The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers

Christmas comes early this year, thanks to Soho Crime and THE USUAL SANTAS, a collection of Christmas-themed short stories by many of Soho’s celebrated authors.

The stories are grouped into three main sections. The first, “Joy To The World: Various Acts of Kindness At Christmas,” includes “Chalee’s Nativity” by Timothy Hallinan. Chalee, a homeless Bangkok street child (first introduced in Hillinan’s novel, FOR THE DEAD), spends her evening drawing figures she sees in a holiday store window. But Chalee’s friend, Apple, is soon bored and takes off into the crowded Bangkok streets. In the title story, by Mick Herron, eight Santas traditionally hired by a huge mega-mall outside of London suddenly discover a ninth Santa in their midst. How they unveil the imposter adds to the hilarity of the story.

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Quarry’s Climax

From the Hard Case Crime banner, this 14th title in Max Allan Collins’s long-running series has everything you’d expect from a Quarry novel: hard-boiled dialogue, effective period recreation, and an assigned murder that is not all it appears to be. But perhaps owing to the nature of the plot, QUARRY’S CLIMAX suffers from a slower pace than most of its predecessors, as well as what feels like a disturbing lack of commitment from Collins himself.

The story takes place in 1975. The man known as Quarry, a former Marine sniper and Vietnam vet, has been a murder-for-hire assassin for almost five years. Not long after he and his partner conclude a job in Las Vegan, his boss, a refined gentleman known only as The Broker, visits Quarry at his home in Lake Geneva. Quarry has a new assignment, but with a noticeable difference than his previous cases.

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The Smack

This latest crime novel by Richard Lange, the highly praised author of two previous novels and two short story collections, is a rare combination of realism and inventiveness. We find this in both the portrayals of the protagonists as well as the urban locations. It adds up to make THE SMACK Lange’s most accomplished novel to date.

Rowan Petty has been a con man all his life. But when a streak of bad luck hits, Petty finds himself stuck in Reno, living in cheap hotels and working phone scams for a man he trained years ago. He tries to increase his meager earnings at the local casino poker tables. One afternoon, on his way back from a casino, Petty meets a sweet-talking prostitute who calls herself Tinafey (“Like that white lady on TV, but all one word.”) and they become friends.

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The Late Show

Michael Connelly could simply continue rotating novels between his two popular series – Harry Bosch and the Lincoln Lawyer – and remain one of the most popular authors working today. But instead Connelly chose to introduce a new character in THE LATE SHOW, his latest novel. And if this debut is any indication, Detective Renee Ballard can easily became the third major player in Connelly’s arsenal.

Renee Ballard, a former crime journalist, joined the LAPD several years ago and quickly rose to the rank of police detective. Then she filed a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor. But when her fellow officers failed to support her complaint Ballard was demoted to working the midnight shift in Hollywood – known internally as “The Late Show.”

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Virgin Cay / A Night Out

When you think of crime fiction based near the Florida coast, you obviously think of John D. MacDonald. But Basil Heatter, a news commentator and author, was also active during MacDonald’s early career, and portrayed a much more foreboding side to these seafaring locations. Now two of Heatter’s crime novels, VIRGIN CAY and A NIGHT OUT, are available again as part of Stark House’s Mystery Classics series, and demonstrate not only Heatter’s familiarity with the southeastern seacoast, but also his skills with plot construction and characters.

Gus Robinson’s boat is sinking as VIRGIN CAY opens. Robinson struggles to the shore, where he meets Clare. She offers him shelter as well as her bed. Then Clare offers Robinson a chance to earn enough money to buy a new boat and regain his beloved freedom. All he has to do is kill the one person who stands in the way of Clare and a huge inheritance. But then Robinson meets his intended victim and faces an unexpected choice.

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The Force

Don Winslow’s latest, THE FORCE, again demonstrates Winslow’s masterful ability to present unsettling, contemporary issues through the eyes of complex and remarkable characters. Here, however, our sympathy for the protagonist is challenged like never before. Yet our understanding is never disputed. And it is this clash of emotions – among the many other striking elements — that makes THE FORCE one of the most compelling and memorable crime novels you are ever likely to read.

Denny Malone heads the NYPD’s Manhattan North Special Task Force, an elite unit renown for its ability to wage war on gangs, drugs, and guns. On the street they are known as “Da Force” and not above using the popular “Star Wars” reference. And recently Malone’s Task Force scored the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history.

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Jimi After Dark

Crime author Stephen Mertz’s latest novel, JIMI AFTER DARK, continues his use of popular and influential musicians as the backdrop to a story of murder and mystery – a trend he began with his 2011 novel, HANK AND MUDDY. This time, as the title reveals, the musician is the iconic Jimi Hendrix.

The setting is the early 1970s. Although at the height of his popularity, a few lackluster performances have placed Jimi Hendrix’s career in jeopardy. A music festival he was to headline is canceled. Suddenly desperate for money, Jimi retreats to London – the city where he first found fame with his psychedelic blues guitar playing – and gets tangled up with loan sharks.

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The Soak

Is it possible for a criminal protagonist to be long past his prime yet captivating enough to hold our interest? The author of the HOW TO SUCCEED IN EVIL series, Patrick E. McLean, succeeds in this challenge with his foray into crime fiction, THE SOAK.

Hobbs, the novel’s lead character, knows he’s not a young man anymore. But working large-scale heists is the only life he knows. So as much as he’d like to quite, when he learns about a Florida armored truck transporting huge amounts of cash Hobbs finds himself once more planning and carrying out another theft.

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LUCKY is the fifth novel of Henry Chang’s series featuring Jack Yu, the Chinese-American NYPD detective whose beat is mostly Chinatown. But just as the Chinese culture is felt in areas other than this self-enclosed neighborhood, the locations of Chang’s crime series often covers many other areas of New York City. Still the most painful conflicts occur within Detective Yu’s tortured soul.

Jack Yu and Tat Louie grew up together on the mean streets of New York’s Chinatown. They shared similar dreams as trouble-prone youths. But as adults their lives took two distinctly different paths. Jack Yu joined the NYPD, eventually working his way to becoming a Police Detective. Tat became “Lucky” Louie, a notorious Chinatown gang leader whose dealings in drugs, gambling, and prostitution earned him a reputation throughout the entire city.

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Sleep With the Devil / Wake Up to Murder / Joy House

Day Keene (1903–1969) may not have “invented” noir but he and his contemporary authors (which included Jim Thompson and David Goodis), churning out crime and mystery fiction during the heydays of Fawcett Gold Medal and Lion Book paperback originals, laid the foundations for what is today known and revered as noir.

Now, thanks to this trio of Keene crime novels from the 1950s republished under Stark House Press’s Crime Classics banner, we get to experience noir in the making.

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