20 Essential Seattle Books, Part 5 – Tales of the City

Arriving at our fifth and final post suggesting twenty essential Seattle books, after posts highlighting history, race, place, and Northwest classics, we finish with a handful of novels evocative of our city and its culture.

There are several good mystery series set in Seattle, but when a fictional detective has been on our rain-soaked streets for three decades his casebook offers real perspective. Homicide detective J.P Beamont made his debut in 1985 in J.A. Jance’s Until Proven Guilty, hunting the twisted killer of a young girl while frequenting such vanished local landmarks as the Doghouse. Over twenty titles later, Beaumont still patrols Seattle’s seamy side, most recently in Dance of the Bones. (For readers who prefer a lighter touch, check out G.M. Ford’s classic Who the Hell is Wanda Fuca? starring wisecracking Seattle P.I. Leo Waterman.)

For a title straight from the dark heart of Seattle weird, we suggest Charles Burns’s graphic novel Black Hole. Published serially between 1995 and 2005, this twitchy tale of body horror graphically depicts a sexually transmitted disease that causes strange mutations among suburban Seattle teens in the 1970s. This is the perfect reading to get you in the mood for the upcoming revival of Twin Peaks, and for fans of the grunge-era transgressions of Douglas Coupland and Chuck Palahniuk.

In Jim Lynch’s 2012 historical novel Truth Like the Sun, a political fixer and golden boy known as “Mr. Seattle” crosses paths with a muckraking reporter out to make her own name, possibly at his expense. This intriguing story spans twin peaks in Seattle’s history: the space age hype of the “Century 21” World’s Fair in 1962, and the frenzied dot.com bubble at the dawn of the actual 21st Century, painting a telling portrait of the complex morality of our city. For an equally compelling novel situated during a memorable recent convulsion in our cycle of boom and bust, Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist explores the heady, idealistic fervor of the 1999 World Trade Organization protests, aka the Battle in Seattle. Whether you were on the streets that day, or have taken to them only recently, Yapa’s perceptive novel captures many of the moral ironies and compromises that characterize Seattle’s professional and political life.

Seattle has also served as backdrop for more personal narratives, and the moving, whimsical Broken for You, the first novel by local actress Stephanie Kallos is one of the best of these. When a heartbroken young woman takes a room in a Seattle mansion with a lonely septuagenarian, they gradually mend one another’s lives. If you enjoy Kallos, you might also enjoy Matt Ruff’s fascinating split-personality novel Set This House in Order and Garth Stein’s poignant tale told by a dog The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Here’s the full list of 20 titles in our catalog.

     – posted by David W.

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