Monday, December 22, 2008

The Good Stuff: Favorite Novels of 2008

Some years I don’t feel like making lists. This year I do. Blame the weather. These aren’t “bests,” just my favorites.

To begin, the Grand Master slots. It’s not fair to cite these authors here, because my saying I like them is akin to opining, “I endorse breathing” or “You know what’s good? Bourbon.” So I again salute Donald E. Westlake in his Richard Stark guise for Dirty Money, the last of his triptych about a very hectic month in the life of his thief Parker. And Lawrence Block for Hit and Run, in which philatelist assassin Keller goes to ground in a gratifyingly old school way.

Now, ten books listed in the order I read them with minimal commentary, as I’ve already bragged ‘em up good.

Money Shot, by Christa Faust. Hardboiled stuff served up straight. I want more Angel Dare. I’d say please, but how hardboiled would that be?

Saturday’s Child, by Ray Banks. Banks! Get that website back up! You’ve got more books coming out.

Gas City by Loren D. Estleman. An almost clinical look at corruption in a fading Midwestern burg. Beautiful prose on every page.

Matala, by Craig Holden. A slim volume full of menace.

Frames, by Loren D. Estleman. Estleman’s second book on the list is a complete change in tone, an almost lighthearted story of a “film detective” caught up in a decades-old Tinseltown murder.

Hollywood Crows, by Joseph Wambaugh. Another peerless picaresque about day to day life in the LAPD.

Vampyres of Hollywood, by Adrienne Barbeau and Michael Scott. The most fun I’ve had reading all year.

Small Crimes, by Dave Zeltserman. Lean and dark with a chest punch of an ending.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. A haunting tale made all the more so by the author’s death.

Toros & Torsos, by Craig McDonald. The only book on this list I haven’t mentioned before because I just finished it, so allow me to sing its praises now. Hector Lassiter, the two-fisted pulp writer who featured in the Edgar-nominated Head Games, is embroiled in a series of murders inspired by Surrealist art. Spanning many years and locations with cameos ranging from Ernest Hemingway to Orson Welles, it’s a ferocious, wildly ambitious novel and a grand way to close out a year’s worth of reading.

And yes, I am aware that half of these titles involve the nexus of crime and movies. You should know to expect that when you come here.