For what it’s worth, here’s my rundown of the best of 2013. The only qualification was that I had to have experienced it in 2013. Nominees had to be related to the crime fiction genre somehow. Yeah, that’s pretty loose. No arguing about the rules, kids, that’s just how it’s going to go.
Best Crime Novel of 2013
Grind Joint by Dana King can add another notch to its best-of list belt. After a pair of too-good-for-this-small-pond novels, Wild Bill and Worst Enemies, King inked a deal with publisher Stark House Press. His “debut” (it’s being called that, but it’s only sorta one) with SNP showed what can happen when the writer and publisher are on the same page, so to speak.
Everything about the first two novels – from the cop talk to the financial politics of crime – is put into hyper-focus with Grind Joint. The novel opens with a dead body at a casino with a bad rep, then takes the reader along for a little jaunt with some of the worst people on Earth.
I shit you not, I received a random request through this website from someone looking for “a 2013 crime novel I can recommend to someone else” and look hep (tip: be sure to actually read the book before trying that pick-up line at book clubs). I told that person to pick up Grind Joint.
And now I’ll tell it to you, dear reader. Grind Joint is my top pick for 2013 crime novels.
Best Literary Novel
Graphic the Valley is about Tenaya, an American Indian living off-the-grid in Yosemite Valley. He slips in and out of the modern world as the story slips in and out of time. Hoffmeister parallels a battle between Tenaya’s tribe and the U.S. Army 150 years ago with the protagonist’s own struggles to retain identity – both of himself and his ancestral Yosemite Valley.
Hoffmeister’s style is hard to categorize. He messes with sentence structure (just check out the title for an example) as much as he does the timeline. But it all makes sense. There’s a universal logic to the unusual storytelling that readers innately knew all along, but needed Hoffmeister to reveal to appreciate. That reverberates all the way down into the plot.
Graphic the Valley is billed as a “modern retelling of Samson and Delilah,” but something tells me that was slapped on after the marketing department threw its hands in the air and said, “I don’t know what this is, but holy shit is it good.”
Best Potboiler Read
One of my favorite crime novelists, Vincent Zandri, took on the Dan Browns of the world with The Shroud Key this year. Predictably, things went well for the Egypt-based potboiler read.
Sure, The Shroud Key has all the trappings of one of Brown’s novels: an ancient secret, a history-changing relic in the hands of bad guys, a globe-trotting hero wearing a hat and a bunch of Old Testament wrath wrangling.
But you know what? If you put Vince and Brown in a dark Cairo back alley, I’d put money on Vince. He went to Cairo in the middle of the Arab Spring (against the explicit wishes of the U.S. State Department), gathered materials for the book while Tahrir Square rioted, rode a camel and still had time to contribute feature pieces to Living Ready, the survival magazine/book brand I had a hand in starting.
Shiste, and that’s the non-fiction provenance to a fictional book. Pepper in Vince’s signature style, and The Shroud Key is page-turning fun for popcorn munchers.