Favorite Books of 2012

Looking for a good read? We recommend one (or more) of our favorite cool hardcovers of 2012.

Carolyn liked:

The Last Kind Words, by Tom Piccirilli ($26), begins the chronicles of Terrier Rand, youngest son in a family of grifters whose names are all those of dog breeds, who is returning home after a long absence. Eldest brother Collie will be executed soon, convicted of a mass killing. Although Collie can’t explain his actions then, he swears that one of the victims was not his doing and pleads for Terry to investigate.

This is the story of a family, dysfunctional to be sure, but with long ties that bind across time and space. In large part, the story’s appeal is in its characterizations. Piccarilli keeps up the pace throughout, and his writing is terrific. And the answer as to who killed that lone victim hinges on a somewhat unlikely family characteristic – but so what!

Carolyn also liked:

The Jaguar, by T. Jefferson Parker ($26.95) (Charlie Hood series)

Kill You Twice, by Chelsea Cain ($25.99) (Archie Sheridan)

The Phantom, by Jo Nesbo ($25.95) (Harry Hole)

Barbara liked:

In Tribulations of a Shortcut Man ($24), P. G. Sturges has created an original character, showcased by an original style, with an intoxicating mix of gladness, badness, and sadness. Dick Henry is a fix-it man in L.A. for people with problems, and we’re not talking a leaky sink or an overgrown hedge. He gets his clients to their desired ends, not all of which are legitimate, by bypassing normal methods and channels, thus creating a shortcut.

Mugs, cons, dames. Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall. This is the stuff from which classic dark dreams are made. One of the stories in David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s ($35) is the legendary Dark Passage, written in 1946. In his lifetime, Goodis wrote primarily for pulp magazines. Dark Passage was one of his first books.

Convicted of killing his wife, prisoner Vincent Parry makes a break for it one day. Then he’s on the lam and luck finds him in the guise of the shapely and rich Irene Janney. But it’s not about whether Parry’s wife was murdered. It’s not about Parry and Janney. It’s not about how Parry survives while on the run. All those things are interesting and essential to the story, but what is most important is how Goodis tells these things. His voice is wry and dark. It’s full of emotional stasis and arrested movement while charging forward at the same time. Goodis is an undisclosed party in his scenes – his aesthetic, his punchlines, his poetry, his deliberate style.

The 500, by Matthew Quirk ($25.99), is a clever, well-written book. It’s a horror story of sorts because it hypothesizes (or reveals) the inner workings of how influence is peddled and how the real decision-making process works in the hollow (certainly not hallowed, according to this book) halls of government.

Michael Ford, fresh out of Harvard Law, is recruited by the best influence-peddling firm in D.C. Callow in the ways of politics and pumped with idealism, Michael sets out to show his bosses he can bring in the goods, the goods being ways to get the people in power to do what the firm’s clients want.

As captivating and moving as Matthew Quirk’s writing makes his characters, it is the addition of the insights into the grift, the con, the soft spots in our structured and fortified society and its elected representatives, and the nuts and bolts of being burglars and thieves that produce an extraordinary book.

I have given this book an MBTB star.

The Paris Directive, by Gerald Jay ($25), is pretty close to mystery nirvana: a sophisticated book set in France, populated by interesting characters, with descriptions of good food.

Paul Mazarelle used to be a well-regarded detective in Paris, but he relocated to the Dordogne region because his wife was dying and she wanted to return home. It is 1999 in the story and Mazarelle, now a widower, is still a flic in Taziac. Violent crime disturbs this quiet pastoral region, and Mazarelle must dust off his skills to find the killer.

The mysterious Gerald Jay, a pseudonym, has written a very good debut novel. I suspect, however, that this is not his first book. He combines two serious storylines with a good sense of place, a sense of humor, and well-rounded characters.

We never learn the real name of the protagonist of the spy novel Shake Off, by Micha Hiller ($24.99). It doesn’t matter what his name is, because that is not what defines him when the story begins in 1989 England.

When Michel (one of his names) was very young, his family was destroyed in a raid and massacre on his Palestinian camp in Lebanon. He escaped, was sheltered by a foster family, and began training to be a spy, recruited by a mysterious man he knew only as Abu Leila.

Hiller does an excellent job describing the build-up and break-down of a spy, the political world in 1989, and the confusing covert world in which Michel finds himself.

I have given this book an MBTB star.

Fiona Griffith is a bottom-of-the-ladder detective constable on the Welsh police force in Talking to the Dead, by Harry Bingham ($26). You know there’s something different about her from the get-go. The book begins with her interview to join the police. That section ends with, “And just five years ago, I was dead.” Later she talks about being on “Planet Normal” when things go well. Hmm…

Obviously there is a gimmick to this book. Fiona has something psychologically off-kilter, and we don’t learn what it is for quite a while. Bingham does a great job building up the tension until the big reveal. He also achieves a great balance between character and plot.

I have given this book an MBTB star.

2012 Favorite Hardcovers (Click on the title to read the loooong version of most of these reviews.) (Actually, links to follow soon.)

Bingham, Harry - Talking to the Dead

Goodis, David - David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s

Hiller, Mischa - Shake Off

Jay, Gerald - The Paris Directive

Piccirilli, Tom - The Last Kind Words

Quirk, Matthew - The 500

Sturges, P. G. - Tribulations of a Shortcut Man