Monday, January 2, 2012

Best Reads For 2011

I didn’t read quite as much this year as I had in the past, for several reasons, all of which have been documented elsewhere. That doesn’t mean I didn’t find plenty of books worthy of recommendation. I meant to have a list of ten, then twelve, the fifteen, but I could draw a bright line until I was into the twenties.

So here you go with the books I read last year and would be willing to read again, time permitting. They’re listed in alphabetical order; no preference should be inferred.

Absolute Zero Cool, Declan Burke. Publishing is more farked up than even I thought if this doesn’t establish Burke as someone to keep an eye on. Meta-fiction at its best, as the author argues with a character and himself to spin a tale no one else could have thought of, let along written.

Big Money and Big Numbers, Jack Getze. Getze’s trick is to show you the climax at the beginning, then work back toward it, a la Michael Clayton. Not only does Getze pull it off both times, he’s a lot funnier.

City of Lost Girls, Declan Hughes. Not Hughes’s best Ed Loy novel, and I still couldn’t bear to leave it off the list. There’s no one better working today.

Crashed and Little Elvises, Timothy Hallinan. Hallinan took a break from his Poke Rafferty thrillers to start an e-book series about a master burglar who works as sort of a PI for the underworld. The plots are witty and Hallinan hits a perfect balance of humor and action both times.

The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide, John McNally. Does for how to be a writer what Stephen King’s On Writing does for how to write. Young writers in particular should pay attention to what McNally has to say.

Eddie’s World, Charlie Stella. Stella first. The influence of George V. Higgins is writ large, but this is no knock-off. No one captures peripheral mob figures as well as Stella.

Generation Kill, Evan Wright. The book on which David Simon based his HBO series. Things have more perspective in the book. Must reading for anyone who wants a first hand look of what war is like without actually having to go.

Gun, Ray Banks. A novella that describes one day in the life of a just-released convict. Unforgettable.

The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James. Even more detailed than the original. Maybe too much to read straight through, though James’s writing wears better than a lot of people who are supposed to be writers.

In Defense of Flogging, Peter Moskos. Thoughtful and thought-provoking look into how criminals are punished in America.

Joe Puma, PI, William Campbell Gault. I honest to God don’t remember why I bought this collection of five stories from the Fifties, but I sure am glad I did. First rate PI writing.

Lawyers, Guns, and Money, J.D. Rhoades. Crime and corruption in a small southern town described in perfect balance and style for the setting and material.

Maximum Bob, Elmore Leonard. I’d read it before, and I suspect I’ll read it again.

Pocket 47, Jude Hardin. A deft combination of complexity and readability. Hardin keeps this up and he’ll be the obscure no longer.

Road Rules, Jim Winter. More fun than anyone has ever had in Cleveland. Either Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen would have been happy to write this.

Rut, Scott Phillips. Scariest post-apocalypse scenario yet: what happens if we keep doing what we’ve been doing. Phillips’s wit ensure nothing drags or becomes predictable.

Samaritan, Richard Price. Good intentions with questionable motivations. Not as gripping as Clockers, but a marvelous book.

Setup on Front Street, Mike Dennis. Don’t let the setting (Florida Keys) fool you. As hard-boiled as they come while still using the setting to maximum advantage. The first of a series; the second is already on my Kindle.

Shadow of the Dahlia, Jack Bludis. Maybe my favorite book of the year. Bludis has a reputation, but this was the first book of his I’d read. He captures the period perfectly with a riveting story.

Shit My Dad Says, Justin Halpern. Not just a compilation of tweets, Halpern provides some family history to place the quotes in perspective. He’s a good and funny writer himself, and the old man’s quotes are priceless, though some do seem a little prickish when you realize they were delivered to a twelve-year-old kid. (Sorry, I’m not going to go with the politically correct * when we all know it’s the I in shit.")

True Grit, Charles Portis. I’d seen both movies, finally got around to reading the book. Sometimes I wonder how the hell I can hold a job, waiting as long as I do for good stuff.

Two-Way Split, Allan Guthrie. Hard to say too much without giving away a key plot element. Pay close attention and you’ll not be disappointed.

A Vine in the Blood, Leighton Gage. This newest in the Chief Inspector Mario Silva series may be the best.