken, The Guards, St. Martins Minotaur, 2003. Not only had I never read Bruen before, I’d never even heard of him. This book, however, was part of the assigned reading for the workshop and I’m glad it was. It’s the first in Bruen’s Jack Taylor series and one of the darkest novels I’ve read in a long time.
If you like your heroes squeaky clean, you’ll have problems with Taylor, a former member of Ireland’s police force (aka “the Guards”). He’s an alcoholic who may be witty as hell but sometimes behaves abominably.
Which works. You feel his need to drink, his self-destructive compulsion.
I loved this book and will be reading all of the Jack Taylor series, if not all of Bruen.
Carter, Scott William, The Last Great Getaway of the Water Balloon Boys, Simon and Schuster, 2010. This is the lone entry from this list that isn’t a mystery. It’s a Young Adult adventure novel, one that begins:
If I’m going to tell you how I killed this kid, I can’t start on the day it happened.
Carter catches you with that opening line and holds you throughout the book. You might wonder if a novel with that opening is appropriate for young adults. It is. You might also wonder if it works only for young adults. It doesn’t. I enjoyed it a great deal.
This is Carter’s first novel, but it won’t be his last. I’ve been reading and admiring his short fiction for the last two years. This won’t be the last you hear of him.
Crais, Robert, L.A. Requiem, Ballantine, 1999. I’d seen Crais novels in the bookstores for years but never bought one. God knows why. I’d just always grabbed other ones. (I buy them faster than I can read them.)
What a mistake.
This novel of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike blew me away. When I finished it, I said to myself, “Oh God, I wish I could have written this.” And promptly began analyzing it chapter by chapter.
I’m looking forward to reading a lot more Crais. A lot more.
Franklin, Tom, “Poachers,” The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, edited by Tony Hillerman and Otto Penzler. I read this anthology a couple years ago, but since it was assigned reading for the workshop I went back and re-read this favorite.
It’s my kind of mystery story. I read for character, so mysteries that are merely puzzles bore me. This story takes you into the swamps and brings alive three scary brothers in convincing fashion.
Lehane, Dennis, “Animal Rescue,” Boston Noir, edited by Dennis Lehane, Akashic Books, 2009. I loved Mystic River. I’ve read the book and watched the movie twice each. So when I saw Lehane had edited this anthology, it became a must-buy. I only feared that he’d place his own contribution near the end and I’d be tempted to read the stories out of order.
It turned out there was no need to worry. “Animal Rescue” comes second in the book and doesn’t disappoint.
Smith, Alexander McCall, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Knopf, 2003. Here’s another winner that I’d missed when it first came out, an error rectified by its inclusion in the workshop’s list of required reading. I loved this charming and delightful series of connected stories that chronicle the exploits of Mma Ramotswe, the only female detective in Botswana. I look forward to continuing my way through the rest of the series.