The best books of laugh-out-loud crime fiction

Michael Sheldon Author Of The Violet Crow
By Michael Sheldon

Who am I?

I grew up in a Jewish home more focused on comedy than religion. I read Mad Magazine, watched The Three Stooges, and listened to Allan Sherman. The idea of a bar mitzvah was a cruel surprise, sprung on me at age 10. I flunked Hebrew school, yet got accepted at Yale. I majored in a Jewish girl who later broke my heart. So I began writing my first novel. It "almost" got published—another sad story—and I took a job with an editor in NYC who specialized in paranormal non-fiction. That was the spark for The Violet Crow—and my love for comic crime fiction. A new novel, Reveille in Birdland, is scheduled for completion in 2023.


I wrote...

The Violet Crow

By Michael Sheldon,

Book cover of The Violet Crow

What is my book about?

A senseless murder stuns the quiet South Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia. No grieving parents come forward to claim the unknown girl’s body, and there aren’t any clues. The police are inexperienced. The local media are casting blame and demanding answers. A mini-culture war is brewing...So what do the civic leaders do? They hire Bruno X, Psychic Detective. No joke, the guy’s got talent. And a track record. Sure, his psychic shtick is a bit unorthodox. Yet, somehow, he gets results—solving long-forgotten mysteries locked inside the old brick Quaker meeting house, and uncovering closely held secrets hidden within the biotech company whose symbol is the Violet Crow. 

The books I picked & why

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Metzger's Dog

By Thomas Perry,

Book cover of Metzger's Dog

Why this book?

I had the good fortune to meet Thomas Perry at a writers' conference a few years back. Perry is best known for fast-paced thrillers such as The Butcher's Boy, the Jane Whitefield series, and The Old Man.

On the topic of comic crime fiction, he observed that violent crime is serious business that's difficult to treat with levity. Perry tried it in his second novel. Published in 1983, Metzger's Dog follows Chinese Gordon and his gang as they romp through the southern California desert—blowing things up. Their target is a medical facility with a million dollars worth of cocaine. The heist goes perfectly, except Chinese Gordon also snatches a folder of documents that detail the CIA's meddling with foreign governments. Naturally the feds want those docs back—with extreme prejudice.

Metzger's Dog

By Thomas Perry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Metzger's Dog as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The much-loved comic thriller by the author of the Edgar Award–winning The Butcher’s Boy is now, by popular demand, back in print, featuring a new Introduction by bestselling author Carl Hiaasen.

When Leroy “Chinese” Gordon breaks into a professor’s lab at the University of Los Angeles, he’s after some pharmaceutical cocaine, worth plenty of money. Instead, he finds the papers the professor has compiled for the CIA, which include a blueprint for throwing a large city into chaos. But how is the CIA to be persuaded to pay a suitable ransom, unless of course someone actually uses the plan to…

Maximum Bob

By Elmore Leonard,

Book cover of Maximum Bob

Why this book?

My wife grew up in South Florida, and I can tell you from personal experience that if Florida Man didn't exist, Elmore Leonard would have invented him. In Maximum Bob, the criminal screw-ups are all too believable. Murderers, brawlers, alligator poachers, dognappers, and drug dealers—their brilliant schemes invariably go awry, and they think it's unfair that Judge Bob Gibbs doesn't accept plea bargains. Bob himself is a slimy character with a soft spot for anything in a skirt—except his irritatingly psychic wife, Leanne. One night an alligator shows up on the Gibbs' porch and eats Leanne's dog. The cops think someone must have transported the gator, with Bob as the intended victim. Who would do something so stupid? Any of the thugs who received one of Maximum Bob's ultra-long sentences, that's who.

Maximum Bob

By Elmore Leonard,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Maximum Bob as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestselling author of Be Cool and Get Shorty

When someone delivers an alligator to Judge Bob Gibbs' porch, there's no shortage of suspects - hard-sentencing, womanising redneck 'Maximum Bob' is pretty much the most unpopular man in Florida.

Throw into the mix the Crowe clan - about as primitive and aggressive as any alligator - a doped-up doctor on early release with a tag, quick-witted probation officer Kathy Baker, a mermaid and a long-dead slave girl called Wanda, and things get a tad complicated. And inevitably, they don't work out the way you might expect...


Bank Shot

By Donald E. Westlake,

Book cover of Bank Shot

Why this book?

Every crime writer stands in awe of Donald Westlake, the king of the caper. In Bank Shot, the second novel in the Dortmunder series, the gang's target is a bank that's temporarily housed in a mobile home. As a graduate student in the 1970s, I did business with just such a bank. But it never occurred to me to hitch it to a truck and just drive away with it. That's the score Dortmunder's partner Kemp proposes. He guarantees it'll be a breeze. But Dortmunder, a chronically pessimistic ex-con "with a hangdog expression," worries the armed guards might be a problem. Nevertheless, he assembles a string of eccentric criminal specialists, and the fun begins. Rest assured, in a Westlake caper, the best-laid plans always go astray.

Bank Shot

By Donald E. Westlake,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bank Shot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A crew of thieves hopes to hijack a mobile home full of money in this crime caper from “the funniest man in the world” (The Washington Post).

John Dortmunder has been working an encyclopedia-selling scam while waiting for his next big heist. Unfortunately, his latest mark seems to be wise to the con, and he has to cut his sales pitch short and make a quick escape.
 
But opportunity awaits: Main Street bank has temporarily relocated to a mobile home. All Dortmunder has to do is get past seven security guards, put the bank-on-wheels in gear, and drive away. It’s…

Voodoo River

By Robert Crais,

Book cover of Voodoo River

Why this book?

Robert Crais' private detectives, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, inhabit the same traffic-choked freeways as Harry Bosch, but in a much brighter key. I'm drawn to Elvis' non-stop banter, which is often laugh-out-loud funny. Tough-guy Joe has a gift for understatement that makes him a perfect foil for Elvis. In Voodoo River, Elvis falls in love with Lucy Chenier. (His wiseguy courtship style is something you shouldn't try at home.) The novel's set in Louisiana, where Crais grew up. Elvis is investigating a blackmail scheme run by Milt Rossier, a wily ex-con backed up by a gun thug named Leroy; Rene, a 400-pound brain-dead monster; and a vicious snapping turtle named Luther. Elvis is not intimidated, but he wisely calls in Joe to improve the odds for the inevitable confrontation.

Voodoo River

By Robert Crais,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Voodoo River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a search for a young woman's past PI Elvis Cole discovers far more than he expected . . .

Hired to uncover the past of Jodi Taylor, an actress in a hit TV show, Elvis leaves his native Los Angeles to head for Louisiana in search of Jodi's biological parents.

But before he can tackle the mystery of the actress's background, he is up against a whole host of eccentrics, including a crazed Raid-spraying housewife, a Cajun thug who looks like he's been made out of spare parts, and a menacing hundred-year-old river turtle named Luther.

As Elvis learns…


Black Run

By Antonio Manzini,

Book cover of Black Run

Why this book?

I couldn't get enough of the character, Rocco Schiavone, from the TV series Ice Cold Murders, so I decided to check out the original novels by Antonio Manzini. They are equally good—or better.  Rocco is a police inspector from Rome who gets transferred to Aosta, an alpine ski resort town. In Black Run, Rocco instructs his provincial team in big-city police techniques, including cutting corners and avoiding superiors. He contrives useless errands to get his two dumbest cops out of the office. And he introduces his classification of Things That Are a Pain in the Ass, with "sand in your clams" at Level Seven and "unsolved homicide" at Level 10. Black Run begins on the slopes, at Level 10, with the discovery of an unidentified corpse mangled by a snowcat.

Black Run

By Antonio Manzini,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Run as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'He'd almost walked right over it when he finally saw it for what it was: a stain of red blood, churned into the white blanket of snow...'

After getting on the wrong side of the wrong people in Rome, Deputy Police Chief Rocco Schiavone is exiled to Aosta, a small, touristy alpine town far from the cobbled streets and fritto misto of his beloved city.

Rocco's talent for solving crimes is matched only by his disdain for the rules and his eye for a beautiful woman. But when a mangled body is found on the ski slopes, he soon discovers…


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