What a good year for reading! It wasn’t easy to trim my list down to ten, (having to leave out some good ones) but these were the ones that, for one reason or another, rise to the top.
David Corbett / BLOOD OF PARADISE – I have loved all of Corbett’s novels – complex, beautifully written, and with a tough and complicated ethical core. This one, set in El Salvador, involves a naive young American who has gone into the “executive protection” business. He gradually realizes that the country he has fallen in love with is threatened by American interests that he protects, ones that will go to great lengths to protect a soft drink company’s access to an aquifer. The banality of greed is carefully and artfully exposed – with the author saving his anger for a searing and informative afterword.
Denise Mina / THE DEAD HOUR – Mina’s Garnethill trilogy was tough, truthful, and heartbreaking, with a damaged but strong woman at its center. In this book, the second of a projected 5-volume series, the tone reflects the softer, more uncertain, but fundamentally sturdy character of Paddy Meehan, a young reporter making her way in a male-dominated newsroom. Paddy follows police to a house where a man bribes them to ignore what appears to be a scene of domestic violence. When the woman is found murdered, Paddy realizes she’s made a terrible mistake. The book offers a richly detailed picture of Glasgow in the 1980s.
Carol O’Connell / FIND ME – A ragtag caravan of bereaved parents follows clues to their missing children along the legendary Route 66; Kathy Mallory, a missing child herself, circles protectively around them as she eludes Riker (who wonders why there’s a body in Mallory’s apartment) and races toward her past. Mallory is getting more human with every installment of this original and astonishing series.
Ian Rankin / THE NAMING OF THE DEAD – John Rebus and Siobhan Clarke investigate when a man’s body is found by a well near the site of the G8 summit, and when a government official falls to his death suspiciously. In the midst of mass protests (with Siobhan’s parents in the middle of them) and hobbled by intelligence officers who are set on covering things up, the two untangle a number of crimes. As usual, Rankin does a brilliant job of capturing the moment in a complicated and ambiguous mystery.
Sam Reaves / HOMICIDE 69 – In 1969, a dogged Chicago detective sets out to uncover the truth after finding the tortured body of a girl on Chicago’s West Side. He has his hands full – there are signs the Outfit is involved, and the CPD brass is a wholly-owned subsidiary. But he persists in a story that is told with deceptive simplicity. A real tour de force.
Matt Beynon Rees / THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM – This book will break your heart, but it will also give you hope. Omar Yussef is an unlikely hero – a crotchety middle-aged schoolteacher who puts everything he values on the line to defend the life and reputation of a friend accused of being a collaborator. This portrayal of a claustrophobic, dysfunctional world sheds light on daily life in the occupied territories.
Michael Robotham / THE NIGHT FERRY – a rousing good read, told from the refreshingly funny and forthright perspective of Ali Barba, a police officer first portrayed in the author’s Lost, now starring in a story about surrogate motherhood, human traffficking, and prostitution, with lots of action but nary a cliche in sight. Really excellent.
Martin Cruz Smith / STALIN’S GHOST – the most recent Arkady Renko story describes the current Russian scene with a poetic, tender, insightful irony as Renko looks into the mysterious apparitions of Stalin showing up on Moscow’s subway platforms. The idealized past is being reconstructed in Tver, where a hero of the Chechen war is having his political campaign burnished by American consultants. Meanwhile, a more confused past is being unearthed from mass grave dating from the Great Patriotic War. Absolutely brilliant.
Jess Walter / CITIZEN VINCE – Vince is a New Yorker who is living in Spokane, and the place has grown on him. He leads a quiet life, managing a donut shop, doing a little credit card fraud on the side, and staying out of trouble – until someone out of his pre-Witness Protection past decides to kill him. He heads back to the city to sort things out, pursued by a rookie detective (who, all grown up, appears in Over Tumbled Graves). This tale of small-time criminality is played out during the Carter – Reagan election of 1980, and Vince becomes obsessed with something he’s never done before – vote in an election. As a felon, he’s outta luck, but with his government-created false identity he can register and vote for the first and probably only time in his life. There’s an optimism and sweetness in this book that’s hard to describe. Really well done.
Thomas Zigal / THE WHITE LEAGUE – a wonderfully rich portrait of a man in New Orleans caught up in a secretive racist past. Zigal takes a risk in focusing on a hero who seems paralyzed by the choices he faces, but pulls it off with panache, evoking a time, a place, and a wrenching ethical dilemma rooted in historical events.