Friday, January 01, 2010

The Last Read on 2009

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s a new day in a brand-new year, but before we move on, let me note that January Magazine just completed posting its Best Books of 2009 lists last night in advance of the fireworks going off and the champagne corks popping.

Rap Sheet readers might be especially interested to read January’s two-part rundown of its critics’ favorite crime, mystery, and thrillers novels from the past twelvemonth. (Part I is here; part II is here.) It’s an often idiosyncratic assortment of 37 books from both sides of the Atlantic that includes paltry few bestsellers, but many stories that are rich with tension, plotting complexities, and the authors’ glorious embrace of characters who display the foibles and flaws of their humanity like badges of honor. Many of the books chosen are set in time periods or locales that most of us would consider foreign. There’s a good mix of standalones and series installments, but since this is intended to be an opinionated collection of “bests,” not a representative sampling of what was published in the genre last year, it’s sadly short of books from non-white writers; however, there are at least half a dozen novels by women. And two wordsmiths--Icelander Arnaldur Indridason and American Michael Connelly--enjoy more than one nod, for different books. Lucky them.

I had the privilege of editing January’s Best Crime Novels of 2009 compilation, as I have done with the magazine’s annual crime-connected picks for the last decade. And I’ll tell you, it’s often a surprise to see what the various reviewers will determine to be their favorites. Occasionally, I’m able to guess what they’re going to choose, based on those works they have touted over the preceding months. But more often than not, there will be a few selections winging in from far left field, novels that may have been overlooked before, and that help to enliven the feature as a whole.

And in the end, all of us who contribute must leave out books we’d like to have mentioned, but that exceed our traditional limit of five or six choices (a restriction that exists only to save the other editors and me from sleepless nights of putting this whole package together). With the finishing touches now made, though, let me offer my expanded list of the books, published in 2009, that I found most intriguing, both within and outside the crime-fiction category. These titles are listed alphabetically, not in order of my preferences.

Crime Fiction
Bleeding Heart Square, by Andrew Taylor (Hyperion)
Blood Money, by Tom Bradby (Bantam Press UK)
Bury Me Deep, by Megan Abbott (Simon & Schuster)
The Dead of Winter, by Rennie Airth (Macmillan)
The Devil’s Garden, by Ace Atkins (Putnam)
Drood, by Dan Simmons (Little, Brown)
Gutted, by Tony Black (Preface UK)
If the Dead Rise Not, by Philip Kerr (Quercus UK)
The Ignorance of Blood, by Robert Wilson (Houghton
Mifflin Harcourt)
In the Shadow of Gotham, by Stefanie Pintoff (Minotaur)
Quarry in the Middle, by Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime)
Shadow and Light, by Jonathan Rabb (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Spade & Archer, by Joe Gores (Knopf)
Village of the Ghost Bears, by Stan Jones (Soho)
A Visible Darkness, by Michael Gregorio (Minotaur)

General Fiction
The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Doubleday)
Homer & Langley, by E.L. Doctorow (Random House)
Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann (Random House)
That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo (Knopf)
Sunnyside, by Glen David Gold (Knopf)
The Women, by T.C. Boyle (Viking)

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America, by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.’s Scandalous Coming of Age, by Richard Rayner (Doubleday)
Eiffel’s Tower: And the World’s Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, the Artists Quarreled, and Thomas Edison Became a Count, by Jill Jonnes (Viking)
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, by Greg Grandin (Metropolitan Books)
L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City, by John Buntin (Harmony)
The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son: Murder, Sin, and Scandal in the Shadow of Jesse James, by Laura James (Union Square)
Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America, by Adam Cohen (Penguin Press)
Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line, by Martha A. Sandweiss (Penguin Press)

So, with all of that said and posted, we move on to a new year.

But before I go, let me just thank all the people who contributed to The Rap Sheet in 2009. They’re a magnificent bunch, made all the more distinguished by the fact that they do what they do for no monetary recompense. My appreciation goes out, too, to this blog’s worldwide readership. When I gave birth to The Rap Sheet back in the spring of 2006, I thought it would be a quiet and modest endeavor, not one that would bring the accolades and awards it has. It’s you, dear readers, who have encouraged us to do more with this blog, and to do it better than we thought we could. I hope 2010 will bring you considerable happiness and prosperity--as well as lots of free time for reading. After all, there are myriad excellent crime and mystery novels awaiting your attention.

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