Spokane's thriving community of local writers produces works in many genres of fiction, nonfiction and poetry but for some reason many published authors in the area are drawn to tales of crime and revenge. Everyone from award winning literary fiction author Jess Walter, to the popular outdoor humorist Patrick F. McManus, to local book publisher Steve Oliver have tackled mysteries and other types of crime stories.
Spokane has all the crime and drama of a big city, but people in the Lilac City often live in denial because their own neighborhoods are relatively safe. Property crimes, violent incidents and just about every illegal act ever imagined short of slavery happens in the region, but unless people follow the right Twitter feeds they may not even hear about most of the incidents other than the crimes that have some quirky and unusual twist that makes them memorable enough to get featured in local television news reports.
Maybe that helps explain why local authors find it so fascinating to take looks at Spokane's partially hidden dark underbelly. Oliver has written several novels and published two short story anthologies dedicated to capturing the odd flavors of Spokane crimes. Former police officer Frank Zafiro has spent much of his writing career focusing on slightly strange crimes that could only happen in the Lilac City. Even Jess Walter, who is just as likely to write poignant stories about the struggles of homeless people or sad tales of love and loss, was motivated to write "Over Tumbled Graves", a brilliant novel about chasing a serial killer that also perfectly captures the ambivalence a lot of people felt about living in the area during the Nineties and the desire many young people had back then to move to a bigger city.
Many local authors have works available from Amazon as Kindle ebooks. People in the greater Spokane area who own Kindles, or download the free app from Amazon onto their smart phones, laptops, or other devices can support writers from the community while also saving some money and using fewer natural resources. The eight books featured in this list are intended to serve as a starting point for people who may not be aware of all the great mystery and crime fiction writers living and working in and around Spokane County.
'At Their Own Game' by Frank Zafiro
"At Their Own Game" by Frank Zafiro is a suspenseful, fast-paced tale of a Spokane-based criminal named Jake Stankovic and what happens when he is forced to match wits with a local drug dealer and a police detective with a grudge after a get rich quick scheme goes awry. The book features many familiar Spokane locations, which should add to the fun for local readers and cover art by Spokane-area author and artist Eric Beetner.
'Avalanche' by Patrick F. McManus
Patrick F. McManus is best known for his popular and successful humor novels such as "They Shoot Canoes, Don't They?" but he also writes a series of funny mysteries set in the fictional Blight County, Idaho starring Sheriff Bo Tully. In "Avalanche", the second book in the Bo Tully series, Bo tries to solve a missing person case at an upscale ski resort with some help from his friend Dave and his infamous father Pap Tully. After they get trapped at the resort by an avalanche, it becomes a murder investigation. The book is both an excellent mystery and a fine example of the trademark McManus outdoor humor. Print editions of the novel may be hard to find at local book stores, so buying the Kindle edition may be more convenient for some readers.
'Closing the Circle' by Jim Wilsky and Frank Zafiro
"Closing the Circle" by Chicago-area writer Jim Wilsky and local author Frank Zafiro brings their Ania trilogy to a stunning and satisfying conclusion. In "Blood on Blood", the first book in the series, the mysterious femme fatale Ania stole valuable diamonds that the novel's protagonists had been searching for before fleeing Chicago. Now, shortly after she got up to no good in Las Vegas in "Queen of Diamonds", some of her bad deeds are coming back to haunt her. An insurance investigator named John Pearse and a mobster named Andros Krol are hot on her trail. Will Ania be able to use her con artist skills one more time to outfox her opponents? Or will the circle finally be closed?
'Digging Up Otis' by T. Dawn Richard
"Digging Up Otis" is the second May Bell List mystery by local author T. Dawn Richard. May List is a 66-year-old amateur sleuth and aspiring mystery author. In the second book in the series, she travels from Spokane to visit some friends who live in a California retirement community after their friend Otis Culpepper goes missing. Many hijinks ensue as May and her eccentric companions get caught up in a series of madcap adventures as they try to find out what really happened to Otis. The book is both a fun "cozy" mystery and a hilarious comedy that may remind readers of the movie "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World."
'The Fat Detective' by John Soennichsen
Local author John Soennichsen usually writes scholarly nonfiction works. "The Fat Detective" provides a fun change of pace. The book is a screwball comedy about a private investigator with an eating problem named Lance Loomis who operates in Spokane. As he tries to solve two murder cases, he is forced to interact with a cavalcade of oddball locals while a hit man from the Norwegian mafia repeatedly tries and fails to kill him.
'The Financial Lives of the Poets' by Jess Walter
"The Financial Lives of the Poets" is kind of like a Spokane version of the hit television series "Breaking Bad." A former journalist and failed Internet mogul named Matt Prior tries becoming a drug dealer in order to save his house and his marriage. The book is surprisingly funny as it describes the protagonist's pathetic attempts at starting a life of crime. It is also incredibly moving and thought provoking as Walter discusses how the failing economy and the slow death of the newspaper industry has affected people who used to enjoy fairly stable middle class lifestyles.
'Moody Gets the Blues' by Steve Oliver
In "Moody Gets the Blues" by Steve Oliver, the eponymous Scott Moody is a cab driver and inexperienced private investigator trying to solve his first case in Spokane in 1978. Moody just came out of a mental hospital and he still self-medicates with Thorazine. Oddly enough, this does not impede him as much as one might expect as he searches for a missing local businessman and tries to reconnect with his ex-wife and daughter. The book is full of off-kilter humor as Moody encounters a variety of colorful characters. Moody's story is also a surprisingly touching one as he deals with some of the things that have left him broken and prone to hallucinations.
'Over Tumbled Graves' by Jess Walter
"Over Tumbled Graves" was an attempt by Jess Walter to write a crime novel that could also be considered literary fiction. As Spokane Police Detective Caroline Mabry searches for a serial killer with some help from other SPD officers and a quirky consultant, Walter introduces a huge cast of characters that allow him to explore various aspects of what life in Spokane was like in the early Nineties while putting together the pieces of a well-crafted, highly plausible mystery. Walter makes allusions to T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" throughout the novel and imagines Spokane as a version of the Wasteland, but it isn't necessary to understand all the references to enjoy the book.