Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “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.

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 …

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.