Tuesday, January 3, 2017

December's Best Reads

What can I say? The year went out with a bang and I haven’t even gotten to the Christmas gelt yet.

The Reversal, Michael Connelly. Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch working together. What’s not to like? Great story, expertly told. The only problem I have with Connelly is his journalism roots show in each book, as the writing rarely sings.

The Four Last Things, Timothy Hallinan. Reaching back to Hallinan’s original series featuring PI Simeon Grist. He could start writing these again and I’d pick right up on them. I think the whole series is now available for cheap on Kindle, which is how I scored the first three. Well worth the time.

Unloaded, Eric Beetner, editor. All anthologies—all of them—have the curse of unevenness. Combining different authors guarantees some stories aren’t as good as others. (I often fill this role.) Having acknowledged that, this is as well-conceived and well-rounded an anthology as I can remember—including some of the “Year’s Best” efforts—with no story containing a gun. Proceeds go to a gun control organization. Even if the motive was pure, unbridled avarice, this is a worthy collection that has earned all its accolades.

Dove Season, Johnny Shaw. I finally broke my Johnny Shaw cherry after falling in love with his work at Bouchercon Noirs at Bars. Not as wacky as his readings there, Dove Season is a remarkably diverse book that runs the gamut. The first half is borderline goofy in a Carl Hiaasen way, Jimmy Veeder tasked with finding a particular Mexican prostitute for his dying father. (The story of his first reconnaissance mission to Mexicali is worth the entire price of the book.) The story takes a couple of hard turns after that to remind me more of Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone in its ability to mix drama and comedy. Shaw’s in the rotation for sure now.

Fields Where They Lay, Timothy Hallinan. I try to spread my reading of a single author out more than this, but it’s a Christmas story, and it was Christmas week and it was on my shelf and so what I’m an adult and can read whatever the hell I want. The newest Junior Bender has Junior almost on the right side of the law—almost—working security for a disreputable, run-down mall at Christmastime. All the things you’ve come to expect from Junior, with a holiday twist.

Once Were Cops, Ken Bruen. Bruen’s one of the authors I have to be sure not to let fall through the cracks, as he’s so uniformly good it’s easy to take him for granted. This is no exception. Not a Jack Taylor story—though he makes a cameo appearance—this is the tale of a Galway cop who dreams of moving to New York and has his wish come true. That it comes true in no way implies the wish is altruistic, as Shea is as mean and sick a fuck as you’re likely to encounter. Bruen’s work is Irish through and through and gives a wee hint of what James Ellroy might have sounded like had he come of age across the sheugh.

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