The Crime Stack

As TS Hottle, my main focus was science fiction for around eight years. I also spent a longer-than-planned interval going through Stephen King’s canon. (I’ll have finished in the fall when Holly debuts. By which time, he’ll have announced ten more books.)

But I missed crime. And since signing with Down & Out Books, I’ve become one of their editors. On my most recent project, I had to stop and put a comment in the manuscript for the author. I turned to my wife and said, “I hate that. I have to stop, and I want to know what comes next.” Yeah, poor me. Took me all of two minutes to highlight and comment before jumping back in. Imagine that. An editor who gets into the book he’s working on.

But then there’s reading. And I make sure there’s a crime novel at least once a month, maybe two if the rest of the books are short, I have space on my audiobook stack, or there’s an indie book that happens to fit.

So, what I’ve read so far this year?

My Darkest Prayer – SA Cosby: One thing Cosby does is paint a South not depicted by doom scrolling or social media trolling. (And Cosby is on social media a lot.) In Blacktop Wasteland, he shows one man having to deal with a criminal past, race, and that old chestnut, falling between the cracks. In this case, his mother loses her assistance from the government, forcing him to pay for her stay in a nursing home. Cosby does for rural Virginia what Ken Bruen did for Galway. Though Cosby seems to take less flack for it. Probably because he doesn’t have to deal with the thin-skinned Martin O’Malley as governor. (You owe David Simon an apology, Marty! A public one!)

Blue Like Me – Aaron Philip Clark: I love Clark’s Under Color of Law and his lead character, Trevor Finnegan. In the first book, we meet Finn as an LA police detective set up to fail. He must investigate the death of a cadet during what should have been a routine patrol. But the thumbprint of the LAPD’s autocratic chief Daryl Gates is still on the force. Finn not only has to deal with being a black cop in the LAPD but being a cop in LA, where the echoes of the Rodney King riots still ring. In Blue Like Me, Finn has become a PI, which lets him get back to his two true loves: art and his now-girlfriend Sarada. But he makes his living investigating dirty cops. He’s about to jet off to France for six months with Sarada, a chef, when one case blows up in his face. One detective is killed, and his former partner, Sally Munoz, is now under a cloud for it.

Now Finn has to pretend to be a cop to help Munoz find her partner’s killer. The case may cost him his job and Sarada.

The Madness of Crowds – Louise Penny: I had not read the Inspector Gamache series before. It took a little getting used to. Set on the fringes of the Montreal metro area, the dialog has smatterings of French and has a decidedly different flavor from the brutal take of American crime fiction or the world-weary atmosphere of its British counterpart.

In this tale, Inspector Gamache is asked to oversee a speech given by a controversial figure who could only find a sizeable following during the pandemic. She believes the weak should be euthanized. To say her murder would not break my heart is an understatement. (She’s fictional! I can do that with a clear conscience!) The speech does devolve into chaos, and Gamache and his team spend the next few weeks picking up the pieces.

Three Rings – JM Clark: I took an unusual path to getting this book. I first became aware of JM Clark via a local bookstore shown on the news in a neighborhood where I used to live. My wife and I visited, and I bought his near future dystopian trilogy. While handing him an author copy of Holland Bay, he told me he’d written a crime novel, which came out in February. That went right in the rotation. Set in Fairfield, about 20 minutes from where I’m sitting, a father deals with not only the fallout from his son’s death (alchoholism, failed marriage, ex-wife’s own financial and addiction issues), but now the same serial killer may threaten his younger son. It’s a redemption story overlaid with a serial killer tale that ends with a conspiracy thriller setup. Going small press allows an author to unshackle themselves from the “rules,” and Clark takes full advantage here.

Fan Fiction – Brent Spiner: Oh, my God! Forget Spiner on The Ready Room swapping backstage stories with Wil Wheaton. (Well, don’t. Spiner is a hilarious interviewee.) I knew some of the people some of these characters were based upon, namely the Spiner Femmes of the 90s. (Thankfully, none of those modeled in the book I was married to. I think.) Spiner spins a self-deprecating tail of “fan noir” where a stalker penetrates the wall of security around most Star Trek sets. The cast is there, sometimes exaggerated. But having met Michael Dorn and Marina Sirtis, I couldn’t help thinking “Oh, my God! That’s really them!” Which shows how close this cast is. Amusing is LeVar Burton’s New Age vibe. Poignant is the one event pinning this story on the calendar. Gene Roddenberry (who makes a couple of appearances) dies midway through the story. Spiner, despite his crazy stalker, goes to the funeral.

What’s coming up on my stack:

Everybody Knows – Jordan Harper: I should have found Harper sooner, and he comes highly recommended from people I know. He’s actually up after I read AC/DC’s Brian Johnson’s memoir.

Driving Reign – TG Wolff: I came across TG last year. Like I used to, she writes about Cleveland. Unlike me, her Cleveland is modern day and unrecognizable from Kepler’s hometown. I read last years Razing Stakes and was impressed. So now I have Driving Reign.

Device Free Weekend – Sean Doolittle: Sean’s one of those writers I started out with and has obviously had more success. I once annoyed Harlan Coben because I mistook him Sean. (True story.) It’s been a while since I read his work, so this sounds like a good place to pick back up.

Casino Royale – Ian Fleming: It’s been (mumble mumble) years since I’ve read this. I’ve decided to reread this again. The original Bond.

All Sinners Bleed – SA Cosby: Are you kidding? After reading the masterpieces that were Blacktop Wasteland and Razor Blade Tears, did you think I’d skip the rerelease of Cosby’s debut? Not on your life!

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