Hit & Run, Lawrence Block (Morrow, $24.95) & The Brass Verdict, Michael Connelly (Little Brown, $26.99 – some signed copies remain) Sorry to keep repeating myself, but I name these two authors every year because (thankfully) they write a new book every year, and I find them consistently among the most enjoyable. Writing style, plots, characters -- among the finest. Heirs of Rex Stout and Raymond Chandler respectively. We are lucky to have them in our time. They are not the only greats, but there are none greater, IMHO.
Safer,Sean Doolittle (Delacorte, $24.00, Feb. 09) A couple moves from Boston to a small town in Iowa, expecting life to be simpler and safer than in the big city. Big surprise: simpler can become a lot more complicated. A security system can be a hazard. Safer can be a lot more dangerous. I've admired Doolittle's sensitivity in earlier books; this one is still sensitive, and a lot more mature.
Mortal Allies, Brian Haig (Warner, $7.99) A paperback original from 2002 (I like to read some older books among the new). This is second (after Secret Sanction,$7.99) in a series with Major Sean Drummond, an attorney in the military, with a smart mouth seldom encountered in the service, and the more refreshing for it. So far there are four more volumes, which will be high on my list to read in 2009. Thanks to Janine for putting me onto these.
Cruel Intent, J. A. Jance (Simon & Schuster, $25.95 – signed copies available) I've always excluded authors associated with Seattle from my "best of" lists, on the grounds that (1) we support all Seattle authors equally, (2) most of these people are our friends, and (3) hey, personal security can be an issue even among friends. But I've realized that in the 18 years since she enabled the first sale in our shop, J. A. Jance has published 28 books, each of them a bestseller for us. It's time for me to acknowledge that I like her books, even though she is from Seattle. And I particularly enjoyed Cruel Intent, which is a celebration of Tasers, happily now available in designer colors. Thank you, J. A. Jance, for your perseverance, skill, and dedication.
The King of Ragtime, Larry Karp (Poisoned Pen, $24.95 – signed copies available) I recommended this in the newzine a couple of months ago. As I said then, the second book in Karp’s ragtime mystery trilogy is based on the real-life controversy of whether the smash hit song, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was actually written by Irving Berlin, who published it, or Scott Joplin, who claimed Berlin stole it from him. In the 19-teens racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism were painfully blatant, but city life had cadences and syncopation, much like ragtime music. This book captures that rhythm.
Calumet City, Charlie Newton (Touchstone, $14) A first novel almost as assured as Mike Lawson's The Inside Ring two years ago. Chicago "cop noir," told from the viewpoint of a black female officer, by a black male author. Fast, rough, compelling. Thanks to JB for putting me onto this.
Dirty Money, Richard Stark (Grand Central,$23.99), and 7 other books in this series Dirty Money is the 24th and latest book in a series about a tough professional thief named Parker, written by Donald E. Westlake under the pseudonym of Richard Stark, from 1963 to this year. Many in the series are long out-of-print, and used copies are hard to find. Happily the first three, The Hunter, The Man with the Getaway Face, and The Outfit, have been reissued this year, bringing new readers, and lending long-time fans like me a renewed eagerness to find those we haven't read. I've read or re-read 8 this year (they bear re-reading), thanks to JB's sharp eye out for used copies arriving as trade-ins. [Commercial message: If there are hard-to-find mysteries you're wishing for, get your wishes listed on the Want File at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, so if we find them you'll get a chance at them before they're put out for sale.] This series mostly lacks the humor that Westlake is famous for, but they are capers so tightly written they're seriously addictive. I think of Parker as the flip side of Lee Child's Jack Reacher: on the opposite side of the law, but with the same singleness of purpose that astounds mere humanoids like me. And I'm fascinated to get into the workings of their minds. Besides the first three volumes, we currently have a handful of titles from the late 1990's in new copies imported from Britain, and the two latest, Ask the Parrot and Dirty Money in U.S. new copies. For the rest, get yourself on that Want File, but you may be behind me; after years of searching, I've still got 4 to go.
An Expert in Murder, Nicola Upson (Harper, $24.95) In the 1930’s Josephine Tey was better known as a playwright than as a mystery writer. Travelling to London by train for the final week of the record-breaking run of her hit play, she meets a young woman heading to see the play again for the umpteenth time. Shortly after arrival the young woman is found murdered. Miss Tey fears she may have unwittingly caused the death. The Inspector in charge of the case, is more concerned that Tey may have been the intended victim. This is now known to be the first of a series, and collectable as such, of course.
The Dawn Patrol, Don Winslow (Knopf, $23.95) I didn't expect Don Winslow ever to outdo his fabulous The Death and Life of Bobby Z, and he hasn't, quite, but this one is fabulous, too. A group of surfers is waiting for an "epic macking crunchy" wave that's been forecasted. But one of them, a former policeman, glimpses a chance to close an old case that's been troubling him. Can he foresake the wave for the case? Doesn't sound like much when I write about it, but when Winslow does, it's dynamite.
Damnation Falls, Edward Wright (St. Martin's, $24.95) After Clea's Moon and 2 other standouts set in 1940's L.A., has switched to contemporary East Tennessee for this stand-alone mystery (unless it's the first of a new series). It's an almost-Gothic story, blending politics, journalism, and Civil War history, and appealing to readers like me who have enjoyed Sharyn McCrumb's books about that part of our country.
Seattle doesn't get that much snow that often. When it does, it causes chaos. The buses don't run well if at all, the citizenry doesn't know how to drive in the stuff, the hilly topography turns into a funhouse course and most people stay home and businesses close. But not the intrepid staff of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop!
Sex and Bacon, Sarah Katherine Lewis ($14.95 Seal Press).THE best girls guide to life I’ve ever read.
American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld, (Random House, $26.00). Well written, can’t-stop-reading tale of a woman’s journey from humble beginnings to the White House. How much is true???? Leaves one wondering.
Okay, onto the mysteries:
The Dawn Patrol, Don Winslow, (Random House $23.95)
The Dirty Secrets Club, Meg Gardiner, (Dutton, $24.95 – a couple of signed copies remain.)
Dead Yard, Adrian McKinty, (Simon and Schuster $7.99)
LA Outlaws, Jefferson T. Parker, (Penguin $25.95 – some signed copies left)
Blackout, Lisa Unger, (Random House $23.00)
The Fourth Watcher, Timothy Hallinan, (HarperCollins $24.95 – some signed copies left)
House Rules, Mike Lawson, (Atlantic $23.00 – some signed copies remain.)
The Brass Verdict, Michael Connelly, (Little Brown $26.99 – some signed copies remain.)
The Lace Reader, Bruniona Berry, (Morrow $24.95 – signed bookplates for copies while they last.)
Runner, Thomas Perry, (January Release, Harcourt $26.00)
Trigger City, Sean Chercover, (HarperCollins $24.95 - signed copies available)
Renegades, Jefferson T. Parker, (February Release, Penguin $25.95)
Beat The Reaper, Josh Bazell, (January Release, Little Brown $24.99)
My other list was all hardcovers, but I read a lot of paperback originals. In this list, I'm going to combine both mass market and trade paperbacks (the regular pocket-book sized paperbacks, and the larger ones). Also, as before, there was no way to choose one above the other, so these are in, theoretically, alphabetical order.
So, without further ado, here we go:
- Marc Acito, Attack of the Theater People, Broadway, $12.95. In this sequel to his debut, Marc has taken us further on Edward Zanni's quest for a career on the stage. However, when he's kicked out of Julliard, Edward ends up mixed up in an insider trading scheme, things go very badly -- with some fabulous highlights! I laughed throughout this novel, and it's a must for anyone who loves the theater, and who likes a bit of revenge.
- Keri Arthur, Destiny Kills, Dell Spectra, $6.99. This isn't part of Arthur's Australian urban fantasy series (which I also love) but rather is a new urban fantasy premise set here in the US, beginning on the Oregon coast, going on to England and coming back to Maine. Destiny McCree wakes up on an Oregon coast with a dead body beside her and no memory of anything before she woke up, except the certain knowledge that someone is out to kill her. I loved the sure and flawless way Arthur handled every aspect of this novel, including dialing down the steamy bits in favor of a strong and action-packed story line.
- Jennifer Lee Carrell, Interred With Their Bones, Plume, $15. Kate Stanley is about to achieve her shining moment: she's the first American to be allowed to direct Hamlet in the new Globe Theatre, when her mentor, Rosalind Howard, interrupts to hand Kate a box and then vanishes. When the Globe burns and Rosalind is found there, dead, Kate begins a race to find out what secrets Rosalind had, and all roads lead to Shakespeare. This one has it all, action, history, relationships -- past and present, but what sets it apart is that Carrell doesn't concentrate only on manuscripts but on the theatricality of the Bard.
- Toni McGee Causey, Bobbie Faye's Very (Very, Very, Very) Bad Day, St. Martins, $12.95. Actually this came out last year but I only managed to get around to reading it this year, and it's a shame I put it off! Bobbie Faye is a force of nature, like a hurricane or a tidal wave, and she manages to get into all manner of mayhem in an attempt to retrieve the rusty iron tiara that only the Contraband Queen can wear. I laughed until my sides ached, and I found myself cornering people to read passages to them.
- J. T. Ellison, Judas Kiss, Mira, $6.99, on sale January 09. Ellison's protagonist, Taylor Jackson, finds herself in a complicated mess while investigating the murder of Corinne Wolff, a pregnant socialite whose toddler daughter is found wandering through the house, covered in her mother's blood. I have enjoyed the earlier novels in this series, but in this one, Ellison proves she is a rising star in crime fiction. Her plot is tightly woven and her characters have become people you care about. This is a series to follow, if you haven't already found it.
- Michelle Gagnon, Boneyard, Mira, $6.99. FBI special agent Kelly Jones is recovering from her losses from before, and she really needs a vacation, but when when a mass grave site is discovered in the Appalachians, recuperating will just have to wait. Michelle has created a great heroine, determined but damaged, and sadly, the situations Jones finds herself in are altogether too believeable and grim. I certainly found both of Gagnon's books to be compelling.
- Yasmine Galenorn, Dragon Wytch, Berkley, $7.99. This is the fourth in the D'Artigo sisters series, and Yasmine just keeps getting better and better. The books are told from a different sister's point of view, and in this one, we return to Camille. Now that all the sisters have been introduced, Galenorn is getting to the heart of the stories, and I absolutely love the fact that they're becoming darker and more complex!
- Caitlin Kittredge, Pure Blood, St. Martins, $6.99. Det. Luna Wilder is coming to grips with the fact that it's becoming more well known she's a werewolf, the fact that her cousin is no longer around to help her, and that she's being blamed for what happened to Dmitri. Being Insoli -- a packless wolf -- is just another added pain. The world Caitlin has created is dark and grim but with moments of humor and kindness that make it a mulit-layered and enjoyable series.
- Clare Langley-Hawthorne, Consequences of Sin and The Serpent and the Scorpion, Penguin, $14. I read both of these since Clare was coming in to sign, and I'm so glad I did! The first one is set in 1910 London, along with a few other places, and the second takes place in 1912, in both Egypt and London. Ursula Marlow is an heiress and a strong suffragette, who will do whatever it takes to protect her friends. Clare's novels are rich with history, true, but more importantly to me, she's created characters who leap off the page and whose lives are quite real to me. I'm so glad I read these, and I absolutely cannot wait for the third one!
- Jana Oliver, Virtual Evil and Madman's Dance, Dragon Moon, $19.95. Last year I recommended the first in this trilogy, Sojourn, and now the trilogy is complete. All the words you use for a strong protagonist -- strong, individualistic, determined, flawed -- apply here, but Oliver adds conflicts that are so complex and multilayered that you will either fall completely for Jacynda Lassiter or you won't like her at all. I'm a huge fan, needless to say. This is a series I'll have to re-read, because I know that, in my headlong rush to find out what happened, I've missed the subtle touches and nuances that make this trilogy even more special than it is. Jana Oliver has created a world that is decidedly unlike any other I've ever experienced.
- Wendy Roberts, Devil May Ride, Obsidian, $6.99. I was absolutely charmed by Sadie Novak in Roberts' debut last year, and I was anxious to read this sequel to see if she could keep up her fast-paced style, keep Sadie as interesting as she was in the beginning, and still keep it entertaining, if a bit gory. Wendy delivered, with honors! Sadie Novak cleans up crime scenes in Seattle and its surrounding suburbs, and she sees the ghosts of the newly departed. Except suicides. Never suicides. Roberts brings authenticity, compassion, humor and action to her story. She can't write them fast enough to suit me, frankly.
- Simon Wood, We All Fall Down, Leisure, $7.99. Hayden Duke is an up-and-coming design engineer who, with the help of his former roommate, has just signed a contract with Marin Design Engineering. But when one of Marin's employees commits suicide, and then Hayden's friend does as well, Hayden finds himself caught up in a race to figure out what's going on before he's driven to suicide himself. Simon has created a far-too-plausible situation, loosely based on actual events, that kept me awake at night, since I had to know how it all turned out. His style and pacing will do the same for you, I'm positive.
People ask me how I read so many books through the year, and the answer is three-fold. I read voraciously, I have a long daily bus commute, and I have insomnia. If you don't sleep, it's amazing how many books you can read! I know there are people who are convinced that I review every book I read, and I want to be sure you know that's not true! There are even times when (shhh) I don't read mysteries! Those definitely don't get mentioned.
Still I do read a lot, and so narrowing down my top ten for 2008 proved to be futile, but for those of you who saw my list last year, that won't be a surprise. This year is pretty similar. I've broken it down into hardbacks and paperbacks, both trade and mass-market. I couldn't choose one over another, so they're listed alphabetically by author. All but one of these is available now. Here goes. Top Ten Hardbacks (and those of you who are counting, will realize "Ten" is just a suggestion here)
- Brunonia Barry, The Lace Reader, (Harper, $24.95). It's not just that Barry's story about Towner Whitney, who tells you in the first paragraph that she lies, is about the perception of modern-day witches in Salem, MA, or the complex and sometimes destructive relationships between Towner and her family, or even the mystery surrounding Towner's missing aunt that make this book one of my favorites. It's the way Berry deftly changes point of view to give you a complete picture, and Towner's vulnerability and determination that captured my imagination. Well, that and feral yellow labs! (And though her tour to Seattle was canceled, her publisher did provide signed bookplates!)
- Larry Beinhart, Salvation Boulevard, (Perseus, $24.95). "Look, I'm a Christian working for a Jewish lawyer who's working for an Islamic kid to find out who really killed the atheist. It's America, right?" So says Carl Vanderveer, the investigator hired to help clear Ahmad Nazami of killing his professor, Nathan McLeod. Beinhart's keen perception of the dynamics between people of profound faith and what they'll do in the name of belief made this a must-read for me. And while there are people who wished for a more concrete ending, I thought it was brilliantly handled! (Some signed copies remain!)
- Tom Cain, The Accident Man, (Viking, $24.95, trade paperback $14, out in January 09). I'll learn that when Janine says I should read something, I should listen. I thought the premise -- Samuel Carver is a man who arranges "accidents" for the right price, only to discover that his last "accident" was a set-up, taking out one of the most beloved Princesses on the planet -- was a little iffy. A crime novel about Princess Diana? Ha. Boy, was I wrong! This tightly written and compelling novel is touching and heartbreaking. But make no mistake: there are explosions and motorcycle chases and betrayal every time you turn around. I can't wait for the sequel!
- John Connolly, The Reapers, (Atria, $26, mass market paperback $9.99 out in February 09). It's no secret I'm a Connolly fan, and I was beyond excited that there was to be a novel told with the pair of assassins, Angel and Louis, as the protagonists. But, for all their darkness, in the Charlie "Bird" Parker novels, Angel and Louis are also the comic relief, so I wasn't sure how it would all play out. Silly me. Of course the story of Louis being haunted and literally hunted by his past would be fabulous!
- Robert Ferrigno, Sins of the Assassin, (Scribner, $24.95, mass market $7.99 out in January 09). I was interested to see how Ferrigno would handle this sequel, since it was set mostly in the Bible Belt in the futuristic world he's created, where most of the country is Islamic and our hero is a Fedayeen assassin. Rakim Epps is sent to infiltrate the Belt because a zealot is trying to uncover a weapon from before the Destruction that will shatter the uneasy peace between the Islamic and Christian nations. Once again, Ferrigno's characters are driven, compelling, and the conflicts were dynamic and, at times, quietly powerful. I can't wait for the third one! (Signed copies still available, for now!)
- Tana French, The Likeness, (Viking, $25.95, signed copies!) I just adored French's debut, and it deserved the Edgar, but this one completely knocked my socks off! I had no trouble suspending my disbelief enough to accept the idea that the dead girl looked enough like Cassie so that Cassie could infiltrate "Alexandra Madison's" clique, and the tension as she tries to maintain her cover juxtaposed with her burgeoning longing to continue to live in Alex's shoes kept me riveted to the very end.
- Elizabeth George, Careless in Red, (Harper, $27.95). Inspector Lynley's back, as is Havers, and really, that's all I needed to know. But I flew through this 623-page book in no time, because I had to see, as did the rest of the Havers/Lynley fan base, how damaged Lynley was (certainly we, her readers, were!) and if it was even possible for Lynley to return. I was especially tickled with Havers' speech taking Lynley to task on page 329. It was a hoot! Signed Copies!
- Lisa Lutz, Curse of the Spellmans, (Simon & Schuster, $25, trade paperback $14 due out in February 09). Did you know Izzy Spellman's birthday is April 1st? It's fitting, somehow, especially since so much of what she does always goes wrong. For example, Izzy’s obsessive surveillance of her neighbor has Izzy's number of arrests reaching alarming numbers. And then there's her sister's obsession with Henry, who maintains that Rae is trying to kill him. This second in the Spellman saga is just as hysterical and wickedly, sharply brilliant as the first one! Signed Copies!
- Thomas Perry, Runner, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, due out January 09). Jane Whitefield is back! For fans of this series, that says it all. Jane used to help people disappear, but she's been out of that line of work for a while. Still, when a pregnant girl begs her for help, how can Jane refuse? It was great to have a new Whitefield novel, and it was wonderful how Perry handled the intervening years and the effect they've had on Jane. The ending is guaranteed to leave fans gasping, too!
- Kat Richardson, Underground, (Roc, $21.95). Harper Blaine is once again caught up in events that are slipping through her fingers and into the Grey, when parts of the bodies of homeless people start being found. What I really enjoy about Kat's writing, though, is that it is so intelligent. She doesn't compromise her story line to dumb things down; you either keep up or you don't. Harper's injuries from previous books don't magically disappear with the new one, and her relationships are just as complicated and messy as anyone's. If there was ever such a thing as slice-of-life urban fantasy, this series would be it! (A few signed-in-purple-ink copies remain which denotes these were signed before the premiere signing!)
- James Rollins, The Last Oracle, (William Morrow, $26.95). At the end of the last novel, I was convinced that Monk was still alive, and I was pleased to know that Sigma Force powerhouse, Gray Pierce, felt the same way. This novel explores the possibilities and dangers of bioengineering people, and the ramifications of what that could mean on a global political scale. And, as usual, when you read what's fact or what’s fiction in the addendum in the back of the book, the truly scary parts are the real ones. Some signed copies left!
- Kelli Stanley, Nox Dormienda, (Five Star, $25.95, signed, and maybe we can find a pin to go with it!) Kelli has been credited with creating the sub-genre "Roman Noir", and it's easy to see why. Written in the style of the old noir writers, she's created a strong, capable protagonist in Arcturus, whose more than able to investigate the murder in an underground temple, but the ensuing political ramifications may be bigger than any one man could handle. Kelli's debut is complex and dark, and she handles the Latin names and terms so deftly that the story flows around you until you can taste the grape leaves and hear the leather creaking.
- Pari Noskin Taichert, The Socorro Blast, (UNM Press, $24.95, a few signed copies left). Sasha Solomon is a public relations consultant who helps small New Mexico towns improve their image. In her trip to Socorro, though, things go very badly when her niece is injured by a pipe bomb explosion. Being from New Mexico, I love the fact that Pari's novels are mini love letters to each community, but more importantly, her grasp of human interaction, especially in the face of racial and religious prejudice, is both compelling and illuminating. The next one, I understand, is set in the town where I lived longest, so I'm very excited!
- Louise Ure, The Fault Tree, (St. Martin's, $24.95, trade paperback $13.95 due out March 09). If I'd never heard of Louise before, the opening chapter of this book, which is half a page long, would have sold me right then and there. Blinded by a car accident, Cadance Moran hasn't let it slow her down, which is why she's still a car mechanic. But in the twilight one evening, she becomes the sole witness to a murder, and the fact that she's blind won't stop her. Or them. The words "compelling" and "powerful" and "gripping" may have become cliche' to some, but when Louise writes, they take on all their original meaning! Signed copies of this one and her first one are still available!
- Douglas Preston, The Monster of Florence, (Hachette, $25.99). This one's out of alphabetical sequence because it's true crime, which I normally don't read. But Doug Preston's recounting of the history of the man who butchered couples across the Italian countryside and how he, Preston, became involved in the case, ultimately landing in jail, was as dramatic and disturbing as any of his novels. The fact that this now has some ties to the Amanda Knox case only makes it more timely and compelling.
So many great reads, and so little time, but here goes:
The Collaborator of Bethlehem, Matt Benyon Rees (HMH tp, $13.95). 1st Omar Yussef Sirhan mystery. 2008 New Blood Dagger Award, Finalist for both 2008 Macavity Award & Barry Award for Best First Novel. The power of Rees’ story, centered around teacher Omar Yussef of Bethlehem, makes contemporary Palestinian life in modern-day Israel with its internecine struggles of the children of Abraham almost comprehensible to American-me.
Among the Mad, Jacqueline Winspear (Feb. 2009 Holt hc, $25.95). 6th Maisie Dobbs mystery. The more things change, the more they stay the same…Winspear’s poignant and eerie story grabs and holds. Daisy plunges into a frantic search for a terrorist among the walking-wounded war veterans, many with what is now diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Snake Dreams, James D. Doss (St. Martin’s hc, $24.95). 13th Charlie Moon mystery. Exquisite humor under- girds Doss’ work about the daily balance aboriginals must find in a white culture: 7-foot-tall Ute tribal investigator Charlie Moon contemplates marriage with FBI Special Agent Lila McTeague, but his relationship with his demanding auntie (and shaman) Daisy Perika, who’s now guardian and teacher to Charlie’s 16-year-old niece, resonates throughout. Is there an ‘arsenic and old lace’ riff starting?
Another Man’s Moccasins, Craig Johnson (Viking hc, $24.95). 4th Walt Longmire mystery. Johnson uses split-time to reveal then-Vietnam deployed U.S. Marine Longmire’s and friend Henry Standing Bear’s histories as counterpoint to current time-Sheriff Longmire’s investigation of a young Vietnamese woman found murdered in Absaroka County, where the white culture overlays and, at times, clashes with the indigenous cultures. (A few signed copies are available.)
Wild Inferno, Sandi Ault (Berkley hc, $23.95). 2nd Jamaica Wild mystery. Ault sets BLM employee Jamaica in the midst of accurately described wildfires -- the miles-long walls of fast moving fires that annually hit U.S. western states -- burning on the Southern Ute Reservation where Puebloans will observe an 18-year celestial event, fire or no fire. Jamaica must weigh the conflicting demands of government agencies as she respectfully shields the Puebloans, races to solve murders, and finds her own life in jeopardy. (Two signed and numbered copies remain.)
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, Alexander McCall Smith (Anchor tp, $12.95). 8th Mma Precious Ramotswe mystery. Married life agrees with Precious and her husband in Botswana, but…assistant Mma Makutsi may leave the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Precious’ new husband yearns to try his hand at investigative work, and Precious herself must solve the tragic and suspicious deaths at the hospital in Mochudi. As always in this charming series, Precious resolves all with her trademark calm competence and compassion.
Blanche on the Lam, Barbara Neely (Penguin mm, 1992, $6.99). Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Strong and resilient Blanche, a forty-something black housekeeper who skillfully navigates a supposedly integrated America, solves a murder while hiding out from corrupt law enforcement. Neely’s insights about true power holders, the marginalized, and a fully-developed black society make fascinating reading. (Out-of-print, but ask us for used copies.)
Just Deceits: A Historical Courtroom Mystery, Michael Schein (Bennet & Hastings tpo, $17.95). First-time novelist Schein deftly and almost lyrically tackles infanticide and slavery, envy and jealousy, family and status, told in the midst the birth of the U.S. legal system. Schein, a local attorney and legal historian who sustains the suspense to the last pages, based his novel on his archival research of the actual 1793 Virginia criminal trial of powerful Randolph family members. (some signed copies available.)
The Pain Nurse, Jon Talton (April 2009, Poisoned Pen hc, $24.95). First in a new series, a Will Borders medical mystery set in Cincinnati. Talton’s vivid portrayal of spinal surgery and patient rehabilitation, all wrapped around a murder investigation by the flawed protagonist, was a painful and almost overwhelming read which accurately captured my mother’s recent 41-day hospital odyssey: absent doctors and overworked nurses, body smells and fluids, and the nightly, almost hallucinogenic insanity, found on many hospital floors. [Talton is a recent transplant to Seattle, and his columns on business news and economic issues are published in the Seattle Times.]
Cry Dance, Kirk Mitchell (Bantam, 1999 paperback, $7.50). 1st Emmett Quanah Parker & Anna Turnipseed mystery. A maelstrom of conflicting cultures, values, and legal jurisdictions that sweeps through a desert carved into three States is a devil’s playground which thrice-divorced and dedicated BIA Investigator Parker, (Comanche and white), reluctantly travels with FBI Special Agent Turnipseed (Modoc and Japanese-American). The trigger is a badly mangled body found on the Havasupai Reservation, the motive, like the narrative, is richly textured by Mitchell.
Where is the rain? Ahhhh but it's beautiful here, even in the sun. Because my Ghost Dusters book series is set in Seattle, any excuse to visit is bliss as well as research. As I walk the streets of this city, I will be imagining where future victims may be killed.
Of course, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop is the best of the best. In addition to signing, I'm able to Christmas shop! The names on the shelves are both old friends and new waiting to reside on my own shelf at home. I must jump up from my chair every so often just to snag another book for myself.
Thanks for having me back and making me feel so at home!
Each year there are seemingly hundreds of books that we don’t get to. Sometimes they’re debuts, authors we think we should (have) tried. Other times they’re the second or third book of someone we’ve liked, or maybe even books by our favorites. Each year, I get to the time when I have to make this list and cannot believe the books that I didn’t get read. I have yet to read two by favorite authors: George Peleconos’ The Turnaround and James W. Hall’s Hell’s Bay.
My problem this year was that I read a large number of thick books. Four or five were well over 500 pages and most were over 700. That, no matter how good they are, cuts down on the number you get to in a calendar year. Three of them are important and I want to include them.
1 – Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes (Anchor, $16.95, 778 pages with the end notes). This history of the CIA is a must read for anyone who wants to understand why we have a terrible image in most of the world and why we keep getting surprised by events that really are no big surprise. The first secret prison with torture run by the CIA during wartime? 1950 Panama, during the Korean War. When did the CIA first get involved in Viet Nam? 1954. The litany of intelligence failures that you read about – hell, if you remember them when they happened – is staggering and really does leave you wondering if the biggest problems for the safety of Americans are not those our ‘intelligence’ agency has not created for us. And a National Book Award winner if my word isn't good enough.
2 – Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann, Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK (Counterpoint,$ 24.95 trade paperback, 849 pages if you count the pages of photos at the end). What is so interesting about the books being written today that concern the secret events of 45 – 50 years ago is that those secrets are being revealed by documents being declassified.
The two major revelations in this book are that 1) the Kennedy brothers had a top secret plan in the works for a coup in Cuba that was to take place on Dec 1, 1963 and the plot included a high member of the Cuban leadership, and 2) the shooting in Dallas was the third of three plans that were set up for November 1963 and that a Secret Service agent was railroaded into prison when he tried to bring the information to the Warren Commission. All three involved long motorcades, high buildings along the routes, high-powered rifles and disaffected ‘loners’ who had leftist political leanings. Could have been Chicago, could have been Tampa, but it all came together in Dallas.
The coup plan explains many things that have always flapped in the wind of the Kennedy Assassination. The thesis of the authors – a convincing one I think – is that the coup plan was carefully hi-jacked by some involved and some not involved and then turned against JFK and, in no small way, RFK. And because it began as a US plan to assassinate the head of a foreign government, any honest investigation of any depth would have exposed the illegal scheme and caused a nasty international crisis just a year after the Cuban Missle Crisis. To keep the secrets secret also ensured that the US government and its officials would be pinned into silence and a massive cover-up and the plotters would get away with it. The book also explains Oswald’s odd movements and behavior in the weeks before the assassination.
3 – Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann, Legacy of Secrecy: the Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination (Counterpoint, $33 hardcover, 771 pages +). In this follow-up, the author’s flesh out the coup plot, naming those involved (something withheld in the earlier book to protect actors still in danger) and giving further details and texture to the events. They then go further, tracing the events and actions of those involved as those events and actors moved through the 60s and into the 70s. After all, they got away with murder once, didn't they?
This book makes a convincing case as to the events in Memphis in 1968, Los Angeles later that summer, and then to Washington DC in the early 1970s and a little crisis called a ‘third-rate burglary’. Just what was it that the burglars – most of whom were involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion – were sent to get out the offices at the Watergate? Sections of this book then circle back to Legacy of Ashes and the disgraceful actions of the CIA. Finally, it is much easier now to more fully understand not only the assassinations of the 60s, but how the US government’s own actions created the nightmares and horrors that we still deal with today.
If you are interested in what declassified documents tell us about the actions of our government, both foreign and domestic, from 1959 – 2006, you would be well served to read these three books and I’d recommend that you read them is this order as well.
I ended last year by saying that Mike Lawson’s House Rules would be the best book you’d read this year. I have to admit that it had a challenger. I’ll save that to the end. Here is my list of the best fiction I read this year. Except for the last book, they are not in any particular order.
April Smith’s Judas Horse (Knopf, $23.95, a few signed copies remain). Her latest Ana Grey is set mostly in Oregon.
Lee Child’s Nothing to Lose (Bantam, $27). Fabulous as always but more timely. Bonus of having it dedicated to Janine and Rae.
Reggie Nadelson, Fresh Kills (Walker,$24.95). Hard to describe this series – a cop who never functions like a cop – but an annual favorite.
Charlie Newton, Calumet City (Touchstone,$14). One of the two best debuts of the year.
Michael Gruber, The Forgery of Venus (Morrow,$24.95, signed copies available ). Interesting meditation on madness and creativity.
Don Winslow, The Dawn Patrol (Knopf, $23.95). The only thing missing was Frankie Machine.
James Lee Burke, Swan Peak (Simon & Schuster, $25.95, signed copies available ). Dave and Clete – what else needs saying?
Richard Stark – a handful of his Parkers, mostly what Bill scrounged up. Way past time for someone to reissue them. Glad it is being done.
Rex Stout – the last of the Nero Wolfe books: damn that is a great series!
Carolyn D. Wall, Sweeping Up Glass (Poisoned Pen, $24.95, signed copies available ). The other great debut. Sparkling writing.
Michael Connelly, The Brass Verdict (Little Brown $26.99, signed copies available). Fun to see Harry Bosch from the other side of the justice world.
David Rosenfelt, Don’t Tell a Soul (St. Martin’s, $24.95). Terrific stand-alone thriller.
Dennis Lehane, The Given Day (Morrow, $27.95, signed copies available). Book of the Year, Book of the Decade. This is the kind of broad, many-charactered epic that isn’t done much any more. If it was a movie, the critics would slam it as being far too long. I disagree there; I like long movies – The Godfather is a long movie, David Lean’s movies are long, Spartacus is long. Long movies let you dig into a complicated story with a big cast of characters and enjoy what used to be considered a story ‘on a big canvas’. Why that has become a bad thing is beyond me. The Given Day is just that kind of book, just that kind of story. Set against the historical events of the 1919 Boston Police Strike, it is a massive story, an distinctively American story.