Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Stephen Miller's favorite crime titles of 2020

Stephen Miller was a regular contributor to Mystery News, writing the “In the Beginning” column about new crime-fiction writers for several years. At The Rap Sheet he tagged his favorite crime fiction of 2020. One title on the list:
These Women, by Ivy Pochoda (Ecco):

Under normal circumstances, I avoid serial-killer novels. I often find them sacrificing any level of literary merit in favor of cheap thrills and high-gloss gore. But these days aren’t normal and Ivy Pochoda is not a writer plumbing the lowest common denominator. So, based on her track record, I reached for her fourth novel, These Women, after seeing rapturous reviews. Boy, were they right.

Pochoda’s twist on the serial-killer subgenre is to tell the story from the point of view of the killer’s prey, all found in the freeway-divided West Adams area of Los Angeles in 2014. It’s a quintessential transitional neighborhood, once containing upper-middle-class homes, but now home to strip malls and food trucks. It’s in this environment that someone was preying on sex workers years ago, went back underground after eluding detection, and now seems to be back on the scene, murdering again as though just awake from a long nap. The police aren’t connecting the dots and the victims are on the margins of society, not attracting much in the way of attention by anyone except the killer. This novel is structured as a series of interconnected stories, with characters from one narrative passing in the background of another. It is this technique that allows the reader to understand the ecosystem of the culture “these women” occupy. There are numerous ways this novel could have crashed, but under Pochoda’s steady hand, it seems natural and effortless.
Read about another entry on the list.

These Women is among Smith Henderson and Jon Marc Smith's ten American masterpieces that are actually crime fiction.

The Page 69 Test: These Women.

--Marshal Zeringue