The Punk Noir Magazine Top 21 Reads of 2021 Part One (As Read and Chosen by Stephen J. Golds)

Punk Noir Magazine

This was tough. Too tough.

I’ve read 67 books this year (according to my GoodReads profile) and choosing a top ten left me reeling punch-drunk, murmuring titles and author’s names repetitively on public transport. A literature obsessed version of Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man. People avoided eye contact and moved slowly away.

I knew why. They knew. I would never be able to pick a top 10. That was crazy talk. An impossibility.

2021 has been a gold mine for readers (like me) searching for new and already established author’s to blow them away with narrative skill and lyrical prowess. I easily could’ve done a top 30, 40 or hell, 50. But…

2021…

21…

2021’s Top 21 !!!

These are the Top 21 books that blew me away and stole my heart this year. In alphabetic order because, dammit, I can’t choose and rank them. That’s too similar to a Sophie’s Choice dilemma for this editor. (My Cohort in crime BFJ will be compiling her own for Part 2, so hold on for that!)

1. The Black Viking Trilogy by John Bowie

I like to think of John Bowie as an early 2000’s Dr. Dre. He has published probably A-Z of the best crime writers on the indie scene to date at his magazine Bristol Noir, but is an amazingly talented writer in his own right. The Black Viking Trilogy is a testament to that. Gritty, poetic, nasty and beautiful, his prose is a BIG recommendation for anyone who digs the NOIR genre and wants to read a fresh narrative.

2. The Bristol Noir Anthologies by Bristol Noir

As stated above, these anthologies from Bowie and Bristol Noir are probably the best crime anthologies of the last few years. Collecting a wide variety of original voices, hard-core talent and gripping stories from all over the world, they’re an absolute must-buy/must-read for any crime fan.

3. Psychopaths Anonymous by Will Carver

Carver is a wordsmith, a storyteller, and one helluva writer. He has pulled the crime genre into a stolen vehicle and has crashed through the front doors of the publishing industry. What I mean to say is; he writes the story he wants to write and he writes it with originality, flair and skill. Psychopaths Anonymous is my crime novel of the year because it’s more than a crime novel, it’s an attack on modernity and trends as much as a story about a woman who drinks too much and murders folks.

4. A Chapbook About Nothing by Scott Cumming

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, it’s not out yet, but I was lucky enough to read the early proofs and Cumming is one of my favorite poets at the moment. His poetry is self-effacing, endearingly honest and succinct in what he is stating within the deeper meaning of the poem.
He, as well as being one of the nicest and most supportive chaps on Lit Twit, is a poet to watch out for in the coming years as this debut chapbook is just the beginning, a stretching of the legs before a marathon, I predict.
Watch this space!

5. Charlesgate Confidential by Scott Von Doviak

This is one of the novels I wish I wrote. Absolutely loved it.

A haunted hotel.
Boston’s criminal underbelly.
An art Heist gone wrong.

Double-crosses and triple-crosses.
Stephen King like storytelling mixed with the brutality of noir’s darkest prose.
This novel has everything and it does it all very well!

6. Every Hidden Thing by Ted Flanagan

I put this novel on the shelf next to Tim O’Brien and Tobias Wolff. Flanagan can hold his own with the heavyweights. And this is a debut?!! He has the talent of writing the most beautiful, succinct prose about the ugliest of things and the fact that the author is also really a paramedic (and vet) and writing from hands on experience make this debut novel all the more evocative and moving.

7. History of Present Complaint by HLR

Listen. I. Shit. You. Not.

This is one of the most important poetry collections of the last forty years. I’m not just talking here.

The first time I read this collection, I had to get off the subway, find a bench and sit down. Take a few minutes. Then, I went back, rereading every poem over just to make sure that I had really read what I thought I’d read. Wipe the tears from my eyes. This collection DESERVES to be read by everyone. It NEEDS to be read by everyone. HLR is the real deal, once in a lifetime talent. If I had ranked a number one today, it would have been AHOPC HANDS DOWN.

8. Fallout From Our Asphalt Hell by Gabriel Hart

On the topic of once in a lifetime talents, here’s another writer that’s going to blow up any given day now because his talent is too big and too raw not to explode into the consciousness of the reading mainstream.

What I’m trying to say is: often you read authors on the indie lit scene and are blown away by their talents. More rarely, you’ll read an author and you’ll know in your weary bones they were born to write. Their talent seemingly too bright, too fierce, too strong to be held down within the confines of any one community or genre.

Gabriel Hart is one of those rare authors. He has proven time and time again there isn’t a single genre he can’t mold into his own stylings. Song lyrics. Non-fiction. Poetry. Journalism. Crime. Transgressive. He’s done it all and he’s done it all extremely well.

9. Soul Collector by Duvay Knox

And another rough diamond that flashes brighter than a razor blade in the sun.

Duvay Knox is the cooler American version of Billy Childish. Both hugely talented innovators, poets and fiction writers that make prose in their own too cool individual styles.

I think Knox is a writing genius and 2021 is only the start.

10. The Blue Hour by James Lilley

Lilley writes poems with an earnest honesty and vulnerability to them. Which is what poetry should be all about.

Extremely emotive, moving, disturbing beautiful words from a talented writer. This collection is his best work and is highly recommended.

11. A Troll Walks Into A Bar by Douglas Lumsden

Doug Lumsden’s Alex Southerland P.I trilogy really caught me by surprise. Not usually a fan of P.I. novels, as I find them the most unoriginal of the crime genre. If you’ve read one, hell, you’ve pretty much read them all. What else can be said that hasn’t already been said exceedingly well by Chandler, Spillane et al.

Right?

Wrong!

Lumsden has twisted and woven the noir P.I. genre into the fantasy realms and he does it all while using the hard, bullet sentence structure and punctuations to rival the aforementioned greats. We’ve got trolls brushing shoulders with mob bosses, pimps mixing it up with were-rats, gnomes, elves and mythological monsters of the deep. And its all set in a bastardized, seedy fantasy version of our own downtown areas.

If ever there were a trilogy of novels made perfectly for Netflix, it’s got to be Lumsden’s. I found his prose a pleasure to read and was envious as hell of his flowing sentence structures and talent for creating bright visuals of the world he creates.

If you want to read a fantasy crime novel, I can’t recommend Lumsden more highly.

12. The DI Erika Piper Trilogy by Chris McDonald

The Police Procedural Genre isn’t usually my bag, but the fact I thoroughly enjoyed and ate up all three of these tightly-woven mysteries speaks to McDonald’s talent for writing gripping and engrossing stories. Definitely a softer spoken narrative style but as the old adage goes it’s the subtle knife that wounds the deepest.

13. The Witness by Simon Maltman

I enjoy Maltman’s writing very much. It’s noir, but definitely noir for the 2020’s. Reading his novels is like listening to a talented storytelling mate recounting some twisted, criminal escapade they witnessed over a few pints down your local.

14. Witness X by S E Moorhead

I’ve reread Witness X twice now and I’ve got to say it’s one of the freshest, most interesting sci-fi/crime novels I’ve read in a long time. Loved the character of Kyra, a kick ass, strong, intelligent protagonist. This novel kept me coming back and kept me guessing until the very end. Really looking forward to what Moorhead brings next!

15. Vine Street by Dominic Nolan

1930’s Soho and a serial killer haunts London’s Jazz clubs. Two likable but broken detectives’ obsessions with breaking the case and catching the fiend spans decades and the UK.

Wow!

This novel is blowing up lately and rightly so.

Every few years a crime novel will come along that will hijack my mind completely. With the Molotov cocktail of a gorgeous setting, endearing characters, addictive plot line and visceral writing, Vine Street by Dom Nolan is easily one of the best crime novels I’ve read in the last decade.
It’s literary and Ellroy-esque in scope and ambition.

A great novel!

16. In Filth It Shall Be Found An Anthology by Outcast Press

This. Was. Dark.

Sometimes, I had to put it down, go make myself a cup of coffee and watch some cartoons. Otherwise I might’ve gone a little Jack Torrence.


Easily one of the best anthologies I’ve read this year. Like I said, this is the darkest prose you’ll read collected in one anthology and for me that’s a big stand out. Stellar work by all the authors involved. Can’t wait for volume 2.

Also, watch out for Outcast Press, they’re doing great things, are creative, innovative, dedicated and are going to be very successful.

17. Blackstoke by Rob Parker

What a great novel. I loved how Rob Parker jumped from action-packed crime prose to this dark, twisted, creepy small-town horror story with such ease.

Would love a television drama to be made from Blackstoke, because that’s how Parker writes, so bloody visually you can see it all playing out in your mind perfectly. Yep, even that gross, fucked up part.

18. The Bad Kind of Lucky by Matt Phillips

Phillips writes tight, crisp atmospheric prose that recalls the bygone eras of pulp and noir genres while mixing in a modern, hip narrative.

Slick, razor-sharp dialogue and realistic characters make Phillips The Crime Writer to Binge Read. The only true crime committed being my own late arrival to his work.

19. All The Sweet Prettiness of Life by Cody Sexton

2021 I became a big fan of Sexton’s work and words.

As with Cumming and Lilley, Sexton’s work is spare, beautifully brutal, lyrical and honest.

Another artist to watch in 2022.

He also has one of the coolest transgressive mags out there right now.

20. Slow Bear by Anthony Neil Smith

I write “noir” but I can count the number of modern books that fall under that genre currently on my bookshelf with one hand. Probably. I’m a big fan of the Black Lizard paperbacks, have collected a large sampling of Hard Case Crime. But I just haven’t found the modern 2020’s equivalent to those brutal, nihilistic stories of yesteryear.

Until, I read Slow Bear, that is.

Noir is a strange beast. Everyone has their own definitions of what fits the criteria. For me, the criteria for Noir are themes of loss, betrayal and darkness. There’s always an outsider protagonist on the ropes but not ready to go down without a fight.

I believe of all the books that have been published in the last few years Anthony Niel Smith’s SLOW BEAR is the penultimate modern noir novel and doesn’t just tick every single box of noir criterion but punches holes right through every single one.

21. Murder and Mayhem in Tucson by Patrick Whitehurst

The closest I’ve ever been to Arizona is the movie Raising Arizona by the genius Coen brothers.

However, after reading the immersive and fascinating Murder and Mayhem in Tucson by Patrick Whitehurst I feel as though I’ve been there many times.

I’m a big fan of crime non-fiction and Whitehurst has smashed the ball right out of the park with this latest release. It really doesn’t matter if you have an interest in Tucson, Arizona or if you’ve lived there. This book chronicles the cities bloodiest histories.

War stories, murders, robberies, cold cases, all of the city’s dirty deeds are dragged out into the harsh light of the Arizona sun and laid bare with a cast of characters including none other than the most infamous bank robber of all time; John Dillinger and The Godfather Joe Bonanno. 

I really enjoyed this and would highly recommend it to fans of crime non-fiction across the board.

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Bonus Ranking

This has got to go to my extremely talented and very prolific co-editor

B. F Jones

She writes some of the most beautifully moving poetry and some of the most beautifully disturbing prose that I’ve ever read and it’s always a pleasure to read anything she writes.

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Okay, it’s taken me a long while to work through, but there it is. I hope you could get some good recommendations from my list and I hope you enjoy reading them all as much as I did.

Thank you for reading!

All the best,

Stephen J. Golds

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