Friday, 16 December 2011

Best of the Best - Pusher's 2011 Top Reads

Well, that's 2011 just about by with boys and girls. And so, in appropriately reflective mood Pulp Pusher eschews the trans fats-stuffed mince pies from Iceland (this is a protest too - Kerry Katona has kids to feed, how could they dump her from those ads?!) and delves straight into the brain food. Yes, it's those tomes that might just be piled high in a book store (if you can find a store) near you already (if you can find books in there) ... Aye, up the back, mate, next to the board games. Naw, beside the easel and acrylic paints set. Naw, that's a kid's telescope pal. Beside that, aye, the square-ish thing ... bingo!

Happy Wh
atever folks. Let's hope 2012 has some more good reads like these on the way...


Ian Rankin (Author of the Rebus series)
Nine Inches by Colin Bateman vies with A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block for my pick of the year. Block brings back private eye Matt Scudder in a tale that takes us back in time to the hero's early days off the sauce and on the case. Bateman wields his satirical scalpel on contemporary Belfast, mixing violent intrigue with belly laughs and shrewd insights. Both writers provide the goods.

Doug Johnstone (Novelist)
The best thing I’ve read is a novel only just published over here in the UK, but originally published in the US in 1996. Matthew F Jones’ A Single Shot (Mulholland) is an utterly compelling piece of American country backwater noir, a believable and heartbreaking tragedy about a man who accidentally shoots a teenage girl while out poaching deer. He finds a bag of money and subsequently makes some catastrophic decisions, descending into a world of psychological torture and a kind of madness. The prose is sparse and precise yet somehow also elegant. Like all the best noir, you really connect with the main character despite some of the despicable things he ends up doing. This isn’t about good and bad people, it’s about ordinary people revealing themselves under extraordinary stress. Brilliant writing all round.

Dave Zeltserman (Novelist)
Okay, the VERY BEST book I read this year was The Seventh by Richard Stark. Great, great heist gone bad book.

Cathi Unsworth (Novelist)
My favourite book this year was a re-release of a book that came out in 1961, The Furnished Room by Laura Del-Rivo, on New London Editions. It's part of a group of brilliant, long-lost cult classics put out by this subsidiary of Five Leaves Press under the Beatniks, Bohemians and Bums label (the other two, also well worth a read are Baron's Court All Change by Terry Taylor and Adrift in Soho by Colin Wilson). Laura's debut novel was a revelation to me as it chimed with so much stuff I put into Bad Penny Blues, being set in the same time and same place - and I have known her for over 20 years from her stall on Portobello Road without realising that she was the author of the book that became Michael Winner's 1963 film West 11, another lost piece of Post-War, Pre-Swinging Ladbroke Grove. Reflecting a London on the cusp of huge social change from the point of view of a bedsit drifter whose meeting with a saloon bar conman brings about fatal results, it reminds me of Patrick Hamilton's two-decades-previous Hangover Square in its depiction of a man losing his mind amid a drunken milieu of bohemians. It perfectly captures that shady, shifting black-and-white world that I remain fascinated by.

Jay Stringer (Writer/Blogger)
Best book of the year? Easy. Well, almost easy. There have been some great books this year. But the one that carried me along in its wake was Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs. It's a debut novel that no right to be as good as it was; perfectly structured, well paced, and a strong narrative voice. Bull Ingram is a detective in Memphis, he can beat any problem with his fists, except for that slight drinking habit of his. He gets hired to find a missing DJ and, as a side job, to hunt for a legendary bluesman, a shadowy figure whose music is said to raise the dead. From there, the book starts to drag you kicking and screaming, from Dashiell Hammett to H.P Lovecraft. By the end, you'll swear you can hear the music.

Ray Banks (Novelist)
Alright, well, two books spring immediately to mind, and it's impossible to choose between them. Charlie Williams' One Dead Hen is one of the funniest books of recent years (really since King of the Road) and I love it that the so-called "bad language" has turned some crime fans into twitching puritans. I also love it that this incredibly parochial and idiosyncratic novel was picked up by Amazon after Serpent's Tail showed a spectacular lack of balls. On a technical level, it's a beautiful example of how to do an unreliable narrator. Except, you know, with gags.

The other best book has to be Choke Hold by Christa Faust. Anything Faust writes is gold, but this is the best thing she's produced so far and should be required reading for anyone even thinking about writing in the genre. It's hardboiled with heart - which really isn't a contradiction in terms - and moves at a whip-crack pace, both of which make it a stone-cold classic in my eyes.

Nick Quantrill (Novelist)
The one downside of writing seems to be that there’s less time for reading, but one book which really grabbed my attention was The Drop by Howard Linskey. On the surface, it’s a standard gritty gangster tale set in Newcastle and revolves around a bag of missing money and double-dealing psychopaths. Dig a bit deeper, and there’s plenty going on. The dialogue and action fizz things along nicely, but it’s the way Linskey captures the flavour of a changing northern city which holds the attention. A storming debut.

Anthony Neil Smith's wife (Wife of novelist)
Since I don't like to do the "Best of" stuff so much, I'll tell you my wife's favourite book: Still Life with Murder by P.B. Ryan. Of all the crap she read all year, this was the one she liked the best. She read the whole series on Kindle in about two weeks. Her least favourite book of the year was Madame Bovary. Airport thriller trash!

Julia Lewthwaite (Writer)
I've read some great stuff this year - and I've got some equally great stuff on Mount TBR and Digi-MTBR. Dani Amore's Death By Sarcasm deserves a special mention, though. It's Dani's debut novel and a terrific read: a brilliant cast of characters, great dialogue, biting wit, plenty of action … and revenge. PI Mary Cooper is a wonderful creation: mouthy, brash, intelligent, tenacious, brave and very, very funny. Highly recommended.

Paul D. Bra
zill (Writer)
Declan Burke's Absolute Zero Cool. 'an exciting, hilarious, thoughtful and moving story that will surely stand up to- and deserve-a lot of re-reading. I’ve read a lot of cracking novels this year but Absolute Zero Cool is my favourite. And it could well be yours, too'

Adrian Magson (Novelist)
I think my favourite is 'Burned' by Thomas Enger. It's a debut by a Norwegian author, with a burned-out crime reporter as a central character investigating what looks like a racist crime. First in a series.

David Lewis (Writer, journalist)
Tony Black's Truth Lies Bleeding gave the police procedural model a kick up the backside and revealed his versatility. It's up there with anything to come from the pen of a Scots writer, reminiscent of McIllvaney and Lindsay at their pomp.

Jeff Kingston Pierce (Journalist/ editor of The Rap Sheet)
How many books have you read set in Nunavut, Canada’s far-northern Inuit territory? Probably none, but this one is worth your time: White Heat, by M.J. McGrath (Viking U.S.). It stars one Edie Kiglatuk, a half white, half native former polar bear hunter, who takes it upon herself to figure out who’s trimming the region’s already meagre population still further. First to be killed is a white hunter she’d been guiding across the ice. Then her beloved stepson barely makes it back alive from another hunting expedition, only to commit suicide. Or so it’s said. Edie isn’t buying that explanation for the young man’s demise, and sets out to learn the truth, even though it will mean confronting corrupt Russians and greedy energy companies, and jeopardizing her hard-won sobriety in the process.

Michael Malone (Writer, reviewer)
Yikes, being asked for my favourite crime read of 2011 is very difficult. So many excellent books to chose from in a year when RJ Ellory, James Lee Burke, Tony Black, Adrian McKinty, Nick Stone et al were on their game. I'm going for ...

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott. This is a book about sisters, fathers and daughters, family and friendships and truths dripping reluctantly from the owner. But more than that, it’s a book about two young girls on the verge of discovering the confusing and heady power of their gender. Megan Abbott has taken everything we know about noir fiction and re-framed it in a world almost alien to the genre. She has imbued it with command and grace and heart while meeting our expectation of entering the dark and forbidding places of the human psyche. (Just a shame the cover was mingin'.)