Monday, September 29, 2008

Due South

Last night I was watching TrueBlood, the television offshoot of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels I have blogged about recently. TrueBlood is set in steamy Bon Temps, Louisiana. As I was watching a scene where the townspeople drink lemonade on a front lawn while watching the coroner carry a body out of a duplex, I started to wonder what makes the deep south such an appealing setting for legal thrillers, crime stories, and supernatural fiction.

I realized that many, many of the books I consider my "literary crack" (mostly paperback legal thrillers and the aforementioned vampire novels) are set in Mississippi, Alabama, or Louisiana. I have never visited any of these places. The closest I have been is Tennessee, and then I was in Nashville - great for music history but not exactly a hotbed of incestuous small-town criminal activity.

As an ode to the territory of the country I have oft read of but never visited, here are my top picks for literary crack deep south novels:

Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris
The sixth Sookie Stackhouse novel features an inbred community of werepanthers, a New Orleans party barn fit for a vampire queen, and an action-filled chase through a Bayou swamp. Now that's what I call atmosphere. Really, the whole series is worth the read, but four, five and six are my favorites so far...

The Firm
, The Pelican Brief, and The Client by John Grisham

I can not pick just one of John Grisham's novels from what I call his glory period (anything from A Time to Kill to The Rainmaker), but I can pick three. These are great books. Once again, skip the movies - although they are actually pretty well cast, the scripts are terrible. Every time I think The Firm is my favorite (love those Cayman Islands scenes where they drug Avery Tolar) I remember how cool Darby from The Pelican Brief is (holding hands with an internationally wanted assassin right before he is shot!) Just when I think PB is my favorite, I remember the digging-up-the-body-in-the-middle-of-suburbia scene from The Client. It is simply impossible for me to pick a favorite Grisham novel, or even narrow it down to two.

The Quiet Game and Turning Angel by Greg Isles
If Greg Isles would write more Penn Cage novels, we would have a John Grisham situation on our hands. Isles is sort of my new Grisham (since Grisham's gotten lame), except he's naturally a little darker and edgier. And Penn Cage makes my list of fictional characters that I'm sort of in love with - he's like a modern-day less goody-two-shoes Atticus Finch (not that I don't love Atticus.) Seriously, try these out if you're looking for a good legal thriller. Technically The Quiet Game comes first, but you don't need to read them in chronological order.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
This one technically shouldn't qualify for the list, as it is non-fiction and while as readable as the literary crack, is actually critically acclaimed with a journalistic bend. But it is one of my all-time favorite books and in a weird way, makes me like that fictional stuff even more because it sort of convinces me that the south actually is THAT weird.

What about you? What's your literary crack? And on the off chance that any of the eight people who regularly read this are from the south, do you ever read any books about us weirdos in the northeast or midwest?


Scott said...

I'm closer to a Southerner than any of the other seven devotees of your blog (despite the fact that they called me a damned Yankee when I lived in B'ham), and no, nobody reads literature about Yankees. :)

Amanda said...

My literary crack would have to be historical fiction series, especilly ancient greek and egypt historical fiction. My favorites would have to be the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters.

Oh, and Vampire books.

Alison said...

I agree with Scott, having lived in Birmingham, AL in the early '90s. Southern literature is kind of like southern politicians - everyone loves 'em for some reason.

John said...

Literary crack for me is defined as Clive Cussler. You know Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino are going to take down some crazy scheme to take over the world and that the villain will seem eerily similar to every other Cussler villain and the plot will essentially be the same, yet I keep reading and he keeps writing.

Anonymous said...

For me, literary crack would entail anything Jodi Picoult writes...she definitely gets me thinking about controversial issues in today's society.