SCOTT'S TOP TEN (OKAY, TWELVE) CRIME NOVELS AND THRILLERS OF 2023
2023 was proof in the growth of the genre. There was the cool dark noir and hard boiled tales that played the standard tropes like classic jazz and artists who used the genre to explore different directions, apply humor, or go meta. As usual, there were so many good books I read, I had to use some ties with works I found similarities in to get a dozen great reads in. Also, if I wrote this on another day, novels like Lou Berney's Dark Ride and Max Allan Collins Too Many Bullets could have been on the list. it was that kind of year.
EVERYBODY KNOWS by Jordan Harper
An epic L.A. noir with a trouble shooter to the rich and famous and her "security consultant" ex whose work for the same firm gets them embroiled in a scandal people will kill to surpress. Both tight and sweeping, this dark thriller captures all the stratas of the city.
LOWDOWN ROAD by Scott Von Doviak
The most fun I had reading a book this year. An ode to seventies exploitation cinema with two ne'er do well cousins hauling bales of weed from Austin to The Snake River Canyon were Evel Knievel planned to make his historic jump. On their tails are an obsessive sheriff and the dealer they stole the weed from. Crams in everything from seventies flick except the cigarette burns.
THE PICTURE TALKER by Colin Cotterill
A book biting in it's humor and warm in it's love of characters and the passion of cinema. Two twenty-something cinephiles find a VHS tape with a masterpiece of their country's cinema, but with no history or known crew members or players attached to it. Tracking down the background sends both on a journey of self discovery in this funny, human, and accurate look at film fandom.
THE FORGOTTEN WAR by Don Bentley
Bentley's hero, Matt Drake, goes back to Afghanistan during the American pullout to clear his friend of murder and rescue his wife's relative. Bentley delivers the cinematic action and pacing we want from the genre while exploring the soldiers place in that war.
ALL SINNERS BLEED by S.A. Cosby
Cosby continues his success streak with this thriller of the first black sheriff of a South Carolina town having to deal with his community's racial strife as well as a child killer on the loose. He weaves in a southern gothic tone and well defined characters to enrich this tale.
BAD INFLUENCE by Alison Gaylin & THE SECOND MURDERER by Denise Mina
Both these writers tackled a character created by one of the masters, Gaylin with Robert B. Parker's Sunny Randall and Mina with Chandler's Marlowe . By leaning into the sense of fun with both series, they find the sweet spot where their talents overlap with those of the originators.
THE LONGMIRE DEFENSE by Craig Johnson
The latest Walt Longmire has the sheriff working two cases, one in the present involving the Wyoming treasury and one from the past where his grandfather is a suspect. Johnson uses both mysteries to provide an entertaining and emotional thriller and also explore ideas of the past, present, and future.
THE DARK EDGE OF NIGHT by Mark Pryor
This second book with Inspector Henri Leforts, a cop working the streets of occupied Paris, forced to look into the disappearance of a missing German doctor. The investigation leads to a discovery of one of the Nazis' more darker practices and forces him to take a side that will influence the rest of the series in this engaging historical procedural.
THE LAST SONGBIRD by Daniel Weizman & VIPER'S DREAM by Jake Lamar
My two favorite debuts both dealt with music. Weizman created a moody L.A. noir with a Uber driver and aspiring musician forced to solve the murder of his regular client, a retired Joni Mitchell type songstress. Lamar traces the history of the New York jazz scene through the rise and fall of a reefer dealer who supplied the greatest musicians of the time. Both books capture the lyricism and style of the music it deals with.
OZARK DOGS by Eli Cranor & BACK TO THE DIRT by Frank Bill
Two of the finest in rural noir use the genre to examine the ghosts of the Vietnam War. Both show the war has effects on the generations after as well as those who fought in it.