Shotgun Honey Presents Favorite Reads of 2019 (Part One)

2019 is almost gone, and it’s that time of the year we reflect back on the books we’ve read. I know the books I’ve read and those that still tower in my TBR pile all cattywampus next on and around my nightstand is sizable. I’m always willing to make that pile larger, so I’ve asked friends and writers to give me a short list books that were their favorites over the course of the year. Specifically, I asked for at least two books in our favorite genre, crime, and one book outside of the crime genre. It’s always a good thing to explore and expand your reading.

This isn’t a “Best of” list, reading is subjective after all. From the lists I’ve gotten so far, I can say I do highly recommend the books as well as the folks who have made the recommendations.

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


Angel Luis Colón

Author of Hell Chose Me, editor of ¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas!
and podcast host of The Bastard Title.

YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY by Steph Cha

This is a frustratingly good book, like, as a writer I felt ashamed as I read this because it was so damn good. As a reader? What a goddamn treat. Beautiful and heart-wrenching, Steph Cha writes the kind of crime fiction we need to see more of.

MY DARKEST PRAYER by S.A. Cosby

With a strong voice and prose reminiscent of some of the best noir has offered before, Cosby’s debut, MY DARKEST PRAYER, will satisfy those with that itch only hard-boiled fiction can provide. This is the proper kind of graduation for such a gifted short story writer and I cannot wait to see what else he has up his sleeve.

ONE SMALL SACRIFICE by Hilary Davidson

I’m an unabashed Davidson fanboy. Her mix of tight storytelling and wicked black humor scratches all the itches I have as a reader. The first of her Shadows of New York books is a twisty and suspenseful thriller that I think fans of the genre and those tired of its conventions can equally enjoy.

That about does it in the crime world, what about outside of the genre?

THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON: HOLLYWOOD MONSTERS AND THE LOST LEGACY OF MILICENT PATRICK by Mallory O’Meara

A wonderful account of the career and astounding legacy of Milicent Patrick, best known as the artist responsible for the monster design of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (as well as her contributions at Disney). LADY is a fantastic piece about erasure in the past that remains relevant here and now.


E.A. Aymar

Author of The Unrepentant and editor of The Night of the Flood

THE HIDDEN THINGS by Jamie Mason

Jamie Mason has this neat trick where she writes concise, careful, pretty prose without sacrificing the tension or suspense of the plot. Read the outstanding opening chapter of The Hidden Things to see what I mean, and then read the rest of the book for a tightly-written story about a stolen painting and the desperate people looking for it…and the people desperately trying to keep their truths from emerging.

¡PA’QUE TU LO SEPAS! edited by Angel Luis Colón

The ¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas! anthology is so many things – a powerful study of contemporary latinx voices; a wonderfully-curated collection of beautiful short fiction; a cry that should be resonating across our country. The market for anthologies is crowded nowadays, but this entry stands out in that field and deserves a wide audience (and all of the proceeds go to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico).

MIRACLE CREEK by Angie Kim

At this point, you’ve likely heard about Miracle Creek, even if it doesn’t fall neatly into a specific genre. Kim’s debut novel is absorbing and poignant on so many levels – as a story about immigrants adjusting to life in America, the complications of raising a child with special needs, the brutal effect of secrecy. By all measures, one of the best books of 2019, and one readers will long remember.


Eric Beetner

Author of All the Way Down and podcast co-host of Writer Types

THE GUILT WE CARRY by Samuel W. Gailey

The best crime stories take a salacious plot and wrap it in real characters. Gailey does this as well as anyone. A variation on my favorite little sub genre of noir – finding a bag of money – this book is elevated by truly compelling characters. To be this invested in the people is the mark of great fiction, period.

THE WOLF WANTS IN by Laura McHugh

Again, character is key -this time with families. When an author can make me relate to a family situation that is miles from my own, I know I’m in the hands of a great writer, and McHugh has done this in each of her three novels. Unpredictable as it spools out a mysterious past, I never feel manipulated by the author’s hand in a Laura McHugh book. I’m just swept away for the ride in the best possibly way.

GO ALL THE WAY by SW Lauden and Paul Myers

I was around since the inception of this book because of my friendship with Steve Lauden and I know it was a passion project for him. As a punk rock kid I’ve seen a lot of the music of my younger days fall by the wayside of my own evolving tastes, but power pop remains. It’s the catchy, driving beat of the best rock roll has to offer and these essays explore why it endures and gives real life examples of how music effects our lives. It’s not a history, it’s an appreciation and a series of unique insights into the power of music in our lives.


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.


5 Questions with
E. A. Aymar

This week, it’s Ed Aymar in the seat for our 5 questions. Ed is the author of “The Unrepentant,” a book that Publisher’s Weekly described as a “gut-wretching crime thriller.” Ed is also a hilarious guy in person. How does a hilarious guy plunge into those deep, dark places? Let’s find out!

Q. In the intro to this book, you mention interviewing a number of women about their traumatic experiences in the world of prostitution. I’m sure that was difficult and complicated. How did you do it, and did the experience differ from what you imagined it would be heading in?

First off, thanks Nick! I’m a fan of your work and everyone should read your fantastic novellas. And if you or anyone else edits this out, I’ll just post it in the comments. DON’T TEST ME.

As for your question…you know, I’d never done that much research for my writing. Most of the research I’d conducted was location-based; I write about real places, and I always want to make sure my representation is accurate. I don’t feel comfortable writing about a location unless I’ve set foot there and stared at the buildings or streets or fields with my own eyes.

So this was the first time I did research outside of my own experiences, and it was unnerving. Of course I read, and I read as many books as I could until I began to see the correlation between violence and prostitution, which is the line The Unrepentant explores.

But it was talking to people that was unnerving. I don’t have proper journalism training, and I worried about forgetting to ask something, and then having to call the person back, and then forgetting something else, and basically annoying someone to the point of exasperation. But the people I spoke with – women involved in anti-sex trafficking movements, or active sex workers – were incredibly gracious and giving with their time. We had conversations rather than interviews.

Q. Whenever anyone writes about the kinds of things your characters go through, there’s always the risk it’ll be seen as exploitive. You obviously had that concern when writing this. How did you make sure you didn’t go over the line (i.e., checked yourself before you wrecked yourself)?

Nowadays there’s a lot of deserved feistiness in regards to voice – how you assume the voice of a character, why you’re doing it, and what you’re saying – and I was conscious of that when writing The Unrepentant, particularly because one of the co-protagonists is a young woman. I’m in the fortunate position of having a number of peer readers who are talented women writers, a female agent, and the editor for the book was a woman. They made sure I didn’t fuck up her voice or experiences too dramatically, or guy her up too much.

I wasn’t too worried about sensationalizing the violence or depicting sexual violence graphically. My view on violence is generally that it’s callous, and stupid, and cruel. So there wasn’t too much of a chance of me John Woo’ing a fight scene.

I worry about the celebration of violence in our media and entertainment, and I’d hope that this book doesn’t give readers anything other than a general sense of unease in regards to it. I’m not opposed to violence as entertainment, but that wasn’t the right or responsible approach for this particular book.

Q. What made you decide to tackle this novel now? Why this plot?

That sort of ties into the response to your last question. The people who read my other books tended to gravitate toward my female characters, and I wanted a female as a protagonist. And the more you read about violence – particularly from the perspective I chose – the more you come across violence done to women. Charlotte emerged from those two elements, and the rest of the plot came with her. She started it, the story and the other characters followed in her wake.

But I didn’t set out to write a book about sex trafficking and, although that’s obviously a huge element of the novel and a large focus of my research, I shy away from terming it a “sex trafficking novel.” It’s a study of violence, who does it, and how it affects the abuser and the abused.

Visit EAymar.com

Q. You’re well-known as a managing editor (of The Thrill Begins), a columnist (of the Washington Independent Review of Books), and an anthology editor (of the awesome “The Night of the Flood”). How do you think all that editor experience affects how you write novels? Does it impact how you approach your own writing?  

Hey, thanks for not putting well-known in quotation marks! That’s nice of you.

The Thrill Begins gives me a better understanding of publishing than I’d have otherwise. The regular contributors write for a mix of big five and specialty publishers, and some have experimented in self-publishing. We’re friends, and share with each other what our experiences are like. And the features we do often provide an honest look at the variety of experiences writers have in this business, both good and bad. That’s been extremely helpful in regards to navigating my own career.

When I started writing, I didn’t expect to write anything other than novels; largely because I didn’t think I could write anything other than fiction. And then, after my first novel, was published, I realized how shortsighted I’d been. Writing for the Washington Independent of Books has given me the chance to push myself as a writer, and that’s a wonderful thing. I love being able to be part of the publication, and I love getting to flex a muscle I wouldn’t otherwise.

The cool thing about the anthology is how much it made me sharpen my own game. I’ve reviewed short stories before, and it was so cool to get a batch of stories that were all good. Every story was the realization that I was working with a sharp, hungry, talented writer, and that was such a cool experience. And, as an editor, you see how good writers approach their work in different stages, and that’s insight you wouldn’t get any other way.

Q. How’s the crime fiction scene in MD/VA/DC? Is it becoming more robust?

 

I think it’s the best in the country.

I know those are fightin’ words, but I stand by them. This area is producing some of the best noir, cozies, procedural, political, historical, and cop fiction out there. And given the wonderful diversity in the area, we also have the benefit of writing from a variety of perspectives and experiences.

Which isn’t to say, of course, that good crime fiction isn’t being written in the Midwest, California, New York, Florida, the south…not at all. But I’d absolutely put the DC/MD/VA triangle against any of those regions.

Overall, it’s a wonderful time to be writing crime fiction – competitive, but not cruel. We all support each other, and even though we’re going through some growing pains as we necessarily change and understand and adapt, we’re all here and hungry and working to improve. I love that, and I love being part of it, and I love that the triangle reflects the best of that experience. So suck it, Ohio.

Be sure to leave a comment below to be eligible to win a digital copy of THE UNREPENTANT by E. A. Aymar. Winner will be selected Monday April 29th.


Company

“Company’s here,” April Wilson called out. She gathered herself, tried to smooth out the half-moons her fingernails had dug into her palms.

Peter, her husband, opened the door to their tiny apartment and saw Bruce Howe standing outside with a six pack of Zima and a shit-eating grin. Bruce’s silver BMW was slashed across two spaces in the parking lot behind him.

“Bruce?”

“Wilson! Ready for our threesome?”

“What?”

“April told me you wanted one.” Bruce shoved the Zimas into Peter’s chest and stepped inside. He wore so much cologne that he smelled like he was trying to hide something.

Peter turned. April stood in the hall, their dark bedroom behind her.

“But you’re my boss,” Peter said.

April felt the intensity of Bruce’s stare, his eyes hard on her short skirt. “Goddamn,” Bruce said, ignoring Peter. “Let’s make it stink.” He grabbed April by the hand, whisked her into the bedroom.

“So, we’re really doing this?” Peter asked, quietly.

He loathed his passivity.

Always had.

Five minutes later, Peter was watching his boss fuck his wife in some position he kept shouting was called the “pile driver” – April’s shoulders pressed down on the bed, her legs floating in the air, Bruce crouched between them, slamming his hips down like a drunk trying to shut an unwieldy door.

Every thrust was a donkey kick in Peter’s guts, but he couldn’t say anything, couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t watch. He turned toward the nightstand and an ashtray of burnt cigarettes and a pile of late bills and the small bowl holding Maze, their pet betta fish. Maze swam to the side and stared at Peter.

Peter couldn’t look Maze in the face. He glanced up at the ceiling.

“Okay,” April said, “I can’t breathe.” Bruce lifted himself off her, turned her over. Her hands and knees pressed into the narrow mattress.

Bruce took a moment to stretch, glanced back at Peter.

“My back’s starting to get tight,” Bruce said. “Do me a solid? Push my butt?”

Peter knelt behind Bruce as Bruce knelt behind April, Peter’s hands cupping Bruce’s cheeks. He pushed.

April felt Bruce fumbling underneath her until his dick scraped into her. He grabbed her hips, a hard grip she was now familiar with, but she still winced.

“Come on, guy,” Bruce whispered harshly. “Faster.”

Peter’s arms were getting tired. He was almost relieved when Bruce looked back at him, winked and came.

Moments later, Bruce and April lay collapsed on the bed, Bruce breathing hard.

“Not fucking bad.” He held up a hand.

April realized what he wanted and high-fived him.

“You’re a lucky man, Wilson,” Bruce went on. “Having a cool-ass wife like April here.”

“Thanks.”

“And, look, this isn’t exactly the first time for me and April.”

Everything in Peter tightened.

“What?”

“We had a practice run. Or two.”

Peter didn’t know what to say.

“And we want to keep doing this.”

“You do?”

“Not with you though.”

“Oh.”

“But like I told April,” Bruce went on, “this is good. You need money, right? Well, I put in for your promotion after I talked with her. I mean, it won’t be this guy kind of money,” Bruce pointed at himself with his thumbs, “but it’s more. A little more.”

All this was expected – had been rehearsed – but tears still formed in April’s eyes.

“Great.” Peter slid off the bed, picked up the fishbowl.

“Cool!” Bruce exclaimed. “I didn’t know you had a fish.” He tapped the glass. “Hey guy.”

Peter smashed the bowl down on Bruce’s head.

“Guy!” Bruce cried out.

Peter brought it down again, over and over until the heavy bowl cracked and broke and Maze was hopping in a pool of Bruce’s blood.

April scooped up Maze in a cup and ran to their only bathroom. Peter watched Bruce’s foot until it stopped twitching.

April returned, wearing an old faded robe. “Maze died.”

“I know. I heard the toilet.” He paused. “Thank you.”

April opened the closet, pulled out an axe and a roll of plastic bags.

“Just get his job.”

She handed the axe to Peter.


Becky Says Bye

Becky Wilbourne’s phone buzzed twice, the sign that Morris Michaels was on his way upstairs to murder her husband.

She pushed the bedsheets off, stared at the bathroom door Paul had just shut behind him. Her body ached from what he’d done to her the night before, the shove, the kicks. The shout that she made him crazy.

Movement was pain.

Sex with Morris this afternoon hadn’t helped.

“Just give me the word,” Morris had told her. “I’ll make it look like a break-in.”

“Are you sure?”

He’d adjusted his glasses which, along with his socks, he’d kept on the entire time. “You know who I work for, right?”

Becky had heard the rumors. They were the only reason she’d let Morris clumsily fumble around inside her once a day for the past week.

Now she chewed the skin next to her thumb and watched Morris creep back into her bedroom. He wore a dark sweat suit with a black baseball cap pulled low, his stupid glasses, and held a small gun.

Becky pointed to the bathroom.

Morris took a long breath, walked to the bathroom door. Rested a hand on the knob. Wiped away forehead sweat with the back of the gun-holding hand, and looked back at Becky.

He pulled the door open.

She heard Paul shout.

“Becky says bye!” Morris yelled.

She winced, waiting for the gun shot.

Nothing.

Morris was standing in the doorway, the gun shaking in his hand.

“Morris?” Paul cried out. “What the fuck?”

“Becky says, um, bye?”

She heard Paul move. Morris yelped and fired.

Paul screamed.

Morris hurried back into the bedroom.

Blood streamed between Paul’s fingers when he staggered out of the bathroom, clutching his shoulder.

Paul looked over at Becky, saw in her face that she didn’t care. His pained expression turned hateful. “You dumb bitch, what…”

Morris fired again. The bullet caught Paul in his other shoulder. He fell against the wall, tried to stand.

Morris looked at Becky, panicked. “He’s not dying!”

“Shoot him again!”

Morris tried. The gun was silent. “Shit no bullets!”

Morris reached into his pocket, pulled out a folding knife. He opened it, ran toward Paul. Paul lifted his foot and kicked Morris in the gut. Morris bent over, wheezing. Then he stabbed Paul in the foot. Paul cried out, but Morris kept stabbing him in the foot and calf.

“Do it in his throat or heart!” Becky yelled. “You’re just irritating him!”

But Morris wasn’t listening. His eyes were panicked and he was breathing spit and stabbing Paul’s leg. Paul cried out every time the knife came down, until he lashed out with his other foot, kicked Morris in the face.

Morris fell back. His glasses flew off. “I can’t see!”

Paul threw himself forward, landed on Morris, slowly collapsed. Stopped moving altogether. Morris couldn’t lift the other man off, so Becky helped. They flipped Paul’s body to the floor.

The knife was buried under his ribs.

Morris scrambled away, stood against the wall, hands on his knees.

He threw up.

“I thought you worked with the mob.”

“The mob?” Morris ran a weak hand over his mouth. “No! I’m Canadian.”

“Then who do you work for?”

“CitiBank.”

“But you made it sound like your employers were criminals.”

Morris nodded, head still down. “The banking industry.”

Becky wrapped her arms tight around her waist.

“I don’t feel good about this.” Morris wiped a bloody hand across his forehead. “I just love you so much. Felt like I had to.”

“Okay.”

“I’m shaking.” Morris’s voice was light, about to float away.

Becky wasn’t bothered. She wondered why, wondered if Paul had beaten all the compassion out of her over the past few years.

“This was supposed to look like a break-in,” Becky said. She opened the nightstand drawer, took out her husband’s gun. She’d never dared hold it before.

Morris looked up.

“What’s that for?”

She shot him right between his grief-filled eyes.

Becky wiped the gun clean, put it in Paul’s hand. Blood from both bodies crept toward her as she thought about what to do next.

She called the cops, waited for another man to show up.

And tell her he’d save her.