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  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2018/09/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , Mystery, , , ,   

    Every Megan Abbott Book, Ranked 

    Megan Abbott is having a Moment. With the publication of her ninth novel, Give Me Your Hand, comes the realization that this brilliant author has flown under the radar for too long, and it’s time we all caught up. Abbott hasn’t really written a bad book yet, but we have our own ideas about where you should start. Below, we rank the novels, leaving the best for last. Disagree? Tell us in the comments..

    The Fever
    Abbott’s assured 2014 novel tells the tale of a sleepy town whose teenage girls suddenly start suffering a mysterious illness. As thrillers go, it’s low key but tense: on one hand, Abbott easily crafts a creepy, sexually-charged atmosphere and populates it with true-to-life characters struggling with teen sexuality from every pained perspective—and then ramps up the paranoia and horror by stages. On the other hand, if you’re looking for action, or an explosive conclusion that burns off all the high-pressure unease the novel generates, well, that’s not what the author is going for here.

    You Will Know Me
    This story of a young gymnast with Olympic aspirations and a dread of her growing bosom, the obsessively supportive parents who have given up everything to push their daughter forward, and the isolated, suffocating world of gymnasts, is great. The unlikeable characters are reliably fascinating and well-rendered, and the setting and sense of dread is palpable. While the book is offered up as a mystery, however, Abbott is absolutely disinterested in that aspect of the story. Said mystery, involving the death of teen boy, isn’t much of one, and readers paying the slightest attention will know exactly what happened shortly after the body’s discovered. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t fantastic—but it does mean those looking for shocking twists should start elsewhere.

    Die a Little
    Abbott’s first published novel follows a schoolteacher in postwar L.A. who begins to suspect her policeman brother’s new wife is on the sketchy side, and it’s about as great a debut novel as you can hope for. If Die a Little isn’t as polished, tight, or spellbinding as Abbott’s later work, its subversion of traditional noir gender roles and other tropes is delightful fun, if a bit on-the-nose—something else Abbott got better at as time went on. It’s still a definite must-read, if only to see how a very good writer slowly evolves into a tremendous one.

    Bury Me Deep
    Based on a true story, Abbott’s 2009 novel (nominated for an Anthony Award) is an immersive, slow burn telling the story of Marion Seeley, whose husband, a doctor, leaves her in Phoenix so he can go to Mexico for work and to kick his drug habit. Marion falls in with a group of other women and meets Joe Lanigan, who seduces her—and then, things go really, really badly for everyone involved. Abbott takes her time with the pacing of this one; the first 80 percent of the book, finds her wallowing in her own gorgeous writing and the increasingly unbearable tension of the story. The final act is therefore an exhilarating explosion that feels oh so good, even as it highlights how slow the buildup was.

    The End of Everything
    This story of a 13-year old girl, Lizzie, whose best friend suddenly disappears, is so much more than a mystery—the revelation of what happened comes fairly early in the story, and isn’t too surprising. It is more a deep-dive into the girl’s unreliable, confused psyche. Abbott infuses Lizzie with vigilance, confusion, and dark secrets, then layers on a serious lack of reliability—Lizzie doesn’t always seem to be totally in control of her own narrative. Lizzie’s voice is what makes this book so incredible. Spending time with her is almost overwhelming—she’s a brilliant character, and a narrative device that you’ll really love. But you’ll be happy, too, to see the back of her at its end.

    Give Me Your Hand
    Abbott’s newest book, about two brilliant girls who pushed each other to achieve back in high school and fell out over a terrible confession, only to be forced together professionally years later, loads all the author’s weapons into one powerful vehicle, which then proceeds to run you over. There’s the exploration of dark, twisted teen girl relationships. There’s the slow boil of inarticulate rage that results in horrific violence. The careful study of small, claustrophobic groups. The entertaining rendering of characters who are, at best, unlikeable. At this point, the top four Abbott novels approach a kind of singularity of excellence, so feel free to consider this on equal footing with the three that follow.

    Dare Me
    Dare Me is probably the book that woke most people up to Abbott, and for good reason. Set in the world of teenage cheerleading, it explores the “Mean Girls” dynamic with a story packed with the sort of ruthless twists and subversions that are Abbott’s hallmark—asking the simple question, what happens when the Regina George of your group gets demoted? If you’ve read any of Abbott’s books, you know the answer involves murderous rage, and the way former Queen Bee Beth reacts when her loyal sidekick Addy becomes enamored with the cool new cheerleading coach is a compelling study of sociopathic teen girl angst. At the same time, Abbott smartly positions the cheerleading team as being disdained by the rest of the school—they’re not the popular girls, because cheerleading, despite its demanding athletic standard, is seen as silly. Dare Me is an drum-tight book that captures the true terror of being a teenage girl.

    The Song is You
    If you’re only familiar with Abbott’s more recent novels set in contemporary times, get thee to her classic noir The Song is You, which seems so old-fashioned at first blush, it’s easy to miss its electrifying subversions. Set in Golden Age Hollywood, it’s got all the boozy, jazzy earmarks of a period piece, aping the bleak mood and dark style of the time. At first glance, the gender roles he characters fall into seem traditional as well—the protagonist is a man, a “fixer” for the film studios when scandals arise, and he’s haunted by his involvement in covering up the disappearance of a young starlet. Dig deeper, and you find Abbott knows exactly what she’s doing, and what tropes she’s playing with. The end result is an Ellroy-esque twister that revels in the debauchery of old Hollywood, but does so with razor-sharp purpose.

    Queenpin
    Abbott’s third novel is nearly perfect (it won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original). It’s another red meat dive into noir, telling the story of a girl who’s adopted by the titular Queenpin of the criminal underground, Gloria Denton, who teaches her everything she knows about the rackets—and then falls for precisely the wrong man. As the unnamed narrator and her mentor slowly circle each as their respective roles change, the violence and tension of the story ratchets up as if a supercomputer was tasked with crafting the perfect thriller plotline, even as Abbott explores and interrogates gender roles and classic tropes with a modern, gimlet eye. Even if you think you don’t enjoy hardboiled-style stories, check out Queenpin—there’s so much more going on aside from the whiskey, cigarettes, and gunplay.

    What Abbott novel left you breathless?

    The post Every Megan Abbott Book, Ranked appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2018/09/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , Mystery, , , ,   

    Every Megan Abbott Book, Ranked 

    Megan Abbott is having a Moment. With the publication of her ninth novel, Give Me Your Hand, comes the realization that this brilliant author has flown under the radar for too long, and it’s time we all caught up. Abbott hasn’t really written a bad book yet, but we have our own ideas about where you should start. Below, we rank the novels, leaving the best for last. Disagree? Tell us in the comments..

    The Fever
    Abbott’s assured 2014 novel tells the tale of a sleepy town whose teenage girls suddenly start suffering a mysterious illness. As thrillers go, it’s low key but tense: on one hand, Abbott easily crafts a creepy, sexually-charged atmosphere and populates it with true-to-life characters struggling with teen sexuality from every pained perspective—and then ramps up the paranoia and horror by stages. On the other hand, if you’re looking for action, or an explosive conclusion that burns off all the high-pressure unease the novel generates, well, that’s not what the author is going for here.

    You Will Know Me
    This story of a young gymnast with Olympic aspirations and a dread of her growing bosom, the obsessively supportive parents who have given up everything to push their daughter forward, and the isolated, suffocating world of gymnasts, is great. The unlikeable characters are reliably fascinating and well-rendered, and the setting and sense of dread is palpable. While the book is offered up as a mystery, however, Abbott is absolutely disinterested in that aspect of the story. Said mystery, involving the death of teen boy, isn’t much of one, and readers paying the slightest attention will know exactly what happened shortly after the body’s discovered. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t fantastic—but it does mean those looking for shocking twists should start elsewhere.

    Die a Little
    Abbott’s first published novel follows a schoolteacher in postwar L.A. who begins to suspect her policeman brother’s new wife is on the sketchy side, and it’s about as great a debut novel as you can hope for. If Die a Little isn’t as polished, tight, or spellbinding as Abbott’s later work, its subversion of traditional noir gender roles and other tropes is delightful fun, if a bit on-the-nose—something else Abbott got better at as time went on. It’s still a definite must-read, if only to see how a very good writer slowly evolves into a tremendous one.

    Bury Me Deep
    Based on a true story, Abbott’s 2009 novel (nominated for an Anthony Award) is an immersive, slow burn telling the story of Marion Seeley, whose husband, a doctor, leaves her in Phoenix so he can go to Mexico for work and to kick his drug habit. Marion falls in with a group of other women and meets Joe Lanigan, who seduces her—and then, things go really, really badly for everyone involved. Abbott takes her time with the pacing of this one; the first 80 percent of the book, finds her wallowing in her own gorgeous writing and the increasingly unbearable tension of the story. The final act is therefore an exhilarating explosion that feels oh so good, even as it highlights how slow the buildup was.

    The End of Everything
    This story of a 13-year old girl, Lizzie, whose best friend suddenly disappears, is so much more than a mystery—the revelation of what happened comes fairly early in the story, and isn’t too surprising. It is more a deep-dive into the girl’s unreliable, confused psyche. Abbott infuses Lizzie with vigilance, confusion, and dark secrets, then layers on a serious lack of reliability—Lizzie doesn’t always seem to be totally in control of her own narrative. Lizzie’s voice is what makes this book so incredible. Spending time with her is almost overwhelming—she’s a brilliant character, and a narrative device that you’ll really love. But you’ll be happy, too, to see the back of her at its end.

    Give Me Your Hand
    Abbott’s newest book, about two brilliant girls who pushed each other to achieve back in high school and fell out over a terrible confession, only to be forced together professionally years later, loads all the author’s weapons into one powerful vehicle, which then proceeds to run you over. There’s the exploration of dark, twisted teen girl relationships. There’s the slow boil of inarticulate rage that results in horrific violence. The careful study of small, claustrophobic groups. The entertaining rendering of characters who are, at best, unlikeable. At this point, the top four Abbott novels approach a kind of singularity of excellence, so feel free to consider this on equal footing with the three that follow.

    Dare Me
    Dare Me is probably the book that woke most people up to Abbott, and for good reason. Set in the world of teenage cheerleading, it explores the “Mean Girls” dynamic with a story packed with the sort of ruthless twists and subversions that are Abbott’s hallmark—asking the simple question, what happens when the Regina George of your group gets demoted? If you’ve read any of Abbott’s books, you know the answer involves murderous rage, and the way former Queen Bee Beth reacts when her loyal sidekick Addy becomes enamored with the cool new cheerleading coach is a compelling study of sociopathic teen girl angst. At the same time, Abbott smartly positions the cheerleading team as being disdained by the rest of the school—they’re not the popular girls, because cheerleading, despite its demanding athletic standard, is seen as silly. Dare Me is an drum-tight book that captures the true terror of being a teenage girl.

    The Song is You
    If you’re only familiar with Abbott’s more recent novels set in contemporary times, get thee to her classic noir The Song is You, which seems so old-fashioned at first blush, it’s easy to miss its electrifying subversions. Set in Golden Age Hollywood, it’s got all the boozy, jazzy earmarks of a period piece, aping the bleak mood and dark style of the time. At first glance, the gender roles he characters fall into seem traditional as well—the protagonist is a man, a “fixer” for the film studios when scandals arise, and he’s haunted by his involvement in covering up the disappearance of a young starlet. Dig deeper, and you find Abbott knows exactly what she’s doing, and what tropes she’s playing with. The end result is an Ellroy-esque twister that revels in the debauchery of old Hollywood, but does so with razor-sharp purpose.

    Queenpin
    Abbott’s third novel is nearly perfect (it won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original). It’s another red meat dive into noir, telling the story of a girl who’s adopted by the titular Queenpin of the criminal underground, Gloria Denton, who teaches her everything she knows about the rackets—and then falls for precisely the wrong man. As the unnamed narrator and her mentor slowly circle each as their respective roles change, the violence and tension of the story ratchets up as if a supercomputer was tasked with crafting the perfect thriller plotline, even as Abbott explores and interrogates gender roles and classic tropes with a modern, gimlet eye. Even if you think you don’t enjoy hardboiled-style stories, check out Queenpin—there’s so much more going on aside from the whiskey, cigarettes, and gunplay.

    What Abbott novel left you breathless?

    The post Every Megan Abbott Book, Ranked appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2018/07/01 Permalink
    Tags: crack team, Mystery, ocean's 8   

    8 Woman-Centric Heist Novels to Read If You Loved Ocean’s 8 

    Reboots are en vogue these days, with no TV show or movie from more than a few years back safe from a refresh at the hands of today’s filmmakers. Increasingly, it isn’t enough to just remake the same story for modern-day audiences, it’s also necessary to reinvent it—and one the most powerful ways to reinterpret something from an earlier era is to reconsider the way it handles gender. For the Ocean’s 11 franchise, that meant making Ocean’s 8 with an all-woman cast, focusing on a caper organized by the sister of the earlier films’ main character.

    When the end product looks as good, and is as entertaining as Ocean’s 8, who could complain? The jazzy beats of a heist story aren’t exclusively male property, after all. If you loved the movie as much as we did, here are eight (of course) novels that will keep you buzzing on that female-centric caper energy.

    Diamonds Aren’t Forever, by Connie Shelton
    A rare “reverse heist” is at the fore in this fast-paced, fun story. Penelope Fitzpatrick’s family isn’t rich, but it’s been sustained by jewels that her grandfather smuggled out of Russia when the tsar fell. Now there’s just one jewel left—and it’s been stolen in a brazen robbery. Pen puts together a caper team, but the job isn’t to rob someone else—it’s to take back that which is hers by birthright. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a wholly satisfying heist at the center of this breezy novel—for Pen, pulling it off is far from a sure thing.

    Uptown Thief, by Aya de León
    Marisol Rivera is a good women—she runs a women’s health clinic on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and she’s dedicated to helping her patients. So dedicated that she’s willing to run a brothel for the 1 percent in order to pay the bills—supplemented by a little light thievery from the CEOs and Titans of old money who patronize it. When even this isn’t enough, she plots an ambitious heist that she thinks will set her and the clinic up for life—and as you might imagine, everything quickly goes sideways. This book’s fiercely feminist tone is right in line with today’s news, and the heist is thrillingly detailed.

    Artemis, by Andy Weir
    In Artemis, city on the Moon, Jazz Bashara works as a porter, scraping by and supplementing her income with a little light smuggling on the side. Her moonlighting brings her into contact with wealthy, powerful figures like Trond Landvik, a businessman with designs on a lunar aluminum monopoly. Landvik asks Jazz to come up with a way to sabotage his competition, and Jazz seizes the opportunity to grab a big score with a bold plan. The resulting caper moves at a mile a minute, and is delivered with the same witty dialogue and ribald humor that made us fall in love with Mark Watney, narrator of Weir’s blockbuster novel The Martian. Jazz is a woman with a serious attitude problem, and you’ll quickly come to love her.

    Void Moon, by Michael Connelly
    Connelly knows from crime novels, and his first Cassie Moon story is steeped in caper energy. Moon opens the novel is prison, craving revenge. She’s planning to rob the high-roller suite at the Las Vegas casino where she was arrested five years previously attempting the same crime—a bungled job that left her lover dead. She plots the heist with incredible precision, and pulls it off—only to find herself pursued by a tireless private detective. The fact that Moon viewed this robbery as her literal “one last score” before retiring just makes the mess that follows her delightfully ironic. There aren’t many better crime writers than Connelly, and this is one of his most, er, arresting efforts.

    The Grifters, by Jim Thompson
    Thompson soul-killing view of the universe may be best absorbed in small doses, but wow, did the man know how to bring the sordid lives of criminals to bright, electric life. The crimes in this book are confidence games, not proper heists, but when the characters discuss their business of fooling people out of their money, the same sort of buzzing electricity fills your head. The planning, the details, the quick-thinking that saves the day—it’s all here, soaked in darkness and horror. If the Ocean’s movies leave you feeling a bit too sunny about breaking the law, this novel will set you back on the straight and narrow.

    Rulebreaker, by Cathy Pegau
    Another sci-fi setting with a satisfying heist. On the mining colony of Nevarro, Liv Braxton makes her way with straightforward smash-and-grab thievery. Her simple approach is complicated when an old lover invites her to help him in a big score, and she accepts—only to find that the powerful woman she’s supposed to deceive has gotten under her skin in a way she never anticipated. The SFF elements are lightly handled, and the main pleasures are in the surprisingly detailed heist and the emotional effect it has on Liv.

    The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, by Catharina Ingelman Sundberg
    Martha Andersson may be 79 and interred at a retirement home, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to just take what life hands her. Fed up with bad food and restrictive rules, she recruits some of her elderly compatriots into the League of Pensioners, and proceeds to wreak havoc around the place. The League’s minor crimes somehow slowly build up to a full-on bank heist. If you think wishing to break out of the rules and make one big score is something that only the young can contemplate, this book will show you otherwise, and in fine style, as Martha and her gang of seniors—who even have cool criminal nicknames—show the kids just how a caper is pulled off.

    Ruin of Angels, by Max Gladstone
    Set in an urban fantasy universe in which magic and disputes over zoning regulations go hand-in-hand, the standalone sixth installment of Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence is the SFF heist story you’ve been looking for. In the city of Agdel Lex, which sits atop the wreckage of another city, destroyed in the God Wars, the streets shift without notice, tethered to one reality or another only by a shared understanding. Into this strange landscape wanders Kai, a priestess on the hunt for her missing sister, Ley. Kai finds Ley has been involved in a very shady business deal and is now on the run—but what she doesn’t know is that Ley is plotting a magical heist that could change the fate of the city and everyone in it. Assuming she survives, of course.

    Did we miss your favorite woman-centric heist story? Let us know!

    The post 8 Woman-Centric Heist Novels to Read If You Loved <i>Ocean’s 8</i> appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Molly Schoemann-McCann 4:00 pm on 2018/05/31 Permalink
    Tags: a study in treason, anthony horowitz, ashley dyer, buried in books, death notice, island of the mad, john connolly, kate carlisle, laurie r. king, leonard goldberg, murder at the mansion: a victorian village mystery, Mystery, , sheila connolly, splinter in the blood, the woman in the woods, the word is murder, zhou haohui   

    June’s Best New Mysteries 

    June is sleuthin’ out all over, with brand new novels by some of our favorite authors (like Magpie Murders‘ Anthony Horowitz), and hot new cases for some of our favorite gumshoes—from John Connolly’s Charlie Parker, to Sherlock Holmes’ esteemed daughter and his wife. Don’t miss these page-turners, and use those extra hours of daylight for backseat crime solving.

    The Word is Murder, by Anthony Horowitz
    Fans of Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, which offered a delicious twist on a classic whodunit, will love his newest puzzle of a novel, which features a possibly even more ingenious and mind-bending premise: a fictionalized version of the author himself, who accompanies a brilliant detective as he investigates a strange and chilling crime. A woman visits a funeral home and meticulously plans her own funeral—and six hours later, she’s found strangled in her home. Was that part of her plan? Don’t miss this multilayered meta-mystery by a master of the genre.

    Island of the Mad (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series #11), by Laurie R. King
    Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes (yes, that one) have enough on their plates at the moment, but when the troubled aunt of an old friend—a woman who has spent her life shuttling between different mental institutions since the loss of her father and brother in the Great War—disappears suddenly from Bethlehem Royal Hospital (or “Bedlam”), Russell is compelled to help track her down. She and Holmes find themselves traveling from the haunted halls of Bedlam to the winding streets of Venice—which is slowly falling under the shadow of Benito Mussolini. This is the dazzling eleventh book in a series that revitalizes the legendary character of Sherlock Holmes, providing him with a woman powerful enough to be his equal.

    Death Notice, by Zhou Haohui
    The murder of a well-regarded police officer sends shockwaves through Sichuan’s capital city of Chengdu—and things only go downhill from there. A canny, merciless killer calling themselves Eumenides (after the Greek goddess of revenge) has begun sending out “death notices,” naming criminals who have managed to evade the law. These notices include a list of the subject’s crimes along with their upcoming date of execution. When the first death notice target dies—while under comprehensive police protection—the stakes grow terrifyingly high. This high-octane thriller blends a vibrant setting with a page-turning premise from one of China’s most popular authors.

    Splinter in the Blood, by Ashley Dyer
    Detective Greg Carver has become obsessed with finding a brutal murderer the press has dubbed the Thorn Killer—until he’s shot in his own home, which puts him in the hospital and out of the investigation. But Greg wasn’t alone during the shooting. His partner, Ruth Lake, was there with him—but for some reason, instead of getting help for Greg, she rearranged the crime scene. Greg has no memory of the shooting, but when he awakens, Ruth is leading the Thorn Killer investigation. And it soon becomes clear that she’s got something to hide, and will cross any line to protect her secret.

    A Study in Treason, by Leonard Goldberg
    Fans of Sherlock Holmes (and if you’re reading this, you likely count yourself among them) will thoroughly enjoy the second novel in this clever series which follows the exploits of Joanna Blalock, daughter of the late great Sherlock Holmes. Joanna and her husband, who, coincidentally, is the son of Sherlock’s side kick, John Watson, are called to investigate the disappearance of a very important and highly confidential treaty between England and France. This brilliantly crafted locked room mystery features many deft touches that will thrill fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original series.

    Buried in Books, by Kate Carlisle
    Book restoration expert Brooklyn is thrilled to be getting ready to marry her fiancé, Derek Stone, and she’s hopeful that their wedding is going to go smoothly. When two of her former best friends and college roommates, Sara and Heather, show up at her surprise bridal shower, Brooklyn is stunned—the pair had a falling out over a decade ago when Sara stole Heather’s boyfriend, and they’ve been out of touch ever since. Brooklyn worries that their reunion will be filled with drama, and she’s pleasantly surprised that they appear willing to make amends, gifting her with rare copies of a couple of classic books. Then, unfortunately, one friend is murdered. And then Brooklyn discovers that one of the books she received is a forgery—and wonders whether the murder and the fakery are related. Will this growing scandal derail her nuptials? Find out in the 12th installment in the charming Bibliophile Mystery Series.

    Murder at the Mansion: A Victorian Village Mystery, by Sheila Connolly
    Kate Hamilton has realized her dream of escaping her suffocating small town of Asheford, MD; she’s gotten herself a fancy job at a high-end hotel in Baltimore, and things are looking up. Then the hotel is bought out, and Kate finds herself unemployed—which clears the decks for an invitation from the town council of Asheford, whose members have decided that Kate’s skills and smarts are the answer to their bankrupt prayers. The town has spent the last of its budget to purchase a huge Victorian mansion, in the hopes of attracting tourists and revitalizing its economy. Kate doesn’t have the best memories of the mansion, and worse still, her old childhood nemesis, Cordelia “Cordy” Walker is getting in on the action with her own plans for the mansion…until Cordy turns up dead in it, and Kate stumbles upon her body. Now she’s got to add “defending herself against charges of murder” to her long to-do list.

    The Woman in the Woods, by John Connolly
    In the 16th novel in the matchless Charlie Parker series, the body of a young woman is discovered in a shallow grave in the Maine woods, and it appears that she gave birth a day or two before her death—but there’s no baby at the scene. Charlie Parker has been hired as a private detective to track the police investigation and to do his own research into finding the infant, but he soon discovers that he’s not the only one interested in the missing baby. Filled with (terrifyingly) unforgettable characters and shocking twists, this haunting, gothic novel with hints of horror shows why John Connolly is a master of the genre.

    What mysteries are you excited to read this month?

    The post June’s Best New Mysteries appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2018/05/04 Permalink
    Tags: claire dewitt, harry hole, Mystery, , vice and virtue   

    Why Are So Many Detectives Addicts? A Study in 10 Books 

    It’s an accepted fact—in fiction, anyway—that to be a brilliant detective, you must also be broken in some fundamental way. Perhaps that brokenness is why they’re able to see the clues the rest of us miss?

    What’s curious about these flawed, brilliant minds though, is how often their struggles are expressed through substance abuse and addiction—and how those traits are treated by novelists has evolved over the years. The 10 books below feature detectives who are alternatively brilliant, messy, arrogant, and tough—but they’re linked by their addictions, and the way those vices inform, enhance, or blunt their powers.

    Sherlock Holmes (The Complete Sherlock Holmes Volume I, by Arthur Conan Doyle)
    Any discussion of addiction in detective fiction must start with Holmes, who was conceived of and written during a period of history when the dangers of narcotics such as cocaine and morphine weren’t fully understood (and the drugs were, to a great extent, legal to use). You can’t view the original Holmes stories through the lens of modern attitudes towards drugs. You can view them through a literary lens, and ask why Doyle thought it necessary to seed clues throughout the stories regarding Holmes’ probable addiction to cocaine. It can be argued the reason was simple enough: in Holmes, Doyle had created a superhuman character, and he needed to give him a fatal flaw. That set a pattern for fictional detectives that’s been repeated ever since—the idea that the people who can spot tiny clues and piece together complex crimes need to numb their racing thoughts, to escape their fevered brains and tortured existence.

    Nero Wolfe (Fer-de-Lance, by Rex Stout)
    Wolfe, a character born in the 1930s, also demonstrates this idea—Wolfe is not simply a legendary gourmet and gourmand, a man with an encyclopedic knowledge of wine, prone to burning cook books that deviate from his own strong beliefs on cookery—he’s also clearly a man who compensates for his shut-in existence and overpowered intellect with food, and lots of it. In earlier books, Wolfe’s mental stress was more overt, as he was described as frequently falling into periods of inactivity during which he rarely left his bed; his obsession with food and drink would today be viewed as clearly compensatory. In the early 20th century, however, it still serves mainly to humanize a character who would otherwise be a crime-solving machine.

    Jack Vincennes (L.A. Confidential, by James Ellroy)
    Whereas much of the detective fiction of the mid-20th century treated alcoholism and drug addiction as a problem of morals or character—and often depicted detectives who seemed fueled by booze instead of ruined by it—Ellroy’s throwback noir classic was subversive in how it depicted Jack Vincennes’ life and career spinning out of control after he dried up and straightened out, almost as if Ellroy was subtly reinforcing the idea that messed-up people who needed chemicals just to get through the day made the most effective detectives.

    Matthew Scudder (The Sins of the Fathers, by Lawrence Block)
    By the mid-1970s, the idea that alcoholism was not a necessary professional hazard for a detective, coupled with a growing acceptance that recovering from alcoholism didn’t mean you were weak, was gaining traction. Matthew Scudder is a full-blown alcoholic in his debut novel, published in 1976, but his addiction isn’t depicted as part of his coping mechanism for a brilliant mind, or as being helpful to his investigative process. In fact, it inhibits him, and is evidence of a damaged man trying to find his way out of misery. By the early 1980s, Scudder showed up at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and has clung to his sobriety ever since, becoming a leading example of a detective who solves crimes and defeats the bad guys in spite of his crippling addiction, not because of it.

    Harry Hole (The Bat, by Jo Nesbø)
    Another example of the changing role of addiction in detective fiction, Harry Hole is a brilliant detective—when he’s sober. His alcoholism waxes and wanes, and his superiors often shield him from consequences because of his abilities. But there’s little doubt that his drinking problem is just that—a problem. Harry doesn’t solve mysteries due to hallucinatory binges, and he doesn’t quiet a spinning brain with booze. In fact, his drinking isolates him and prevents him from making meaningful connections with others, and often slows down his work.

    Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (Filth, by Irvine Welsh)
    Neither a mystery or a noir, this book is 110 percent Irvine Welsh, telling the story of a policeman who is superficially investigating a crime while really indulging in a ballet of awful behavior. He’s a drug addict, a sex addict, an alcoholic, and a misanthrope who spends most of his time abusing his authority and pulling mean-spirited pranks on his fellow officers. By this point in detective fiction, addiction had come full circle: instead of the indulgence of an overstressed genius, it’s depicted as not just a weakness, but a disease in every sense of the word—or at the very least, a symptom of one. There is, in fact, a solution to the mystery in this book, but it’s really the pity and resignation that Robertson’s colleagues view him with that’s most significant—as is the fact that Robertson’s addictions actually prevent him from seeing what is painfully clear to just about everyone else, including the reader.

    Hayden Glass (Boulevard, by Stephen Jay Schwartz)
    Hayden Glass is a great detective, and also a sex addict, demonstrating how the growing understanding of the psychology of addiction and the possible vectors it can follow is invading the formerly walled garden of detective fiction, populated for so long by boozy cops and smart-mouthed underworld figures. Glass is in a 12-step program as the first novel opens, aware of his problems and working through them, but his addiction is as much an asset, as detective fiction begins a slow full-circle move, now imagining that the fatal flaws of its detectives might give them insight into the criminals they hunt. Glass tackles a series of crimes that only a sex addict could understand, and his work getting control over his impulses is just as important as his problems.

    Claire DeWitt (Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, by Sara Gran)
    Addiction is increasingly understood as a common problem, not something only degenerates or people enduring trauma get caught up in. It therefore is treated less as a unique character trait somehow mysteriously fueling genius, and more as an everyday risk. Claire DeWitt is a detective not because she’s brilliant, or even all that motivated by justice. She’s curious and restless, and also a raging drug addict. Her adventures in her first novel slowly become entwined with her downward spiral into serious cocaine abuse, an attempt to numb something that has nothing to do with her detective work. The reason for her abuse is presented as something anyone aware of how terrible the world can be might fall into. At this point, addiction is less an aspect of the detective character as it is an aspect of society in general.

    Mark Mallen (Untold Damage, by Robert K. Lewis)
    Another example of addiction not only being presented as a problem, but a common and unexceptional one at that, is Mark Mallen, a junkie cop falling apart fast. The first book opens with him waking up with his latest needle still in his arm—and about to get caught up in a case in a personal way. What’s remarkable about Mallen is that his progress towards the solution to the mystery is paralleled with his recovery; after a friendly superior offers to let him get off the junk “the jailhouse way,” Mallen takes his first steps on the road to getting clean and becomes a stronger, more effective detective with each step.

    Pete Fernandez (Blackout, by Alex Segura)
    Segura’s excellent detective series starring Pete Fernandez is both an homage to the hard-drinking detective of the past, and a superb modern update to the trope. Segura has his cake and eats it too; Fernandez starts off the series as a mess, lost in a bottle, his life falling apart around him, staggering into solving mysteries by hazy accident. Over time, Pete’s struggle towards sobriety is mirrored by his growing talent for, and professional approach to, being a private investigator, allowing him to be both the boozy clue hound of the past and a modern-day detective who definitely does his best work when sober.

    The post Why Are So Many Detectives Addicts? A Study in 10 Books appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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