I said I wasn’t going to do any year end lists, but I really like David Montgomery’s 3 Best Books feature and I realized this was a nice was for me to think about what I’ve read over the year. I’m one of those people who can read a book multiple times and still forget who the killer is, which makes for enjoyable repeat readings, but maybe isn’t the best for my own analysis as a crime writer. Now I’ve done the top three books like at David’s site, but I’ve also added three honorable mentions because, in the end, I think the purpose of these lists is to spread the word about good books and the more books I can do that for the better. Right?
1) GO GO GIRLS OF THE APOCALYPSE by Victor Gischler – This was the best book I read last year. I’ve read all of his crime novels and enjoyed them, but this was the book he seemed born to write. Its part social satire, part fantasy, and part madcap romp. I found myself totally immersed in the world he creates and it was just a great all around reading experience. And he announced on his blog yesterday that the book has now gone into a second printing so I’m glad to hear other people feel as great about this book as I do.
2) ENVY THE NIGHT by Michael Koryta – I think I wrote here before that this was a huge step forward for an already excellent writer and that if he graduated from some fancy MFA program it would have been touted as a “literary thriller.” But this character driven revenge story is just an amazing book that does the slow burn suspense better than almost anyone I can think of. I’ll be interested to see how he uses these skills in his next book that has a supernatural twist to it.
3) HIT AND RUN by Lawrence Block – One of the true masters of slow burn suspense does his best work currently in the Keller series. I was very skeptical of this one when I heard it was about a hitman framed for the assassination of a politician. I figured Block had gone over to the dark side and would put Keller in one of those ridiculous, over the top “on the run” thrillers. But he kept to the same sort of slow burn and concentration on the minutia of life that has made this series one of my favorites, maybe even more than the Scudder series (gasp of sacrilegious breath).
Now, the honorable mentions:
THE BRASS VERDICT by Michael Connelly – This one almost made it into the top three, but since I just finished it last night, I don’t think I’ve ruminated on it long enough to consider it one of the best of the year. But it’s a damn fine book. I forgot how much I like Mickey Haller’s first person narration. I’m not normally a legal thriller fan, but this had more of the PI novel feel of something from David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter series. The plot is great and twisty, but the true genius of this book is the characters and the commentary on the justice system. I also like getting a view of Connelly’s main series detective, Harry Bosch, through someone else’s eyes. Connelly is one of the best at inside jokes for longtime fans and this one is no different. Can’t wait to see what’s next from him
CHASING DARKNESS by Robert Crais – This book was great because it harkened back to the older Elvis Cole style before LA REQUIEM. After a brief third person opening, the rest of the book is in Elvis’s first person voice and it’s just a riot to be back with him. It only takes a casual reading of one of Robert Parker’s current Spenser novels to see that the student has truly surpassed the master. Crais may not always hit the mark with his latest books, but I always get the sense that he’s experimenting and trying to stretch which you gotta give the man credit for.
THE EVIL THAT MEN DO by Dave White – I think it was a bad idea releasing the first two books in the Jackson Donne series in trade paperback first because that’s not what readers of PI fiction expect. These should have been hard covers or better yet, mass market pbs that could have given this series the much greater audience it deserved. After starting off strong with his first book, Dave moved to third person and adopted more of a thriller style for this book that goes back and forth between the present and the past. Again, I’m not really a thriller fan, but this sucker moved fast and did a great job of developing Donne’s past and setting the stage for some nasty family payback. If Ross Macdonald had ever tried a third person PI thriller style with Archer, he may have written something like EVIL.