Thursday, January 7, 2016

Best Books Read in 2015

I read a lot of good stuff in 2015 and see no reason to pick an arbitrary number as a cut-off point. Suffice to say something about these books made them stand apart from more than forty other books I finished, and the nine I didn’t even bother to get to the end of. (Books listed in the order read.)
Where Good Ideas Come From, and How We Got to Now, Steven Johnson. Two books and he’s in the rotation forever. Complex principles of everyday life explained in a matter of fact and entertaining way any layman of reasonable intelligence can understand. I can’t recommend these books highly enough.

The Poisoner's Handbook, Deborah Blum. Examines the origins of forensic medicine in the United States. The basis of an outstanding PBS show, and as good as I’d hoped.

The World of Raymond Chandler, Barry Day (Editor). Chandler in his own words, using excerpts from novels, stories, and personal correspondence. My respect for his work is undiminished, though my regard for the man took a hit.

Courier, Terry Irving. Every so often I read a thriller and it doesn’t disappoint me. This one did way better than that, hitting all the tropes but not in the expected ways.

400 Things Cops Know, Adam Plantinga. Anyone who writes crime needs to own a copy of this. Right up there with Connie Fletcher’s work, which is the highest praise I can give.

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett. I re-read it every so often to remind myself it deserves all the praise it has received. Every time I like it better.

Junkie Love, Joe Clifford. No excuses, no glossing over, and no breast beating. Life as a junkie laid bare in a way anyone who’s paying attention should be able to empathize with. We all have habits we shouldn’t; count yourself lucky if your habit doesn’t have you.

Gun Street Girl, Adrian McKinty. Book Four of the Sean Duffy Troubles series maintains the level established by the first three. McKinty is the Irish James Ellroy.

Hollywood Crows, Joseph Wambaugh. Wambaugh is a genius as weaving what seem to be light anecdotes into a dark plot, and of scene reversal. Be careful when you laugh; it may not be funny by the next page.

The Big Nowhere, James Ellroy. Genius.

Give the Boys a Great Big Hand, Ed McBain. The ending wasn't quite as good as the rest of the book, but it has all the little things to love about McBain. Carella’s and Meyer’s interview of the housewife is a classic.

Bank Shot, Donald Westlake. Dortmunder’s crew steals a bank. Not robs. Steals. Laugh out loud funny. Westlake was a true treasure

The Writers Guide to Weapons, Ben Sobieck. Sobieck writes excellent fiction, but this may be the book that earns him a lasting reputation. Another book no crime writer should be without.

The Bill James Guide to Managers, Bill James. Out of print but available in some libraries and used bookstores. James brings all his skill to bear on how the job of baseball manager has evolved from the primordial ooze of the profession up through the 1990s.

Knuckleball, Tom Pitts. A San Francisco cop is killed against the backdrop of a Giants-Dodgers series. Pitts resolves the case in the context of everything else that is going on at the time. As nifty a novella as one is likely to read, worthy of Ray Banks’s efforts.

Dig Two Graves, Eric Beetner. No one can read Beetner’s books as fast as he writes them, but it’s worth a try. A revenge tale with a couple of twists and a deeper look into character than most.

Belfast Noir, Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville (Editors). Anthologies always have the curse of unevenness, though this one’s lows are still at least average and the highs and as good as you’ll find anywhere.

The Dog of the South, Charles Portis. Thanks to Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and the Coen Brothers for getting me to read True Grit. None of Portis’s books walk down any paths explored by the others, and no author is more fun to read.

Hombre, Elmore Leonard. Maybe his best novel. The movie does it justice, but read the book, anyway.

I Used to be in Radio, Larry Matthews. Moves from laugh out loud funny to a slow-motion train wreck. Beware of what can happen when someone in the government decides to grind you up.

Every Contact Leaves a Trace, Connie Fletcher. You want to know how law enforcement thinks, read her. It’s a safe bet that any time I re-read one of her books it will show up on this list.

The Hot Countries, Timothy Hallinan. Somehow manages to keep two entirely different series running without either showing a drop-off in quality or originality. Here Hallinan demonstrates an oft-neglected strength of a series (in this case Poke Rafferty’s Bangkok adventures), spinning off a story that more fully utilizes minor characters from previous installments.

Last of the Independents, Sam Wiebe. As good a first novel as you’re going to read. Most tenth novels aren’t this good.

The Second Girl, David Swinson. Doesn’t come out until April, but believe this if you’ve ever believed anything written in this blog: you’re going to want one.

The Choirboys, Joseph Wambaugh. Everything I said about Hollywood Crows, squared. Genius.

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