Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Best of the Best 2011 (Part 2)

Not content with one set of picks, Pulp Pusher has went the extra mile and asked Lawrence Block, Sam Millar and a host of clued-up folks for their picks of the year and guess what ... it makes some interesting reading!

Lawrence Block (Novelist)
This year I've particularly enjoyed the work of Chelsea Cain and Wallace Stroby (both of whom I've encountered for the first time) and John Sandford and John Lescroart (both of whom I've been reading for years, always with enjoyment).

Sam Millar (Novelist)
I’ve been rather fortunate this year to have had some genuinely memorable crime books sent to me for reviewing, and I’m a bit spoilt for choice. From the hauntingly beautiful The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell to the hilarious and piss-your-pants Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski. After much soul searching, I’ve finally nailed it down to American crime writer, James Thompson’s brilliant Lucifer’s Tears, one of the most original crime books to hit me up the face in a very long time – and that’s saying bloody something!

Lucifer’s Tears is the second Inspector Kari Vaara novel, and like its predecessor it grabs you from the very first page. Vaara has moved from the Arctic Circle to Helsinki, having requested a new assignment following the personal trauma and collateral damage of the nightmarish Sufia Elmi case (Snow Angels), the previous year. The Sufia Elmi case left Vaara with a scarred face, chronic insomnia and ubiquitous migraines.

Thompson’s ability to craft complex plot/sub-plots with such powerful prose makes him unique in the family of modern-day crime writers. Startlingly original and instantly cinematic, Lucifer’s Tears unfolds in page-turning addictiveness until it delivers shock after shock in its denouement of police corruption and condemnation for those trying to rewrite history.

I stated quite confidently in New York Journal of Books that: “It’s going to be tough for other crime writers to beat this as Thriller of The Year. Grab yourself a copy now and see why.”

After all the major movie companies suddenly falling over themselves to grab the rights to the Vaara novels, I feel totally vindicated.

Now, if only Karl Kane could get me a movie deal and stop fucking about with his haemorrhoids….

Donna Moore (Novelist)
I refuse to be restricted to one, so I've picked one from the US and one from the UK.

My US choice is Heath Lowrance's The Bastard Hand. The protagonist is drunken, violent drifter Charles Wesley - a man who hears the voice of his dead brother and who should really be back in the Institution he ran away from. What you really don't need when you're already batshit crazy is to meet the Reverend Phineas Childe - a Man of God who uses his 'calling' to enjoy wine, women and song - heavy on the wine and women, not so much on the song. Heath Lowrance serves up a brilliantly nasty slice of tough, gritty noir served with sides of retribution,weirdness and ugliness. Delightfully warped and dirty - yum yum. No characters to root for - just a cast of deliciously noxious characters. Don't expect happy endings; just truculent, indecorous pleasure in a tale told with great gusto.

My UK choice is Steve Mosby's Black Flowers. Steve is one of the best writers around at the moment. His books are always exciting and chilling on one level, yet they all have so much more below the surface. Black Flowers is thought paovoking, atmospheric and beautifully written. Layered narratives, multiple narrators, interwoven relationships, blurred lines. Nothing is as it seems and everything should be questioned. Brilliant.

Danny Bowman (Novelist, Publisher)
Best book I have read this year is The Bastard Hand By Heath Lowrence. It tells the story of Charlie Wesley, a damaged individual who has escaped from a mental institution in the North West of the States and heads way down south to Memphis. He meets the strange and wretched Reverend Phineas Childe who takes him on a dark and savage journey to the small town of Cuba landing and the route to an apocalypse. This is a modern pulp masterpiece that I love because of Lowrence's genuinely unique and peerless voice as well as his genre-bending which is right up my street. He also has that ability to make even the most mundane activities of his characters seem out of place and sinister.

Patti Abbott (Writer, blogger)
One of the many great books I read this year is the debut novel from Alice LaPlante, Turn of Mind. It's the story of a hand surgeon, who is gradually losing the battle with Alzheimers. She's been accused of murdering her best friend and cutting four of her fingers off in the bargain. She must play detective and save herself despite her daily decline. Also ejoyed The Sister Brothers, a rollicking western noir by Patrick Dewitt and Crooked Letter, Tom Franklin.

Paul Johnston (Novelist)
The best crime novel I read this year was Philip Kerr's Field Grey, which fills in a lot of gaps in Bernie Gunther's curious life. It's really just backstory writ large and must be pretty incomprehensible to people who haven't read the rest of the series. For some reason, I rather like that. Close second - Deon Meyer's Thirteen Hours. Don't get me started on books I disliked. There were a lot of those, including some that won awards. The book business is several Andrew Neils short of a toupee collection.

Damien Seaman (Novelist)
Sandra Ruttan's Harvest of Ruins came out as an ebook in July, and it's mesmerising. Sandra specialises in stories that explore just how destructive the shockwaves from broken families can be. Because of this, her books are always emotional, but Harvest of Ruins is her best yet. Deep and moving, with a style that's so good you don't notice it, characters you really care about and a narrative structure that bounces around from past to present in a way that heightens the emotional resonance of the whole thing without seeming flashy or tricksy. Brilliant.

Todd Robinson (Novelist)
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - Probably going to lose what little cred I have left in recommending this, but damned if this book didn't hit me on every level - especially since it had every element working against my normal sensibilities. First off, I hate &*%#ing translated novels. I always feel like a piece is missing, something lyrical in the language that is lost. Mad credit to Lucia Graves for the translation, which is in and of itself a minor miracle. Secondly, it skirts right around the edges of Magic Realism, which as a literary style makes me want to stab, stab, stab. It plays the devices coyly, but them consistently brings the story back into its own reality. Thirdly, despite some seriously dark moments, this novel is, dare I say, a beautiful monument to writers and the readers who love them, all wrapped in a nice little mystery set in post-war Barcelona surrounding the final copy of a book written by a lost author who seems buried in time...and the mysterious man who leaves behind the scent of burnt paper that seems intent on keeping him there. Best book I've read in several years, not just 2011.

Nigel Bird (Writer, blogger)
"The Devil All The Time is fiction of the highest quality. If there's any justice in the world, it will be a book that's talked about as a Twenty-first Century classic by generations to come. It reminds me of a pointalist painting - tiny and important details coming together to create a broad and expansive picture of many aspects of small-town American life as well as the depths of despair which we sometimes call the human condition. It leaves no stone of depravity unturned, yet still left me feeling hope by the end. The kind of book that makes you want to shake the author's hand as soon as the final words are read. Unbelievable."

Chad Eagleton (Writer)
While researching a project, I kept coming across mentions of Warren Miller’s 1959 novel, The Cool World. I wasn’t familiar with it, so I dug up a copy and found one of the best novels I read all year:

14-year-old Duke Custis lives in a claustrophobic Harlem apartment with his grandmother, his mother and her revolving door of “husbands.” Life offers him little besides hopeless desperation. That’s why he needs 15 dollars. With 15 dollars he can buy a gun. There’s a rumble coming up with a rival gang, The Wolves. If he has a gun, he can pay back his knife scars with bullets.

The Cool World is beautifully paced. Miller juggles characterization and action well. His prose is astounding, easily one of the most lyrical and readable uses of slang I’ve ever seen. But the real strength of the novel was best described by James Baldwin, “In fact, the most remarkable and valuable thing about this study of Negro children in Harlem is that it does not leave one thinking about race at all. It leaves one thinking about the moral state of the country.”

Maxim Jakubowski (Novelist, publisher)
I found in 2011 that most of the new crime books I read were OK but a bit dull and predictable, and best 2 genre books I read during the course of the year were actually published in 2010 namely Stona Fitch's Give and take, which is both a road movie, jazz noir and short and evocative and made me believe that modern noir can still be done with originality and a distinct 'voice' and Emily St. John Mandel's The Singer's Gun which proved that her Last Night in Montreal was no fluke: family ties, melancholia, a sense of disconnect and characters I took to my heart with a vengeance. And neither has a serial killer or a historical conspiracy to be seen...

Rob Jarossi (Critic, journalist)
I enjoyed The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton this year. He really seemed to be in the zone with the narrator of this thriller, the mute and traumatised boxman Michael, who's just 17 but a genius with the valuable and dangerous skill of opening locks and safes. Hamilton really takes you into the world of safecracking and gets across some of the illicit thrill of breaking into places and stealing the goods. But there is also a tender and unusual love story in it – the narrator is a teenager, after all – so the story has heart, which makes Michael's journey all the more perilous.