by guest author Michael Wehunt
- Every Dead Thing by John Connolly
I used to avoid books because they were parts of a series—I’m not sure if this was some sort of youthful snobbery or what, but I’ve grown as a person, thank you very much. I still don’t read many of them, but when I find a good series, I’m extremely faithful.
And a highlight of every year is John Connolly’s new Charlie Parker novel. The private detective is an always fun adventure through horror, crime, and thriller territory with a bit of noir and humor thrown in, and the overarching storyline is really interesting—if only because Connolly is drawing it out excruciatingly through book after book. It all began in Every Dead Thing.
- Still Life by Louise Penny
The Armand Gamache novels are like comfort food for me—they’re another go-to when I’m feeling blue because Louise Penny is especially talented at finding the joy in life, even when awfulness is happening all around. She’s not afraid to shy away from the grave issues of the day, but the little Canadian village of Three Pines, nestled near the Vermont border, is like sitting by the fire happily while everyone else is complaining about being snowed in.
I love a good cozy mystery, and that’s what you’ll find in Still Life. Penny has expanded her storytelling in more of a thriller direction with government intrigue and short chapters since the beginning, but the magic is still there throughout the series.
- The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
As much as I love a classic mystery, I’m not much of a fan of police procedurals, but I always make an exception for Harry Bosch. The Black Echo introduced the LAPD homicide detective, and Connelly has aged his protagonist in real time, meaning you meet the fortyish cop in 1992 and he’s now around seventy years old and feeling it.
The best thing about the books, though, is Connelly’s writing. It’s the opposite of “literary” in that it’s plain and unadorned, but he still mesmerizes with his prose in a way that I’ve never really encountered anywhere else. It’s just great writing that’s leagues above most writers in this genre, even as it’s hard to explain why.
The shine has worn off as it’s become harder than it already was to root for law enforcement, even in a fictional context. But I will say that Bosch and his semi-replacement, Renee Ballard (they’re currently teaming up in most of the Bosch books, with the reader’s assumption that Bosch doesn’t have much time left), have an idealistic vein that elevates them even through the realism. And Connelly doesn’t romanticize too much or skirt around the pressing issues.
- The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Did I say I like cozy mysteries? Well, that all started for me in the same place it does for many, many people—with Dame Agatha Christie. The author is much more famous for her Hercule Poirot novels, but Miss Marple was my first love, and I happened to get lucky with her first Marple novel, The Murder at the Vicarage, when I was twelve or so.
Miss Marple has a very different take on solving crimes than Poirot does—she relies more on her deep knowledge of human nature in addition to her brilliant analytical mind, and she openly admits that human nature can be quite unpleasant. Miss Marple’s debut is also one of Christie’s best mysteries, so you can’t go wrong.
- Autumn by Ali Smith
Autumn is the first in Ali Smith’s “seasonal quartet,” but it doesn’t matter which you start with (though I would yell at you if you read them out of the order of the seasons, you crazy person). However, this one is definitely my favorite, and I find it the most resonant. Smith produced them quickly, almost with the intention of writing and publishing them in real time, and they’re fascinating pieces of literary art that feel unique.
Because of the urgency of the writing, there’s a definite poetry to them, along with a bit of stream of consciousness in the tone and structure, and Trump and climate change and despair find their way into the words as well. But through all the anger and mourning, there’s a powerful grace and intense beauty even as it mirrors the slow death of nature and the coming of winter.
Aging, loving, coping, remembering—these timeless grapplings are rarely so well grappled.
Michael Wehunt lives in the woods of Atlanta with his partner and dog. His stories have appeared in multiple best-of anthologies and other well-known spooky homes. His debut fiction collection, Greener Pastures, shortlisted for the Crawford Award, a Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and the winner of Spain's Premio Amaltea for Foreign Translation, is available from Apex Publications. Find Michael in the trees or online at www.michaelwehunt.com.