As nice as some of the veteran series entries of the year were, I’m looking today at the most promising new (or should I say young?) series with 2011 outings.
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran. Easily the most audacious character thrown into a very traditional mix this year. Claire is a vocational detective – she’s heard the call – and she hears lotsa things, got her senses thrown open to the universe, you might say. She works her craft making the most of non-traditional and arcane tools, (she more than dabbles in the esoteric, psychedelic drugs and her very own sacred text – a cryptic and uncanny book of philosophical and spiritual guidance for detectives), but she’s no huggy-druggy New-Age happy hippie. Claire’s a badass who loves her guns and an excuse to shoot them (preferably at someone). She also excels at hand to hand combat and caries and continues to create her share of emotional baggage. Hard karma is in store for the rest of this series.
The Cut by George Pelecanos. There’s enough pleasure just in the prose and place (time and space) of a Pelecanos book to linger in any of them, but goodness, is it me or does Spero Lucas inject a little nitro into the proceedings? The Iraq War veteran returns home with a specialized skill set he picked up in the service and begins a new career in recovery. When everything goes sideways, Spero’s in his element, and exactly the capable and flexibly moral bedrock Pelecanos needs to build a new saga around.
The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson. Dewey Decimal, Larson’s PI who inhabits a near-future-post-apocalyptic New York City, is another former soldier with a highly specialized skill set… and a whole lot more. He’s host to a multitude of debilitating conditions and a walking carnival of symptoms that would cripple the functionality of less stout persons, but when Dewey decides to act he’s so efficiently lethal you may slap your book down and audibly exclaim. If only, he were correct more often. The real long-term pleasure of this series is going to be unraveling the mystery of his past: what exactly happened to his mind, his family and his world?
The Ranger by Ace Atkins. Oky-doke, yeah, it’s another returned vet equipped with (say it with me) special skills, but rather than Washington D.C. or post-apocalyptic New York it’s the wilds of northern Mississippi we’re traveling here, and Quinn Colson is looking into the suspect suicide of his uncle, the county sheriff. Fans of Justified will recognize the world Atkins is writing about and would do well to catch up on this one while awaiting Elmore Leonard’s Raylan (his first Raylan Givens book to take place in Kentucky - thank you Graham Yost). Atkins’ new one isn’t as interested in nuanced morality as most on this list, but he has no qualms about racking up a body count and for that I am deeply grateful.
The Territory by Tricia Fields. Setting again plays a crucial role in the appeal of this one. Josie Gray is the police chief of a small west Texas border town, up to her neck in the personal problems required of the best fictional characters, but it’s the very real and escalating violence, and its never far threat, erupting out of the narco wars that are making the west wild again, supplying enough charge for a series here. Looking forward to what’s next, here.
And how about these no-longer-rookie series? 2011 saw super-solid sophomore series efforts from the likes of Thomas Kaufman’s Willis Gidney (Steal the Show), Russel D. McClean’s J. McNee (The Lost Sister), Christa Faust's Angel Dare (Choke Hold) and Don Winslow’s Boone Daniels (The Gentlemen's Hour).
Rich new blood in crime fiction.
Jedidiah Ayres writes fiction and keeps the blog Hardboiled Wonderland.
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