Shotgun Honey Presents Favorite Reads of 2019 (Part Two)

Welcome to week two of Favorite Reads of 2019. Last week we had guests Angel Luis Colón, E.A. Aymar, and Eric Beetner, all who made my TBR pile even larger. Thanks folks.

This week we have authors J. Todd Scott, Steph Post, Nick Kolakowski, John Vercher and Canadian book reviewer Brandon Sears with a bounty of books.

This is a weekly series throughout the month of December, so be sure to come back next Wednesday.


J Todd Scott

Author of The Far Empty, High White Sun, and This Side of Night

Oftentimes the rich get richer this time of year, when the same (deserving) books are recommended and lauded again and again. I tried to pick a few “off the beaten path” that I read and enjoyed 2019, that might have flown beneath the radar.

I was supposed to pick two…I went with three.

BLOOD RELATIONS by Johnathan Moore.

This book treads into Michael Crichton territory, but it’s a taut mystery wrapped around compulsive, atmospheric writing. Actually, all of Moore’s books are great; high-concept noir thrillers of the “why didn’t I write that” variety that are imminently readable.

ALL THE WAY DOWN by Eric Beetner.

Eric’s written a ton of books and short stories, and honestly, I could have picked just about any of them. This one happens to feature a crooked cop, and I like books about crooked cops (or cops who at least bend). ALL THE WAY DOWN has great pacing, a cool set-up, and a dash of black humor. It’s all the way good.

THE WOLF AND THE WATCHMAN by Niklas Natt Och Dag.

A period mystery set in 18th century Stockholm, this has been compared to TRUE DETECTIVE (Season 1) and THE ALIENEST. I found it fascinating, dark, and also (paradoxically) illuminating about a place and time I knew next to nothing about. There is a lot going on in this book, but it’s worth the work.

WOUNDS: SIX STORIES FROM THE BOUNDARIES OF HELL by Nathan Ballingrud.

These are fantastic horror stories (one of which was recently made into a film) that are nearly impossible to pigeonhole. I struggle writing short stories, but there is so much imagination and craft exhibited in these, that I’ve spent time examining them just so I can learn how it’s done from a master of the style.


Steph Post

Author Lightwood, A Tree Born Crooked, and Miraculum.

A FRIEND IS A GIFT YOU GIVE YOURSELF by William Boyle

It’s refreshing to find a crime novel that is as much about the comic absurdity of life as it is the grit of the underworld. Most memorably, though, Boyle writes female characters who are strong, full of agency and wise cracks, and fallible. In short- they’re both real and entertaining. This read was a pure joy ride.

AFTER THE STORM by Marietta Miles

Speaking of well-written female characters, Miles nails it yet again with May Cosby and the continuation of her story after the events of  2018’s novel, May. After the Storm is dark, visceral and uncompromising- a deep dive into the underbelly of contemporary noir. 

GOOD TALK by Mira Jacobs

I’ve been a fan of Jacobs for years and I was thrilled to see the visual vignettes she shared online develop into a full-fledged graphic memoir full of heart, humor and startling moments of poignancy as Jacobs explores her identity within the context of America and tries to convey such an exploration to her son and other family members.


Nick Kolakowski

Author of Maxine Unleashes Doomsday, Boise Longpig Hunting Club,
and the Love & Bullets Hookup series.

YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY by Steph Cha

A nuanced, searing, brutal—but ultimately uplifting novel about how we wrestle with old sins.

HELL CHOSE ME by Angel Luis Colón

I read a lot of crime fiction every year, but this one still sticks with me. It’s funny, like all of Angel’s work, but there’s a thread of real heartrending grief in here.

THE SECRET WORLD: A HISTORY OF INTELLIGENCE by Christopher Andrew

The history of spying, from the Old Testament through the modern day. It reminds you of how weird and vicious the human race can get when it wants something.


Brandon Sears

Book Reviewer at Every Read Thing

LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake is like stepping into a time machine back to the 1960s and into the social structures that shackle women from making drastic changes in their lives.  Lippman’s Maddie proves to be a more than serviceable sleuth in the face of an apathetic police department.  Can she solve the murder of Cleo Sherwood – and worse, will anyone care if she does?

DRY COUNTY by Jake Hinkson

Jake Hinkson is a criminally underread author.  His books capture the seedy nature of small town life and how secrets can fester and ultimately destroy those who choose to keep them.  Dry County is another stellar story from a master of noir.

RECURSION by Blake Crouch

Recursion is easily my favorite book of 2019.  I finished this one in two sittings because I just could not get enough.  We’ve all seen the movies and read books where the danger of messing with timelines has been thoroughly established.  But I’ve never truly felt the frustration on the part of those trying more than the characters in Crouch’s new novel.  There’s something about hopeless determination that kept me reading for hours.


John Vercher

Author of Three-Fifths

HEAVEN, MY HOME by Attica Locke

When it comes to heroes, perfect is boring and complicated is real. Darren Matthews wears his flaws on his sleeve while keeping an unflinching eye trained on justice, even if he has to break the rules to achieve it, while navigating the complexities of being a Black Texas Marshall. Attica Locke’s follow up to Bluebird, Bluebird had me turning the pages so quickly, I almost tore them.

WE CAST SHADOWS by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

It’s been called everything from horror to spec to literary—I just call it excellent. Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut was everywhere this year and rightfully so. Shadow offers a terrifying and all-too real glimpse into the struggles mixed-race people feel on a daily basis through the lens of a father obsessed with the color of his son’s skin. I continue to think about this book on the daily.

FAMOUS IN CEDARVILLE by Erica Wright

Damn, that Erica Wright can write. Another flawed character for me to root for, though she does a terrific job of keeping those flaws from us—at first. Her poetry roots are obvious in her first standalone. The sentences flow into one another with ease as she takes us into the grimier side of Tinseltown.

THE LINE THAT HELD US by David Joy

Technically a 2018 book, but my TBR pile is ridiculous. Reminiscent of McCarthy’s Lester Ballard in Child of God, Darl Moody is one scary son of a bitch, even more so because he’s calculated and motivated. The final scenes sent my heart rate soaring. Joy writes brutality with poetic prose. I can’t wait to read more of it in When These Mountains Burn in August.


Hope you found a book or two to add to your reading list or for holiday gifts. Be sure to check back next week to see more recommendations from our favorite authors.


Deep Woods Dispatched

Dean had been driving late into the afternoon when Billy finally woke up.

“Where are we?”

“Just drove into the park” Dean replied.

They had entered Algonquin Provincial Park a while back, a wide open space carved out of the Ontario wilderness bursting with lakes, rivers and wildlife.

Billy sat up straight and looked out the window. “Oh, good. Was I asleep long?”

They had left Ottawa a few hours back heading west to the Muskokas. The reds, oranges and yellows of the dying leaves blurred by in a brilliant blaze of amber.

The two often went hunting together throughout the season and although they normally stayed close to home, Dean wanted to shake things up and make a weekend out of it. They decided they would make the four hour trek west and rent a cabin for the night.

Billy switched on the radio, moving up and down the dial before settling on an old Metallica song. “We should have done this a long time ago. I needed a weekend away from the ol’ ball and chain.”

Dean nodded, “Yeah, it’s been a long time coming.”


The morning arrived quickly. The pair spent the night in a rustic cabin just off the highway in one of the lesser known campgrounds. The site was mostly empty; a few pickups in the parking lot, but the front desk clerk said it was mainly staff. Seeing as hunting season technically ended in two days, there weren’t many people around.

Last night, they’d made sure to take in only what was necessary leaving the remainder locked up tight in the cab of the truck for efficiency’s sake in the morning. Dean had installed one of those aluminum sliding hard tops hoping it would hold up and prevent theft.

A short drive later, they pulled into a gravel parking lot near a trail opening, the two exited the truck and prepared to enter into the bush.

Dean pulled out his rifle from behind his seat and began putting it together.

Billy went around back and opened the trunk. It was empty.

“Yo Dean,” Billy called out, “Where’s my stuff?”

Dean didn’t answer. He had his back to Billy, his head down.

Billy closed the trunk and walked up behind his friend. “Hey Dean-o, you deaf or what? I said where’s my stuff? I left it with you to pack.”

Dean was assembling his hunting rifle, sliding the scope into place, his head down. The soft clicks and soothing sounds of assembling weaponry never failed to put him at ease.

Dean turned his head to the left and spat on the ground. “It’s back at the house. You don’t need it, anyway.”

“What do you mean I don’t need it. What am I supposed to do this weekend? I didn’t come out to tag along with you like some bitch. I wanted to bag some game.”

Dean brought the rifle up to his shoulder and looked through the scope, testing out its range. “You don’t need it because you’re the game.”

Billy laughed. “Come on, man. Cut the shit.” He jerked his thumb back in the direction of the pick-up. “Is it under the seat or something?”

Dean lowered the gun and turned to face Billy, “I know you and Tammy were fucking behind my back. I know this, Billy, because she told me right before I put a bullet in her head two nights ago.”

The color drained from Billy’s face. “That ain’t funny, Dean. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Shut the fuck up, Billy. Don’t lie to me. It was hard enough to pry it out of her, I don’t need this from you too.”

Billy started to back up.

Dean shook out a cigarette, plugged it between his lips and sparked it to life. He took a long drag before exhaling. “Because I’m a nice guy, I’m going to give you a thirty second head start.”

“You’re making a mistake. It didn’t mean anything. You weren’t supposed to know!”

“One.”

“This is insane!”

“Two.”

Billy turned and ran into the bush pushing his way deep into the forest.

Twenty eight seconds later, Dean followed.


Shadow of the Barkeep

It was a cold January night; the wind had picked up and shifted the white stuff into drifts.  The door slapped shut behind him as O’Brien brushed the light dusting of snow from his winter coat.  He surveyed the tavern; scanning for any witnesses but O’Malley’s was empty.

O’Brien spotted his partner MacLeod taking up residency in the shadow of the barkeep.  He lumbered over, pulled up a stool and removed his hat.

“You got some nerve showing up here, O’Brien.  The boss said you wasn’t needed here tonight.”

O’Brien scoffed.  “That a fact?”

The late game between the Canucks and Predators illuminated from the old tube TV barely hanging from the ceiling.  Luongo just stopped a Webber slapshot and the crowd was coming unglued.

“O’Brien,” sighed MacLeod, “What exactly did you think was going to happen?”

“Let me ask ya, Macleod,” He pointed to the screen. “What do you think the Canucks’ chances are this year?”

“O’Brien, I asked you a fucking question.  I wanna know how a person would think they could rip off the boss and not pay for it?  A guy can’t be that fucking stupid, can he?”

O’Brien asked Jimmy for a beer.  He had been coming to O’Malley’s for years, parking his ass at the bar and jawing with Jimmy about hockey, politics and anything else the two deemed fit to bullshit about.

Knowing all this, the tension was still radiating from Jimmy.  He had been nervously cleaning an already spotless mug, his eyes darting from the floor to the exit, anything to avoid eye contact with the two thugs before him.  He knew O’Brien as a friend but he also knew who lined his pockets and he wasn’t sure which one showed up tonight.

Truthfully, O’Brien couldn’t count all the cash he’d squandered in this dump, how he’d kept Jimmy and his money pit afloat.  Sure, there were other guys who threw some cash Jimmy’s way in exchange for some quarterly compounded interest but then again, they were smart enough to keep their lips off a bottle.

O’Brien recalled walking in one night, blood still drying on his hands for Christ’s sake.  He’d asked Jimmy for a Bud and passed a stained ten his way, Jimmy never asked questions.  Jimmy was a goddamn saint.

In fact, it was O’Brien himself who brokered the deal between Jimmy and the boss.  But after the payments stopped coming in, the decision was made to close the O’Malley’s account and the news hit O’Brien harder than a shot of Bacardi 151.

MacLeod turned his attention to Jimmy, “Now, I’ll ask you the same fucking question asshole, how do you think you’d rip the boss off and not pay for it?”

O’Brien narrowed in on his own reflection in the grimy mirror behind the bar, “Don’t do it, MacLeod.  I told ya, he’s good for it.  Give him time.”

MacLeod laughed, “Now I know you’re fucking nuts.  Do I need to remind you who keeps your head above water?  Don’t go and drown on me, buddy.”

MacLeod rested his cannon on the scratched up, dented bar.  “Now, I know you know what this is Jimmy and I think you know why it’s here.  The boss wants a return on his investment and by the looks of it, you ain’t got it.  Now, you knew what you were getting into when you accepted his help -”

The blast tore through the air, reverberating off the bottles and empty glasses.  MacLeod’s hulking frame tumbled to the floor, his gray matter and blood coating the wall.  The gun was still smoking when O’Brien tucked it into his coat.

The mug Jimmy had held shattered to pieces on the floor, he didn’t appear to notice.  His mouth hung open, his eyes were wide.  His arms shot up, he was trembling in front of O’Brien.

Weber fired one past Luongo, the Predators won it in overtime.  O’Brien finished his drink; he wiped the corner of his mouth on his sleeve.  Jimmy watched him walk out and barely heard him say, “Fucking Nashville.”