Houston continues to get wider and wider recognition in the world, but I still feel like it sometimes lacks an identity in the national consciousness. I mean, if someone tells you that a book takes place in New York City or Chicago, you can probably name a dozen books or movies or television shows that take place in those cities. By proxy, you have stories in your head that fit into those settings.
That's something Houston lacks, but we're getting better about it. Today we're going to look at ten of the best books that are set in H-Town
10. The Deal, by Becky Cochrane and Timothy Lambert It's a gay romance novel, which might turn some people off, but the dialogue in The Deal is just unbeatable. Set in Montrose, it's about a group of friends fed up with their love lives who vow to find true love before next New Year's Eve. Yes, that is a corny as hell premise, and yes, it's a pretty predictable story, but the characters come to life in hilarious barbs and quips that will leave you howling. It's a great voice.
9. Terms of Endearment, by Larry McMurtry You're probably more familiar with the Academy Award-winning film that was based on the book, but McMurtry's original novel has all the same despair and pain and then some. Both the book and the film are set in Houston, and follow an overbearing widowed mother and her rebellious daughter as they face a host of life's challenges. It's a rough read that will kick you hard, but it's definitely worth it.
8. Mercy, by David Lindsey You may think it's just your typical murder mystery, but Lindsey lays down a truly gripping story as Detective Carmen Palma pursues a new and extremely dangerous type of serial killer through the streets of Houston. Somehow, everyone that falls victim to the monster submits willingly at first, even attaching their own handcuffs. It looks into the mindset of alternative sexual practices and other sensual undersides to society, and it is impossible to put down.
7. Cosmology of Bing, by Mitch Cullin Set in the hallowed halls of Houston academia, Dr. Bing Owen is an astronomy professor whose life is in shambles. His wife Susan is a poet who can't work any more because of a cerebral aneurysm, and his fixation on a long-ago male lover sends him into a sexually frustrated mentor relationship with a young student. It's a novel of meaning in a harsh world, and an exploration of what it means to rot in the world. Cullin is also a master of weaving in sections on astronomy and the poetry of Susan into the story as devices that move the pace along perfectly.
6. The Ayes of Texas, by Daniel da Cruz Easily the most TEXAS! Entry on this list, da Cruz's novel was written with all the '80s Cold War brag that could possibly be crammed into a prose work. It's mostly about a wealthy entrepreneur who decides to give some veterans a job restoring the Battleship Texas to seaworthiness, but they do so just in time for the old girl to fight a new kind of science fiction war. It's racist, rude, over-the-top, and a triumph of pulp fiction. You could literally read this book as a form of testosterone replacement therapy.
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5. The Drifters, Nathan Nix Call it the young man's version of Bing. Nathan Nix pens a pretty good coming of age story that is still relevant as all us lost generation folk stumble out of the semi-adulthood of college and try to make something of the world. Where Nix really hits it out of the park is in his ability to find something meaningful in every character. Even terrible people are still people when he writes them.
4. Magnolia City, by Duncan W. Alderson There is a crying shortage of Houston historical fiction outside of the Wild West or dealing with the war against Santa Anna. Alderson takes us to 1920s Houston and the rise of the oil barons, with all the opulence and luxury that entails. It's a grand love story that brings to life an oft-ignored period in Texas history, and makes for a great beach read.
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3. Blind Waves, by Stephen Gould OK, this may be cheating just a bit. Technically most of Blind Waves actually takes place in New Galveston, which is a floating city on the Texas Gulf Coast after the shorelines rise in the aftermath of climate change. Now thousands of homeless refugees are caught within different government factions, some of whom are not exactly sympathetic to their plight. As someone displaced by Hurricane Ike and who often marvels at the head-in-the-sand crowd of global warming deniers this really hit home.
2. Justice, by Jon-Michael Foshee Dirk Bishop has the perfect life, having married his college sweetheart and secured a DA position in Houston. Every day is better than the last, until his brother runs afoul of drug deals and Bishop is forced to venture into the city's underbelly on a mission of justice.
Sorry about that. Couldn't resist. All joking aside, it's a great crime drama that treats Houston the way Raymond Chandler used to treat Los Angeles, and a damn fine first effort of a novel.
1. Rush, by Kim Wozencraft Rush opens in the parking lot of the Almeda Mall, which makes me feel old, nostalgic, and holy crap did I used to hang around with the wrong people when I was in high school. Later made into an amazing movie, Rush taps into Wozencraft's experience as a narcotics officer to really put the hammer down about the effects of drug crime. Dark, intense, and utterly brutal.