5 Crime Novels (from someone who doesn’t read crime novels)

paul auster new york trilogy

I know for a lot of people crime novels are a comfort zone, something they get in with ease, and I think we see this mirrored in the TV world where so much of TV is about either law enforcement, criminals (organized or otherwise), lawyers, or a combo of either or all of them.

I think there is an economy to the storytelling or at least a familiarity with it that is semi-universal that allows for people who are good at the form to be able to play in several mediums. There are many comic book writers who I think do or at some point would have styled themselves a crime writer or bring (or think they do) bring a noir sensibility to their work. Some of the great tv shows (like The Wire) have contributions by great crime novelists

This universal language hasn’t always clicked with me.

I tend to lean toward speculative fiction in my reading so while I do love a Blood Meridian, I will be the one telling the truth in a lit talk circle and say I prefer The Road. I like The Remains of Day but Never Let Me Go is perhaps my favorite novel. Some of the works below won significant science fiction/fantasy awards even as crime is driving force of them. It also means I’m not exactly dropping hidden gems here.

With that in mind let’s get to this.

charlie huston already dead joe pitt

Charlie Huston got me pretty good because I also usually dislike vampire fiction. After what I just got through saying this is a book that I do love the economy of, the ease that it gets you in, its grounded in New York with the one variable being vampires and other supernatural beings exist, including the protagonist of Already Dead, one Joe Pitt.

Pitt is a bit of a fixer/strong man/detective who does what he has to navigate the various clandestine vampire clans and still get the supply of blood he needs.

I think my only fear after reading Already Dead was that perhaps it was case of momentary fancy for me and my being intrigued by the premise was good for one shot but I can report that the next novel (there are 5 in all) is actually better than the first (and may be the best of the 5 tbh). I rarely pine for books to come back, I’m pretty good at letting things go, but I do find myself every now and then checking to see if Huston is working on another Case Book. I also think this would make a DOPE streaming show.

I interviewed Charlie Huston if you are interested.

new york trilogy paul auster

The New York Trilogy is pretty much already a cool lit reader classic by an author who is a cool lit reader fave.

Both hard boiled and post-modern its maybe the perfect ever mix and may encapsulate the best example of what I mentioned above with crime being an accessible vehicle for many stories.

I’d also add that there is a graphic novel adaptation that’s really more companion piece that is among the greatest comics I’ve ever read. It’s by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli and is related to City of Glass, which is the first of the three Auster novellas that combine to be The New York Trilogy.

I find most adaptations to comics to be fairly bad. It is not that far removed from film adaptations of video games in the scarcity of worthwhile endeavors. This graphic novel, however, is as good or may be even better than the source material, the source material is a chapter of what is considered a modern literary classic. Anyone who has read the books should read the comic and anyone who likes the best comics should read the comic. Worst case scenario, you appreciate it for Mazzucchelli.

city and the city china mieville

China Mieville was one of the buzziest or coolest speculative novelists coming out of the turn of this century. He was one of the writers that was at the forefront of recommendations for his generation’s “if you want to read fantasy that isn’t elves and shit” movement. His Perdido Street Station and (my favorite) The Scar are if not mini-foundational works of this century’s fantasy or science fiction, or what he branded New Weird, they broke through from the pack with a different sheen of cool than say a Neil Gaiman did.

The City and the City is Mieville’s foray into crime, mixing it with the aforementioned New Weird, and again you see the crime toys being used successfully in different genres and backdrops. I think Michael Moorcock hit it on the head when he reviewed the novel and its something I never really put together until but in essence it’s both smart and original, where a lot of even good novels are just one of those that get credited for both as if they are the same.

jonathan lethem

Don’t hold the Motherless Brooklyn notation on the cover against Lethem if you have seen the film. Edward Norton did something to that thing I cant really even decipher or recognize, it’s one of the worst movies that someone talented obviously put effort in that I’ve ever seen.

This is an early work by Jonathan Lethem and is a private detective in near future San Francisco and its one of those books where you should just legit see the Kangaroo in suit on various cover and know who Lethem is in literary circles and just buy it.

gun with occasional music lethem

Feel me?

finch jeff vandermeer

So Finch is actually my favorite Jeff VanderMeer novel. He kind of hit it big with his later novels starting with Annihilation (which became the movie). VanderMeer has multiple great novels before including City of Saints and Madmen, Veniss Underground, and Shriek: an afterword, some of which were set in his Ambergris setting, which may make Finch the hardest of these novels I’m listing to enter if you are someone who needs or greatly prefers a blank canvas or the familiar to most enjoy books, but once you get past the setting, again, crime is used here to ground you in the fantastic.

Finch is a crime novel and you don’t need to have read any previous novel to enjoy it, though those who have would get some references and enjoy it even more. I mentioned New Weird above with Mieville and Jeff was definitely in that lane or at least going in the same direction with much of his early work.

I’ve interviewed Jeff a couple of times, including one really long interview and a short chat about Predator.