Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My 2009 Crime Fiction Favorites

I'm putting my 2009 favorites list together a little early this year. The books that are up next in the reading schedule are ones set for release in 2010, so I'll not count them for this list...helps me narrow things down a little! 2009 was just a fantastic year for me as far as reading goes and there are still a stack of books I haven't gotten to yet.

I would not presume to insinuate my standards qualify these as the "best" books and they aren't necessarily all releases from 2009. They are simply the books I read in 2009, and they are my favorites from my reads in 2009. I'm not going to rank them this year. The titles are simply in order according to the order I read them this year. Since I really read across the spectrum of crime fiction, my favorites are often favorites for different reasons and therefore I find it hard to compare. If I were reading all noir P.I. fiction, I could have an easy set of standards to base my rating on. But I don't do that. So suffice it to say, these are the books I love. These are books I'd recommend to others. These are the books I would not part ways with, and I require them to be in my library.

As I said, this was a difficult list for me to put together. The great stuff this year far out-weighed the mediocre and bad. Don't you just love years like that? I'm going to borrow my friend Lesa's concept and give you my "reader's dozen." Here they are, my favorites of 2009:

LAST CAR TO ELYSIAN FIELDS (James Lee Burke) - I've said many times that I believe James Lee Burke is one of America's greatest living writers (the other being Pat Conroy). I am simply enraptured with every book I read of his. The complexity of this plot and the richness of the characters have stuck with me all year long. This was an early read for me this year. Part of the credit should also go to Mark Hammer who brought all the characters to life so exquisitely in the audio book version I listened to.

KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED (Craig Johnson) - I actually read books 2 through 5 this year in the Walt Longmire series, and I would recommend any and all of them - as a matter of fact, I do recommend them, regularly. They are all magnificent. I've chosen KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED because I connected the strongest with this one; it was so personal to Walt, and Craig Johnson did such an amazing job of illustrating that bond between father and daughter. KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED is nothing shy of amazing. And kudos again to my favorite audio book reader, George Guidall. With all of the Walt Longmire books I read the print versions AND listen to the audio book because hearing George Guidall as the voice of Walt is an absolute treat. If George ever stops reading this series, I'll have to stop listening because he IS the voice of Walt Longmire for me.

BAD TRAFFIC (Simon Lewis) - BAD TRAFFIC is Simon Lewis' debut in the U.S. (he previously published GO in the U.K.) It was nominated for the 2009 L.A. Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller and with good reason. Lewis chose a corrupt Chinese cop as his protagonist, uprooted him to a country where he knows no one and doesn't speak the language, but needs to rescue his daughter. Lewis partners the cop with an illegal alien who has no idea who is his friend and who is his enemy. It doesn't get much darker than BAD TRAFFIC, but it also doesn't get more powerful. Incredible read.

BREATHING WATER (Timothy Hallinan) - Poke Rafferty made my list last year and he's back again this year. I always recommend that people start at the beginning of this series if they haven't read any of it, yet. The books can be read out of order, but you lose the total effect of Hallinan's gift at developing character and relationship. Character and relationships constantly build on each other throughout all three novels. It's extraordinary. BREATHING WATER is my favorite in the series so far as Poke's family takes center stage because of the threat against them, and we see not only growing pains on the part of his adopted daughter but also the struggles Poke encounters being a father. Another strength in this series is Hallinan's depiction of Bangkok. This series is a trip to an exotic land of wealth and poverty, beauty and hideousness, excess and destitution.

WALKING THE PERFECT SQUARE (Reed Farrel Coleman) - O.k., I'm late to the game on this one, but gosh darn it I love Moe Prager. *Thank you, Linda Brown!* Coleman makes his New York City setting come alive in Moe's adventure; he builds depth and dimension into the unique characters; and he takes you on a roller coaster ride with the plot. Coleman's put a unique spin on the P.I. novel, and Moe Prager has joined the ranks of my favorite P.I.s.

THE SILENT HOUR (Michael Koryta) - In my review I spoke to the study in character this book exemplifies, so it's a natural that a character-lover such as myself would relish this novel. It's introspective and readers get a view of Lincoln Perry we haven't previously been privy to. Koryta has taken his characters through some harrowing physical experiences throughout the series, THE SILENT HOUR puts them through the emotional and psychological experiences. Prepare to take that ride with them.

DOUBLE EXPOSURE (Michael Lister) - This is one of the most unique and effective approaches to the crime fiction thriller I've ever read. Lister's passion for the subject comes through in every word. DOUBLE EXPOSURE is fast-paced, action-packed, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. There aren't a lot of books that keep me up all night, but this is one of those all-nighters.

TRUST NO ONE (Gregg Hurwitz) - This man knows how to write thrillers; there are simply no two ways about it. Last year he was on my list with THE CRIME WRITER and this year TRUST NO ONE was a no brainer. Hurwitz combines the fast-moving plot with real characters and attention to detail. I connect with Hurwitz's characters; I invest in them as a reader, so by God I want to be along with them for the ride.

OUT COLD (Tom Schreck) - I also read ON THE ROPES this year. I highly recommend the entire Duffy Dombrowski series. When I interviewed Tom someone made a comparison in the comments to this series being like an iceberg. That nails it perfectly. There is so much below the surface in regards to relationships, stereotypes, and society. You can read the series for pure entertainment - there's plenty of humor - but you'd miss out on the substance. Duffy is crime fiction's "Everyman." And then there's Al. I can't resist Al.

A BAD DAY FOR SORRY (Sophie Littlefield) - Holy Moly what a debut! Stella is a unique spit-fire of a character. Her approach may not always be kosher, but I was rooting for her all the way. I love her attitude; I love that she's not fashion-model gorgeous with men falling all over themselves for her; and I love that she doesn't take crap. She's the modern-day Robin Hood.

THE BRUTAL TELLING (Louise Penny) - I read ALL of the Three Pines series this year. What a gem of a series. It lacks for nothing: distinct, robust characters, wonderful plot lines, humor, mystery, deep themes. THE BRUTAL TELLING is the most recent book of the series and definitely the most powerful. Like the Walt Longmire series, I read and listened to The Three Pines series. Ralph Cosham does an incredible job with the audio book narrations. If you are not familiar with this series, you must check it out.

TOWER (Ken Bruen/Reed Farrel Coleman) - This book is poetry in motion. The voices of Bruen and Coleman blend seamlessly in this tale of cops, crime and corruption. The harsh beauty of this book grips you and pulls you in. Most of us will never personally experience anything close to the lives of Nick and Todd, but you walk away from THE TOWER feeling as though you've lived it yourself. TOWER is an incredible book penned by an incredible writing team.

FACES OF THE GONE (Brad Parks) - I'm still in awe over this debut. As I mentioned in my review of this book, Parks' depiction of humanity in all its forms is astounding. There's no sugar-coating; it's real and raw. He counterbalances that rawness with perfectly crafted humor, AND he makes it look easy. Parks takes his experience as an investigative reporter and he brings it to life through his protagonist Carter Ross. This is truly a book that changes you as a reader.

There are two other books I want to mention for this post. Both were books I listened to this year on audio, but I didn't get to write my reviews in a timely manner :( So, I didn't want to do either book a disservice by trying to write from a recording at too long a time span, but they were both outstanding books that I highly recommend. First was Michael Connelly's THE SCARECROW. I liked THE POET; I loved THE SCARECROW. I do believe this is one of Connelly's finest works. The other book was Craig McDonald's HEAD GAMES. The thought that ran through my brain while listening to this audio book was, "Don Quixote meets John Wayne." The larger than life ambitions, the humor, the characters all blend into a true work of crime fiction art.

There were many more books that vied for position on this list and it was difficult to whittle it down. But there you have it. I'm looking forward to 2010 because the line-up already looks great and I have some left-overs from 2009 that I'm determined to make time for.

There is definitely a rich selection of wonderful crime fiction out there ripe for the picking. What were some of your favorites this year?


Lesa December 22, 2009 at 7:38 AM  

Great selection, Jen. So many good books out there, when we only overlap with three of them on our "Reader's Dozen." I love to see other people's list, and I was waiting to see yours. And, like you, I have a couple 2009 books to finish - Betty Webb's Desert Lost for one, but I'm ready to start the 2010 ones - Leighton Gage's new Mario Silva book, Michael Palmer's. Did you know Tami Hoag's is her first book in 2 years? I'm ready for 2 weeks of reading!

Lesa - http://www.lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com

Susan December 22, 2009 at 9:00 AM  

Isn't Walking the Perfect Square excellent? I recommend it all the time. I haven't read any of the others on your list, although I do like Craig Johnson and should get back to that series. My favorite crime fiction read this year was Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (so much more than a mystery), A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (a unique protagionist in a unique setting), Dog on It by Spencer Quinn (Who cares about the mystery, everyone knows it is all about the dog), and In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith (which might be the best YA suspense novel in years.)

Jamie Freveletti December 22, 2009 at 9:03 AM  

Love this list. I'm going to read as many as I can over the holiday break. Thanks Jen!

Hank Phillippi Ryan December 22, 2009 at 9:38 AM  

Great list, Jen! Happy new year! (six words)

le0pard13 December 22, 2009 at 10:21 AM  

I'm still amazed at the amount you read and cover, Jen. Great list.

Naomi Johnson December 22, 2009 at 11:17 AM  

What a great list! I'm glad I don't have to do one of these lists, there was just so much good reading this year. Sort of like being a chocoholic at a chocolatiers convention.

My heart leaped a bit to see JLB's 'Last Car' on your list. While I enjoy everything the man publishes, 'Last Car' is one of my favorites, especially as read by the great Mark Hammer. When I listen to him read JLB, then I just want to kick back with some boudin and iced tea and enjoy life.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy December 22, 2009 at 12:19 PM  

My own list would look very similar. Nicw choices in a very good year for mystery.

Anonymous December 22, 2009 at 1:15 PM  

Three of my favorites are on your list (JLB, Craig Johnson and Louise Penny), plus a couple on my want list...thanks to your input! Great list and a great year at Jen's Book Thoughts!

Let's see, my favorite reads of 2009? Geez, that's tough. Well, a few new authors that I was introduced to and loved were: Sean Chercover (Big City, Bad Blood & Trigger Ciry), Stieg Larsson (the 1st two of The Girl Who... series) and Joseph Finder (Vanished). Some authors I've already been a fan of: Craig Johnson (The Dark Horse), Greg Iles (The Devil's Punchbowl), Michael Connelly (The Scarecrow & 9 Dragons), Lee Child (Gone Tomorrow) and, of course, Louise Penny (The Brutal Telling). I've got more in the reading que and still others that I put on my wish list for Santa! What's the saying, "So many books, so little time"? Ain't THAT the truth!

Cheers! Christine McCann (Nashville, TN)

Anonymous December 22, 2009 at 1:34 PM  

A note singing the praises of audiobooks: They have absolutely been heavensent for me for two reasons. One, I travel interstate quite a bit as my family's spread all over and the audiobooks are a tremendous help in making those road trips bearable. And two, audiobooks, with my husband's encouragement, were instrumental in introducing me to wonderful authors and the desire to read more! One of the first was James Lee Burke. LOVE his writing. I don't recall hearing Mike Hammer, but I have heard several of his books read by Will Patton who does a fantastic job. As does Dick Hill for Greg Iles' books.

Just a few thoughts I wanted to throw out there.

Christine in Nashville

Kaye Barley December 22, 2009 at 6:49 PM  

A terrific list, Jen and no surprise about how many we're in agreement on. You've listed some that I have not read yet, but if they weren't already on my list to try - they are now. Thank you!


Jen Forbus December 22, 2009 at 8:39 PM  

Thanks everyone for stopping by and sharing your favs, too.

Oh Naomi, 'Last Car' is just awesome, isn't it? When I listened to it, I was just dumbstruck. And Hammer flows so easily in and out of all the dialects. It's a magical combination.

Christine, I started listening to audiobooks when I had a long drive to and from work. Now I'm hooked. I listen to them in my car, on my mp3 player...when I work out or clean or walk the dogs...they're awesome!

Susan, I just read the sequel to DOG ON IT and it's wonderful!! Review is coming soon, but the book will be out next month. And yes, I think WALKING THE PERFECT SQUARE is extraordinary. RFC is extraordinary!

Lesa, I don't know how these authors keep crankin' out this wonderful stuff. Alafair's next is coming out in March, too. I'm going through a little AB withdrawal since there wasn't a new book last year!

Happy Holidays everyone! Thanks for spending time with me, talkin' about books. What a special gift!

Timothy Hallinan December 23, 2009 at 1:05 AM  

Jeez, Jen -- thanks. Means a lot to me.

Jaime January 11, 2010 at 3:49 PM  

I just read Walking The Perfect Square (based on your recommendation) and I LOVED it. Thank you!

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