RECENTLY FINISHED: Once Were Cops by Ken Bruen. I've been on a bit of a tear with Ken Bruen lately. This was the ninth Bruen novel I've read this year. Granted, Bruen tends to write short novels so it's really only like three “regular” novels, but I love Bruen's stripped-down style so much I feel like I've gotten ten novels worth of enjoyment out of them. Seven of the books I read this year were in the Inspector Brandt series and Once Were Cops features a similarly crooked cop who thinks his brand of self-serving justice is the only way. On loan to the NYPD from Ireland, our anti-hero takes to the street of Manhattan like a battering ram and makes his presence known to the criminals and the top brass. Bruen writes in such spare, evocative prose it makes pages turn faster than any other writer I know. Once Were Cops takes daring turns, with unexpected bursts of violence and an amoral lead who somehow steals our hearts. For those new to Bruen, this is a great place to start, if probably a divisive book. I suspect you'd either love his style or hate it. But you won't read anything like it.
ALSO POLISHED OFF: Outrage At Blanco by Bill Crider. I really wish crime fiction fans would give more westerns a try. Make no mistake, this is classic crime fiction territory, just set on horseback. And Crider is an absolute master of propulsive storytelling. He drops us right in on a brutal assault on our heroine, Ellie Taine. From there, the story splinters into fast-racing narratives of: her vicious attackers turning to bank robbery, Ellie's hunt for revenge, an aging cattle baron and his no-good son, as well as a town unused to the violence they've experienced in just a few days. Crider builds suspense, doles out action, and gets us into the minds of multiple characters like the old pro he is. His long-running Sheriff Dan Rhodes series is testament to his skills, but his western output is really where he hits my sweet spot. Up next for me is the sequel, Texas Vigilante.
CURRENTLY READING: Stay by Victor Gischler. Any new Gischler book is a major announcement for me, and it had been a long damn time between The Deputy (which I absolutely loved) and Stay. This is Gischler in his mainstream mode. He can get over-the-top gonzo with violence, black humor, and even sex, but Stay is likely as much of a step toward a mainstream thriller as we're going to get from him. (His follow up, Gestapo Mars, is the opposite end of the spectrum: wild, inventive, pulpy, and cracked.) The simple concept of a stay-at-home dad called to use his dormant skills as an army operative specializing in solo black ops is a great hook and could lead to a series that takes a character into Jack Reacher territory. I'm about halfway in, and it's a great ride. Not as much of the trademark Gischler humor, but again, it seems like he's swinging for the deep end of the reader pool here. I certainly hope he finds it. He's long overdue.
EARLY READ OF NOTE: A Negro and an Ofay by Danny Gardner. This novel, currently scheduled for a November, 2015 release, takes us into the 1950s world of a mulatto investigator and his complicated relationship with his upbringing and his mixed race. There is plenty of hardboiled patter and a dense plot with a great sense of place and wonderful dialogue. There are a lot of characters to keep track of with shifting loyalties and hidden agendas, but this marks a promising debut from Gardner.
TOP OF THE PILE: Lie Catchers by Paul Bishop. A real-life LAPD interrogator writes what he knows in this tale of deciphering lies from the truth.
Eric Beetner is a hardboiled crime author of The Devil Doesn't Want Me, Dig Two Graves, White Hot Pistol, The Year I Died Seven Times, Stripper Pole At The End Of The World, Split Decision, A Mouth Full Of Blood and co-author (with JB Kohl) of One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. Award-winning short story writer, former musician, sometimes filmmaker, film noir nerd and father of two.
Read all of Eric Beetner's posts for Criminal Element.