Happy 2016! I don't know about you but my year, a week or so in, feels like someone pressed the gas pedal down and forgot to unpress it. I don't mind this state in the slightest, but perhaps I'll change my mind if it keeps up like this (it will keep up like this.)
I also started the year on deadline. The first result was an essay for the New Republic on Worse Than the Devil, the book Dean Strang -- one of the two defense lawyers for Steven Avery seen in Making A Murderer who has become something of an Internet celebrity thanks to the documentary -- wrote in 2013. But the piece is as much about the way we anoint lawyers as heroes every generation or so, and how they inevitably disappoint us because of what we invest in them emotionally. Clarence Darrow, the real-life lawyer, is a lot different from his fictional portrayals. The Atticus Finch we thought was "original" -- in To Kill a Mockingbird -- turned out to be a very different creature in Go Set A Watchman. And so forth.
Then, just up today, is an op-ed for the Guardian on why true crime is high and low culture simultaneously and always was, going all the way back to Cotton Mather's sermons. No genre transcending over here, that's for sure, and that's how it should be.
Also, the delightful Alex Segura -- you're all reading his newsletter too, right? -- interviewed me as part of PEN America's recurring "PEN Ten" series. Read all about my creative obsessions, and more.
The start of the year brings a slew of "most anticipated books" lists and who am I to argue or ignore that bandwagon? Never mind that I've already read...um...quite a number of forthcoming books, and I want to memorialize some of my thoughts before the year accumulates news and ephemera and forgetfulness sets in.
It is going to be, as I've alluded to and I think Megan Abbott tweeted (though she was slightly more oblique about it in her Guardian wrap-up of the crime fiction year that was 2015) a banner year for crime novels by women. Already my favorites include:
Alafair Burke, The Ex(Harper, January 26) This was a "miss my subway stop" thriller, one that is, like so many of Burke's novels, a prime example of how technology impacts people without overwhelming the story and especially the characters. Olivia Randall, the lawyer defending her ex from a triple murder charge, is a particularly memorable heroine, one who is smart and capable and still way in over her head.
Lyndsay Faye, Jane Steele (Putnam, March 22) It's Jane Eyre if she was a serial murderer. I mean, how can you miss? Faye does not. It's wicked and delightful and deceitful and good fun but also a total emotional gut-punch, dammit. I probably said something better when I blurbed the book.
Alison Gaylin, What Remains of Me (William Morrow, February 26) This, to me, was the book equivalent of a "You Must Remember This" podcast contrasted with tabloid culture with twists that don't just embrace melodrama but revel in it. I must have started thinking I might read 50 pages and lo, then I was done.
Melissa Ginsburg, Sunset City (Ecco, April). Nasty, brutish, short (not even 200 pages! Amazing!!) so noir, so human, so far my favorite crime fiction debut of 2016.
Lisa Lutz, The Passenger (Simon & Schuster, March) You don't need to know the protagonist's name, since sshe changes it so many times. She has to. She has secrets to keep. Dark ones, ready to implode. I've had early Patricia Highsmith (a cross between The Price of Salt and Strangers on a Train) and prime Dorothy B. Hughes (especially Dread Journey) in my head after reading Lutz's first standalone thriller because, it may be contemporary, but it has a great vintage feel I liked tremendously.
Alex Marwood, The Darkest Secret(Penguin, August 30; Sphere UK, now) If you loved The Wicked Girls and The Killer Next Door then you will not be surprised to learn this is another outstanding effort from Marwood, one that is glorious, merciless, and yet humane to her characters. It's a riff on the Madeleine McCann story but it has so many other things going on. I wanted to shake some characters and hug others and sometimes they were the same characters in the same scene. Also the mystery plays totally fair and the plot is incredibly well-constructed.
Marion Pauw, Girl in the Dark(William Morrow, February 26) This novel was a huge hit in Pauw's native country, the Netherlands, and I can see why: it blends domestic suspense -- Irene is a young lawyer with a young daughter who believably navigates the complications and frustrations of combining both states of being -- and prison saga, through the lens of Peter, incarcerated for a crime he almost certainly did not commit. The ending surprised me.
Susie Steiner, Missing, Presumed (Random House, June) Police procedurals are tough. So easy to fall into cliche, the hard-drinking loner archetype, you know the drill. Never mind the general real-life distrust of police that does not always make it into crime stories (I would like to see more of those stories.) Anyway, Steiner's Manon Bradshaw is a policewoman I bought into, from her detection acumen, her raging desire for a child, and her hopes for some intimacy, however mislaid those hopes become. Is she a series character? I sure hope so.
2016 also sees new novels from Abbott (You Will Know Me, July 26 from Little, Brown) and Laura Lippman (Wilde Lake, May 12 from William Morrow) which are obvious auto-buys for me, both of which have already received excellent advance notice. I am certainly looking forward to new books by Lisa Unger (Ink and Bone, July from Touchstone); Patti Abbott (Shot, June from Polis); Allison Leotta (The Last Good Girl, May from Touchstone); and Elizabeth Hand (Hard Light, from Minotaur) among others.
I also expect we will hear a lot about Maestra by L.S. Hinton (Putnam, April) since it is being talked up like "if Ripley was a woman and went to sex clubs" ; The Widow by Fiona Barton (NAL, February) which is entertaining although I had some of the same problems with it as with The Girl on the Train which means it will also sell a zillion copies; Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman (Harper, June) and All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda (S&S, July), the first crime novel for adults by veteran YA authors; The Girl Before by Rena Olsen (Putnam, August), a debut which sounds deliciously suspenseful, as does Lili Wright's Dancing With the Tiger (Marian Wood/Putnam, July); and novels in translation by Melanie Raabe (The Trap, April from Grand Central), Dolores Redondo (The Invisible Guardian, April from Atria) and Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis (The Considerate Killer, March from Soho, closing out the Nina Borg series, which has been consistently excellent.)
Well, some may say, what about the men? Oh don't worry, I've read some quality crime fiction by the other gender, too:
Reed Farrel Coleman, Where It Hurts (Putnam, January). If you have read Coleman's earlier works you know he has a knack for killer sentences and characters. But Gus Murphy is something special. His grief feels real, his demons believable, his personal wilderness tough to bear but necessary. And I like this working class Long Island a whole lot.
Dan Fesperman, The Letter Writer (Knopf, April) Every time Fesperman releases a new novel I think, this is the one that will break out, and it hasn't quite worked out that way. But this one, a departure as it's set in 1942 New York City, World War II looming large in the world and in the narrative but ultimately a character study of two unlikely detectives, one police, one private, is just wonderful. There are gangsters and smart women and befuddled men and loads of elegant melancholy and I would urge everyone to seek this out.
Steve Hamilton, The Second Life of Nick Mason (Putnam, May). More like the second life of this novel, which led to Hamilton's infamous, public breakup from Minotaur last summer. I'd read that version of the ARC and loved the book. So did others who were privy to it. I can't imagine why others wouldn't, because it's suspenseful and nervy and all of the things that make a thriller great. (I also gather it's been edited further for the new edition, so I shall have to compare notes.)
Karim Miske, Arab Jazz (Quercus, March). I hope we will hear a lot about this novel. It is timely (fortunately and unfortunately) and spotlights a part of the city that is less familiar to those outside of it, and tackles xenophibia and "otherism" but is laced with dark humor, too.
Alex Segura, Down the Darkest Streets(Polis, April). Pete Fernandez returns for a second outing and it is a serious leap forward from Silent City, which introduced him (and is being reissued the month prior) Archetypes are made real, Miami lives as a character, and I want Pete to redeem himself - but not too much.
Dave White, An Empty Hell (Polis, February). More Jackson Donne, the return of a different private eye character, Matt Herrick, introduced in short stories years and years ago, and the same natural pacing that marks all of his other work that I wish I could emulate but just enjoy instead.
I also have my eye on Doing the Devil's Work by Bill Loehfelm (Sarah Crichton Books, July), the latest Maureen Coughlin story; Gregg Hurwitz's new thriller Orphan X (St. Martin's, January) which is generating a ridiculous amount of buzz; City of Rose by Rob Hart and Riot Load by Bryon Quertermous (both Polis, February and summer, respectively) and Red Right Hand by Chris Holm (Mulholland, September) bringing back their series characters for more bloodshed and mayhem; The Defense by Steve Cavanagh (Flatiron, May), riding a wave of good press from its UK publication last year; and maybe most of all, Darktown by Thomas Mullen (37INK, September) because I think he can pull off what John Ball could not sustain. I sure hope so!
As for true crime: I'll save discussion of Skip Hollandsworth's The Midnight Assassin till its April pub date; I am really looking forward to David Grann's new book which....might be on the 2015 schedule (fingers crossed!) Kate Summerscale's The Wicked Boy looks pretty good. I plan to be surprised by what other books show up at my mail drop.
This newsletter is plenty long so will keep the list of links short:
The story of Lindsay F, raped by an LA cop and forced to relive it through five years of criminal and civil litigation, is tough but important to read.
Last year all the Modern Orthodox Jewish community could talk about was Barry Freundel's arrest and conviction using his power for seriously perverted voyeurism, peeping on women in the mikveh. I had hoped some outlet would put everything together in a longform feature and the Washingtonian did so. Harry Jaffe's piece is the one to read.
I so loved Elisabeth Donnelly's essay on synchronized swimming's past and future, from Esther Williams to Bill May. I've wanted to write something similar about figure skating but now I feel like I don't have to.
Finally, Internet boyfriends. How do they get picked anyway? (All of my Internet boyfriends are dead, which I guess is typical.)