WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Gabino Iglesias

The Demon Dog of Crime Fiction is back, and this time around it's more boocoo bad business, crooked cops, pervs, prowlers, and putzo politicians than ever, and that's saying a lot.

On Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, at 12:30 p.m. CST in Dallas, Texas, John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was riding in the back of a car as his presidential motorcade wound its way through Dealey Plaza. A second later, a bullet entered his head and ended his life.

Lilly Dancyger's Negative Space is a double biography that tells Dancyger's story while simultaneously discovering her dead father's life.

At once an exploration of grief and a literary séance in which the author speaks to her father through art and interviews with his friends and exes, this book is also a coming-of-age narrative where grief and anger become a path that leads to destruction, addiction and, ultimately, redemption.

Comparing multilayered narratives to onions can be an effective way of communicating that they possess various levels and many elements that work together simultaneously.

However, I've always thought the onion comparison implies some kind of organic nature, a type of structure that grows naturally. In the case of Elissa Washuta's White Magic, a better comparison is to a hand-rolled cigar — because there was clearly a deliberate layering after a series of violent events and a lot of pressure involved in the process.

Reading Helen Oyeyemi's Peaces is like walking into a bizarre interstitial space between a surrealist narrative populated by mongooses and strange characters and the realm of classic Agatha Christie-esque mysteries that take place on trains to undisclosed locations. If that doesn't make much sense, you're beginning to get an idea of what this novel is like.

Gina Nutt's Night Rooms is a collection of biographical essays in which memories and movies — mostly horror ones — merge to create a narrative that explores identity, body image, fear, revenge, and angst.

Jumping between past and present with ease, Nutt slashes to the center of issues like motherhood and depression and ultimately emerges as the quintessential final girl of her own film.

Sarah Langan's Good Neighbors is one of the creepiest, most unnerving deconstructions of American suburbia I've ever read. Langan cuts to the heart of upper middle class lives like a skilled surgeon and exposes the rotten realities behind manicured lawns and perfect families, and the result is horrifically plausible.

There are violent ghosts, flying whales, and dead people with mouthfuls of saltwater hundreds of miles from the ocean in Sam J. Miller's The Blade Between, but it all makes sense. It all makes sense because the story takes place in Hudson, New York, a place built on the remains of slaughtered whales, where their unused parts were buried underground and the scraps were fed to animals later used to feed people. Hudson is full of angry spirits, but now a different monster is destroying it: gentrification.

Michael Eric Dyson's Long Time Coming is a timely, heartfelt book that uses history to slice our nation open and show how racism is a sickness that has shaped our culture and society in a variety of insidious ways.

Definitive is a word we must use carefully when talking about biographies because it implies a degree of finality that research and new information may prove wrong.

That said, Les and Tamara Payne's The Dead are Arising is, for now, the definitive biography of Malcolm X.

Brian Selfon's The Nightworkers is a dark slice of Brooklyn noir with a family drama at its core. Noir is frequently about people caught in bad situation,s and tends to focus on the actions they take to cope or to escape; Selfon has altered that equation and turned the focus inward to explore the psychological effects of stress and fear. Here, crime is often the result of circumstances that have nothing to do with evil.

I was 12- or 13-years-old when an uncle gave me a copy of Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World. It was long and full of ideas that were new to me, so I spent the summer with my head in and out of that book.

It opened the door to philosophy, and I crossed the threshold because it was fun — it spoke to me. That love for philosophy lasted until I got to college. Nothing kills the love for philosophy faster than people who think they understand Foucault, Baudrillard, or Kierkegaard better than you — and then try to explain them.

If terrorists poisoned most of the water U.S. citizens consume, the event would take over the news cycle and it would be the only thing we'd talk about until the situation was fixed.

Well, the water is being poisoned — except it isn't coming from terrorists; it's being done by a variety of factories, companies, and processing plants.

So why are they not constantly on the news?

Books that make me cringe are usually bad. You know, books where suspension of disbelief refuses to stay even if you hold it at gunpoint, stories of whitewashed cities where everyone is beautiful, stories with dialogue so eloquent it sounds like Martin Luther King, Jr. debating Pericles. Luckily, sometimes a book comes along that makes me cringe for all the right reasons. Raven Leilani's Luster belongs to this select group.

Betsy Bonner's The Book of Atlantis Black: The Search for a Sister Gone Missing is a haunting, heartbreaking, frustrating read.

A mixture of biography and true crime, this narrative explores the death of Bonner's sister under mysterious circumstances in a hotel in Mexico — and offers more plot twists, shocking revelations and shady characters than most contemporary thrillers.

Exquisite. It took a decade of writing book reviews to get here, but here we are — I've used "exquisite." The stories in Laura van den Berg's I Hold a Wolf by the Ears are exquisite. They're tiny, uncanny morsels about broken women and mysterious things that possess a literary umami that falls somewhere between horror, literary fiction, mystery, drama, and social critique. They deal with death and loss, with isolation and falling in love with the wrong person.

Unspeakable Acts, edited by author, editor and critic Sarah Weinman, works as both a superb collection of true crime writing and a text that looks at the nuances of our collective obsession with horrific murders, con men and serial killers in a historical and cultural context.

Those looking for titillating, gruesome chronicles of human depravity will find much to like here — and those who want great, smart writing and outstanding research that unveils things we would rather not look at under a microscope will be equally satisfied.

The most surprising thing about S.A. Cosby's Blacktop Wasteland, which is marketed as a crime novel, is that crime is the least important element in the book. If it weren't for the time it takes to write, edit, and sell a novel — and the months it takes to finally see it in print when dealing with a large press — you'd think Cosby plucked every crucial racial topic the past month's headlines and used them to build a novel. But he did no such thing. Instead, this book is a cry about race that starts somewhere in Appalachia and echoes across the country.

I'm always giddy when I start a new Stephen Graham Jones novel. Yes, I said giddy. Everything about the worlds, circumstances, characters, and atmospheres he creates appeals to me. When I open a SGJ novel, I know flawed characters and an engaging plot will get me hooked ... and then the weirdness will come and darkness will seep into everything, slowly, starting at the corners and spreading like a toxic, unstoppable fungus. Then people will die. In The Only Good Indians, Jones does that and more, and the more is quite special.

Charlie Kaufman's Antkind is a novel only Charlie Kaufman could have written. I'm aware of how vague that sentence is, but I assure you it fits the novel perfectly. Antkind is strange, disjointed, and obsessive. It's also a wildly imaginative narrative in which Kaufman mentions himself several times, discusses his own work, and claims no one has made a "real" movie about New York.

"Anytime I heard of another Arab girl's engagement, it immediately snapped me out of my gayness."

Arab. Bisexual. Migrant. Anorexic. The list goes on and on. The main character in Zaina Arafat's You Exist Too Much is a nesting doll of otherness, and her journey from 12-year-old Palestinian American girl walking around Bethlehem to young woman traveling the world and looking for love in the arms of strangers is a perfect example of how culture and family can affect those whose lives span different realities.

Making Michael Arceneaux's I Don't Want to Die Poor required reading in high schools across the country would help a lot of young people think twice about the promise that going to college at any cost is the only path to upward social mobility.

Arceneaux, also the author of I Can't Date Jesus, writes in his new book of essays:

"The student loan industry is a barely regulated, predatory system, and with Donald Trump in the White House and those equally useless people in Congress, oversight of the industry is becoming nonexistent."

Fernanda Melchor's Hurricane Season is so strange, wild, and foul-mouthed that I almost missed the sharp critiques embedded in the story. A mix of drugs, sex, mythology, small-town desperation, poverty, and superstition, this novel spreads like a fungus from the dark center of the literary space where crime fiction and horror meet.

When journalist Eduardo Porter moved to Los Angeles in the 90s and started writing about the city, he realized race was everywhere — and that it determined "where you go to school, church, or work; how you dress and talk; whom you marry; how you fare when you run into the cops."

That realization became the seed of his latest book, American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise.

James McBride's Deacon King Kong is a feverish love letter to New York City, people, and writing. The prose is relentless and McBride's storytelling skills shine as he drags readers at breakneck speed trough a plethora of lives, times, events, and conversations. The novel is 370 pages, but McBride has packed enough in there for a dozen novellas, and reading them all mashed together is a pleasure.

Andy Davidson probably wrote The Boatman's Daughter sitting at a table at home or at a coffee joint. But it reads as if he pulled it out of the wet earth of the Arkansas bayous with his bare hands on a moonless night while chanting an incantation he learned from a dying witch.

Tola Rotimi Abraham's Black Sunday will destroy you. It won't be an explosion or any other ultraviolent thing. Instead, the novel will inflict a thousand tiny cuts on you, and your soul will slowly pour from them. Well, at least I think that's what Abraham wants to do. I'm sure that's the reason this gem of a novel is packed with so much poetry, pain, abandonment, abuse, heartbreak, and poverty.

Meng Jin's Little Gods is one of the most complex character studies I've ever read. Each of us present a different version of ourselves to different people, and Jin looks at this performance with a clinical eye, showing us what it looks like through the perspectives of different characters. Steeped in trauma, loss, and imperfect love, Little Gods is a novel about performing the self, filtered through academia, abandonment, and migration. This is a smart and emotionally devastating novel.

Lee Goldberg's Lost Hills is not only the first book in what promises to be a superb series — it's also that rare novel in which the formulaic elements of mainstream police procedurals (blood, violence and forensic science) share narrative space with a unique female protagonist. All that, and it's also a love letter to the chaos and diversity of California.

The story of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, which would eventually be known as the Greely Expedition, is important in terms of the areas it helped map, the wealth of scientific observations made, and the fact that the group reached the Farthest North — a record that had belonged to the British for three centuries.

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