The best crime fiction with a droll sense of humor

Who am I?

I’ve been a crime-fiction fanatic since devouring my big sister’s Nancy Drew mysteries as a pre-teen in 1960s Long Island. They proved a gateway drug to Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, and Phillip Marlowe, and eventually, after 25 years as an L.A. trial lawyer (with a client list that included Richard Pryor), to my own debut novel, Hush Money, in 2012. I’ve just published The Chimera Club, my seventh novel and the fourth installment in my award-winning Jack MacTaggart series of legal mysteries, and I’m delighted to share my views on crime fiction, and humor, with like-minded readers.  You can learn more about me, and about Jack, by visiting my website.

I wrote...

The Chimera Club

By Chuck Greaves,

Book cover of The Chimera Club

What is my book about?

It isn’t entirely shocking that film producer Ari Goldstone would be found murdered in his hotel suite, naked and tied to the bedposts; Goldstone, after all, was defending sexual assault lawsuits brought by a dozen aggrieved starlets. More unsettling still are the DNA test results, which conclusively implicate disgraced financier Jimmy Kwan, the father of one of Goldstone’s accusers. Unsettling that is because Kwan, seven thousand miles away in Hong Kong on the night of the murder, has an ironclad alibi.

Kwan’s daughter Mae, a fashion model turned nightclub owner, hires attorney Jack MacTaggart to defend her father and solve the mystery. But when the next body falls, Jack must solve an even more urgent mystery – how to stay alive long enough to bring the real killer to justice.

The books I picked & why

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Plum Island

By Nelson DeMille,

Book cover of Plum Island

Why this book?

When I sat down to write my debut novel after 25 years as an L.A. trial lawyer, I looked to Nelson DeMille’s thriller Plum Island as the exemplar of all that I hoped to accomplish: entertain my readers, keep them guessing to the final page, and make them laugh out loud along the way. DeMille’s John Corey, a no-bullshit NYPD homicide detective on medical leave who’s recruited by the local police chief to help solve a double murder on the east end of Long Island (where, not coincidentally, I grew up) was also the prototype for my wisecracking, two-fisted hero, Jack MacTaggart. Plum Island launched what has proven to be a wildly-successful series of novels by DeMille, replete with bon mots like the time Detective Corey described his ex-wife to a colleague: “She thought cooking and fucking were cities in China.”

Some Buried Caesar

By Rex Stout,

Book cover of Some Buried Caesar

Why this book?

Back in 2012, I had the honor of being a luncheon speaker at New York’s annual “Black Orchid Weekend” gathering of fans – and I mean fanatics – of Rex Stout’s iconic Nero Wolfe detective novels.  I was among my tribe, having cut my teeth on the Wolfe canon as a nerdy teenager to whom Stout’s books were a revelation: compact tales of crime and punishment starring a corpulent, agoraphobic gourmand and orchid fancier whose formidable (and unabashedly Sherlockian) powers of deduction were wielded from behind a desk in his brownstone on West 35th Street with the aid of a two-fisted Boswell named Archie Goodwin. While the yarns themselves are feasts, it’s Archie’s decidedly arch humor that provides the special sauce. Forced to choose, I’ll recommend Some Buried Caesar, Stout’s sixth Wolfe installment (of 33 novels and 39 novellas), originally published in 1939. It finds Wolfe in unfamiliar territory, outside his brownstone and en route to an orchid show, when an auto accident thrusts him between two feuding rural families and one prize Guernsey bull. But as with all the Nero Wolfe novels, it’s the interplay between the pompous Wolfe and the needling Goodwin that takes the action to a higher level.

Get Shorty

By Elmore Leonard,

Book cover of Get Shorty

Why this book?

Nobody wrote dialogue better than Elmore Leonard and nowhere did he write it better than in his 1990 Hollywood caper novel Get Shorty. The gangster patter. The Hollywood schmooze. The schmoozers’ strained imitations of gangster patter. The novel sends Miami shylock (and unabashed movie fan) Chili Palmer to Vegas to collect a debt, and thence to L.A. where he enters the demimonde of low-budget film production in hopes of parlaying his chutzpa and street smarts into a bona fide Hollywood production. Leonard certainly knew Hollywood, and Hollywood loved Elmore Leonard, adapting his novels and short stories into such outsized hits as 3:10 to Yuma, Hombre, Out of Sight, Mr. Majestyk, Jackie Brown, and TV’s Justified, while his “Ten Rules of Writing” are as graven Commandments to legions of lesser crime novelists like me.

March Violets: A Bernie Gunther Novel

By Philip Kerr,

Book cover of March Violets: A Bernie Gunther Novel

Why this book?

Each of Philip Kerr’s fourteen Bernie Gunther novels, all of which feature a world-weary Berlin homicide detective achieving small feats of redemptive justice amidst the monstrous inhumanity of Nazi-era Germany, is a miracle of historical crime fiction. Bernie is a cynic, a romantic, an idealist, and oftentimes an unwitting tool of the various historical figures – Goering and Goebbels, Heydrich and Himmler – that populate Kerr’s novels. My recommendation is to begin at the beginning, with March Violets, first published in 1989, in which Bernie, working as a private detective in post-war Berlin, leads readers on a Chandleresque quest to recover a diamond necklace stolen from a wealthy industrialist. As in all the Bernie Gunther novels, readers will descend into an amoral, byzantine maze of rivalries and alliances that complicate any quest for truth or justice in the shadowy murk of Nazi Germany.

Devil in a Blue Dress

By Walter Mosley,

Book cover of Devil in a Blue Dress

Why this book?

I’m a sucker for noirish crime fiction set in L.A., my adopted hometown, and would love to name one of Michael Connelly’s splendid Harry Bosch novels here, but for the fact that Harry is just so damn serious. Not so Easy Rawlins, Walter Mosley’s hard-luck WWII veteran who’s hired off his barstool to track down a missing woman who may or may not have absconded with a large sum of money. Nothing, of course, is quite as it seems in this gritty, twisting romp through Watts, down Central Avenue, and smack into the social and racial politics of post-war Los Angeles. Bonus points for Easy’s boyhood pal Mouse, up from Houston – a borderline sociopath whose casual approach to violence contrasts with Easy’s warm if somewhat jaded humanity.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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