It’s time for the 2014 Dubious CrimeFictionBook.com Awards. The inaugural edition last year was so biased, so dubious, so obviously influenced by bribery, that by popular demand (and court order) they’ve returned for 2014. All nominees and winners are selected by me through a highly subjective process. The only qualification is that I had to have read the work in 2014, and that the work was published recently.
This year had some excellent reads to offer as well as some duds that surprisingly didn’t float with me (I’m looking at you, Gone Girl). To add to the total subjectivity of the awards process, I’m including a fancy badge (left) that winners can lift for their websites, provided they link back here in return. It’s just like a real dubious award. Huzzah!
2014 Best Crime Series: The Riley Spartz Novels by Julie Kramer
In early 2014, I stumbled across a book review in the Star Tribune about a former TV news producer in Minnesota, Julie Kramer, writing crime novels. I have a soft spot for that type of writing (ex-journalist turned novelist), so I ordered up the latest installment in Kramer’s series, Delivering Death, featuring Riley Spartz, a TV news reporter. Kramer’s writing some of the smartest crime fiction out there. And I don’t mean smart in a condescending or convoluted way. I mean you can tell the writer knows her shit and isn’t going to insult your intelligence.
2014 Best Depiction of Firearms in a Crime Novel: Worm by Anthony Neil Smith
This novel isn’t even out yet (I told you these awards were dubious), but my advance read of Neil Smith’s North Dakota oil boom caper not only kicked ass in the story department, but was one of the few novels I read this year that got the guns right. I get to be picky, since I wrote a book about guns and knives in fiction for Writer’s Digest. And when your eye is watching for this stuff, it gets a little tiring to see “.9mm Ar15 machine gun assault weapons” being reloaded with a pump, or “.12 caliber shotgun clips.” Fuuuuccckk.
Thankfully, Smith nails every instance of his firearm depictions. It’s something I definitely appreciated. Watch for this one to come out, uh, whenever it comes out, I guess. Here’s Neil Smith’s author page on Amazon.
2014 Best Crime Humor Novel: The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping by Les Edgerton
There isn’t a crime novel I read this year that went for broke in the humor department quite like The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping by Les Edgerton. Edgerton approached this kind of humor in The Bitch, but Plastic cranks the slapstick to 100. It’s more Beavis and Butthead than Three Stooges, but it also contains a nugget of truth about human nature present in every Edgerton novel.
The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping is the only novel that, genuinely, made me laugh out loud. It somehow turned a forced amputation into one of the most hilarious scenes I’ve ever read. That takes some doing.
2014 Best Short Story: The Bitch Pit by Christopher Pimental
I used to think hell was the bathroom at this one gas station in Hinckley, Minn., but now I know better. It’s actually what’s inside The Bitch Pit, easily the most disturbing short story I’ve read since Plastic Soldiers. Pimental offers a look at the casualties of war in an unexpected, albeit shocking, way.
The content of The Bitch Pit isn’t what makes this story so impactful as much as the tone. This is one of the few stories that, in just a couple paragraphs, can inject a hard dose of absolute dread. It might be because the prose makes you feel like you’ve been dropped directly into hell. Or it might be because the story doesn’t just seem plausible, it’s actually happening (in so many ways). Either way, Pimental’s yarn about arms dealers in South America is a must-read for those willing to take the dare.
2014 Best Crime Novel: Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer
Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer is literary fiction for the Breaking Bad generation. Or maybe it’s crime fiction for refugees of literary fiction. Either way, it’s by far the best crime novel I read all year. As one reviewer on Amazon put it, “This book is everything that is right about modern crime and noir.” I would agree with that.
On the surface, you’ve got a story about a guy dealing with the death of his son meeting an old friend with drug and violence issues. Underneath is a story about the legacy passed down from father to son, and the ways to fill that cycle once it’s broken – if it ever was intact in the first place. In addition, Whitmer sprinkles in nuggets of social commentary that will stick with me for years. For example:
They put people in prison for taking drugs. They lock kids away for stealing money from gas stations, for joyriding in cars. But men who abandon their children, they float through life, light as air.
There’s also a piece about the cognitive dissonance it takes to think terrorists “hate us for our freedoms” while also hating on illegal immigrants for thinking they’re so free they can just cross into the U.S. without a second thought. That’s better than astute, that’s a genius observation about American life.
Cry Father is a novel worthy of a few repeat reads just to soak it all in. I’d recommend you start with round one as soon as possible.
Other Random Observations
For whatever reason, 2014 marked the most books I’ve seen with titled chapters. Maybe that’s just me, but it looks like those are coming back. Did you notice the same thing? Leave a comment below.