Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Books That Haunt Us

By Alex Segura

I try not to be too self-promotional in this space, mainly because I think these blog posts shouldn’t serve as hype machines but, you know, share some droplets of knowledge I’ve gained during my relatively new career. That said, I’ve had my books on my mind a lot - in the macro sense. As some of you know, my first novel Silent City is being reissued by Polis Books in March. The following month will see the release of my second novel, Down the Darkest Street. Both books are part of the same series starring washed-up journalist/reticent detective Pete Fernandez.

So, as part of the whole “publishing a book” thing, I have to write new acknowledgements for the Silent City. Doing that got me to thinking about this journey I’m on, and the books that not only got me hooked on reading noir/mystery/crime - but made me want to create it, too.

I was always a reader - whether it was comics, sci-fi, "literary" novels, Sherlock Holmes, what have you. But it wasn’t until my early-to-mid twenties that I got truly tapped into mysteries. I burned through a lot of the classics (though, there are many lost/forgotten classics I need to seek out), like Chandler, Hammett, MacDonald, Highsmith and so on. I was digesting these books as a member of the audience. That said, I very clearly remember a turning point where I went from being a passive reader, enjoying the experience to someone who wanted to do the same thing. To write a book. And while the classic pulps and noir novels certainly helped get me there, it was another batch of books, more contemporary and relatable, that spurred me to take a stab at it myself. I want to talk about a few of them.

I’ve talked about influences on the blog before, so I’ll spare you a grocery list of people I think have played a part in how I write. But I did want to take a minute and write about some of the books that stuck around and still take up real estate in my head, and make up a big chunk of Pete Fernandez’s literary DNA.

I’m not going to do a deep-dive plot description for these - but know that I think each of them is excellent and you should read them all.

A Replacements song in prose form. Shambling, bruised, daring and kinetic, this book crackles with energy and introduces one of my favorite fictional characters ever in Nick Stefanos. Pelecanos has written a ton of great books, but I’ll always have a soft spot for his first three Stefanos novels.

Hands down, one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read. Featuring two compelling protagonists in Pat and Angie and a Boston setting that feels all too real. I loved Lehane’s first PI novel, but this one just blows it out of the water - dangerous, disturbing and the kind of book that keeps you awake.

 I love Tess Monaghan. It’s hard to put into words what a great character she is - charming, flawed, funny, brave and self-aware, unique and more. My favorite part about Tess is she refuses to remain static - and evolves from chapter to chapter. If you haven’t read this series, do yourself a favor and remedy that immediately.

The outlier of Ellroy’s magnificent “L.A. Quartet,” Jazz is pure style and is the kind of book only Ellroy can pull off. While you should read the first three, you don’t have to, and I find myself going back to this weird little closing chapter more often than the earlier installments, though they’re great, too.

The first Harry Bosch novel also seems to be the most noir of the series, which is probably why I like it so much. A little more raw and jagged than future installments, we meet Bosch and learn a bit about his past as it comes back to haunt him during a particularly trying time. Connelly hit it out of the park in his first at bat - supremely impressive.

Miami is a shadowy, sweaty place full of double-crosses, weird characters and a heaping dose of menace. Miami Purity captures it perfectly. The Miami novel I measure all others against. A classic.

I could list books I like/loved/was influenced by for days. But this seems like a good place to stop. Feel free to share your essential, influential reads in the comments below.


Scott D. Parker said...

While I have read MYSTIC RIVER three times (it was the mystery book that got me into the genre), DARKNESS, TAKE MY HAND was the book that made me realize "Whoa! This is possible?" Loved that book. And the ending...dang near like a freight train.

Alex Segura said...

It's my favorite Lehane book - and I love most of them. Just the perfect mix of great characters, disturbing plot and perfect setting.

Kristopher said...

Nice to see Vicki Hendricks getting some love. She is one of the most under-rated authors in the crime fiction arena.

Dana King said...

I need to find time to go back and re-read the Kenzie-Gennaro books. They're what put the hook in me for his writing, and I've never had a chance to revisit any of them. Looks like I'll have to make time. Thanks for reminding me.

I'm working my way through the LA Quartet now, read THE BIG NOWHERE a few months ago and looking forward to LA CONFIDENTIAL. Now I'll look forward to WHITE JAZZ even more.

I'm a Lippmann fan, but of her stand-alones and short stories. I never connected with the Monahan series.

Unknown said...

Dana, I didn't connect as much with Tess either, but Lippman's been blurring those lines more recently, weaving characters from stand-alones into the Tess books and writing more stand-aloney (this is a word?) feeling Tess stories too. It's like she expands her universe w/every title and I am all over that!

Dana King said...

Thanks for the heads up. I'm always game for a good PI series, so I may have to give one of the newer Monahans a try.

Alex Segura said...

Tess and I hit it off right away, but I have spoken to people that prefer the standalones. I love 'em all!

Kristopher said...

Dana, I would say give Hush Hush a try. While it is a Tess novel, Laura's editor told her to write it as if it were a stand-alone and that is exactly how it feels. For my money, it's the best of the Tess novels and that is what I attribute that to.