Best Discoveries of 2021: Crime Fiction
Here’s last year’s discoveries in crime fiction, and this year I have even more titles:
Dark Passage (1946), Nightfall (1947), Cassidy’s Girl (1951) - David Goodis
If you haven’t yet read David Goodis, do yourself a favor and so as soon as possible. In Dark Passage a man escapes prison after being falsely accused of murdering his wife. Forced to change his identity, he’s befriended by a woman who seems to know everything about him. You’ve probably seen the movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. If not, read the book, watch the movie.
Nightfall (1947) was also made into a movie, not as well-known as Dark Passage, but also worth your time. The same goes for the novel, which involves another identity crisis. Jim Vanning is an artist trying to evade killers who believe he knows the location of their stolen loot. Can he trust the woman who says she’s trying to help him? Definite similarities to Dark Passage, but Nightfall is its own book.
Cassidy’s Girl (1951) is the bleakest Goodis novel I read this year. A former airline pilot now bus driver, Cassidy is sick of his wife Mildred, but is also addicted to her. When Cassidy starts to have feelings for a petite alcoholic at the local bar, things get dark. Very dark.
If you’re new to Goodis, here are a couple of good places to start, volumes with multiple novels. You can’t go wrong with either volume, the five novels from Library of America, or the three from Stark House Press.
A Taste for Honey (1941) - H.F. Heard
An unusual, yet very satisfying tale of beekeeping, honey, and murder. Possibly the smartest novel of crime fiction I read this year. Really. It’s probably not what you think it is.
Ninety-two in the Shade (1973) - Thomas McGuane
Some seriously messed-up characters in a challenging in a sort of Thomas Pynchon-type story, but totally absorbing. Thanks to my friend Kieran for loaning me this one.
The Barbarous Coast (1956) - Ross Macdonald
The sixth novel in the Lew Archer series. Country clubs, Hollywood, a missing wife, and more.
The Blank Wall (1947) - Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
Previously reviewed here
The Weight of This World (2017) - David Joy
Hard-hitting Appalachian noir. Very hard-hitting.
King’s Ransom (1959) - Ed McBain
Previously discussed here
The Twilight Zone (2016) - Nona Fernández, translated by Natasha Wimmer
A mesmerizing novel about how crimes and the horrors associated with them can vanish during totalitarian regimes. This particular story takes place in 1984 Chile, but it could happen anywhere.
The Long Fall (2009) - Walter Mosley
The first in the Leonid McGill detective series set in New York owes much to the labyrinthine stories and novels of Raymond Chandler, but Mosley knows how to make it his own.
The Death of Sweet Mister (2001) - Daniel Woodrell
More people have read Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone, but this short novel (only about 200 pages) is a good entry point.
The Green Eagle Score (1967) - Richard Stark
#10 in the Parker series finds Parker working on a heist of the payroll of an Air Force base in upstate New York.
No Room at the Morgue (1973) - Jean-Patrick Manchette
The most comedic of the Manchette novels I’ve read so far and the first in a two-part series featuring detective and ex-cop Eugene Tarpon. Political, psychological, Freudian, and frequently absurd.
Billy Summers (2021) - Stephen King
Okay, I’m cheating a bit here, since I’m a little over halfway through its 500 pages. I run hot and cold with King lately, but this is far more engaging than I'd imagined. If the ending blows, I’ll take it off the list, but I hope it finishes strong. Billy Summers is a hired killer who only kills bad guys. Yeah, you’ve seen this before with Dexter, right? Nope. This is different.
That’s it, the best crime fiction I read in 2021. Let me know what you enjoyed.
Next time: My Best Discoveries in early cinema (through the 1920s).