Portions of this post are subject to my disclosure notes, which you can find here.
I’ve seen quite a few “Best of” lists the past few weeks, and regardless of their length, I seem to have read only about 3 books on each. Yet 2012 was one of the most satisfying years I’ve ever had as a reader. So what gives? It’s simple. The people making those lists are just wrong. Or like different stuff than I do.
Either way, it seemed worthwhile for me to make a list of my own.
And since I enjoy the gifts of amazing stories all year long, I was thinking about what I could give some of these storytellers to celebrate the season. The best present I could think of is a plea to any and everyone reading this that you preorder their books. I’ve talked about preorders before—and will continue to do so—but to recap: In this crazy world of modern publishing, preorders matter. They make a difference, even to big-name famous authors. Not to mention that when you preorder a book, come the release date, you get a gift your own self, too.
So without further ado and in no particular order, here’s my Best Books of 2012 list, along with info on coming releases I recommend you preorder for those that already have preorder links available.
CREOLE BELLE by James Lee Burke
To me, this book was more than the latest installment in the beloved Dave Robicheaux series–although it’s that too. It is an important book, because it includes social commentary woven throughout the story. I believe that 100 years from now, this tale will ensure as much as any James Lee Burke (or anyone else, for that matter) has written.
CRIMINAL by Karin Slaughter
My review is here. Some storytellers just get better with each book, and Karin Slaughter is no exception. Including cases in both the present and in 1975, CRIMINAL is insightful without ever being preachy, and is as tense a tale as you’ll find.
WHAT IT WAS by George Pelecanos
My review is here. I read some kick-ass historical fiction this year, and WHAT IT WAS certainly falls into this category. Pelecanos is at his storytelling best as we follow Derek Strange through the streets of 1972 Washington DC.
START SHOOTING by Charlie Newton
My review is here. Newton was a new-to-me author this year, and I loved his dark, bloody, and even occasionally funny “cop noir.”
THE RETRIBUTION and THE VANISHING POINT by Val McDermid
My review of THE RETRIBUTION is here. When I like an author and have the opportunity to read more than one of her or his books in a single year, I’ll generally do exactly that. Val McDermid had two books out in 2012, and while they’re quite different, each is superb.
THE RETRIBUTION is the latest in the Tony Hill-Carol Jordan series, and brings back one of crime fiction’s best villains, Jacko Vance. THE VANISHING POINT is a stand-alone novel that is beautifully crafted and terrifyingly unsettling.
The new Tony Hill book is called CROSS AND BURN, but preorder links aren’t yet available.
NEVER TELL by Alafair Burke
My review is here. I believe that police procedurals are probably among the most difficult forms of fiction to create. A goodpolice story becomes a great one when it is more than whodunit, and includes elements prevalent in our society today of which we don’t necessarily take notice, but should. NEVER TELL does exactly this.
Click here to preorder IF YOU WERE HERE
HEARTBROKEN by Lisa Unger
My review is here. I don’t use the term “master storyteller” lightly, so please believe me when I tell yo that Lisa Unger is fast approaching this status. HEARTBROKEN is crime fiction, yes, but it is really a story about choices…and what happens when we make them.
THE DEMANDS and RUSH OF BLOOD by Mark Billingham
Mark Billingham is another author who told reader two excellent stories this year. For Americans, RUSH OF BLOOD has only been released as an ebook, although you can order a hard copy fromAmazon.co.uk.
THE DEMANDS is the latest in the Tom Thorne series, in which our flawed cop hero is dropped into the thick of things when a criminal–who might not be such a bad guy–makes a personal request for Tom.
RUSH OF BLOOD is a stand-alone, and is not what readers might expect from a police procedural author, simply because it’s a psychological thriller…that will make you never want to attend another dinner party or speak to a stranger.
THE SURVIVOR by Gregg Hurwitz
I’m not normally a big fan of books where important plot elements sneak up on me, but in this case, the sneaking is masterful, and the story is so compelling that it truly is difficult at best to set it down. I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and not loving it.
ONLY ONE LIFE and FAREWELL TO FREEDOM by Sara Blaedel
We all know (right?) how much I adore police procedurals, particularly when the hero or heroine is less-than perfect. Sara Blaedel’s Louise Rick is just such a cop. Set in Denmark, each of these stories surprised me, and made me want to hang out with Louise and her best friend, journalist Camilla Lind, even more.
INTO THE DARKEST CORNER and REVENGE OF THE TIDE by Elizabeth Haynes
Since I read INTO THE DARKEST CORNER I’ve given it to several people, and always with a warning: This book is scary. Keep-you-awake creepy. Give-you-a-pain-in-your-tummy frightening. Elizabeth Haynes tells stories in a manner I can best describe as vivid, because her characters’ fears and phobias became mine as I read. She is that skilled.
REVENGE OF THE TIDE is the UK title; this book is called DARK TIDE in the U.S. Elizabeth explained to me (I was lucky enough to meet her this year, and she is absolutely lovely–not at all what you’d expect from her dark stories!) that the American edition was fairly heavily edited; I have a copy of the U.S. version, but have not yet read it.
DEAD HARVEST and THE WRONG GOODBYE by Chris Holm
My review of DEAD HARVEST is here. These books seem to be most often categorized as Urban Fantasy…but there are plenty of crimes committed–the theft of souls among them–that I’m tagging them crime fiction. Because I knew author Chris Holm’s short stories, I knew already that he is a talented storyteller. If I’m honest, though, I underestimated his power to create characters and worlds that are as compelling as those in these books. Protagonist Sam Thornton is a fascinating guy, and I can’t wait for the next installment!
I didn’t quite know what to expect when I cracked open SAFE HOUSE, but I was in for quite a treat. The Isle of Man is not the setting one necessarily expects for an in-your-face thriller, but this one is as much fun as the TT races themselves.
THE WRATH OF ANGELS by John Connolly
While this book doesn’t come out in the US until January, I consider myself a citizen of the world, and in that spirit–and since it’s out now in other countries–I’m including it here.
THE WRATH OF ANGELS is quite different from the last Charlie Parker book, THE BURNING SOUL, and every bit as good. It is a a series of careful and intricate portraits of characters who are connected by tendrils that traverse the worlds of the tangible and the gossamer.
HELPLESS by Daniel Palmer
My review is here. Daniel Palmer has a gift for dropping readers into stories that so clearly could be true, they feel, while you’re reading, like they are true. Because he’s an astute researcher, I learned a lot reading HELPLESS…frankly, some of it I wish I didn’t know because it highlights some of the darkest aspects of our world today. This one is scary stuff from a still-new novelist that shows we can only expect more excellent stories from Daniel Palmer.
THE BLACK BOX by Michael Connelly
For even long-time and ardent Harry Bosch fans, this book will stand out. Starting during the LA riots 20 years ago, the story puts Harry’s conviction that either we all count or none of us does to the test. This is truly Connelly at his storytelling best.
LIVE BY NIGHT by Dennis Lehane
I’ve long been fascinated by prohibition-era America, but it’s been a while since I read a book set in this time frame since many of them are carbon copies of each other populated by caricatures. Leave it to master storyteller Dennis Lehane to bring the freshest voice I’ve read since F. Scott Fitzgerald to the 1920s.