Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Mount Rushmore of Mystery

Four authors - each a titan in their collective genre. Who makes the Mount Rushmore of Crime Fiction authors? First, a few criteria to establish: 1) The author must write books set in a specific location - If they write books about multiple locations, that can also be okay. However, in order to make this list they have to be "the" mystery writer about their city (ie. Boston / NYC / LA). 2) The author must have written multiple great books in order to qualify - No, "one great book" authors need apply. 3) The author can write series fiction - Just because they write about a character multiple times does not disqualify them. 4) Character, plot, twists, and writing style all count - No generic thriller writers allowed, these must be gritty, realistic and thematic books (Step aside Michael Connelly / James Patterson / Jeffery Deaver). Without further ado - The Mount Rushmore of Crime Fiction: James Lee Burke Why: His books set in New Orleans, featuring his long suffering protagonist Dave Robicheaux are among the most complex and haunting the genre has to offer. They are not often twisty whodunnits (though he can write twists) but rather slow burning affairs that rip his characters to shreds. Best Books: 1) The Tin Roof Blowdown - Probably the best book about Hurricane Katerina. 2) Purple Cane Road - A book that perfectly sums up everything great about Lee Burke's writing, a complex, at times stomach churning ride through the dark side of humanity. 3) Dixie City Jam - One of the best antagonists in recent memory. Dennis Lehane Why: Lehane has written amazing standalone novels in addition to one of the best crime series going. His books, set in Boston, examine brutal lives of violence and the cost of living in that world. The Kenzie / Gennaro series is one of the best there is at providing incredible writing and jaw dropping twists. His standalone books such as Mystic River are wrenching and powerful. Best Books: 1) Darkness Take My Hand - As I have written many times, this is arguably the best serial killer book ever. The level of plotting and slow burning revelation of the darkness lurking at the core of the story makes it one hell of a ride. 2) Mystic River - Dark, complex and character driven. This book was a departure for Lehane - and a very welcome one. George Pelecanos Why: His DC set novels include multiple series and several stellar standalone novels. Pelecanos, like Lee Burke, does not rely on twists - you know who the bad guys are - but his level of characterization brings genuine depths to the darkest hearts in society. Brutal and relentless his novels are often like a punch to the gut. Best Books: 1) The Night Gardener - Like Mystic River, this one is a standalone story that set Pelecanos apart from rest of the mystery crowd and sticks with you long after you read the final pages. 2) The Sweet Forever - My all-time favorite Pelecanos, this book takes you inside the crack epidemic through several active participants. A spector of death looms over the entire story as the tragic tale of Len Bias is told throughout. Philip Kerr Why: A year ago Kerr would have been left off this list. Now? He headlines, thanks to his outstanding Bernie Gunther series (originally written as a trilogy, now 7 books strong). Bernie, a detective from Nazi Germany, weaves his way through history and the depths of Nazi corruption. He is a cynical voice of clarity from within a vault of injustice and pure evil. No saint himself, Bernie participates in acts that are brutal but ultimately proves himself the moral voice of reason (a dark knight) in an insane time. Best Books: 1) The One From the Other - After a 17 year absense from the character, Kerr returned with what is arguably his best book. Bernie tracks down a brutal SS killer in Munich after the war. The ramifications of his actions during the war are examined as is the morality of what he has done. The twists are jaw dropping and the ending completely bittersweet. 2) A Quiet Flame - Arguably his best book as well... (its a crazy argument!) This one takes Bernie to Argentina and brings a new level of depravity to the Peron regime that harboured Nazi fugitives. A stunning story.