This week we turn to crime – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

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It’s a crime story. Or about crime stories, I guess.

When I was a kid, my dad, who was a sheriff’s deputy, private detective, and investigator during his working life, was the most voracious reader I ever knew. He got up in the dark to read before work, he always had a book on his desk at work for lunch, and he read after dinner every night. He made several trips to our small town library each week, consulting with the more acerbic of our local librarians on authors and titles. Later in life, he began ordering boxes full of books from a company that sold unused titles.

My father read mystery novels, mystery novels and spy thrillers. That’s it. Nothing else. I was baffled by his strict book regimen. True crime? No. Westerns? Do not think. How about literary fiction where the crime– stop there. I even remember him bailing out mid-book if he didn’t live up to his crime novel concept.

So while I was going through a phase where I was swallowing all kinds of books by all kinds of writers—a phase that I guess I didn’t come out of—I found the life of crime a bit limiting. But while I wish it had branched out, I realize that when you find something that makes you happy – a type of book, a genre of music, a weird Trader Joe’s snack that only you like – it’s a gift, so take advantage of it.

My dad is no longer with us, but when he was alive I lost count of how many times I gave him books that he came back with post-its scribbled with incredibly terse reviews like ” No”. or “Meh”. or other crazy comments. But as two desperate readers, we found many points of agreement: Alan Furst’s spy novels, Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins books, Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley saga, Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy , Agatha Christie mysteries, and hard-hitting writers like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Elmore Leonard, and many more.

I probably underestimated how much he and my mother (his story is for another time) influenced my life as a reader, but they clearly did. Their efforts also explain why my own children’s childhood includes many visits to libraries and bookstores where they were encouraged to seek out new things…although it was fine if they also wanted to pick up an old familiar favorite.

During the pandemic, crime and mysteries were what I learned when I struggled to read, and here are a few that I really enjoyed:

• As I read the descriptions of the deserted streets of late-night Los Angeles in Dorothy B. Hughes’ chilling “In a Lonely Place,” the book seemed an eerie complement to the deserted roads of the early pandemic.

• “Call Him Mine” by journalist and author Tim MacGabhann is about an investigative journalist working in Mexico who gets into trouble, witnessing something he shouldn’t have seen. It is moving and a captivating read.

• Richard Stark, the pseudonym of crime novelist Donald Westlake, wrote a series of novels about a criminal named Parker, and I devoured “The Outfit,” which was exactly the kind of easy and entertaining read I was welcoming.

• Regular readers already know how much I love “Clark and Division” by Naomi Hirahara, but if you haven’t read it yet, I will keep recommending it (in the same way his conversation with Joe Ide about his Philip Marlowe update).

• “Six Four” by Hideo Yokoyama I talked about here not long ago, is a terrific police procedural about a kidnapping and the workings of a Japanese police station. It’s filled with details that you almost think are superfluous until you realize it’s absolutely not.

• I took “Just Thieves” by Gregory Galloway then impossible to let go. It’s the kind of book I like, a crime story that also has other things in mind.

This week, Galloway answers our Q&A and provides insight into his writing and reading. I think you’ll like what he has to say, and I think you’ll like his book too.

And you ? What crime novels should I read next? Email me at epedersen@scng.com and let me know which ones you like and I’ll aim to share some of the suggestions in a future newsletter.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

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‘Just Thieves’ author Gregory Galloway knows a book everyone loves

Novelist Gregory Galloway’s most recent work is “Just Thieves”, which author Richard Price has described as a “dark sucker-punch”. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he is also the author of “As Simple as Snow” and “The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand”.

Gregory Galloway is the author of “Just Thieves”. (Photo by Gina Maolucci / Courtesy of Melville House)

Q. Your book “Just Thieves” seems to be a mix of crime drama and literary fiction: how would you describe it?

I think “literary detective fiction” is about the best description I could ask for. Some readers are put off by the “literary” part (and others are put off by the “crime” part), but I like to think that this just means more attention is paid to the words on the page. There are also a number of hints, references, quotes from other crime dramas in “Just Thieves,” which makes it “literary” in a very real sense.

Q. Do you remember the first book that marked you?

I loved reading from a very young age, so I could select almost any book at any age as impactful, but I remember reading Agatha Christie for the first time and wanting to do more ( and more). Fortunately, she had a lot to offer.

Q. Do you have a favorite book or books?

This could be a very long list, but the books I come back to over and over are “Winesburg, Ohio” by Sherwood Anderson, “The Long Goodbye” by Raymond Chandler, “Underworld” by Don DeLillo, “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville, “The Man Without Qualities” by Robert Musil, “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami, “Lunch Poems” by Frank O’Hara, “The Book of Disquiet” by Fernando Pessoa, “House of Mirth” by ‘Edith Warton.

Q. Is there a book you dread reading?

I’m always nervous to read something that someone says, “It reminds me of your books.” If it’s worse than I think I’m writing, I worry, and if it’s better, I worry too (maybe more).

Q. Is there a book you like to recommend to other readers?

I try to avoid general recommendations, but I’ll try to give one sure thing – “A Short History of Almost Everything” by Bill Bryson, who delivers the title and helped an idiot like me understand the basic concepts of science – and a recommendation that is doomed to backfire – Alain Robbe-Grillet’s “The Erasers”, which takes the detective story and turns it upside down (it’s a confusing funhouse that may not suit to everybody).

Q. What are you reading now?

“We want to negotiate: the secret world of kidnappings, hostages and ransoms” by Joel Simon. I’ve been fascinated with abductions since I was a kid and the 1972 Olympics and Patty Hearst were major events. Simon discusses journalists and aid workers taken hostage and the different approaches countries take to free them. It’s an incredible look into a criminal world that I know nothing about.

Q. What books do you plan or hope to read next?

One of the really great things about releasing a new book is talking about other books with people, so I’ve got a nice stack of stuff (all new to me) recommended by smart people, including including books by Elliott Chaze, Massimo Carlotto, Pascal Garnier, Jean-Claude Izzo, Margaret Millar and Derek Raymond, all writers who are new to me.

Q. What did you take away from a recent reading – a fact, a snippet of dialogue or something else?

I always take something away (most writers do, and I hope everyone else does too), but I recently read that Thomas Mann was a master at collecting facts, snippets of dialogue , etc and to incorporate it into his writing, into what Alex Ross has called Mann’s “magpie methodology.” It’s a good methodology to have: alert, curious, always on the lookout for new things, and attentive to what you can use yourself. What if it was good enough for Thomas Mann. . .

Q. What do you find most appealing in a book: the plot, the language, the cover, a recommendation? Do you have any examples?

It’s still the language for me. If words don’t interest me, nothing else will guide me through the book. Chandler is a great example – as a reader, I don’t necessarily care about crime (and sometimes he didn’t either), but his writing is so inventive and unique that I keep reading to see what he will write next. George Higgins is another writer I love – his language seems so natural that it draws the reader in and I’m happy to follow him wherever he goes.

Q. What is a memorable literary experience – good or bad – are you willing to share?

When I was in high school, a friend handed me a copy of “The Shining” just before study hall. It was snowing lightly outside and I was immediately hooked by the story. When school was out, I ran home through the heavier snow and went straight to my room and continued reading.

Nobody else was home. It was dark outside and I turned on the light on my desk and read more. The snow was piling up outside and I read and read. When I was done, I realized I was all alone in a completely dark house (the only light was my desk lamp) with a snowstorm outside.

It was the perfect combination of setting and subject.

• • •

Actor John Cho’s new book ‘Troublemaker’ is a mid-level novel featuring a young Korean-American boy in Los Angeles during the 1992 riots following the acquittal of LAPD officers in the Rodney King case. (Photo by Benjo Arwas, book art courtesy of Little, Brown and Company)

Recalling the riots

John Cho talks about his mid-grade novel about the LA riots and his return to “Star Trek.” READ MORE

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Mecca is Susan Straight’s latest book. (Photo by Felisha Carrasco / Courtesy of Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Constant flow of fiction

Susan Straight talks about the novel “Mecca”, highways and the lives of Southern Californians. READ MORE

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Olivie Blake, the pseudonym of Los Angeles-based author Alexene Farol Follmuth, found success on TikTok with “The Atlas Six,” the first book in a trilogy published by Tor Books. (Photo courtesy of Olivie Blake / Cover courtesy of Tor Books)

Birth of a book

‘The Atlas Six’ author Olivie Blake was in labor when her book went viral. READ MORE

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“Run Rose Run” by Dolly Parton and James Patterson is among the best-selling fiction books in independent bookstores in Southern California. (Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company via AP)

The bestsellers of the week

The best-selling books at your local independent bookstores. READ MORE

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What’s next on ‘Bookish’

You can register to watch the April 15 event with Steve Almond, Maggie Shipstead and David Baldacci.

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