I've had the pleasure of celebrating Independence Day in a variety of ways during my four summers spent in the United States, but since I'm now based in London, I thought I'd give a nod to this great place full of great people by officially joining the USA Fiction Challenge.
The idea of the challenge is to read your way across America, all 50 states (or 51, if you choose to include the District of Columbia). It is a challenge that can be done in a year, or over time. I've decided to concentrate on crime fiction I've read or will read from the different states (setting or author location). Obviously states like California, New York, and Florida give huge amounts of options, with many terrific crime writers setting their books there, or being from there. Others will be more difficult.
Rather than starting afresh, I will be using crime novels I have already read and reviewed as part of this challenge, and then trying to 'fill in the gaps' moving forward. In each case I'll pick one great book/author to represent a state, but I may list other cool crime titles for that state as recommended reads too. A rule I'm considering for myself: no author double-ups as the main title for a state (ie can't use James Lee Burke for Louisiana, Texas, and Montana, despite him writing terrific books set in each state). But we'll see how I go. I might use some double-ups to start with, until I can replace one book with a different author.
You can sign up for the USA Fiction Challenge yourself here. I think it's a great idea to encourage us to read other, new-to-you authors, and to explore crime fiction set in a variety of places (think Global Reading Challenge: the US edition). Having travelled a lot in the United States, I often say to friends that every state is different, like it's own country in a way, and you can get amazing diversity exploring that great land. So we'll be experiencing that through the reading challenge too.
CRAIG'S USA CRIME FICTION CHALLENGE
ALASKA: Bad Blood by Dana Stabenow (2013): when a young villager is found dead and the prime suspect from a rival tribe disappears, neither tribe will talk to Sgt Jim Chopin, who calls in Kate Shugak when a second murder occurs. To be read.
ARIZONA: Desert Heat by JA Jance (1993): the first in the Joanna Brady series, introducing the wife of an Arizona lawman running for Cochise County sheriff who ends up battling bad guys herself when her husband is shot. To be read.
ARKANSAS: Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris (1996): Lily Bard is recovering from a violent past in small-town Arkansas, working as a housecleaner, when she witnesses a murder that strips away her anonymity, brings her unwanted attention, but also has her coming alive again. To be read.
COLORADO: Blood Runs Cold by Alex Barclay (2008): Ren Bryce investigates the puzzling murder of a fellow FBI agent amongst the snow-covered ski-bunny scenery of Breckenridge, clashing with local law enforcement while she hides her own past. Read review here.
CONNECTICUT: The Accident by Linwood Barclay (2011): under-pressure contractor Glen's life goes from bad to worse when his wife is killed in a DUI the police blame on her. As he tries to protect his daughter, Glen begins to suspect very sinister things are going on in his small Connecticut town. Snippet review here, full review to follow.
DELAWARE: Long Hill Home by Kathryn Pincus (2015): a successful lawyer is attacked as she runs along the Brandywine River, and she, a lonely teenager who comes to her aid only to be accused of the crime, and a pregnant illegal immigrant witness all face great adversity as the case unfolds. To be read.
Read review here.
FLORIDA: Don't Lose Her by Jonathon King (2015): When a pregnant federal judge is abducted, former Philly cop turned South Florida recluse Max Freeman pursues an eccentric gang deep into a hidden world he knows better than most: the shadowy waterways of the Everglades. Read review here.
HAWAII: Mortal Remains by Kathy Reichs (2010): the twelfth in the Tempe Brennan series sees the forensic anthropologist following a puzzling trail to Hawaii after a body is discovered in a Canadian lake. The victim of an autoerotic effort gone wrong is identified as a man who apparently died in Vietnam forty years before. Bodies in Carolina and Hawaii add to the intrigue and muddy the waters. Read review here.
Read review here.
ILLINOIS: The Third Rail by Michael Harvey (2010): a woman is shot waiting for a train. Another is shot an hour later. Two hours later a church suffers a chemical weapons attack. Former cop Michael Kelly is tasked by the Chicago mayor and the FBI with putting an end to the bad guys, but as he investigates those around him and the city itself are put in even greater danger. To be reviewed.
INDIANA (author): The Ridge by Michael Koryta (2011): When the keeper of an eccentric local landmark is found dead, then strange occurrences occur, local deputy Kevin Kimble wonders whether the incidents are connected to his own horror. Meanwhile Audrey Clark is moving her big cat sanctuary to land near the lighthouse; sixty seven tigers, lions, leopards, and one legendary black panther. But the cats don't seem happy about their new home, and begin to grow increasingly restless. To be reviewed. (note: possibly to be replaced by David Levien's Thirteen Million Dollar Pop (Indiana setting) - as yet unread)
IOWA: Smithereens by Susan Taylor Chehak (1995): Sixteen-year-old May Caldwell has a dull life in Linwood, Iowa until her 'foster sister' Frankie shows up. Together they seduce an older man and head on a tumultuous trail that leads to murder. Hammett Prize Nominee. To be read.
KENTUCKY: Buried Alive by Jack Kerley (2010): the seventh instalment in the outstanding Carson Ryder series sees the Alabama detective travel to rural Kentucky for a vacation only to stumble across a series of sadistic killings. Snippet review here, fuller review to follow.
MAINE: A Song of Shadows by John Connolly (2015): Charlie Parker is recovering in small-town coastal Maine from a near-fatal shooting when he tries to befriend a troubled woman and her daughter, and gets caught up in a dangerous conspiracy with its roots back in Nazi concentration camps. To be reviewed.
MARYLAND: Every Secret Thing by Laura Lippman (2003): two 11-year-old girls are banished from a party in a Baltimore neighbourhood and stumble across an infant in a stroller. Seven years later they're released from juvenile detention, three families destroyed by the crime that happened that day. Then another child disappears under freakishly similar circumstances. Anthony Award winner. To be read.
MASSACHUSETTS: Catch Me by Lisa Gardner (2012): Boston PD detective DD Warren is investigating the killing of paedophiles when a young woman asks her to solve her own murder: the woman is convinced she'll be killed soon following the deaths of two childhood friends. Read review here. (note: potentially to be replaced by Tess Gerritsen's The Silent Girl, which is read not yet reviewed)
Read review here.
MINNESOTA: Ashes to Ashes by Tami Hoag (1999): when a serial killer ritualistically kills several women in the Minnesota woods, an FBI agent turned victim advocate is forced to work with an ace FBI profiler she has a troubled history with in order to prevent more deaths. To be reviewed.
MISSISSIPPI: One Night in Mississippi by Craig Shreve (2015): a broken man haunted by the lynching of his brother helps track down the killers fifty years later when the US Dept of Justice reopens old cases. Review to be published.
MISSOURI: Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell (1998): Jamalee and Jason are siblings with dreams of escaping the Ozark valley where they are the "lowest scum in town", so they recruit a good-natured drifter ex-con as the muscle for their schemes. Hammett Prize Nominee. To be read and reviewed.
MONTANA: Back of Beyond by CJ Box (2011): maverick cop and recovering alcoholic Cody Hoyt's life goes further off-the-rails when his AA sponsor is found burned to death in a cabin and he gets suspended after shooting the county coroner at a botched stakeout. Then he tracks a killer to a motley group of tourists on a horse trek through remote Yellowstone, a trip his own estranged son is on. Read review here.
NEBRASKA: A Wanted Man by Lee Child (2012): Jack Reacher is picked up hitch-hiking in rural Nebraska by three strangers, only to realise something bad is going on and maybe they just want him as a decoy for the police roadblocks. Read review here.
NEVADA: Murder Unleashed by Rita Mae Brown (2011): former New York City banker is adjusting to life on a ranch outside Reno with her gregarious great-Aunt and a German Shepherd. When they start helping with a community project, they find themselves up against corruption and murder. To be read.
NEW JERSEY: Caught by Harlan Coben (2010): a small town is rocked when the 17-year-old high school lacrosse captain disappears, and a social worker is outed as a sexual predator on an ambitious reporter's 'gotcha' TV show. When evidence is thrown out, the reporter begins to question herself and those around her, and starts finding skeletons in many closets. Read review here.
NEW MEXICO: A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman (1988): the discovery of two corpses at an ancient burial site spurs Navajo Tribal policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee to plunge into the past to unearth an astonishing truth and a cold-hearted killer. Macavity Award winner; Edgar finalist. Read review here.
NEW YORK: City of Fear by Alafair Burke (2008): The all-too-realistic case of a young woman found stabbed after an alcohol and drug-fuelled night in a NYC hotspot later becomes much more complicated when NYPD Detective Hatcher uncovers echoes with three largely-forgotten cold cases. To be reviewed.
Read review here.
NORTH DAKOTA: Gridlock by Senator Byron L Dorgan and David Hadberg (2013): two Iranian agents buy a deadly computer virus off the Russians to shut down the US power grid and North Dakota sheriff Nate Osborne has to step up when the international crisis centres on his home state. To be read.
OHIO: The Silent Hour by Michael Koryta (2009): Cleveland-based private eye Lincoln Perry is asked by a convicted killer to solve the twelve-year-old disappearance of the founder of a unique parolee programme. Edgar-nominated author. Read review here.
OKLAHOMA: Death Row by William Bernhardt (2003): Oklahoma attorney Ben Kincaid put his reputation on the line when he defended a mild-mannered man accused of slaughtering a family. Now, as the execution date approaches, the star prosecution recants to Kincaid, only to be found dead the next day from an apparent suicide. Kincaid must discover what is really going on before it's too late. To be read.
OREGON: Judgement Calls by Alafair Burke (2003): the first Samantha Kincaid novel sees the Portland Deputy DA guns for attempted murder after a teenager is brutally attacked, but as she prepares for the case she uncovers a dangerous trail leading to a high-profile death penalty case, underage sex ring, and a possible serial killer. To be read. (note: will switch out for Greg Rucka title if keep Alafair Burke for NYC).
PENNSYLVANIA: Death Falls by Todd Ritter (2015): Forty years after his brother disappeared on the night of the moon landing, presumed drowned, famed author Eric Olmstead returns to his small Pennsylvania hometown to mourn his mother, only to find she'd been searching for a sinister truth. Teaming up with the daughter of the original Police Chief, Eric tries to find out what really happened. Read review here.
RHODE ISLAND: An American Killing by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith (1998): Denise Burke is a best-selling true crime novelist cheating on her husband with a Rhode Island congressman, who asks her to investigate an old murder in his district, then urges her to drop it, then dies suspiciously. Another close-to-home death has Denise realising some powerful people want her to back off. Read and to be reviewed.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Seizure by Kathy and Brendan Reichs (2011): the 'Virals', a young crime-solving pack led by Tory Brennan, search for the treasure of she-pirate Ann Bonney to help save the Loggerhead Island Research Institute, the place that brought them together when they were infected by a rare strain of canine parvovirus. Young adult thriller. Read and to be reviewed.
Read review here.
TENNESSEE: Carved in Bone by Jefferson Bass (2006): Dr Bill Brockton is surrounded by death at 'the Body Farm', but now must help solve a baffling puzzle in a remote mountain community that could reopen old wounds. To be reviewed.
TEXAS: Playing Dead by Julie Heaberlin (2012): returning to Texas for her beloved father's funeral, a woman receives a letter saying she was kidnapped from her real mother as a child, sending her on a perilous road of secrets and discoveries. Snippet review here, fuller review to follow.
UTAH: The Rope by Nevada Barr (2012): a prequel novel to the popular Anna Pigeon series, showing how Anna moved from New York to take a seasonal position in Glen Canyon, starting her career in the National Park Service following the death of her husband. Hiking around Lake Powell, Anna literally falls into a mystery that she becomes determined to solve, sparking her new career. To be read.
VERMONT: Cloudland by Joseph Olshan (2012): former hotshot reporter Catherine Winslow has retreated to rural Vermont. Out walking in the snow, she finds a body, and soon realises a serial killer is reenacting scenes from an unfinished Wilkie Collins novel missing from her personal library. To be read.
VIRGINIA: Edge by Jeffrey Deaver (2010): a high-level government bodyguard is assigned to shepherd (protect) a DC cop and his family in a cat-and-mouse game with a notorious 'lifter', an assassin who'll do whatever it takes to get the information he wants. Read review here.
WEST VIRGINIA: Zero Day by David Baldacci (2011): John Puller is the top investigator in the US military's CID, so when a family with military connections is brutally murdered in West Virginia coal country, he's sent by the Pentagon to help local homicide cops, only to discover there is much more to the case. To be read.
WISCONSIN: Dead Angler by Victoria Houston (2000): In Northwoods, fishing is a way of life and when the muskies are biting, life couldn't be better. But when Doc Osborne catches more than he bargained for, he winds up in the middle of a murder mystery, and only Chief of Police Lew Ferris can get him out of it. To be read/finished.
WYOMING: Cold Wind by CJ Box (2011): the 11th Joe Pickett novel sees the Wyoming game warden conflicted as he tries to keep his much-hated mother-in-law from prison as he investigates who murdered her rich fifth husband and strung him up from a wind turbine. Read review here.