Thursday, January 4, 2024

#23-Where did the Year of Really Good Reading Go?

 Okay, I would agree Stuff to Read blog has been a little late getting written, but that doesn't mean I haven't been reading. So what better way to start off  2024 than to tell you what's worth your time to read from 2023. I do have to say last year's reading may have tended to be on the noir or dark side but quality is always quality, so here goes.

High school football is King in Denton, Arkansas and Billy Lowe, the star running back, takes out his frustration and hatred for his mother's boyfriend who abuses him constantly, on crushing anyone trying to tackle him. The new football coach, fresh from California and driving the only Prius in truck-loving Denton, is born-again and bent on saving Billy. But when Billy's abuser is found dead in Billy's trailer, he becomes a suspect and the state playoff hopes suffer. Author, Eli Cranor won the EDGAR award for this first novel, Don't Know Tough, and it's worth a read.

Cranor's second novel, Ozark Dogs, presents Vietnam War veteran Jeremiah Fitzjurls, who is raising his high school aged grand-daughter Joanna, inside his high-fenced junkyard/armory while the dreaded Ledfords, notorious meth dealers and fanatical white supremacists, come to collect on Joanna as payment for a long-overdue blood debt. There is football, a drug cartel and weak local law enforcement moving the story forward.

William Kent Krueger offered his latest stand-alone novel, The River We Remember, in 2023 and it is a real winner. Jewel is a small town on the Alabaster River near the Minnesota-Iowa line, racked by the murder of its wealthiest but least-liked citizen, Jimmy Quinn, by shotgun blast, found floating in the river on Memorial Day, 1958. The sheriff, a WW ll survivor, investigates as rumor points to another war veteran Noah Bluestone who is Native American and has returned to Jewel with his Japanese wife. The setting and in-depth characterization of the characters carries this novel to a winning conclusion.

Dennis Lehane's latest Small Mercies takes place in Boston in the scorching summer of 1974, and centers on Irish Mob conflicts, a missing teenaged white girl, and a Black man's murder on the subway track in the days approaching the first day of school integration during the Boston busing crisis. The told through single mother Mary Pat Fennessy, a Southie, whose daughter doesn't return from a night out. Mary Pat starts turning things over in Southie that are better left untouched in this stunning novel.

James McBride follows his 2020 bestseller, Deacon King Kong (One of my all-time favorite books!) with The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store which begins in the 1970s with the discovery of a corpse in the bottom of a well but shifts back to the 1920s and the Black and Jewish community of Chicken Hill in Pottstown PA and the title grocery store and a music hall and the real novel. It features a huge cast trying to save a young Black boy who is deaf from placement in an evil mental institution. Suffice it to say, McBride moves the characters masterfully in this small town as racism is rampant.

Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead is the 2023 return to the characters and setting of his 2021 bestseller Harlem Shuffle to be a work of crime fiction and a family saga that takes place in Harlem during three periods: 1971, 1973, and 1976, the year of the America's bicentennial celebration. The three periods display Harlem through the eyes of Ray Carney, a furniture store owner who has numerous connections to gangs, police fixers and other very interesting characters.

I'm finishing Thomas Perry's latest, Hero, and it is way worth a read. Justine Poole, works for a prestigious security company in LA. She becomes the title character when she thwarts a "follow-home" robbery of two elderly figures in the movie industry, shooting two of the five robbers. She is a media star, but the gang leader hires a killer for pay to take revenge and eliminate Justine. The LAPD are somewhat ambivalent about Justine and her company but when bodies around her start falling in the hired killer's wake,Justine and others are fighting back. This is another Perry work that is ultra logical and detailed about crime and its underbelly. 

And lastly, I have the Vanessa Chen novel, The Storm We Made, on top of the reading pile, so watch for a review of that. It sounds very good. Til next time...keep reading.

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