The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
Pelecanos takes a break from HBO’s The Deuce to deliver this taut, nervy salute to the redemptive power of the written word and to those who try to make the world a better place. Michael, a soft-spoken young DC knucklehead finds solace in the books in the prison library, guided by Anna, a ambitious literacy tutor not much older than he is, who has taken a shine to him. But when Michael is sprung early, thanks to some slippery witness tampering by Phil Orzanian, a shady private eye working for Michael’s lawyer, all bets are off. In our current climate where the flag of idiocy and self-centeredness flies so high (and so proudly) on so many masts, striking a blow for literacy, compassion and understanding may make this one of the most subversive books of the year.
The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
Other private eyes keep a bottle in the desk drawer — Charles Heist, the “feral detective” of this phantasmagorical kaleidoscope of a tale, keeps a possum. He agrees (reluctantly) to help snarky high-strung New York liberal Phoebe Siegler find Arabella, a friend’s wandering daughter who started by heading up California’s Mount Baldy to pay homage to the late Leonard Cohen, only to later vanish into the Mojave Desert, where she’s caught between two warring tribes of desert rats. It’s a wild, picaresque ride, as Phoebe searches for the missing teenager, while trying to make sense of the 2016 federal election’s subsequent “barking madness” and her inexplicable sexual attraction to Charles. I’m not quite sure I “got” it, but I’m pretty sure I loved it.
Sunburn by Laura Lippman | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
If you’re not squirming after reading the beginning of this twisted, twisty slice of nasty — wherein private investigator Adam Bosk ponders the red, raw sunburned shoulders of his comely target, Polly Costello, a runaway wife — well, you’ve never had a sunburn. But don’t worry — by the head-spinning conclusion of this noirish romp, Lippman’s long-promised visit into James M. Cain territory, everyone gets burned one way or another. Pass the Coppertone.
Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne | Buy this book |Kindle it! | Read the TD review
I should have hated this book, yet another attempt by the Raymond Chandler estate to milk the legacy of Chandler’s seminal private eye, Philip Marlowe. But hired gun English author Lawrence Osborne must have been well aware of how previous attempts to imitate Chandler had gone, and wisely serves up Marlowe his way — as a retired old coot, living off his life’s saving in Mexico in 1980, out for one last hurrah — and garnishes it with some beautiful writing, a palpable sense of sorrow and an elegiac sense of time running out. Osborne’s Marlowe isn’t Chandler’s Marlowe. But I think the two would have understood each other.
Eight Million Ways to Die by Lawrence Block & John K. Snyder III | Buy the book | Kindle it!
It feels almost like a cheat, saying that comic writer/artist John K. Snyder III’s graphic novel adaptation of the 1982 masterpiece by Lawrence Block was one of my favourite reads of 2018. But Snyder’s adaptation zaps the original with enough extra voltage to justify it. The stripped-to-the-essence script, the rough impressionistic artwork and the seedy palette he uses, all muddy grays, browns and muted primary colours, perfectly nails exactly what I felt first read the novel over thirty years ago: a nightmare of conflicting emotions and woozy plot twists that grabbed at me all the way to the bleak, heart-thomping end.
The Annotated Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler | Buy this book | Kindle it! | Read the TD review
Annotated by Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson & Anthony Dean Rizzuto
Another cheat, I guess, since The Big Sleep, which introduced Philip Marloweto the world was originally published in 1939. But re-reading it in this newly annotated version is like wearing X-ray goggles. Bit by bit they sift through the clues, serving up hundreds of notes and photos alongside the full novel, while a sterling intro by Jonathan Lethem is almost worth the price of admission alone. Who knows? We may even find out who killed the chauffer.
Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s (anthology) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
Edited by Leonard Klinger
The Edgar-winning Master of the Annotation serves up five pivotal, iconic novels from the 1920s ( House Without a Key by Earl Derr Biggers, The Benson Murder Case by S.S. Van Dine, The Roman Hat Mystery by Ellery Queen and — of special interest for fans of this site — Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett and Little Caesar by W.R. Burnett), presented in their original form, with extensive historical and cultural annotations and illustrations that stretch to infinity and beyond. There’s also a detailed foreword to put things in perspective, and an introduction by Otto Penzler.
The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini by Cynthia von Buhler | Buy the book | Kindle it!
Hard Case Crime slides out of its hard-boiled shell to offer a fantasy-tinged historical graphic novel set in the world of 1920s magic. Plucky, rabbit-loving Minky Woodcock is tired of being dismissed by her private detective father, and so decides to tackle a case on her own — one that involves world famous escape artist and illusionist Harry Houdini. She ends up going undercover as his assistant to keep an eye on him, as he embarks on his fateful final tour. Here there be treachery, violence, a healthy dose of conspiracy, murder and… a healthy dash of whimsy and sex.
Jack Irish: Season Two | Buy the DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray
Remember when Americans did good P.I. shows? In this Australian production, Guy Pearce shambles through the streets of Melbourne and beyond as Jack Irish, Peter Temple’s amiable hard-luck P.I., watching his world crumble: his girlfriend Linda’s left him, his pal Sid’s out of the racing game, a good friend has just passed away, and possibly worst of all, his favourite pub may soon be sold. But when a long-lost, undelivered package arrives, one that might once have changed everything, Jack is drawn into a case that soon reaches deep into every niche of his life; a case involving foreign exchange students, illegal drugs, corrupt government agencies and the murder of a friend. Sharp and surprisingly poignant, possibly the best season yet.
C.B. Strike | Buy the DVD
Jack Irish and this British eight-part series were two of the only truly satisfying P.I. things I’ve seen on television in a long while. Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger totally own the roles of Cormoran Strike, a cranky, drunken private eye with a gimpy leg, still recovering from Afganistan, and Robin Ellacott, his ambitious, compassionate office manager. Smart, literate, and adult, and well worth bingeing. And all based on the three books written by that Harry Potter dame? You’re good, J.K., you’re very, very good.