Thursday, January 8, 2015

Best Reads, 2014

I began 84 books in 2014. (Began to read, not to write. Calm down.) Of those I finished 77. Fifty warranted at least a small write-up at month’s end; some received reviews of their own. I’m not a fan of an arbitrary cut-off for how many books were “best” in a given period of time, so here are the seventeen Top Ten books I read in 2014, in the order in which I read them:

The Point, Gerard Brennan. His essay in Down These Green Streets attracted my attention; Welcome to the Octagon held it. The Point put him into the rotation. Brennan reminds me of Ray Banks in that he wastes no words and none of your time. The books are as long as they need to be, and no longer. No shorter, either.

The Bitch, Les Edgerton. As good a noir story as I’ve read in at least ten years, as well as a scathing denunciation of “three strikes and you’re out” statutes, a/k/a Habitual Offenders, a/k/a The Bitch.

Runaway Town, Jay Stringer. An eye-opener. Catching up with Stringer is part of my To Be Read list.

The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy. I’ve heard this is the weakest of the LA Quartet, in which case I’m already hard for The Big Nowhere.

Herbie’s Game, Tim Hallinan. The newest Junior Bender. Another Shamus nomination should be on the way.

In The Morning I’ll be Gone, Adrian McKinty. The third volume of the Troubles Trilogy. Thank God McKinty has decided to make it the Troubles More Than Trilogy, with Book Four due out in 2015.

Inferno: The World at War 1939 – 1945. If you’re looking for one book to sum up World War II, this is the one. Be forewarned: it’s not pretty, though compelling and beautifully written.

Miami Blues, Charles Willeford. Yes, I was late to the party again, and, yes, I plan to catch up.

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, John leCarre. The book that started one of the great careers of our time. I hope younger readers can get past the archaic Cold War setting to read what the book is really about.

Rogue Island, Bruce DeSilva. Another revelation, added to the “must catch up” list.

Winter’s Bone, Daniel Woodrell. Everything I’d hoped it would be, and I’d hoped for a lot.

Difficult Men, Brett Martin. Must read for fans of what Martin calls the Third Golden Age of Television: The Sopranos, The Wire, The Shield, Deadwood, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad.

Crime Always Pays, Declan Burke. Hiaasen-esque sequel to The Big O. One of the two funniest books I read this year.

The Getaway Car, Donald Westlake. Collected bits of non-fiction that will make you a fan if you aren’t already, and, if you aren’t, why the hell not?

The Drop, Dennis Lehane. Missed an event at NoirCon to finish it. If I had to pick one book as best for me this year, this might be it.

Black Rock, John McFetridge. A worthy addition to the growing list of recent historical crime tales, this one in 1970s Montreal.

The Lincoln Lawyer, Michael Connelly. The set-up didn’t appeal to me. Public opinion and the discount bin at B&N wore me down. Thank you.

For the Dead, Tim Hallinan. The sixth Poke Rafferty shows Hallinan still has new things to say, and is in no danger of slowing down.

The Lost and the Blind, Declan Burke. Yet another departure in content for Burke, and yet another success.

The Good Cop, Brad Parks. I wasn’t sure about Parks, either, having been disappointed in too many “funny” crime books. No disappointments here.

Best re-reads last year:

Pronto, Elmore Leonard. The first appearance of Raylan Givens, and great fun.
Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler. Currently my favorite Chandler, at least until I read either The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye again.
The Color of Blood, Declan Hughes. Ed Loy #2. No offense to Hughes’s other work, but I sure hope he hasn’t given up on Ed.
Every Bitter Thing, Leighton Gage. The 87th Precinct in Brazil. For those who know how I feel about Ed McBain, that’s high praise. Gage’s death was a great loss, both as a writer and a generous and gentle person.
Cottonwood, Scott Phillips. No one can spread himself around to different story types and pull it off better than Phillips. As with the Chandler comment, this is my favorite Phillips, at least until I read The Ice Harvest, The walkaway, or Rut again.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins. Yes, I read it again. And damned glad of it.
All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Should be a whole course on this in every journalism school.


pattinase (abbott) said...

No women at all?

Les Edgerton said...

Thank you for the shout-out, Dana--I really appreciate it, sir!

Dana King said...

Not this year, Patti. That doesn’t mean I didn’t read any good books by women, but this is a list of the books I enjoyed reading most last year, and is not necessarily a reflection of the best written books I finished. (That’s not to say any of these are not exceptionally well written, but something about them all appealed to me at a more visceral level.) Ross Macdonald never appears on my list. That’s not to say I don’t acknowledge him as a master, but something about his writing goes right past me. The same is true about much—not all--of George Pelecanos’s work. (There are more.) I can acknowledge how good it us, but it doesn’t often make me want to run out and read another one.

I wrote about this in a post last March, and I’ll stand by those comments. (

Dana King said...

I genuinely believe THE BITCH to be the best piece of traditional noir fiction I’ve read that’s been written in at least the last ten years. I’m not a fan of much of what’s called neo-noir, where, to me, the characters too often revel in their own depravity, but THE BITCH put me in mind of the classic work of those like James M. Cain, where a series of bad decisions creates a situation where only bad decisions are possible, and the protagonist pays in the end. The social commentary (the unintended consequences of habitual offender laws) is a bonus.

Les Edgerton said...

Dana, your words really warm those cockles of my heart. It's always a genuine pleasure to hear from someone who truly "gets" it and doesn't base his opinion on how depraved the work is or how nasty the situation, but looks at the story. I appreciate you and readers like yourself.

Gerard Brennan said...

Dana! Thank you, fellah. I feel privileged to be part of the rotation. And a Ray Banks comparison? Knowing how highly you rate him, that's just pure gold.

Have a great year!