Writers I Admire: Daniel Woodrell

This guy is right up there with Ace Atkins and Dennis LeHane for greatest American crime novelist. His work has been labeled country noir because his books usually feature violence and very flawed, hardscrabble Ozarks folks. Woodrell portrays his characters honestly, starkly, but also with compassion, which is one of the main reasons his work is so compelling: he obviously knows these characters.  How they talk, how they think, how they interact with the world: everything is always spot-on.  Too, Woodrell obviously cares about his characters, and that comes across especially in Tomato Red and Winter’s Bone. Another element of his work that sucks the reader right in is the voice. I challenge ANYONE to read the opening three pages of Tomato Red and stop reading. Ditto Under the Bright Lights, which is the only novel of his I know of that isn’t set in the Ozarks; this one is set in New Orleans and is straight up hard-boiled, page-turning fun.

The Maid’s Version is his latest novel, which is high on my holiday reading list. Below are links to excellent reviews of his various books.





Writers I Admire: Steve Ulfelder

I’m a sucker for a good series, and the Conway Sax books are not good, they’re great.  Sax, a part-time mechanic, part-time PI, specializes in doing “favors” for fellow Barn Burners, or recovering alcoholics. As a former drunk, Sax has a checkered past, which, in a variety of interesting ways, both haunts and motivates him to assist other former alcoholics, even when they are ungrateful or downright despicable. But what I dig most about Sax is this: he is a decent guy, an American hero in the same vein as the Colson Quinn character in Ace Atkins’s novels.

In “The Simple Art of Murder,” Raymond Chandler says this about the detective: “He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it…He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job.” To me, it’s almost as if Chandler were writing about Conway Sax. 

Aside from the main character, however, there are many other excellent reasons to read Ulfelder’s books. The wonderful clipped prose. The fast-paced narratives typically centered around loyalty and redemption. I could go on, but I’ll let the writing speak for itself. Click on the link below, and read the opening chapter of Ulfelder’s latest novel Shotgun Lullaby.  


Writers I Admire: Video with Ace Atkins

This is Ace Atkins talking about his latest Quinn Colson novel The Broken Places. Atkins, a former Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist, is, in my humble opinion, the best crime novelist in America. In this video, I love what he has to say about American heroes, Mississippi, and, best of all, the craft of researching and writing. If you haven’t read any of the Colson books, you should. They go in this order: The Ranger, The Lost Ones, and The Broken Places. 






Wonderland by Ace Atkins

Pop quiz: which of the following qualifies as a reasonable favor for a friend? A) Bumming a ride to the airport. B) Helping move furniture into storage. C) Picking up the lunch tab. D)    Going head to head with a megalomaniacal Las Vegas billionaire hell-bent on bringing a casino to Boston.

If you answered D, your name is Spenser, and you are one of the toughest and most memorable fictional PIs of the last three decades. Originally created by the late great Robert B. Parker, Spenser is now in the capable hands of Ace Atkins, who would be on my short list for the best crime fiction novelist still among the living.

In Wonderland, Henry Cimoli, an old boxing buddy of Spenser’s, is offered a buyout on his beloved condo in Revere Beach to make way for a casino.  When Henry refuses, thugs are sent to expedite the process.  Enter Spenser and his new apprentice Zebulon Sixkill, a six and a half foot Native American first introduced in The Professionals. From there, things get political, and violent, and the familiar hard-boiled themes bubble to the surface: greed, greed, and more greed.  But Spenser, never one to back down no matter the odds, digs his heels in and tries to make things right for his friend…and the greater good.

What is so satisfying about Wonderland is the ease with which Atkins captures nearly every aspect of the Spenser series.  Rapid fire dialogue? Check.  Descriptions of Boston settings? Check.  Fantastic fight scenes? Check. Atkins has not only Spenser’s character down pat, but all the series regulars, too: Susan, the beautiful intellectual who can trade barbs with Spenser all day, and Hawk, the deeply dangerous backup man.  The addition of Zebulon Sixkill (called Z) gives Spenser a sidekick, which adds another satisfying layer to the series.

Pop quiz: would I happily read more of these Spenser novels as penned by Ace Atkins? A)  yes B) yes C) yes D) hell yes