Even though I don't publish a lot of hardboiled/noir, I consider myself a noir-kinda guy. I have been fortunate to read some stellar new noir books, about which I must now gush here on Mysterious Matters. Of these writers, two are hitting their stride very nicely, having set high standards and continuing to meet and exceed them. One writer is an old favorite, and one is a newbie (at least to me).
I have to begin with THE DEVIL'S SHARE, by Wallace Stroby, the latest book in his Crissa Stone series. This is the fourth in the series. Crissa Stone is absolutely my favorite Honorable Thief. I get a bit giddy when reading Stroby's books because I marvel at his writing. He's the tightest writer in the business. You never -- and I do mean NEVER -- encounter a sentence or paragraph that seems irrelevant or unnecessary. Characters are drawn with deft, tight strokes. The plot plays out inexorably, as you sit there with your teeth gritted, hoping that what you THINK is going to happen DOESN'T happen, while knowing that it very well MIGHT and praying that there's some outcome other than what appears to be inevitable. There is a sort of open secret in the business that journalists have an easier time getting an agent/publisher than other folks, and there's a reason for that: They know how to write. That said, I think Stroby is without a doubt the best of the current crop of journalist-turned-mystery-writers. I usually save books by favorite authors for plane trips or vacations, but I can't do that with Stroby. As soon as the new one arrives, I have to rush to finish what I'm reading so that I can get to Crissa's lastest adventure as soon as possible. You don't have to read these books in order, but it's not a bad idea, and you really should read all of them, if you can: Cold Shot to the Heart, Kings of Midnight, Shoot the Woman First (which is one of the best books of the decade), and now The Devil's Share.
Another writer hitting his stride is Englishman David Mark, whose Aector McEvoy series is set in gritty Hull in northern England. McEvoy is a gentle giant married to a Traveler (gypsy), Roisin, whom he saved from a horrible situation and with whom he now has two children. There are two key reasons to read Mark. First, the writing is stellar. I usually hate using the word "poetic" to describe prose, because that description turns some readers off ... they imagine overly florid language, or tortured metaphors, or pretentious wordplay. Mark's writing is poetic in that it is so incredibly vivid. It casts a sort of spell, and I find my jaw agape with marvel over the way this man crafts a sentence, paragraph, page, chapter. Second, Mark is a superb plotter. Every book in this series has a terrific plot with excellent surprises. McEvoy made his debut in The Dark Winter, which was followed by Original Skin, Sorrow Bound, and now TAKING PITY. You don't have to read them in order, but doing so is not a bad idea. I greatly like the supporting cast, too--they feel like real people, not the usual secondary players who are walking stereotypes. Be warned that there is some dark stuff in these books, so you have to have the stomach for hard noir--but the darkness is balanced by the light in McEvoy and in the relationships among the characters.
Ken Bruen, an Irishman whose books are as much about being Irish as they are mystery stories, is a longtime favorite. He and Stroby are the only two modern writers whose books I read in one sitting. GREEN HELL is the latest installment in the long-running Jack Taylor series, which also boasts earlier entries like Cross, Priest, Headstone, and London Boulevard. Jack Taylor is like the Timex of old: He takes a licking and keeps on ticking. By this point he's been maimed so many times, I'm surprised he can still get out of bed in the morning. And yet he does--and I'm glad of it. In every Jack Taylor book, I'm stopped dead in my tracks by a sentence, an observation, a line--something I'll never forget. Green Hell sees the introduction of a new character, Emerald, who is not unlike Lisbeth Salander from Steig Larsson's books. I sense that Emerald has been introduced to bring new direction to the series, and she's worth watching. I think Bruen is probably a like-him-or-not proposition. I'm firmly on the like side ... and I particularly enjoy Bruen's own enjoyment of, and celebration of, the genre within the pages of his books. If you don't mind seeing the brutal side of Galway and can handle lovely, likable characters getting murdered in horrific ways in every single book, then give Bruen a try.
Also know as Martin Hill Ortiz, Martin Hill came onto my radar only recently. His NEVER KILL A FRIEND is the first in what looks to be a new series starring Detective Shelley Krieg of the Washington, DC Metro Force. Shelley is a 6-foot-4 Black woman who finds herself taking the side of a likely criminal over the side of her colleagues on the force. I think it's always tricky when someone outside of the culture attempts to write a Black man or woman, but Hill has pulled this off with style and respect. His heroine isn't perfect, but she's doing the best she can in a world that is getting increasingly topsy-turvy and she doesn't know whom to trust any more. In the background is Washington, DC, itself, a hardboiled world of drug dealers and homeless living alongside middle-class Black people who are trying to make lives for themselves and their children in the nation's capital. The pace is breakneck and I particularly liked the supporting cast, especially the career criminal "AZ," who becomes an unlikely ally for Shelley. Hill is one to watch and this is a splendid debut.
Readers, PLEASE go out there and support these writers. If your library doesn't have them on the shelves, please request these books from the librarian. We need some fresh blood getting bookstore space AND places on best-seller lists. And I would love to see all of these books having AT LEAST 100 reviews on Amazon and Goodreads within 6 months. When you read and love these books - and you will - tell a friend, blog, tweet, do whatever it takes to spread the word.