Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Let’s Get Acquainted

There were a number of Rap Sheet projects I’d hoped to complete before the end of 2016 … and, sadly, several of those remain on my to-do list. Among them is an exercise I have undertaken at each year's end, going back as far as 2008: compiling the names of authors whose work I read for the first time during the preceding 12 months. This task was suggested to me originally by Brian Lindenmuth, now an editor at Spinetingler Magazine. I enjoyed the initial effort so much, that I’ve kept doing it ever since.

2016 brought a couple of significant changes that affected my exploration of unfamiliar wordsmiths. After serving for three consecutive years as a judge of New Zealand’s annual Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, I had to bow out of the process for a while due to other obligations. That meant I was no longer being introduced to stacks of debut Kiwi authors, or older ones whose prose I had not yet discovered. This was also the year I backed away from the book group to which I had long belonged, after realizing I was less interested than normal in the works being selected by other members. Hoping to compensate for these alterations, I tried to step up my game as far as choosing new-to-me authors to write about in my crime-fiction column for Kirkus Reviews. Nonetheless, my reckoning of novelists freshly sampled in 2016 is down about 25 percent from the quantity I read last year; and I became acquainted with just over half as many non-fiction authors as I did in 2015.

It’s hard to tell yet what 2017 has in store. Now that I’m not writing for Kirkus anymore, I should have greater opportunities to read beyond the crime, mystery, and thriller shelves. And the timing is providential, since this last Christmas brought me a variety of volumes outside the genre (including Colson Whitehead’s National Book Award-winning novel, The Underground Railroad, and Reuters reporter David K. Randall’s The King and Queen of Malibu: The True Story of the Battle for Paradise). However, since I will also no longer have the professional obligation to attract a wide audience to my Kirkus contributions, I may feel inclined to pick up authors who are better known (but whom I’ve ignored for a while), rather than search out less-familiar crime-fictionists. It should be interesting, at the end of this year, to look back on how my reading habits were altered.

In the meantime, though, I’ve catalogued—below—the novelists whose works I read for the first time in 2016. Strangely (since I usually read much more broadly than this), they all turned out to be crime writers. Debut novels are boldfaced.

• Tim Baker (Fever City)
Lou Berney (The Long and Faraway Gone)
Stuart Brock (Just Around the Coroner)
Elliott Chaze (Black Wings Has My Angel)
John A. Connell (Spoils of Victory)
Susan Crawford (The Other Widow)
• Julia Dahl (Invisible City)
Richard Deming (Anything But Saintly)
• Oscar de Muriel (The Strings of Murder)
Andrew Gross (The One Man)
Michael Harvey (Brighton)
• Joe Ide (IQ)
Ariel Lawhon (Flight of Dreams)
• David McCallum (Once a Crooked Man)
• Sara Moliner (The Whispering City)
Thomas Mullen (Darktown)
Andrew Nette (Gunshine State)
Steven Price (By Gaslight)
Dolores Redondo (The Invisible Guardian)
• Iain Reid (I’m Thinking of Ending Things)
Thomas Rydahl (The Hermit)
• J. Aaron Sanders (Speakers of the Dead)
• J. Todd Scott (The Far Empty)
Gunnar Staalesen (Where Roses Never Die)
Phoef Sutton (Heart Attack and Vine)
E.S. Thomson (Beloved Poison)
David F. Walker (Shaft’s Revenge)

And here’s the inventory of non-fiction works I tackled over the last year, all of them penned by people whose names did not previously appear on my bookshelves. Debut works are again identified in boldface type.

Skip Hollandsworth (The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer)
Dean Jobb (Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation)
• Karen Huston Karydes (Hard-Boiled Anxiety: The Freudian Desires of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, and Their Detectives)
Paul Nelson and Kevin Avery (It’s All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives)
Nicholas Shrady (The Last Day: Wrath, Ruin, and Reason in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755)
Lucy Sussex (Blockbuster!: Fergus Hume and The Mystery of the Hansom Cab)

Those, then, are my results for the last 12 months. How do yours compare? Which authors’ books did you first encounter in 2016? Please let us all know in the Comments section of this post.

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