“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

30 Shades of Great: The Best Books Of 2012

It’s that time of the year again, folks, where I tell you what I read this year, and you tell me, this on the basis - presumably - that it’s marginally more interesting than telling one another about our dreams. That said, it’s always nice to be able to talk about good books, and I read a reasonable number of good books during 2012 - roughly a quarter of what I read would be worth reading again, I think. Oh, and as you’ll notice, some of the books below weren’t published in 2012; some were re-reads, others I was reading for the first time. Either way, they’re great books. And now, on with the show …

January
THE SILVER STAIN by Paul Johnston. A very fine private eye novel set on Crete. Fact: those nine words are my recipe for the perfect book.

February
THE GODS OF GOTHAM by Lyndsay Faye. A very impressive debut. Historical crime novel, incorporating the earliest incarnation of the NYPD. Great period detail.

HOPE: A TRAGEDY by Shalom Auslander. Pitch-black comedy about a man who discovers Anne Frank living in his attic, typing out her memoir. Probably the funniest book I read all year.

March
THE IRON WILL OF SHOESHINE CATS by Hesh Kestin. Set in New York in the 1960s, and concerned with a most unlikely Jewish mobster, Shoeshine Cats. Actually, this was the funniest book I read all year.

April
THE NAMESAKE by Conor Fitzgerald. I think Conor Fitzgerald could be the greatest of the current generation of Irish crime writers. This is the third of his Rome-set police procedurals. It’s brilliant.

ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif GW Persson. I’ve been getting a bit bored with the rather homogenous Scandinavian crime scene of late, but Persson is doing something very interesting. Highly recommended.

May
A LILY OF THE FIELD by John Lawton. I’ve always been a sucker for a great spy novel and this is a great spy novel, with the added bonus of a backdrop of classical music. Marvellous.

I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET by Adrian McKinty. I read this one as a manuscript, which means I won’t be able to review it when it comes out in January. A pity, because Adrian McKinty is the reason Conor Fitzgerald isn’t the best of the current generation of Irish crime writers.

DARE ME by Megan Abbott. THE END OF EVERYTHING was my favourite novel of 2011; this is set in the murderous world of cheerleading, and delivers some of the most fascinating characters of 2012.

THE NAMELESS DEAD by Brian McGilloway. I’ve liked Inspector Ben Devlin more with each passing novel, but THE NAMELESS DEAD is a powerful novel with real emotional depth. If I was only allowed to re-read one Irish crime novel from 2012, this would be it.

THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach. Along with spy novels, I’m also a sucker for baseball novels. Chad Harbach’s debut is much more than a baseball novel, but any book with a genius shortstop as its central character is jake with me. My most purely enjoyable read of the year, I think.

June
HHhH by Laurent Binet. A fascinating exploration of the attempted assassination of uber-Nazi Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, this is also an intriguing examination of the author’s right to tell a story, and the extent to which he or she should depend on the cobwebs of memory. Wonderful stuff.

BROKEN HARBOUR by Tana French. A marvellous police procedural, this also doubled up as a heartbreaking take on the human cost of the Irish economic bust. Also the most frightening book I read all year.

July
BLOOD LOSS by Alex Barclay. On the one hand a compelling police procedural set in a Colorado skiing town, on the other a fascinating glimpse into a damaged mind that is fully aware it is damaged.
Edge of the seat stuff, this.

HAWTHORN & CHILD by Keith Ridgway. I’m still not fully sure why I liked this so much, although I suspect it’s because Ridgway took a very risky / adventurous plunge in terms of narrative. Akin to a contemporary Beckett, I think.

August
BRENNER AND GOD by Wolf Haas. What I loved about this Austrian-set tale of the abduction of an infant was the narrator’s voice - quirkily omniscient, and yet with a real whisper-in-the-ear quality. A very difficult style to pull off, but Haas does it beautifully.

LIVE BY NIGHT by Dennis Lehane. The second part of the trilogy that began with THE GIVEN DAY, and while I prefer the first, LIVE BY NIGHT is a vividly delivered epic tale. Wonderful.

THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE by Marian Keyes. My very first Marian Keyes novel turned out to be a private eye tale, which was nice, but what makes this stand out is its harrowingly accurate depiction of depression. Hilarious and gut-wrenching, often in the space of the same paragraph.

September
CREOLLE BELLE by James Lee Burke. The Robicheaux plots might be starting to repeat themselves a little bit by now, but when you can write as beautifully, and poignantly, as Burke, who cares?

October
TELEGRAPH AVENUE by Michael Chabon. A fabulous fantasy about America’s potential as a cultural melting-pot, I loved this for the self-mockery of its high-flown language.

MORTALITY by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens writes about dying as he’s dying. Stunning, heartbreaking, uplifting.

RATLINES by Stuart Neville. By all accounts the first of a trilogy, this spy novel set in Ireland in 1963 has it all: intrigue, twists, pace, power.

PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR by Artemis Cooper. If you read this biography thinking it was a novel, you’d never believe it. Fermor packed about seven lives into his ninety-odd years, and Cooper does him full justice.

November
GONE AGAIN by Doug Johnstone. Not due until next March, I think, but one of the best paranoid thrillers I’ve read since the last time I closed an Alan Glynn book.

STANDING IN A DEAD MAN’S GRAVE by Ian Rankin. Rebus is back. Let me say that again: Rebus is back. ’Nuff said.

December
THE BLACK BOX by Michael Connelly. There’s an elegiac quality creeping into Connelly’s Bosch novels I hadn’t noticed before, and which gives the books an added heft that they were brilliant without. Superb.

SMONK by Tom Franklin. CROOKED LETTER blew me away when I read it a couple of years ago; I read HELL AT THE BREECH last year, and just finished SMONK. Reminiscent of early Cormac McCarthy, but funnier.

  So there you have it. If you want to let us all know what your favourite books in 2012 were, feel free to leave a comment in the box below, or a link to your own list on your blog, website, etc.

14 comments:

Keith said...

Declan, absolutely agree with James Lee Burke - reading him makes me despair as a writer!

I've loved Dennis Lehane and Michael Connolly's work, but I thought Live by Night was a little derivative and The Black Box suffered from not having an antagonist appear till almost the end.

My own best books this year (if you're interested) are actually old ones by Peter Temple, who I've just discovered./ The Broken Shore and In the Evil Day are superb examples of thriller/crime writing - oblique, beautifully written, interesting characters and settings. I'm pacing myself with the rest so I don't explode with pleasure ...

This year there was the ever-reliable John Sandford's latest Virgil Flowers book, Mad River - pacey, funny, well-plotted.

You can see my reviews of Creole Belle and Live by Night, along with others, at my Crime Writing Confidential blog: http://cwconfidential.blogspot.com

pattinase (abbott) said...

I would choose Memory by Donald Westlake; The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan; Edge of Darkness, Joe R. Lansdale, Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn; Canada, Richard Ford; The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, Jonathan Evison; Salvage the Bones, Jessamyn Ward; Keeper of Lost Causes, Adler-Olson; The Last Policeman, Ben Winters
Have a happy holiday!

Keith said...

Oh, I forgot about Edge of Dark Water, the Lansdale book - great revision of Huckleberry Finn, I thought.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Edge of Dark Water, thanks.

Declan Burke said...

Much obliged, Keith. Peter Temple is one of those writers I've been planning to read for ages. Next year is the year ... Edge of Dark Water sounds terrific too. Cheers, Dec

Declan Burke said...

That's a smashing list, Patti. Much obliged. I have to say, though, that both the Richard Ford and the Gillian Flynn were disappointments for me. The Flynn was brilliant for two-thirds of the book, but then it just went totally implausible, I thought. And Ford, I just thought the novel was too long. Beautifully written, of course, but simply not interesting for its middle third. Cheers, Dec

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, the ending was a bit of a let-down, but the rest was so riveting that I have to forgive it.

Stuart Neville said...

Thanks, Dec. A trilogy, you say? We shall see...

Karen (Euro Crime) said...

Glad someone else loved Brenner and God :).

Declan Burke said...

I did love it, Karen. And I don't really understand the resitance to Wolf Haas's style. I'm already looking forward to his next offering. Cheers, Dec

jiescribano said...

Declan, I'm still working on my list of 2012 favourites. But even if incomplete I'll probably include: Mixed Blood by Roger Smith, A Walk in the Dark by Gianrico Carofiglio, Phantom, by Jo Nesbo, A Dark Redemption, by Stav Sherez, Where the Devil Can’t Go, by Anya Lipska, The Caller, by Karin Fossum, Hour of the Wolf , by Hakan Nesser; Until Thy Wrath Be Past, by ├ůsa Larsson; The Rage, by Gene Kerrigan; The Drop, by Michael Connelly; Black Skies, by Arnaldur Indridason; The Cold Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty; The Nameless Dead, by Brian McGilloway.

jiescribano said...

I forgot to add I look forward to reading some/most on your list: The Black Box, Standing in Another Man's Grave, Ratlines, Creolle Belle, Live by Night, Broken Harbour, I Heard the Sirens in the Street, Another Time, Another Life.

seana graham said...

Thanks for the list, and for encouraging the additions from the commenters. I haven't gotten to all that many of these, actually, but Adrian's book is one I've had a preview look at and will say that it's right up there with The Cold Cold Ground, which is pretty darn high up.

I wasn't that enchanted by Live By Night, though I am a Lehane fan. I did like the historical work he put into it, and the Florida rather than northern setting for the bootlegging angle, but I think it's hard to write that era without sounding a bit cliche at this point.

Glad to see you mention Persson. I'm still on the first volume, Between Summer's Longing and Winter's Cold, and have been for a long time, actually, but I really like it and don't know why it hasn't seemed to get as much play as some of the other Scandinavian writers.

col2910 said...

Roger Smith - Mixed Blood, Mike Nicol - Payback,Donald Ray Pollock - Knockemstiff,Anna Funder - Stasiland,Robert Harris - The Ghost, Michael Zadoorian - The Leisure Seekers,Lynn Kostoff - The Long Fall, Charlie Stella - Johnny Porno, Jim Nisbet - Lethal Injection, Dominic Streatfeild - A History Of The World Since 9/11
http://col2910.blogspot.co.uk/