Saturday, December 23, 2017

2017 Crime Fiction Faves

2017 was another quiet year for me in terms of blogging . However, as is always the case, I set aside time for reading. Below are my sixteen favorite crime novels of the year. I read many other outstanding novels (Little Fires Everywhere, The Weight of This World), but the ones below stuck with me long after I'd turned the last page. All of these novels come highly recommended. 

Click on the links below to order:

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

On November 30, 1999, officials from 125 countries convened in Seattle for the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference, several days of meetings intended as the launch of new multilateral trade negotiations. Intent on thwarting their efforts were more than 35,000 protesters—“masked anarchists” according to initial news reports—who marched through the downtown area, condemning the free trade rules as harmful to both the environment and animal welfare.  Unrest quickly ensued. And the severely outnumbered police force, at the behest of its chief, responded with callous and aggressive tactics in an attempt to force the protesters to accede. Seattle police officers fired rubber bullets and concussion bombs at the protesters, clouded the streets with tear gas, and made arrests in the hundreds.

This is the tableau for Sunil Yapa’s masterful debut novel, “Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist.” The stark yellow cover features a mélange of blurbs from literary heavyweights, and their bolded proclamations, as lofty as many of them are, only give a hint at the fierce power of Yapa’s tale. He is indeed a “raw and rare talent.” The novel is surely “acutely hopeful” and “forcefully alive” and “wrenching, beautiful” and “visceral, horrifying, and often heroic.” You get the picture. Yet, again, Yapa’s prose is so poetic, so deeply wrought, so rooted in honesty, to attempt to sort through its many sterling qualities with just a few words of praise is, I’m afraid, a losing proposition.

The winning title alone makes Yapa’s debut worth a look. Closer inspection, happily, reveals an artist with a full complement of brushes at hand—brushes with differing purposes and specific textures. Setting is rendered with tender strokes. The failing of many writers is including too many details that blur a reader’s visual acuity of the story. When Yapa writes, “For five hours now the tear gas had been falling. The streets swarmed with smoke…” he includes just enough detail to place you, dear reader, there on the streets of Seattle during this harrowing event.

What of character?

Here Yapa provides several close range camera angles. There is Victor, an intentionally homeless teenager who happens upon the protest in hopes of selling as much weed as possible. There is his estranged father, Bishop, who as police chief is charged with easing the growing strife. There are two diehard protesters, King and John Henry, struggling to uphold their nonviolent perspective. There are two very different police officers, Ju and Park, with their boots firmly planted on the street, in the thick of the mess. And there is Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe, a financial minister from Sri Lanka, and a man determined enough to walk through a rain of rubber bullets and clouds of deadly chemicals in order to change his country’s economic fate. These characters are fully realized, with tangled histories and kaleidoscopic perspectives. They are at turns impulsive. And violent. And compassionate. And thoughtful. A gumbo of physiognomies that offers them no outlet other than a leaping vault from the page.

The tension between the police and the protesters is certainly the through line for this magnificent novel, but Yapa layers in enough personal conflicts and shifting character arcs to further season his delicious story. His ambitious novel also explores issues of race, love, and, perhaps most importantly, enduring hope in our desperately wicked world. When I pause to consider Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street this late-90s tale of Seattle in turmoil seems particularly relevant with the timbre of today. Upon further thought, perhaps this wonderful novel can be summed up with just a few words. I believe Colum McCann has it right when he deems this “a literary Molotov cocktail.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Word Association Best Books of 2015

Below are my favorite crime fiction reads from 2015. Each novel is followed by the word or phrase that first came to mind when I considered the book for this list.

Devastatingly poetic

Justified blockbuster

Ending that lingers




Coyote attacks

Enduring characters

True to life


Mind games


MWA Grand Master for a reason

Black sheep

Politics and murder

Don't make him

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Books I've Read in 2015 (all highly recommended)

Michael Wiley
“Blue Avenue”
Michael Kardos
“The Three-Day Affair”
Tim Johnston
Benjamin Whitmer
“Cry Father”
Paula Hawkins
“The Girl on the Train”
Stephen King
Cormac McCarthy
“The Gardener’s Son: a screenplay”
James Sallis
“Others of my Kind”
Sebastian Rotella
“The Convert’s Song”
Mason Cross
“The Killing Season”
Wiley Cash
“This Dark Road to Mercy”
Harper Lee
“To Kill a Mockingbird”
Tom Bouman
“Dry Bones in the Valley”
Ann Rittenberg and Lauren Whitcomb
“Your First Novel: A Published Author and aa Top Agent Share the Keys to Achieving Your Dream”
Dennis Lehane
“Live By Night”
Matt Burgess
“Uncle Janice”
M.O. Walsh
“My Sunshine Away”
David Joy
“Where All Light Tends to Go”
Dennis Lehane
“World Gone By”
Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt
“The Whites”
Olen Steinhauer
“All the Old Knives”
Stephen King
“Doctor Sleep”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“We Should All Be Feminists”
Owen Laukkanen
“The Stolen Ones”
Walter Mosley
“This Year You Write Your Novel”
Stieg Larsson
“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”
Jo Nesbo
“Blood on Snow”
Stieg Larsson
“The Girl Who Played with Fire”
Gregg Hurwitz
Toni Morrison
“God Help the Child”
Eric Jerome Dickey
“One Night"
John Ridley
“Stray Dogs”
Greg Iles
“Natchez Burning”
Craig Holden
“The Narcissist’s Daughter”
T.C. Boyle
“The Harder They Come”
Attica Locke
Craig Holden
“The River Sorrow”
Ron Rash
“Saints at the River”
Ron Rash
“My Father Like a River”
Paul Doiron
“The Precipice”
Cormac McCarthy
“No Country for Old Men”
Victor Gischler
Sarah Leipciger
“The Mountain Can Wait”
Michael Harvey
“The Governor’s Wife”
James Scott Bell
“Super Structure”
Brian Panowich
“Bull Mountain”

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Favorite Crime Novels from 2014

My favorite crime novels (in no particular order) from 2014

“The Big Finish” by James W. Hall

“The Ways of the Dead” by Neely Tucker

“The Forsaken” by Ace Atkins

“Windingo Island” by William Kent Krueger

“Man Down” by Roger Smith

“Fourth of July Creek” by Smith Henderson

“Cop Town” by Karin Slaughter

“Suspicion” by Joseph Finder

  “Kill Fee” by Owen Laukkanen

 “The Son” by Jo Nesbo

“Hangman” by Stephan Talty

“Rose Gold” by Walter Mosley

  “The Bone Orchard” by Paul Doiron

“Deep Winter” by Samuel W. Gailey