By and large the year in crime was pretty good, though since it was the first time since 2004 where I did not have a regular column by the end of the year, my reading was not quite as organized as it had been in the past and was more wide-ranging across a number of genres. (Now I *really* tip my hat to Marilyn Stasio, who celebrated her 23rd anniversary at the NYT. She may even be the paper’s longest-serving crime critic, since Anthony Boucher’s “Criminals at Large” column started in 1951 and stopped upon his death in 1968.) In the interest of disclosure, the hard-to-keep-to-11 list includes books by friends of mine, since I am lucky to count writers of considerable talent among that crowd, but if I was being paid to do this list I wouldn’t include them. To wit, and in no particular order:
Megan Abbott, THE END OF EVERYTHING (Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown) — the ending still slays me, plus I’m in awe of how Megan got the dream-like state of being thirteen with everything going beautifully haywire on the inside and out. That said I really can’t wait for DARE ME next summer, or as I think of it in my head, “The Cheerleader Book.”
Sue Grafton, V IS FOR VENGEANCE - how is it that Grafton sells so well and yet may be the most underrated crime writer going? Because she manages to couch her ambition and improving scope in plain sight, that’s why.
Sara Gran, CLAIRE DEWITT & THE CITY OF THE DEAD (HMH) — Not a wasted word, so much going on beneath the trappings of a private detective novel. Claire’s journey through the present and past has only just begun, so jump on early.
Sara J. Henry, LEARNING TO SWIM (Crown) — My doppelganger (long story, see here) wrote a book that, when I got the galley at my old UPS drop, I went to a park around the corner, started reading a few pages and the next thing I knew I was 100 pages in and was done not too long after. It’s subtle, but the book gripped me, and it will grip you.
Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis, THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE (Soho) — so much Scandi-crime! But here’s the one to read because every female character is spot-on and the pace is very, very good. I started stumping for this book around Book Expo time and was pleased to see it hit the NYT list, which I think may have been the first Soho Press title to achieve that, which is pretty damn awesome.
Erin Kelly, THE POISON TREE (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking) — every single editor I know is looking for the Next Tana French (TM). Naturally Pam Dorman snapped Kelly up before anyone else could, because she’s probably fits the bill the most of the new crop of psychological thriller writers. (Rosamund Lupton’s a contender, too, but SISTER didn’t stick with me as much as THE POISON TREE did, though it’s quite good too.)
Val McDermid, TRICK OF THE DARK (Bywater Books) — such are the fortunes of publishing that McDermid, one of the greats of the genre, had to basically publish this book in the US through a small press she’s part-owner of (from here on in Atlantic Monthly will publish her, starting with THE RETRIBUTION). Want to know why she’s so great? Read this book. Every cylinder fires right.
Jean Patrick Manchette, FATALE (NYRB Classics) — Technically an old book (published in the late 1970s) but it took NYRB Classics to get it translated and published in English. I wrote much more for the WSJ.
Jussi Adler-Olsen, THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES (Dutton) — okay here’s the *other* Scandi-crime novel to read because it is pretty much pure entertainment, equal parts comic flair and scary shit. I said a little more about it for Maclean’s.
Oliver Potzsch, THE HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER (HMH/Amazon Crossing) — Oh man this book was so much fun. Pure bliss. If Knopf published him he really would be the Next Stieg Larsson (TM) but instead he’s a strange publishing tale, what with Amazon selling boatloads of the ebook and HMH having to fight with retailers to get them to stock the trade paperback. I guess this mess will continue until paper and e-rights are under the same roof. Stay tuned! But Potzsch is the real thing.
Lori Roy, BENT ROAD (Dutton) — a gorgeous, quietly menacing tale of family secrets in 1960s Kansas. My vote for best debut crime novel by an American author, so that means she won’t get an Edgar nomination (unless she does, which would be fantastic!) I wrote about it for NPR.
And so far, 2012 is looking like an excellent year in crime fiction. The buzz you’re hearing about William Landay’s DEFENDING JACOB and Owen Laukkanen’s THE PROFESSIONALS? Way justified, in the first case years in coming, in the latter from a great new arrival. Carol O’Connell’s THE CHALK GIRL is another standout effort from the most distinctive voice in the genre. Hilary Davidson appropriates a corner of the neo-domestic suspense space with THE NEXT ONE TO FALL. Tom Rob Smith concludes his Soviet Russia trilogy in style with AGENT 6, while Lyndsay Faye makes 1845 London her own in THE GODS OF GOTHAM. Alex Berenson’s spy thrillers, so rooted in current events, keep getting better as THE SHADOW PATROL demonstrates. And Donald Westlake has a new posthumous novel, THE COMEDY IS FINISHED, coming in February that I am massively excited to read. I’m only scratching the surface. But there’s so much to look forward to in new books that I’d better make room for some overlooked fair and older chestnuts, too…