James Crumley writes some of the finest sentences I’ve ever read. Sometimes they’re short , sharp strokes - leaving shards as slick and smooth as ice slivers.
“I never saw him hunt; just shoot like an angel with God’s eye.”
“…the knife edge of the wind had scraped the sky to a pale autumn blue.”
“…her slim hips as elegant as a glass harp”
I don’t consider Don Winslow a great writer…I love his books but they don’t cross the line I need them to cross to be considered great. So, what needs to be in the package to cross the line between good and great for me? That’s a question I had never really considered until starting to write about these authors, but it is some combination of depth and artistry.
By artistry, I mean the ability to create characters I believe in, who speak in ways that sound right and who behave in ways that are recognizable to me. I mean the ability to tell a plausible story, to link events by logic and free will rather than unlikely coincidence, to make the unique, unexpected and unusual seem inevitable. And last, to craft sentences that pull aside the veil, that describe a world I hadn’t seen but immediately recognize, that combine words and syllables so they sing - the rhythm, the punch or glide, carrying the sound and meaning.
Dennis Lehane has written one huge thing, one enormous life-shadowing thing, one thing that he will have to live with for the rest of his life. What does it mean to wake up every morning and know you have done your absolute best thing. That there is no chance, zero, nada, bupkis that you will ever write anything close to as good in the entire rest of your life.
Do you want to stop? Or do you just pretend that it’s not true? That maybe you will write something just as good. It seems to me that there are two tragedies for an artist – one, knowing with the certainty of the sun that you will never do your best thing.
The Beatles or The Stones, New York or LA, the Yankees or the Sox, the Maple Leafs or Les Habitants, Mac or PC, Gibson or Fender, Haller or Bosch? If you’re reading Michael Connolly, that has to be the question – Mickey Haller or Harry Bosch?
It’s hard not to see these two as the twin sides of Michael Connolly – Bosch voting Republican and happy to see the right guy ride the needle…duller the better, Haller a barely closeted lefty and shadowed by ‘there but for the grace of God….’ doubts. It’s not like there’s a whole lot of emotional space between them – they’re both riding the same cantilevering bronco of self-doubt, recrimination, emotional loss, and righteous anger but Bosch always gets tossed right and Haller left.
So, this is my attempt at a list of the 10 best crime fiction writers. Let me begin with one simple caveat – this is my list today. It will almost certainly be different next year - just because there are so many great writers that I haven’t got to yet. I’m thinking of Ross MacDonald and Richard Price and Chester Himes.
And I’ve focused on writers from the last 50 years or so – simply because I struggle with writers from the too-distant past. The failing is mine but there’s no sense pretending that Raymond Chandler/Dashell Hammett/James Cain provoke the same kind of response in me that Burke or Bruen or Crais do. I’m not sure if it’s the language or the manners or the fact that rock’n’roll hadn’t been invented …but something gets in the way.
Robert Crais #10
LA Requiem is widely recognised as Robert Crais’s best book, but I don’t get it…it feels like a good fit with the other books in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series. So, a really good book. But it gets talked about as if it stands apart, as if Crais finally hit the vein, moved from skinpopping to the big bang, figured out how to bring on the full headlong rush - it was fine.
The Two Minute Rule is Crais’ best book. And it isn’t a Cole/Pike book. The premise is brutal – Max Holman has been locked up for a decade and the night before his release his son, a cop, is shot dead.
I am an ecologist, conservation biologist and writer. I’m working on my 11th novel. The third, LONG TRAIN HOME was published by Level Best Books in the spring of 2022 and the sixth, BOOM BOOM'S LAST CALL, will release in the spring of 2023. Originally from Ottawa, Ontario I work at the University of New Brunswick and live with my wife Kim in Saint John, New Brunswick.
#6 James Crumley (Top 10 Crime Fiction Writer Series)
#7 - Don Winslow
(Top 10 Crime Fiction Writer Series)
#8 Dennis Lehane - (Top 10 Crime Fiction Writer Series)
#9 Michael Connolly
(Top 10 Crime Fiction Writer Series)
#10 Robert Crais - (Top 10 Crime Fiction Writer Series)
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