Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Good Stuff: Books of 2011

The notion of a year-end best-of list strikes me as particularly arbitrary this year. I have a stack of 2011 books that I haven’t gotten to yet, any number of which might warrant a place on this roster. (See below.) Two of the titles that made the cut I actually read in 2010. But I have a blog, therefore I must list. It’s in the terms of service, people. I don’t make the rules.

Here, then, are ten titles I recommend unreservedly, in the order read.

Beast of Burden, by Ray Banks. The Saturday Boy shows how to ring down the curtain on a series. Brother Innes, I’ll keep a light on in the window for ye.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff, by Lawrence Block. The Grand Master shows how to keep a long-running series coursing with life. New York in the bad old days of the 1980s never looked so good.

We pause at this point in the countdown for what I’m calling the Vince Van Winkle Award, given to the previous year’s title that would have been on that list had I read it then and would easily win a spot on the current one. The recipient: Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackmann. A thriller with a fresh, engaging voice set in a brave new world.

One True Sentence, by Craig McDonald. Hector Lassiter is the gift that keeps on giving.

Crime, by Ferdinand von Schirach. A collection of dark, deeply human crime stories cum case studies that leave scars.

The Devotion of Suspect X, by Keigo Higashino. If I had to pick one book from 2011, this would be it. Classic in its structure, unerring in its aim, unforgettable in its result.

So Much Pretty, by Cara Hoffman. Wildly ambitious. A maddening, haunting piece of work from a talented new writer.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, by Sara Gran. Another book that respects and embraces the traditional mystery form, only it does so by turning the genre inside out.

The Adjustment, by Scott Phillips. This scabrous, profane romp reveals the dirty secret of the Greatest Generation: they’re just as venal and sex-crazed as the rest of us.

Choke Hold, by Christa Faust. She calls it pulp. That’s because it’s what you’ll be when you’re done reading it.

As a bonus, a related title that remains the strangest book I read this year: Bill James’ crackpot chronicle Popular Crime.