Clowes, Daniel. Patience.

Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2016.

Clowes is probably best known for Ghost World, but he’s done a number of other graphic novels, too. This one is sort of science fiction. It’s 2012 and young Jack Barlow, who is scraping a living by handing out flyers on the street, comes home to find Patience, his wife, murdered. The cops decide he did it, and he spends many months in jail before they give up trying to make their case and cut him loose.

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Backderf, John. My Friend Dahmer.

NY: Abrams, 2012.

Jeffrey Dahmer wasn’t the only serial killer America produced in the late 20th century but he was one of the most disturbing ones, if only because, after he was caught in 1991, he was candid and forthright about what he had done. Unlike Gacy and others who come to mind, he didn’t make excuses or try to shift the blame. But he really didn’t know why he had killed sixteen men, either.

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Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep.

NY: Knopf, 1939.

There are people who will tell you that Philip Marlowe is THE fictional detective in American literature and it’s hard to argue with them. This was his first appearance and Chandler’s prose is as smooth and ironically elegant as it was more than three-quarters of a century ago. It’s not a long book, less than 180 pages, but the author doesn’t waste a single word anywhere. It really does set the standard for every private eye story that came after.

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Leonard, Elmore. The Big Bounce.

NY: Dell, 1969.

Leonard was one of the great crime novelists of the late 20th century, and this is one of his early books, with no actual Good Guys, just an array of greater and lesser Bad Guys, some of whom are quite engaging. It’s a rather short book, but it’s not bad. Ryan is a small-time B-and-E man from Detroit who has spent some time in prison, but he’s not a monster.

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Published in: on 13 September 2017 at 5:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pelecanos, George P. The Cut.

NY: Little, Brown, 2011.

Pelecanos is considered one of the best crime novelists writing these days, but some of his books have worked more successfully for me than others. This first entry in a new character series is above-average even for him. And, like all his books, it’s set in the grittier, more crime-ridden parts of blue-collar Washington, D.C., that the tourists never see. Spero Lucas is an adopted Greek, a Marine veteran of Iraq, and now an unlicensed investigator working for attorneys and also doing recovery jobs on the side. If you lose something or have had it stolen, he’ll try to find it for you — for a commission of forty percent of the assessed value.

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Crombie, Deborah. Garden of Lamentations.

NY: William Morrow, 2017.

This is the seventeenth entry (over nearly a quarter-century) in what has been a pretty good semi-cozy though literate police procedural series set mostly in London — especially considering the author is a native Texan living near Dallas. The protagonists are Duncan Kincaid, a Detective Superintendent with the Met, and Gemma James, who was originally his sergeant, became his girlfriend, and then his wife, and is now a Detective Inspector herself.

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Perry, Thomas. The Boyfriend.

NY: Mysterious Press, 2013.

Perry has written twenty-odd suspense novels in the past thirty-five years, and they’re generally pretty good. And he has the awards to prove it. I’ve read more than half his books, and while I’ve enjoyed them, I’ve also discovered, unfortunately, how inconsistent he can be. He sort of specializes in protagonists who are on the run — or, in this case, on the chase — and he spends a good deal of time detailing the ingenious methods they make use of either to hide from the Bad Guys or to track them down and put them out of action. It’s an often fascinating process and it’s largely what makes the books worth reading, especially since the available technology has changed so greatly in the past quarter-century.

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Finch, Charles. A Beautiful Blue Death.

NY: St. Martin, 2007.

Mystery novels in a historical setting are very problematic, I’ve found, but my wife recommended this new series so I gave it a try. And it’s not bad. It does have problems, but most of them are common to nearly any first novel. It’s 1865 in London and Charles Lenox, the 30-ish younger brother of a baronet, is one of the unmarried idle rich. Well, not so idle, actually: He’s a talented amateur detective (and armchair explorer who wishes he could find the time to actually travel) who frequently shows up the plods at Scotland Yard,

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Swierczynski, Duane. Fun and Games.

NY: Mulholland Books, 2011.

This is the first volume in the author’s rather off-the-wall “Charlie Hardie” trilogy, and it’s a doozy. Charlie, now around forty, was never actually a cop but he used to work with the Philadelphia PD on legally questionable crime-fighting assignments. Then everything blew up (almost literally) and his partner (together with his wife and kids) was massacred by a drug gang and Charlie’s own wife and son are in Witness Protection while Charlie himself scratches out a living around the country as a house-sitter.

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Published in: on 18 June 2017 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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Hammett, Dashiell. The Thin Man.

NY: Knopf, 1934.

Hammett, one of the fathers of the modern detective story, only wrote five novels, of which this was his last, about the wealthy and sophisticated Nick and Nora Charles. It’s difficult to read about Hammett’s other famous detective, Sam Spade, without imagining Bogie, who made the character his own but who also played the hardboiled Spade pretty much the way the author wrote him. When Nick and Nora came to the silver screen, though, William Powell and Myrna Loy mostly just played themselves, and they mostly played the Charleses for laughs. And that’s not at all fair to the book, which certainly wasn’t written as light comedy.

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