BRYCE CARLSON’S 5 FAVORITE CRIME FICTION STORIES

This may have been the hardest “5 Favorite” I’ve ever had to do. The Crime/Mystery/Detective/Noir genre is no short stack and once you start taking into account how it’s been explored in different mediums…forget about it. But apparently I’m audacious (or just stupid) enough to attempt such a mind-wrenching feat. These are my true “favorites” and not necessarily what I think are the “best.” These are stories that I will continue to enjoy for the rest of my life.

1. THE KILLING – Stanley Kubrick (1956)

Based on the Lionel White novel Clean Break and co-written by Jim Thompson, this film never had a chance at not being one of my favorites. Stanley Kubrick’s masterful depiction of a horse track heist is dark, tense, and paced perfectly. You’ll never see a better scene in a chess club than when Johnny hires Maurice to start a fight at the track and the performances across the board (especially by Sterling Hayden and Elisha Cook, Jr.) are top-notch. Everything from the cinematography to the music to the narration is beautifully noir, and its effective use of nonlinear storytelling is inspiring. I watch The Killing about once a year and every time is just as good as the first and the last.

2. CLANDESTINE – James Ellroy (1982)

When I was 12 years old, I used my own money to buy my first novel for leisure reading. Clandestine being the first “real” book in my personal library pretty much defines my longtime love for the genre and I’m sure terrifies parents and teachers everywhere. When I picked it up, I didn’t know who James Ellroy was (a crime in its own right, I know), I didn’t know it was his second novel, and I didn’t know what “clandestine” meant or how to pronounce it properly. But the cover and the back cover text spoke to me and I discovered a pulsing story of mystery and grizzly crime that I’ve reread at different points in my life and continue to relish.

3. PULP FICTION – Quentin Tarantino (1994)

This will forever be one of my favorite films, period. Hitmen, thieves, drugs, murder, music, boxing, revenge, guns, a watch, and a briefcase—and so much more. This was my introduction to real nonlinear storytelling and how it could truly benefit a story, and it floored me. Even more than the plot and the structure, it was the characters that really punched me in the face. They were pulpy, simple yet complex, and clearly motivated. Up until Pulp Fiction, I hadn’t experienced a film that depicted modern-day crime in a way that blew my hair back. Older noir and mystery flicks were always there for me but this was the first time I realized those kinds of stories can be effectively told in today’s world.

4. CRIMINAL – Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (2006)

There aren’t a ton of modern crime comics currently in the market and the amount of them that are done extremely well are even fewer in number. Lucky for everyone, we have Criminal. It’s hard-hitting,  emotional, gruesome, and pulpy as hell. Ed Brubaker crafts a mean crime tale that can give you twists and turns with perfectly woven plot but still deconstruct complicated characters without feeling heavy-handed. And if there was ever a perfect artist for the series and crime comics in general, Sean Phillips is it. The structure of his pages and panel design fit perfectly in line with the feel of the genre and his ability to focus on character acting and make the most out of a single panel is simply stunning. Criminal sets the bar and opens the door for more crime comics, which is all I want in life.

5. SAVAGES – Don Winslow (2010)

I love me some Don Winslow. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Orange County and his books feel real to me or maybe it’s because characters like Neal Carey are stellar. Either way, it all boils down to Don Winslow being one of my favorite current crime authors. Savages is flawless and one of the few crime books I own in hardcover. Two Laguna Beach boys growing weed, living the life, and then going up against a Mexican cartel. Add in a healthy dose of fun-poking commentary properly describing the more ridiculous side of Orange County and you literally have a story that feels like it was written specifically for me. Not only are the voice and the structure something to behold, it’s a story that explores those grey areas in life and gives them color, which is what good crime fiction does best.

Bryce Carlson is a managing editor at BOOM! Studios as well as being an author. His most recent comic is HIT, with art by Vanesa R. Del Rey. HIT: Los Angeles. It’s 1955. It’s dark; it’s sexy. It’s dangerous. Everyone has an angle. And while infamous gangster Mickey Cohen rots in a prison cell, Los Angeles ignores the blackest parts of the city’s heart…where clandestine groups of LAPD detectives moonlight as sanctioned hitmen knows as “Hit Squads.”