Killer Year–The Class of 2007

Killer Year Recommends…
December 28, 2006, 8:21 am
Filed under: Killer Year Members

All this week, we’ll be recommending books that we’ve enjoyed this year.

by Marcus Sakey

CAUGHT STEALING by Charlie Huston

Holy crap. I’d heard of Huston for years, but never read his stuff. However, this January I’ll be at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, doing a signing with him, so now seemed like a good time to pick something up.

Holy crap. Really.

It’s a balls-out mistaken identity novel written in a textured noir tone. Huston never overdoes the rhythm, but his structure is entrancing and his storytelling skills are spectacular. This one never lets up — it’s almost exhausting to read. In a good way.

Relentless, brutal, funny, dark, and entrancing.


If this one doesn’t leave you gasping, you’re dead already. Vivid, vicious, hyper-masculine and uber-stylish, the novel begins on the day Kennedy is killed and follows three men tied up in his assassination through the next five years, culminating with the killings of RFK and MLK. Cameos by J. Edgar Hoover, Jimmy Hoffa, Sonny Liston, Howard Hughes and others speak to the depth of research Ellroy has put into play. The word “ambitious” isn’t near strong enough for this one — it’s a classic, a novel that deserves study.

Ellroy’s characters are always strong symbols, and between them, the three protagonists span the gamut of American hope and horror. I particularly found Ward Littell fascinating; a brilliant lawyer who works tirelessly for the both mob and Howard Hughes, yet mollifies his conscience by skimming from both to funnel anonymous donations to Martin Luther King.


by Bill Cameron


I’m reaching back in time a bit, and also cheating, because this is a book I enjoyed many years ago. But I also enjoyed it again this year. John Straley writes a series of mysteries set in Alaska, featuring substance-abusing private investigator Cecil Younger. The novels are beautiful and lyrical, at times darkly comic, and an amazing view into the Alaskan landscape, as well as the landscape of Cecil’s life. THE WOMAN WHO MARRIED A BEAR starts the series, and once you start you’ll find yourself drawn back again and again. I re-read Straley regularly, for the power of his imagination and the wonder of his gift for language. Plus, as mysteries, these are damn fine novels. Start with The WOMAN WHO MARRIED A BEAR. You won’t stop till you’ve read them all.


THE DARK BACKWARD by Julia Buckley

This wonderful debut by Julia Buckley actually came out this year! It starts with a bang — the death and revival of police officer Lily Caldwell during a traffic stop. After she recovers, she attempts to track down the man who tried to kill her, a man she believes is the state governor because of a vision she had during her near death experience. No one believes her, and she has to act on her own to find her would-be killer. This novel is taut and exciting, a real page turner, with unexpected twists and a great finish.



by JT Ellison


This standalone is absolutely astounding. Connolly has reached an entirely new level with this novel — think of the fairy tales of CS Lewis and Roald Dahl. 13 pages in, I was already telling myself I needed to re-read the book, and soon. The story is highly original — a young boy who has lost his mother slips into a fairy tale world. But the book is so much more than this. I was entranced from start to finish, and ended in tears. It was perfect.


BABY SHARK by Robert Fate

I’ve been waxing poetic about this book since June, when I posted this to DorothyL:

“I took BABY SHARK, by Robert Fate, into the bath. Big mistake. When I came up for air, the water was frigid, my skin resembled a chicken, and I’m stuck reading this until I finish it tonight. AMAZING book.”

I stand by that today. BABY SHARK is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I highly recommend you get a copy pronto.



I’ve argued with a couple of people about this book, because they’ve claimed that Eisler has drifted into romantic suspense. I couldn’t disagree more. This was a fantastic installment in the John Rain series. Rain has grown as a character over the course of this series, and the personal relationships are, as always, an outlet for Rain to explore his humanity. He’s tough as ever, and well worth the time.

The Hard Way by Lee Child

God, I love Reacher. And Child has such a deft touch with language and pace — he leaves you absolutely breathless. I really enjoyed the book, read it in one sitting, and was sad to close the covers. Reacher is just one of those characters you can read about all day and never quite have enough. I enjoyed the settings in this one too.


Cornelia Read and Tasha Alexander complete my list of favorites, and both have been touched on earlier in the week.

Happy New Year, everyone. We’ll see you in 2007!

All best,




Killer Year Recommends…
December 27, 2006, 8:20 am
Filed under: Killer Year Members

All this week, we’ll be recommending books that we’ve enjoyed this year.

Brett Battles

HOLMES ON THE RANGE by Steven Hockensmith

One of the most fun reads I’ve had all year. Set in the old west around late 1880s (or is it the early 1890s?), two cowboy brothers – Old Red and Big Red get ranch work where they can. Only things aren’t always so simple on the range, especially when bodies start turning up. Good thing Old Red is a fan of the famous Sherlock Holmes and decides to do some detectifyin’ himself. Hilarious and well written. Worth every moment and page turn. (I also just got a hold of Hockensmith’s next Old Red and Big Red adventure ON THE WRONG TRACK, and so far it’s not only as good, but better!)

AND ONLY TO DECEIVE by Tasha Alexander

Yep, I seem to have a period novel theme going. Tasha is an amazing writer, and AND ONLY TO DECEIVE is a thrilling start to what will be a fantastic career. DECEIVE is set in the world of British Society around the same time period as Hockensmith’s HOLMES ON THE RANGE. And where RANGE brings the world of the old west to life, DECEIVE does the same thing for the structured world of the London social scene.

Recently widowed Lady Emily Ashton is nearing the end of her mourning period but is only now getting to “know” her late husband. And as she gets to know him, she starts to realize that maybe his death wasn’t so natural. Suddenly she is plunged into a mystery that flows in and out of the rigid world she is forced to live in. This is another one of those books that sucks you in and doesn’t let you go.


by Dave White

THE BLONDE by Duane Swierczynski

A rip roarin’ tale of one night in Philly with a Blonde. Fun, fast and funny.

HARD MAN by Al Guthrie

Dark, dirty, and full of dogs. What a great, tough hardboiled read.


Great style, great flair, great fun.

Killer Year Recommends…
December 26, 2006, 8:20 am
Filed under: Killer Year Members

All this week, we’ll be recommending books that we’ve enjoyed this year.

by Robert Gregory Browne

ECHO PARK by Michael Connelly

My book recommendation is Michael Connelly’s ECHO PARK. Connelly once again shows us he’s the master of crime fiction with his continuation of the Harry Bosch series. Bosch looks to find a murderer who slipped past him the first time around, in a case that has haunted him for years. And Connelly’s story and characters — especially Bosch — continue to haunt us long after we finished reading this wonderful book.


by Sandra Ruttan

DIRTY SWEET by John McFetridge

Shady realtors, internet porn, Russian mobsters, the Toronto city police and the RCMP all cross paths in this taut, twisted tale. Spiced with just enough kinky sex and action, McFetridge keeps the reader off balance by looking at the story from every angle. You could call it a police procedural or hardboiled… but one thing you could never call it is dull. A fantastic read from a great new Canadian author to watch for.

A FIELD OF DARKNESS by Cornelia Read

Ultimately, this book is the protagonist and if you warm to Madeline Dare you’ll be hooked from the first sentence. Read has an incredible way with language that is fresh and engaging, but it is Madeline that resonates with me long after reading the last page. I relate to the contradictions within her, the challenges and struggles. I don’t want to say too much because I wouldn’t want to give anything away, but it takes a real gem to pull off believable amateur sleuth stories that keep me glued, and Read wowed me with her debut.

PALE IMMORTAL by Anne Frasier

This is one of my first paranormal mysteries and it had me on the edge of my seat. Frasier knows how to send shivers up your spine and her characterization is so real, so compelling, the book is an absolute page-turner. She also knows how to put the twists in at just the right points, to keep you off-guard. My mind is always jumping ahead, guessing at how things might work out, and I love the way she continued to surprise me. Anything but predictable, PALE IMMORTAL is a fantastic story. I look forward to the release of the sequel in fall 2007.

Merry Christmas!
December 25, 2006, 8:21 am
Filed under: Killer Year Members

Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow, when we continue our yearly round-up of book recommendations.

Killer Year Recommends…
December 24, 2006, 8:19 am
Filed under: Killer Year Members

All this week, we’ll be recommending books that we’ve enjoyed this year.

by Marc Lecard

NIGHT AND FEAR by Cornell Woolrich

A centenary collection of stories by Cornell Woolrich, edited with an introduction by Francis M. Nevins. Carroll and Graf, 2004.

Give the gift of terror, anxiety and existential despair to someone you love this holiday season.

If Cornell Woolrich had survived to the current era, he could have extorted a nice little subsidy from the producers of anti- anxiety medications, who could hand out his books the way a dentist hands out hard candy.

Woolrich created a fistful of what have become noir archetypes: the race against the clock to save yourself or someone you love, the only too justified paranoia in the urban canyons of New York City, the unjustly accused man who loses everything in an instant and then has to run for his life.

A barely controlled hysteria is his most typical mood. The violence and fear, along with the sometimes preposterous plots (Woolrich was not afraid of coincidence) push the stories into the realm of hallucination.

Some of the stories (the ones Nevins calls “action whiz-bangs”) traffic in a nonstop violence that comes as a cathartic relief after the nail-biting anxiety of the noir classics. But even the pure action tales manage to suggest an indifferent if not actively malevolent universe.

The cover photo is a perfect introduction to Woolrich’s world: an evocative aerial view of New York City in 1940 that seems to ooze shadow and menace. A bleak landscape for bleak little stories.

For some reason I find all this despair really enjoyable. If it sounds like your cup of battery acid, get this book, and give it to everyone. The holiday season will never be the same.


Let me also recommend a book I’ve just finished: NIGHTMARE IN THE STREET by British noirista Derek Raymond (Serpent’s Tail, 2006). Set in Paris, the novel has some of the rich urban texture and slight claustrophobia of Simenon’s Maigret novels -but far darker and much, much more violent.

Derek Raymond–nom de noir of Robin Cook- spent much of his life living in France, and Nightmare in the Street reads as if (ably) translated from the French. Perhaps Raymond was thinking in French and translating as he went.

The main character is familiar enough—a tough, independent cop from a working-class background who could just as easily have become a criminal. (He keeps in touch with a childhood buddy who still lives the life.) This cop plays by his own rules, and inevitably runs up against a rigid bureaucracy, class prejudice, and hidden corruption. Fun stuff, but we’ve been here before.

What makes Nightmare stand out from other novels with a similar set-up is its depiction of Kleber’s (Raymond’ protagonist) descent into grief and madness. The book takes you to a place of pain, loss, and inner turmoil, of life lived on the fine edge of despair, that is not often found in any writing. The next time someone tries to make hard and fast distinctions between genre and literary fiction to you, tie them to a chair and read Nightmare in the Street to them.

That might change their thinking a little.

I had run across several references to Raymond’s seminal role in Brit noir fiction, and was eager to read him. I finally managed to get my hands on one of his books, and was not disappointed, as you can tell. Let’s hope the rest of his novels become readily available in this country.

Buy this book and read it–but try not to spill shit on it, because it will make a great gift for someone on your list. (Oh—I mean, “and buy another copy for someone you love!)”

Happy Holidays!


Thanks, Graham!
December 22, 2006, 8:18 am
Filed under: Killer Year Members

A big Killer Year thank you to Graham Powell, for all you do to keep CrimeSpot the freshest spot on the web.

The Great Beyond
December 20, 2006, 4:00 am
Filed under: Robert Gregory Browne

When I was fifteen years old, my uncle had a heart attack and died.

A few minutes later, a stubborn doctor brought him back to life.

When he was asked about those few minutes, my uncle refused to talk about them. I sensed that whatever happened to him “out there” must have scared the hell out of him.

This was the beginning of my fascination with the near-death experience.

NDE is not uncommon. Millions of people around the world claim to have experienced it, most of them reporting the usual trappings we’ve all heard about:

Out of body travel. Tunnel. Bright light. The presence of long-departed loved ones.

Many tie this to a religious experience, but these elements cross all cultural and spiritual boundaries. Scientists have suggested that what NDE survivors go through is merely a kind of death dream caused by chemicals in the brain, but it seems odd to me that most survivors dream pretty much the same thing.

It also seems odd that many of the survivors are able to report what doctors and loved ones have said in the room – after they were clinically dead.

Based on my uncle’s refusal to talk about his trip to the great beyond, however, I’ve long had the feeling that the experience as described is not universal. For some of us, there is a darker version of the journey. A scarier version.

And that idea, of course, attracted me as a writer.

When I think of my upcoming book, KISS HER GOODBYE, I look at it as essentially a crime thriller. It’s the story of an ATF agent whose daughter is kidnapped and buried alive, and the unusual lengths a desperate father has to go to in order to save her.

All the elements of a crime thriller are there, but I also wanted to give the reader a slightly different experience, one that allowed me to explore some of the questions about near-death and the afterlife.

These are questions we all think about from time to time. What’s out there? How will it affect me? Will it be painful? Exhilarating? Scary?

Most people are frightened by it. Call me weird, but I think of Death as simply another step in the adventure, wherever it may lead. And while I don’t look forward to any pain associated with dying, I do think Death itself will be an amazing journey.

But that’s me.

I’m curious to know what you think. What’s waiting out there for you?