Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Obligatory End of Year List of Books I Done Read

Well, everybody else is doing it. Of course this is the kind of thinking that, before you know it, your girlfriend's launching ping-pong balls as part of the opening act of a Tijuana donkey show and you're selling blood to sustain that crank habit you promised your mom you could kick any time.

I haven't had the time to read everything I would have liked this year, so there are a lot of novels I've missed, and a lot on my TBR pile to catch up on. Fortunately, I have managed to catch a few great books, a handful standing out enough in my memory that I can actually talk about them.

So, here they are. And if you haven't read any of these, then you're a horrible, illiterate philistine. Plus you smell funny.

Saturday's Child by Ray Banks

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Saturday's Child shipped over by tramp steamer and pack mule from the UK. At turns lyrical and gritty, Saturday's Child takes the PI story and flips it sideways. Banks writes from the points of view of two different characters, Cal Innes, an ex-con playing at being a PI and, Mo Tiernan, a foil as psychopathic as they come.

Banks manages to keep the characetrs straight for us without resorting to tricks, trusting the reader's intelligence without having to explain himself, earning my undying respect right there. Cal's and Mo's voices are so distinctive, and so different, there is no possibility of getting lost between characters. Noir at its best.

L.A. Rex by Will Beall

I won't go into this one, since I just rooted around it the other day. But I will say that this is one of the best L.A. novels I've ever read. This man knows his shit.

Already Dead by Charlie Huston

There are too many vampire novels out there. Especially in romance. The fuck is it with bloodsuckers that makes mid-west housewives cream their jeans? And for that matter, what is it with all the Scotsmen? Is it the kilts, the claymores, the sheep?

Anyway, like I said there are too many vampire novels. But Charlie Huston's addition to the pot makes you forget all the rest. Noir first and a vampire novel second, Huston creates a protagonist and a world that is both engaging and fun, in a really nasty way.

I hate him.

A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read

Cornelia Read's novel, unleashing her protagonist Madeline Dare onto an unsuspecting world, is one of the most enjoyable debuts I've caught. Madeline is a fascinating character that, beyond simply being an intelligent and fascinating sleuth, is one of those people you just want to party with. Read's prose is slick and enjoyable and her dialog has that biting kind of banter that makes you not want it to end.

Pale Immortal by Anne Frasier

I got an ARC for this completely by accident, by being my usual obnoxious self over at Anne Frasier's blog. See, ma, I AM good for something!

It's not a vampire novel, though it tries to fool you into thinking that it is. It was the horror novel I didn't know I was looking for, the kind where the horror comes not from some invisible beast running loose, though there is one of those, but rather from the people having to live and deal with it, and the truths in themselves and their friends that they have to come to terms with.

I was hooked from the first page and burned through it like Sherman through Georgia. She captures the empty, dreamlike feel of a small town at night, the isolated loneliness of a man, Evan Stroud, confined to the dark by a disease that prevents him from going out into the sun, and the confusion and turmoil of his teenage son, Graham, who has only now met his father.

An excellent novel that I can't recommend enough.

While I Disappear by Edward Wright

This is the second in a series that started with "Clea's Moon", about a washed up cowboy actor in 1940's Hollywood whose problems with anger management got him blackballed and landed him in prison for two years. Now he's collecting debts for his friend and movie side-kick turned casino owner Joseph Mad Crow and trying to come to terms with the direction his life has taken him.

Wright captures a long gone Hollywood and the struggles of a has-been just trying to be left alone and live his life. When Horn meets a woman he used to know in his movie days and finds that she's murdered the next day, guilt and an almost unwavering moral compass takes him into ugly territory he's got no business digging into.

Rain Dogs by Sean Doolittle

Tom Coleman, a heavy drinking reporter from Chicago reeling from the death of his daughter and the disintegration of his marriage inherits a canoe rental business in Nebraska, where he goes to drink himself deeper away from his past. Things don't go quite the way he's hoping, of course.

Unlike his previous books, Dirt and Burn, Rain Dogs feels like a much more mature novel. The pace is slower, and the book unfolds slowly rather than burning itself out on the page. The humor evident in his previous novels is kept at a lower level and the characters feel more solid and realistically messy.

Cypress Grove by James Sallis

A retired homicide cop finds himself dragged back into cop work when the sheriff of sleepy Cypress Grove, Tennessee, comes to him for help in investigating an unusual murder that has his stumped.

Cypress Grove isn't a new novel. Came out a couple years ago. I checked it out after several recommendations. The voice is beautiful, in a laconic, low-key way. It takes its time getting where it needs to go, and the prose is so wonderful and enjoyable you just enjoy being along for the ride. Beautifully written, thoroughly enjoyable.

Good Day In Hell by J.D. Rhoades

The second in a series about North Carolina bounty hunter Jack Keller, Good Day In Hell twists around the story of a couple of Bonnie and Clyde wannabes, Keller's confusion in a relationship he doesn't know how to handle and his constant struggles with a PTSD so severe you're never quite sure how intact he's going to be on the other side of the story.

Rhoades does an excellent job of captures the aftermath of violence in a way that's unexpected and by no means celebratory. No one walks away unscathed in this book. He creates a cast of characters who feel as though they have lives stretching back long before the book, and, hopefully a long way past it.

Beneath A Panamanian Moon by David Terrenoire

Beyond amazing, I'm not sure what to call this book. Imagine The Tailor of Panama with Abbott and Costello. It's a spy thriller, it's an action flick, it's like watching the Marx Brothers run around with Claymores.

John Harper is an ex-spook turned piano player, tickling ivories and the various parts of bored wives of D.C. senators, when he gets pulled (yanked, really) out of retirement to head to Panama City and investigate the goings-on at a rundown resort inexplicably full of mercenaries.

The humor is high, but it isn't slapstick (though the parts with explosives are pretty goddamn ingenious), depending more on Harper's dry sense of humor in the midst of insanity. One thing that Terrenoire does well is switch back and forth from humor to a political analysis of Central America to the deeper emotions of people caught up in a nasty situation. Yes, it's funny, but it's still a spy thriller, with a spook far and away more complicated and interesting than James Bond could ever be.

Kiss Me Judas by Will Christopher Baer

Also not a new book, and also a book I got by accident through the lovefest that is blogging. Andy over at NoirBlog, which, by the way, has the coolest logo ever, sent it to me after I mentioned I'd never read any of Baer's work. I hope some day to return the favor.

Phineas Poe wakes up in a bathtub full of ice missing one of his kidneys after getting picked up by a psychopathic knockout named Jude, beginning a journey as bizaare and hallucinatory as they come.

The style is tight and beautiful, using a confused and confusing narrator that makes it read like some twisted mash-up of Alice in Wonderland and The Black Cat. This is the kind of book you read when the drugs have run out.

I've missed a lot on this list, I know, more because I got tired of typing than any problems with the books. And there are more books I just haven't had the time to finish (Duane Swie... Sweri... fuck. The Blonde, Ferrigno's Prayers for The Assassin), or worse, start (Sara Gran's Dope, Megan Abbott's The Song Is You, Anthony Neil Smith's The Drummer, and on and on and on).

I'm hoping to keep up in 2007 with all the new books coming out, particularly from the Killer Year bunch, but we'll see. So, go read these books if you haven't, yet. You won't be disappointed.


Sandra Ruttan said...

Some great picks there Stephen. I completely gave up on the idea of making a list this year. I read so many books.

Aldo said...

Tell me why Ed Wright is not more popular? The man is amazingly talented and the stories are top rate!

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Fortunately, Sandra, I'm in the position of not reviewing anything.

And I forgot so many things. Like MacBride's Dying Light. How the hell did I forget that one? Christ, one of the best procedurals I've read this year and it'd not on the list? I should be whipped.

You know, Aldo, I was going to open that entry with, "One of the best writers you probably haven't heard of," but that just seemed wrong, somehow.

I agree, Ed Wright is an amazingly talented writer, and I don't know why he's not getting the buzz he deserves. I just started reading Red Sky Lament, the latest John Ray Horn novel. As good as the rest. I'm really hoping more people read his stuff.

anne frasier said...

i'm looking forward to reading several of the books on your list. and thanks so much for the kind words about PI. i remember when you won the ARC. i think it was for the haha competition.
and here i am still using heh, haha, hah, heeh! and the random snort. for shame.

oh, you forgot indians! i remembering doing a signing years ago and during the event of humiliation 3 women came up and asked if the book was an indian romance. that's all they would read.

"Of course this is the kind of thinking that, before you know it, your girlfriend's launching ping-pong balls as part of the opening act of a Tijuana donkey show and you're selling blood to sustain that crank habit you promised your mom you could kick any time."

heh! (see?)

angie said...

These book lists remind me how much I still haven't read (or, in some cases, even heard of). I've read precisely 3 of the books on your list. Cheez-n-rice, I feel so out of touch, behind the times, (insert cliche of your choice). Still, encouraging to know there are still some good books out there for this jaded reader to check out.

JD Rhoades said...

Thanks for the good words, Stephen.

Elizabeth Krecker said...

Thanks for the picks...and I see you finally got an ad on your Ad Sense...speed reading!! Too funny!!

Anonymous said...

Stephen -

Meant to write earlier, but I've been putting in like 20-hour days at 77th homicide (and adapting L.A. Rex for Miramax). Anyway, big fan of your blog. You're the one who knows his shit, brother. It's gratifying to hear from someone who gets it. Prospero ano y felicidad. Lemme sign your copy.

-Will Beall

inkgrrl said...

Let me just say for the record that it's my fault Stephen hasn't gotten to read LA Rex yet - I stole it from him and ran away cackling in glee. Fucking incredibly well done book. Beall rocks like a rocking thing - if you haven't read it, go buy 5 copies and do so. The man knows of what he speaks, and knocks it out incredibly well.

Red Sky Lament, also fucking incredible. The others I mostly haven't read most, save Stuart MacBride, but I have a gorgeous TBR pile now!

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Actually, uh... I have read L.A. Rex. It's Red Sky Lament I haven't gotten through, yet. Or the Blonde. Or Ghosts of Alabama. Or that other one with the scary lesbian on the cover.

This says a lot about just how many books we have lying around the house, and the state of our own communication when it comes to them.

Cornelia Read said...

Stephen, thank you. And I hope you have a truly excellent year... AND I just quoted you in an interview today, stealing your line from early days of Naked Authors about "Ah yes, the 'I am God,' 'I am wormshit' cycle."

May your '07 be all God, no wormshit.

David Terrenoire said...

I am so grateful for such kind words. Thank you.

N said...

Hurry up and start my book.

(Shakes fist)

Start it!

--anthony neil smith

inkgrrl said...

I stole the God/wormshit line from my sensei and Stephen stole it from me and now Cornelia's stolen it from him - that officially makes it a meme on the intarweb! Or a trend. Or maybe a pattern. Could be a thoughtworm. But that's too circular.

Um, by "state of communication" you mean the way I harangue you to read faster so we can discuss? And you wonder why I get confused. Don't even go there with the blonde joke.

Daniel Hatadi said...

So what can we do about this Huston fellow? How can we expect to top him or even get close?

Oh well. I've ordered the sequel.

Andy said...

Hey, Stephen. Glad to hear you liked Kiss Me, Judas. There's two more in the Phineas Poe series (Penny Dreadful and Hell's Half Acre) that I unfortunately don't have a bunch of copies to send out, but you should definitely check them out if you have a few bucks to spend and some time to read.

Ray said...

Fuckin' hell, I am so late on this, but thanks, Stephen - you're a star. I've also got Will Beall's book a-coming to me, can't wait to read it. From what I've already read, it's a keeper.