If you like reading about rock and roll as much as I do, then 2016 was a really good year. Not only were the bookshelves stocked with amazing punk rock non-fiction from the likes of Keith Morris and John Doe, but The Replacements came back into my life in a BIG way. I also discovered a few other crime writers out there who, like me, are using rock and roll as the leaping off point for their violent tales of intrigue, lust and woe. And it was another great year for music-inspired short fiction as well.
Here are a few of my favs, in no particular order.
Nothing’s more rock and roll than a list!
TROUBLE BOYS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE REPLACEMENTS—Bob Mehr
There have long been theories about why this Minneapolis punk outfit-turned-critical darlings never achieved their long-predicted commercial success. Rumors of self-doubt and self-sabotage were the stuff of legend. This well-researched book sets the record straight in a way that even the most die-hard fans will appreciate.
ALL YOUR LIES CAME TRUE—Mike Creeden
It’s hard to read this high-octane thriller without thinking of your favorite rock and roll duos—Axl Rose/Slash, Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, or David Johansen/Johnny Thunders. Creeden does a great job of wrapping this page-turner in a glittery cape of rock and roll imagery to keep the action pumping. Strong characters, a fast-moving plot, and a killer back story deliver some unexpected twists and turns. This is a dark, but fun read that you won’t be able to put down. Read my interview with Mike Creeden.
UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK—John Doe & Tom DeSavia
This collection of overlapping essays about the first-wave of LA punk is a fascinating look at how legendary scenes are born. It’s incredible to think that a hundred kids, one apartment building and a handful of clubs gave us decades of great music from bands like X, The Germs, The Go Gos, The Minutemen and The Blasters. It goes by fast, so read it twice.
FLIGHT 505—Leslie Bohem
A private jet powered by broken dreams, regret and self-delusion. Fame might have eluded Mickey and Al, but that doesn’t stop them from getting back in the chase—long after their expiration date. A fun, fast read that brings the 80s LA New Wave scene to life in vivid color, and explores the meaning of success through the perspective of three very different, but hopelessly intertwined characters. A great read for anybody that ever chased the brass ring down Hollywood Blvd. Read my interview with Leslie Bohem.
MAMA TRIED—Edited by James Ray Tuck
I can’t think of a better marriage than the one between crime fiction and outlaw country—and this collection doesn’t disappoint. What started out as a random Facebook post according to editor, James Ray Tuck (“Someone should do a crime fiction anthology based on outlaw country songs called MAMA TRIED so I can write a story for it.”), turned into one of the best music themed anthologies of 2016. Stand out stories include Eryk Pruitt’s “I’m The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised,” Christa Faust’s “Truth or Consequences (Waiting’ Round to Die)” and Eric Beetner’s “Pardon Me (I’ve Got Someone To Kill).”
PEEPLAND—Christa Faust & Gary Phillips
I don’t always read comic books or graphic novels, but when I do they’re about a peepbooth worker and her punk rock ex-partner. The brutal murder of a public access pornographer puts this unlikely duo under fire from criminals, cops, and the city elite, uncovering a web of corruption that leads right to city hall. Christa Faust and Gary Phillips are two of L.A.’s best pulp and noir writers, and Andrea Camerini’s artwork in PEEPLAND is fantastic. Read my interview with Christa Faust and Gary Phillips.
MY DAMAGE: THE STORY OF A PUNK SURVIVOR—Keith Morris & Jim Ruland
Keith Morris is a founding member of two groundbreaking SoCal bands, Black Flag and The Circle Jerks (among others). But this well-written book goes beyond those stories to show you his winding path to underground infamy. It’s been a strange trip for this soulful punk icon, and it just keeps getting more interesting.
CRIME + MUSIC—Edited by Jim Fusilli
Jim Fusilli, editor for this fantastic short story collection, starts his forward this way: “I don’t suppose it would be much of a surprise to discover that there’s a dark and deadly side to the world of popular music.” What is surprising about this anthology is the diverse talents of the contributors, including Zoe Sharp, Peter Robinson, Reed Farrel Coleman, Tyler Dilts, Bill Fitzhugh and Erica Wright—among many others. Every one of these stories hums, sings or (in the case of Gary Phillips’, “Shaderoc The Soul Shaker”) rips your head clean off.
DESERT CITY DIVA—Corey Lynn Fayman
I came into the Rolly Waters series in this third installment, but had no problem getting acquainted with the character and his San Diego. This book is a romp across a SoCal desert full of paranoid outsiders and lost souls. Love the musical references threaded throughout, and Rolly’s ability to solve the action-packed case without constantly waving a gun around or punching through walls. A fast, fun read that will keep you coming back. Read my interview with Corey Lynn Fayman.
WAITING TO BE FORGOTTEN: SONGS OF CRIME AND HEARTBREAK INSPIRED BY THE REPLACEMENTS—Edited by Jay Stringer
Putting aside my own contribution to this anthology, Jay Stringer has assembled a truly impressive collection of crime and mystery writers including Johnny Shaw, Kristi Belcamino, Josh Stallings, Angel Colon, Jen Conley, Tom Leins, Alex Segura and Mike McCrary—among many others. Not to mention, talented contributors like Franz Nicolay (The Hold Steady) and Gorman Bechard (Director of “Color Me Impressed: A Film About The Replacements,” and “Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart”). Read my interview with Jay Stringer.
S.W. Lauden’s debut novel—about a punk rock musician turned disgraced cop—is called BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION. It was released in October 2015 from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, was published on October 2016. His standalone Tommy Ruzzo novella, CROSSWISE, is available from Down & Out Books.