I know, a nonfiction book might not be the best place to start a crime list, but this one deserves to be here. For me, the best nonfiction is the kind that reads like fiction, and Kelly accomplishes that in this book. I knew a few things about Dan J. Marlowe before reading this, but I know a lot of things now, and the man lead a life worthy of his fiction.
9. The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell
To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about a Woodrell novel with a historical twist. Needless to say, he proved me wrong. This is a different kind of Woodrell (it was really obvious because I’d read Tomato Red a few weeks before this one), but one I enjoyed as much as the one I’m accustomed to.
8. Low Down Death Right Easy by J. David Osborne
Osborne is doing his own thing and folks who haven’t checked out his work are missing out on a fresh and unique voice in crime fiction. LDDRE is grimy, weird, layered, and full of great passages. Crime fiction shines when dirty is done well, and that’s the case here.
7. Sociopaths in Love by Andersen Prunty
This is the crime book I loved that none of my fellow crime lovers read. Prunty’s work tends to be bizarro, but this narrative about two sociopaths learning (and failing horribly) to live together while one goes on a killing rampage reads like a sicker, weirder version of Natural Born Killers.
6. The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura
This was my introduction to Nakamura and immediately made me put him on my list of authors whose new work I always want to check out as soon as it comes out.
5. Country Hardball by Steve Weddle
Short. Brutal. Sharp. Dark. I could go on and on. Country Hardball sticks with you because Weddle’s writing feels real. My only complaint about this one is that it was over way too soon.
4. The Least of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones
Jones is comfortably nested in that violent spot where crime and horror meet and the work he produces bridges the gap between the two genres better than anyone else’s. The Least of My Scars is sharp and cerebral, but what makes it one of my favorite reads of the year is the combination of humor, gore, and psychosis.
3. Out of the Black by John Rector
This one brought together all of my favorite elements and delivered them at breakneck speed. Sure, there are guns, bad guys, violence, loan sharks, and the promises of easy money, but the narrative is ultimately about loss, and that makes the novel feel poignant above and beyond its plot.
2. Cold Quiet Country by Clayton Lindemuth
I picked this up and thought “Well, here’s another noir from some dude I don’t know.” A few pages later, I thought “Who the fuck is this guy? This is some of the best prose I’ve read in while.” By the time I turned the last page, I thought “Everyone needs to reads Clayton Lindemuth. I hope he has something else coming out soon!”
1. The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson
Outstanding dialogue, great violence, tight plot, likeable characters: you want it, The Hard Bounce’s got it. It’s also unbelievably funny. I expected something good from Robinson, but this one blew me away. This was the novel I kept recommending in 2013 whenever someone asked me what they should read next. I’ll probably keep recommending it this year.
The Nerd of Noir
Low Down Death Right Easy by J. David Osborne
This spare, off-beat novel knocked the Nerd on his ass with its originality, intelligence and unwillingness to hold the reader’s hand.
Pale Horses by Nate Southard
An incredible grasp of tension and character kept me glued to this beast but its full-dark finale gave it a place on the year end list.
Fierce Bitches by Jedidiah Ayres
Peckerwood couldv’e also made the list but Bitches consistently surprised me with its invention, dark poetry and big-ass balls.
Donnybrook by Frank Bill
Had been hearing about this novel for no-shit *years.* Even with all the hype it still made the list. That takes some fucking talent right there.
Corrosion by Jon Bassoff
Bassoff has been putting out great shit for years as the New Pulp Press editor but Corrosion proved he’s as good a writer as he is tastemaker.
Sacrifices by Roger Smith
If you’re not hip to Smith’s pitch black, insanely bloody Capetown class/race warfare tragedies, Sacrifices is a fantastic place to start.
Inside Straight by Ray Banks
Banks takes the classic downward spiral noir story and gives it a great man-child/aspberger-y nerd spin that’s fresh as all hell.
Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell
A novel both incredibly sprawling and painfully intimate, The Maid’s Version is the shortest “epic” novel you’re likely to ever read.
Rake by Scott Phillips
Part psycho noir, part debauched Parisian travelogue, part brutal celebrity/Hollywood satire, Rake needs to make it to the screen toot-sweet.
The Baddest Ass by Anthony Neil Smith
The return of Billy Lafitte is something to be celebrated and this nasty ticking clock prison novel is one party the Nerd never wanted to end.
Mad Dogs, Midgets and Screw Jobs: The Untold Story of How Montreal Shaped the World of Wrestling
This was my favorite non-fiction book of the year. It probably doesn’t have a very wide appeal but I was fascinated by this slice of wrestling history.
Last of the Smoking Bartenders by CJ Howell
This is one of those books that doesn’t fit squarely into any one genre or category, and it is better off for it. This is a book about madness that puts the reader riding shotgun in a manic-depressive roadtrip. This is also a book with the rare actual character arc.
Mountain Home by Bracken MacLeod
Mountain Home starts off with a bang, literally as a sniper starts shooting up a remote mountain diner. From there we move from tense moment to scary moment until we’ve learned about why this whole thing started. The end result is one of my favorite books of the year.
Others of My Kind by James Sallis
Odd is a word that could be used to describe the latest Sallis offering. Brilliant is another one. Sallis has crafted a real gem here with each line being an integral part of the whole, nothing wasted. This may not be a book for everyone but it is a rewarding and haunting one.
The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell
Woodrell is a writer worth waiting for. This is another work where there isn’t a single wasted word and every word is essential. The Maid’s Version is also that rare work with a distinct voice.
Low Down Death Right Easy by J David Osborne
LDDRE is a lean, mean, noir machine. This is a sleek and nasty and minimal noir that isn’t for the faint of heart and the more rewarding for being so.
Peckerwood & Fierce Bitches by Jedidiah Ayres
Peckerwood had the rare distinction of making last years best of list even though it hadn’t been released yet. Peckerwood is a gritty story about family and crime in a small town. Even though it is a dark story I think that Peckerwood has the potential for a wider audience as there is never darkness for darkness sake, just darkness in service of story.
Fierce Bitches was one of my favorite reads this year. For the first part of the story I felt comfortable in what kind of story I was in and where it was going. Then Jed yanked the rug out from under me over and over again. It was a thrilling read because I had no idea where it was going. Then once it got there I wanted to start from the beginning and read it again. Jedidiah Ayres may just have one of the best imaginations in crime fiction and this wholly original novella helps that claim.
The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent
The Outcasts seemed to be marketed as historical fiction but it is really a western. This is a great story, with alternating and slowly converging story lines, fully developed characters, dark moments, and fantastical moments that would have entered into the western mythos had they really happened.
HNIC by Albert “Prodigy” Johnson
I’m a long time fan of street books and a lot of them feel like they could benefit from at least one more round of editing (especially copy editing), even fans of the genre have to admit that. HNIC does not have this problem. This is a fast paced revenge novella in parts of the city that most mainstream crime fiction doesn’t visit.
Grind Joint by Dana King
I had a couple of thoughts while reading Grind Joint which I’ll try to link together (probably poorly so be warned). The Friends of Eddie Coyle is highly regarded as one of the best crime novels ever (the movie is a classic too) but Higgins’s fiction has seemed to have fallen out of favor some. Writers now aren’t talking about his work in the same way that they talk about others. Also a certain kind of crime fiction seems to have fallen out of favor too; fiction with a bigger cast of characters on both side of the law, usually has some mob focus (think Higgins, think Dead City by Shane Stevens). In fact, a well known publisher has “Books about organized crime aren’t our thing.” in their submission guidelines. It seems like there are a couple of writers that are influenced by Higgins and have written or are writing these types of books. Grind Joint is one of them. Grind Joint has cops, small town mobsters, a PI, an old spook, and many others. We see all of these characters deal with a murder case, turf wars, political machinations, home invasions and so much more. King has said that he’s been influenced by The Wire (itself a visual fiction of the type talked about above), and it shows.
Night of the Furies by JM Taylor
I don’t know who JM Taylor is (I have a guess though!) but this one surprised me. It landed on my Kindle, I started reading it, and I just kept right on going because it grabbed me right away. One of the interesting things here is that you have a complete and total asshole of a protagonist in situations that should make him more likeable. That he retains his hate-ability is a brave choice that may shake some readers but remember, this is a noir. So when does get his eventual comeuppance (this is a noir so this isn’t a spoiler) it makes it so much sweeter.
The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson
Big Daddy Thug’s novel has been floating around the industry for YEARS. The Hard Bounce is a hardboiled series in the vein of the Hap & Leonard books. There is a mystery to be solved but really you are reading for the interactions between the two life long friends, Junior and Boo.
Nothing Save the Bones Inside Her by Clayton Lindemuth
Lindemuth’s debut noir novel, Cold Quiet Country, seemed to come out of nowhere last year because he didn’t come up through the noir ranks of online zines like so many tend to do. It blew my hair back too. Nothing Save the Bones Inside Her is a stark, rural, brutal book with a distinct voice and a story that goes in unexpected places.
Flushboy by Stephen Graham Jones
The main Jones releases in 2013 (Flushboy, The Least of My Scars, Sterling City) are all of a type. They all feature fantastical and highly imaginative events filtered through a tight perspective and a limited setting. They are all also highly recommended. Flushboy is about a teenage boy who works in a drive through urinal. But really it’s about the relationship between a father and a son, a guy and his girl, life in a small town, and chasing your crazy ass dreams.
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, Year of the Storm by John Mantooth, American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett
These were my favorite fantastical books of the year. They all feature great characters, creepy moments, great writing, and mysteries at their heart that keep the pages turning.
Honorable Mentions: The Least of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones, Gravesend by William Boyle, The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, My Pet Serial Killer by Michael Seidlinger.
Collections & Anthologies: American Death Songs, Fish Bites Cop, Booked, Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled 2, All Due Respect, Steel Heart, Kwik Krimes, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, Staring into the Abyss, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives.
Favorite movie: Mud
CV Hunt – I discovered the work of CV Hunt this year and have greatly enjoyed everything of hers that I’ve read so far. Highly imaginative, a certain daring, and a sense of not knowing just what in the hell to expect.
Broken River Books – Great new crime publisher to keep an eye on.
King of the Perverts by Steve Lowe
This was one of my favorite reads from the year but was published last year. After reading the synopsis I was unsure. It’s simple for a premise like this to go awry. So I downloaded a sample to my Kindle and found the tone lighter then I expected. It was also laced with a crude black humor resulting in laugh out moments. That was enough for me to take a chance on the rest of the book. And I’m glad I did.
Yes, this is a vulgar book and is not for everyone. But it’s also surprisingly warm and winds up as a love story. There is also a biting commentary on the cynicism of reality TV, not the least of which is because it isn’t hard to imagine a show like this in real life. One of the sex challenges is down right laugh out loud funny, you wouldn’t ever think you would laugh at something like this but clearly Lowe has a great comedic touch.
Feeling adventurous? Give this one a try.
Best Crime Fiction of 2013 courtesy of Brian Lindenmuth and Spinetingler Magazine