The other day a journalism student came to the Library wanting to try a novel by Edna Buchanan, one of her favorite reporters, and we began talking about why some of our favorite mystery/thriller writers (e.g., Connelly and Buchanan, among others) earned their chops on the crime beat or as investigative journalists. Of course there’s the fact that a crime journalist has experience in the trenches talking to cops, investigators and witnesses. But it’s more than that: It’s about story and pacing.
Journalists, who spend their professional lives writing within spaces measured by column inches, manage to mix an economy of words with just the right amount of detail for my reading taste. They know how to write a lead that draws you in, and they’re masters at keeping the story going. Best of all, for me, is when a journalist, armed with a pen and an inquisitive mind, takes the lead role in solving the mystery. Consider these titles — by journalists and with journalists in starring roles:
The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly
L.A. Times crime reporter Jack McEvoy gets a two-week layoff notice and decides to go out with a bang, putting his all into investigating a murder and the 16-year-old suspect currently in custody. Connelly, a former L.A. Times crime reporter, is my favorite thriller/mystery/crime writer, and you can’t go wrong with any of his books in the Harry Bosch series or his stand-alone books, such as The Lincoln Lawyer. And you can get a taste of his nonfiction crime writing in Crime Beat: A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers, which includes stories that inspired a few of his novels.
Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman
Former reporter Tess Monaghan turns private detective in this excellent series set in Baltimore. Lippman was a crime reporter for The Baltimore Sun and was also a writer for The Wire (HBO series). Try any in the Tess Monaghan mystery series, as well as her excellent stand-alone novels.
Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley
Detroit Times reporter Gus Carpenter returns to work at his hometown newspaper in Starvation Lake, Michigan, and to investigate the murder of a popular hockey coach. Gruley is the Chicago bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal.
Love Kills by Edna Buchanan
Buchanan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter for the Miami Herald, brings her two solid series (Britt Montero and Cold Case Squad) together in this mystery. Montero is a crime reporter for the fictional Miami News tracking a serial killer from Florida to Alaska.
Citizen Vince by Jess Walter:
Vince Camden relocates to Spokane (as part of the witness protection program) and gets a job at a donut shop, but can’t quite escape notice of mobsters. Darkly comedic crime story set against the backdrop of the 1980 presidential election. Walter was an investigative reporter for The Spokesman-Review who first got wide-spread notice in the book world for his nonfiction account of Ruby Ridge: Every Knee Shall Bow: The Truth and Tragedy of Ruby Ridge and the Randy Weaver Family.