In no particular order, my 10 favourite reads (and three honourable mentions) of 2010:
THE TWELVE (aka THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST) by Stuart Neville
First Lines: Maybe if he had one more drink they'd leave him alone. Gerry Fegan told himself that lie before every swallow. He chased the whiskey's burn with a cool, black mouthful of Guinness and placed the glass back on the table. Look up and they'll be gone, he thought. No. They were still there, still staring. Twelve of them if he counted the baby in its mother's arms.
Synopsis: Gerry Fegan, a former paramilitary killer, is haunted by his victims and seeks vengeance on those who engineered their deaths.
Why I Loved It: One of the best debut novels I've ever read. Interesting setting, unique characters and a beautifully written story that manages to be compelling and unpredictable from beginning to end. Brilliant stuff.
NO MORE HEROES by Ray Banks
First Lines: I've been staring at Daft Frank for the last five minutes, wondering why he hasn't turned into a puddle of sweat. We're both sitting in the car with the windows rolled up, it's hot as fuck, and the air-conditioning in my Micra might as well be someone blowing on your face. But there's Frank, North Face jacket zipped to the throat.
Synopsis: Cal Innes has taken a job evicting families on behalf of local slumlord Donald Plummer, while the English National Socialists bring racial tensions to the boiling point. A firebomb attack on a Plummer property thrusts Cal into the spotlight when he rescues a boy from a burning building. But when Plummer hires him to track down the arsonists, he finds himself dealing with more than neo-Nazis and his worsening painkiller addiction.
Why I Loved It: The entire Cal Innes series is brilliant, definitely one of the top 10 series I've ever read and one of the few series I could actually see myself re-reading. This book (like the whole series) is a fantastic blend of darkness, humour, twists and violence, with powerful glimpses of humanity. I expect a lot from endings, and Ray Banks reminds me a bit of Ken Bruen and his Jack Taylor series in the way that they both manage to create some of the best book endings I've ever had the pleasure of reading.
KILLER by Dave Zeltserman
Synopsis: Leonard March walks free from Jail after fourteen years' hard time, served after turning state's witness against Mafia boss Salvatore Lombard. Leonard now spends his time working as a janitor while looking over his shoulder, but an act of public bravery brings him publicity that he could do without.
Why I Loved It: This is the third book in the author's "Man out of prison" trilogy (after PARIAH and SMALL CRIMES - both brilliant books), and it blew me away. Unapologetically real, dark, depressing but wonderful, with a strong ending.
EXPIRATION DATE by Duane Swierczynski
Synopsis: Recently unemployed journalist Mickey Wade moves back into his grandfather's apartment and, after popping what he thought were a few aspirins, finds himself waking up in the past. Literally. At first he assumes it's a dream, but quickly must face reality when he meets a 12-year-old who it turns out will grow up and someday kill Mickey's own father.
Why I Loved It: I rarely read science fiction/fantasy, but as this author proved years ago with SECRET DEAD MEN, good writing & storytelling is what matters, regardless of which genre label gets attached to it. Despite a little mild trepidation, I was honestly hooked from page one. The story could easily have become messy and overly complicated, but Swierczynski is masterful at making it all come together and seem totally believable (even to this sci-fi skeptic). All in all, this is a fun, fast and trippy story that fans of any genre should like.
THE LOST SISTER by Russel D. McLean
First Lines: He doesn't waste a moment. Lets go of the axe, brings both hands round on either side of my head and slams them together. Catches me underneath both ears. The impact makes me nauseous, causes the world to go black for just a moment. But I'm alright. Because I don't feel anything.
Synopsis: A girl is missing in Scotland's fourth city (Dundee). Her godfather is a known criminal and her mother is hiding a dark secret. For private investigator J McNee, what starts as a favour for a friend soon becomes a nightmare as he races to find the girl before it's too late.
Why I Loved It: This is the second book in the J McNee series, and I think it's even better than the first (THE GOOD SON). A new (to me) setting, strong dialogue and a compelling story all make this a must-read, but it's really the main character that is this book's main draw. McNee is flawed, troubled and tough, but has a (usually hidden) softer side. At its core, this is a dark tale, but not without humour and emotional tugs at the heartstrings. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series (and not just because I'm hoping we'll find out what the "J" stands for!).
OLD DOGS by Donna Moore
First Lines: Barry Sheehan looked at the diamonds sparkling around the wrinkled throat of the woman in front of him, and surreptitiously adjusted his Y-fronts. Displays of wealth always gave him a hard-on and these two old bags were dripping with it.
Synopsis: Two elderly ex-hookers turned con artists are planning to steal a pair of golden, jewel-encrusted Shih Tzu dog statuettes from a Glasgow museum. They aren't, however, the only ones with that prize within their sights. Cue the entrance of a variety of odd & quirky characters who each have their own reasons for wanting to get their hands on the dogs. Hilarity (and I don't use that word lightly) ensues.
Why I Loved It: As a big fan of Moore's first novel, GO TO HELENA HANDBASKET, I had high hopes for this one. My expectations were more than met. The author is brilliant at creating colourful characters and putting them into laugh out loud situations. I smiled, smirked and laughed my way through the entire book. There is more to the book than just humour however, and the realistic dialogue, tight pacing and twisty plot have more than earned this book a spot in my top reads of the year.
THE HANGING TREE by Bryan Gruley
Synopsis: When Gracie McBride, the wild girl who had left town eighteen years earlier, is found dead in an apparent suicide shortly after her homecoming, it sends shock waves through her native Starvation Lake. Gus Carpenter, executive editor of the local paper, sets out to solve the mystery with the help of his old flame, Pine County sheriff deputy Darlene Esper.
Why I Loved It: This second book in the Starvation Lake series was a fun read, and even if you're not a hockey fan, this book has lots to offer. There are lots of likable characters, both main and supporting. Good plotting (although one storyline was easy to figure out early), vivid sense of setting and strong pacing made this a top read and top series for me. (Bonus points for a Steve Yzerman mention!)
THE FIRST RULE by Robert Crais
First Lines: Frank Meyer closed his computer as the early winter darkness fell over his home in Westwood, California, not far from the UCLA campus. Westwood was an affluent area on the Westside of Los Angeles, resting between Beverly Hills and Brentwood in a twine of gracious residential streets and comfortable, well-to-do homes. Frank Meyer—more surprised about it than anyone else, considering his background—lived in such a home.
Synopsis: Frank and Cindy Meyer had the American dream – until the day a professional robbery crew invaded their home and murdered everyone inside. The only thing out of the ordinary about Frank was that – before his family, business, and oh-so-normal life – a younger Frank Meyer worked as a professional mercenary...with a man named Joe Pike.
Why I Loved It: I've been a longtime fan of Crais' books, especially the Elivs & Pike series, and this one doesn't disappoint. The story is good (with a few nice twists) but the strength of this book (and the series) is the way the characters are written. I thought there was a little less humour in this one compared to earlier books (probably because this is more of a Pike book than an Elvis book), but it's still a great read and a fitting instalment in the series.
STILL BLEEDING by Steve Mosby
Synopsis: Paul Kearney is a policeman, and while tracking a killer who is abducting women, he gets drawn into a dark world where murder memorabilia is hoarded like treasure and where normal rules don't apply.
Why I Loved It: One of the reasons I enjoy Steve Mosby's books is that he does an impressive job exploring elements of the human condition within the context of a crime story. Many writers do this, but not many do it as well as Mosby. This book is no exception, and although it's dark and at times uncomfortable to read, the effort is well worth the reward. The ending caught me totally off guard, and even though I read the book early in the year, I've found that ending popping up in my thoughts countless times since then.
THE DEVIL'S STAIRCASE by Helen Fitzgerald
First Lines: It was fifty-fifty. Mum had it, and had died in a pool of her own mad froth. Fifty-fifty for Ursula and for me. Our eighteenth birthday presents - hers now, mine in four years' time - would be decided by the landing of a twenty-cent piece, a head or a tail.
Synopsis: Bronny runs away from home and ends up living in a vacant townhouse in London with her new friends. During the day they work and at night they take lots of drugs and have sex. For a while Bronny is happier than she ever thought possible, but then the banging noises begin...and what Bronny doesn't realise is that the basement of her new home isn't empty.
Why I Loved It: The story starts a little slowly but never stops picking up speed. By the time I reached the mid-way point, I couldn't read fast enough. The plot is smart, gritty and at times disturbing, with no shortage of twists, surprises and humour.
Very Honourable Mentions:
BLEED FOR ME by Michael Robotham
First Lines: i should start by telling you my name, although it's not really important. names are just labels that we grow into. we might hate them, we might want to change them, but eventually we suit them.
Synopsis: Ray Hegarty, a highly respected former detective, lies dead in his daughter Sienna's bedroom. She is found covered in his blood. Everything points to her guilt, but psychologist Joe O'Loughlin isn't convinced. Fourteen-year-old Sienna is the best friend of Joe's daughter, and he has watched her grow up and seen the troubled look in her eyes. Against the advice of the police, he launches his own investigation.
Why I Loved It: Although the storylines relied a little on coincidences, the story was dramatic and full of suspense. I enjoyed revisiting some favourite characters from earlier books, and although I'm not a parent, found some of the introspective commentary on parenthood interesting.
INSIDE by Kenneth J. Harvey
First Lines: They had made a mistake. They had realized. Everything they had moved through. The trail behind him. The institutional walls that kept him. The day in and day out. The tangle of men. It was meant to go away.
Synopsis: When Myrden returns to his tough St. John's neighbourhood after fourteen years in prison, he is greeted by old friends and enemies, and a wife who hasn't exactly been waiting for him but is interested in a settlement that the wrongfully accused man is expecting.
Why I Loved It: The book is written in very sparse prose, with short declarative sentences. This style served the story very well but is not going to be for everyone. I liked it, and yet still there were still times when I felt a bit overwhelmed and frustrated with the style. The author paints a realistic picture of life, with its many shades of grey, and while there are a few light moments, this is a definitely a heavy story with some heartbreaking moments...a lot like real life.
THE SERIALIST by David Gordon
First Lines: The first sentence of a novel is the most important, except for maybe the last, which can stay with you after you've shut the book, the way the echo of a closing door follows you down the hall.
Synopsis: Harry Bloch is a struggling writer who has published serial novels under various pseudonyms and in a variety of genres (vampire lit, urban crime fiction, science fiction, pornography). Harry agrees to ghostwrite the memoir of incarcerated murderer Darian Clay (aka New York's infamous Photo Killer), but it doesn't take long for things to become a dangerous mess.
Why I Loved It: You can read a more complete review here, but in short this is a fast read that fans of books and reading will have fun with. This book does have cliches in them, but the author has fun with them and so will readers. The story is peppered with some laugh out loud funny bits and some dry wit, and manages to always entertain.