We appear to be living in a golden age of crime stories, with podcasts and series galore, but this popular fascination is truly timeless, everlasting and ever evolving. L.R. Dorn's debut novel, The Anatomy of Desire (8 hours), updates Theodore Dreiser's classic 1925 crime drama, An American Tragedy, by using the documentary format to explore whether Instagram influencer Cleo Ray murdered her ex-girlfriend in the middle of a lake.
Dorn uses interview transcripts, director commentary and courtroom clips to strip away Cleo's "all-American girl" social media personality and expose the traumas fueling her relentless ambition. This narrative structure is perfect for the audiobook format, and it's compellingly and convincingly performed by a fine ensemble cast. Tony Award winner Santino Fontana stands out as the documentary director Duncan McMillan, and Marin Ireland portrays a formidable defense attorney, but Shelby Young absolutely shines as Cleo. From Cleo's chirpy pretrial Instagram posts to her gut-wrenching testimony, Young delivers a performance that is as vulnerable as it is ruthless, as loving as it is spiteful.
Make some popcorn, settle in, and get ready to devour an extremely enjoyable story.
The unique documentary format of L.R. Dorn’s crime novel makes for a winning audiobook, compellingly performed by a fine ensemble cast.
We're calling it now: The mystery and suspense genre is on the cusp of a golden age. From psychological thrillers to procedurals to cozies, these books reached new heights and brought new perspectives to the forefront in 2021.
John Galligan's trademark dark humor and clear-sighted social commentary are in fine form as he follows Sheriff Heidi Kick, one of the most complex yet lovable heroes in current crime fiction, on her latest investigation.
In late '90s Brooklyn, simple actions have a long-lasting impact, and not always for the better. The dynamic cast of characters in William Boyle's turbulent crime thriller Shoot the Moonlight Out learn that the hard way.
Consider teenager Bobby Santovasco. Along with his friend Zeke, the pair do what kids do: They wreak havoc for fun. In their case, it's throwing objects off a bridge at passing cars on the Belt Parkway. First, it's harmless. Aluminum cans. Water balloons. But it's not enough. So, the boys up the stakes—with rocks.
The result is the death of a young woman, Amelia Cornacchia.
Flash forward five years to 2001, where we find Charlie French. A brutish debt collector, he steals a horde of cash from a reluctant client, and stashes it with his friend Max Berry for safekeeping. Bobby, who now works for Max, falls for Francesca Clarke, who inspires him to rob Max's safe so they can escape the oppressive confines of the neighborhood.
Unbeknownst to Bobby, his stepsister, Lily, has fallen for Jack Cornacchia, a student in her writing class. Jack is a self-styled neighborhood vigilante, who just so happens to be Amelia's father.
Boyle (A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself) slowly introduces each of his players in chapters from their perspective, deepening the reader's empathy for each member of the large cast as he digs into their individual losses, hopes and loves. Hailing from Brooklyn himself, Boyle imbues the setting with an air of authenticity and stark realism as his characters leap from the page. Readers can only grasp at the slimmest of hopes in this grim, modern-day noir, but the determination of Boyle's characters defies expectations. He increases the suspense and intrigue of the story across alternating chapters, seemingly checking in with characters at random as Shoot the Moonlight Out subtly builds towards a collision of lives intertwined and fates inextricably linked.
William Boyle’s stark and turbulent crime thriller boasts an endlessly fascinating and empathetic cast of characters.
Tamron Hall has long been a household name. She's reported on and anchored major news stories for NBC and MSNBC, she became the first Black woman to host "TODAY" in 2014 and her Emmy-winning "Tamron Hall Show" is in its third season. Now she makes her debut as an author with As the Wicked Watch, which introduces readers to Jordan Manning. A savvy and dedicated crime reporter, Jordan is determined to find justice for two young Black girls found murdered in Chicago, despite pushback from the police and ever-increasing danger as she gets closer to the truth. Hall talked to BookPage about life on the crime beat, her transition from TV to the page and why Chicago is close to her heart.
Congratulations on becoming an author! Will you introduce us to the intrepid Jordan Manning? We follow Jordan, a young woman from Texas, now in Chicago, who becomes obsessed with a case that comes in through a call to her hotline number. Jordan is a complicated and very interesting woman. She's at a critical point in her career where a national network job is looming over her head as an option, but her ties to Chicago and the people there keep her grounded. She started out believing her path would involve forensic science. Through life and her journey, she realized being a reporter and investigating was more for her than being in a lab and analyzing information.
Did going from telling stories on TV to crafting them on the page feel like a natural transition? What was the hardest, easiest or most fun thing about embracing your inner author? The most interesting part of this journey for me was piecing together the case in my book and how it would be solved. It was inspired by two cases I covered years ago in which children were not given the justice or care they should have received, whether it was the victims or the children who were accused of a heinous crime. For me, it was a natural transition. I wanted the book to read like a newscast. I wanted it to feel urgent, with the tone and the experience of a reporter. I was able to reflect on personal experience instead of having to interview reporters and get their take on what it's like.
You've had and are having quite the impressive career, complete with major TV network jobs, talk show syndication, an Emmy win and more. What made you want to add author to your resume? I've thought about the two cases that inspired this novel—one in Texas and one in Chicago—since the late 1990s, when I covered them. I've always wanted to write a novel, but I didn't know exactly what Jordan's journey would be. In the middle of the night, it started to flood my mind. Perhaps being home more [during the COVID-19 pandemic] and needing a creative outlet in addition to the "Tamron Hall Show" was how this book was born. My experiences as a reporter on "Deadline: Crime" to reporting on the streets of Bryan, Texas, Chicago and New York City are all part of this journey.
You've worked in morning television for some 25 years and must have that early riser routine down! Did that play a role in setting up your writing routine? Do you have a preferred writing spot, snack, music, etc.? Morning TV absolutely helped my routine. I wake up naturally at 4:30 a.m., and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we were taping my show later in the day. Every morning I would wake up early, grab a cup of coffee and just start writing. Twenty-five years of this early morning routine definitely allowed me the space to be creative when writing.
As Tam Fam members will note, there are many similarities between you and Jordan Manning, from the cities you've worked in to a particularly fabulous haircut. What are some ways Jordan is different from you? Jordan is a lot more anxious than I am. Of course, I am eager to do things and I get excited. But I don't think that I have the same level of anxiety as she does. She's also much more noncommittal than I was when I was dating. She is very much about moving past each guy quickly. Not that that's a bad thing, that just wasn't my particular journey in dating.
Anyone who's seen you on TV knows you have an eye for fashion, and Jordan's also a snappy dresser—including her trademark stiletto heels. Do you have any fashion talismans that help you feel at home no matter where work takes you? I think for me, it's my hoop earrings. No matter where I am, my hoop earrings ground me professionally and personally.
Chicago is the vibrant and dramatic backdrop for Jordan's story. What about the city made you decide to choose it as the setting for As the Wicked Watch? Chicago was a transformational part of my career. It was my first major market; Chicago was the last building block before going to the national news. I also felt the dynamic of policing and community all fit into the landscape. The politics, the policing issues, the fact that the city is so segregated according to those who live there and reported on it—it was a setting that made sense for Jordan's journey.
Jordan contends with racism and sexism on a daily basis. Although she's developed coping strategies, it still takes a major toll. What do you hope readers take away from your book in terms of what it's like to be a woman of color in the newsroom? I hope that people take away the reality of being in a newsroom. It is ironic that many of the stories about these issues are reported by reporters who are also experiencing them. Imagine being a reporter discussing a company that's gotten in trouble because of a discrimination case, and you are facing that same type of discrimination within your workplace. It was only recently that we started talking about these things within the news industry. That's the challenge for female reporters and reporters of color.
Jordan has never understood why college journalism courses are lumped in with marketing and advertising courses. "The disposition my job requires is more akin to a surgeon's or a psychiatrist's," she says. Will you elaborate on that a bit for us? I think what she means by that and why she compares it to being a surgeon is because it is so precise and so strategic. It is a very focused and fine line, and I think that people underestimate that. You can't be off the cuff, you can't go in without a plan. As a psychiatrist, you have to, for lack of a better description, get into someone's mind. For Jordan, being on the investigative team, she has to think like a police officer, she has to think like someone who has done something nefarious, she has to think like a victim and then ask, "How did this happen?"
Your book shines a light on the differences in how criminal cases are treated by the police, the press, politicians, etc., depending on the race, gender, age and other attributes of the victims. Do you think there's hope for improvement or change? I believe that there is hope, but if I'm honest, there are days when I think there isn't. Whether it's George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice or Breonna Taylor, for every example of progress, you are given the gut-punch realities of injustice. I think this book shows us both.
This is your first Jordan Manning mystery. Do you already have another one in the works? (No pressure!) Is there anything else you want to share in terms of what's coming up next for you? I'm already four chapters into the next part of her journey. It takes her a little outside of Chicago, and we're already starting to see more reckless behavior from her to show how committed she truly is to solving cases. Is she willing to put her own livelihood and safety on the line?
Is there anyone more qualified to write a mystery starring a crime reporter than journalist and TV host Tamron Hall?
Jordan Manning is a crime reporter at the top of her game, but staying there is proving increasingly exhausting. When she moved to Chicago from her home state of Texas, she hit the ground running in four-inch stiletto heels—which didn't deter her from being first on the scene of a steady stream of crimes in the Windy City. As a Black woman, Jordan is the only woman of color at News Channel 8, and she's the only reporter in her newsroom with journalism and forensic science degrees. Her experience and savvy serve her well, as does her empathy—a trait that isn't always present in the highly competitive news business.
Because of Jordan's empathy, plus her finely tuned intuition, the disturbing case of Masey James—a smart, well-liked Black teenager found dead in a park—just won't let Jordan go. She had already been frustrated by the police's unwillingness to declare Masey missing, and now authorities are in a rush to arrest someone instead of conducting a thorough investigation. Jordan is determined to not only ethically and comprehensively report on the case but also help solve it.
As the Wicked Watch is a compellingly realistic and timely first entry in Tamron Hall's new mystery series starring the ambitious and fabulous Jordan, a woman not unlike her creator. Hall was an award-winning anchor on NBC and MSNBC, was the first Black woman to host "TODAY" and now hosts the Emmy-winning "Tamron Hall Show." Her fiction takes on racism, sexism, media ethics and institutional bias, offering a fascinating inside look at the intricate ballet that is a live newscast.
Readers spend much of the story inside Jordan's very busy head. The naturalistic narrative reveals her investigative strategies, conflicting emotions and minimonologues about everything from Chicago restaurants to her quest for a healthy personal life as she works to earn the trust of Masey's family and neighbors, and edges ever closer to the truth about the killer she believes might strike again. It's a dangerous pursuit, but to Jordan it's just part of "a calling and a purpose larger than myself." As the Wicked Watch is a promising start to a series sure to appeal to fans of badass women with mysteries to solve and something to prove.
Tamron Hall’s debut is a promising start to a series sure to appeal to fans of badass women with mysteries to solve and something to prove.
Straddling the line between suspense and historical fiction, Lori Rader-Day's Death at Greenway is an unsettling murder mystery that gives readers a nuanced look into life on the British homefront during World War II.
Student nurse Bridget "Bridey" Kelly made a horrible mistake on duty, resulting in the death of an officer in her care. Her only hope for redemption is to take an assignment caring for 10 children who are being evacuated from London and sent to Greenway House, the country home of Agatha Christie. Christie makes only the briefest of appearances, although her library of books on murder makes for a chilling backdrop.
Like the children, Bridey experiences the effects of PTSD, so she struggles to care for them, especially when her fellow nurse, Gigi, proves to be less than enthusiastic (or knowledgeable). From the moment they settle into Greenway House, things feel amiss. Items go missing, and one of the children reports seeing a man lurking outside at night. After a body washes up in the quay, Bridey is asked to help and realizes the victim's injuries were the result of homicide, not accidental drowning. All the while, the mysterious Gigi's stories of her life before Greenway House fail to add up. When she goes missing, Bridey knows something foul is afoot.
Told from multiple perspectives (even those of individual children), Rader-Day's novel is in many ways a portrait of grief and trauma. Each character is suffering due to displacement, rationing and German bombings. There are no real monsters, just people forced into circumstances they never thought possible. Bridey is a particularly compelling character—the reluctant detective, longing to move on with her life, but unable to let sleeping dogs lie.
Far from a cozy mystery, Death at Greenway is as taut as a bow string, with every character capable of snapping at a moment's notice.
Far from a cozy mystery, Death at Greenway is as taut as a bow string, with every character capable of snapping at a moment’s notice.
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