This year I kept track of the books I read using Good Reads. I set an initial goal of reading 25 books, but upped it to 35 sometime mid-year when I realized I was way ahead of schedule. I'm at 33 now with three weeks to go until we ring in the new year.
Here are my top ten picks for 2011, in no particular order:
1) A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF by Lawrence Block
What can I say? This book was a treat. I thought we'd seen the last of Matthew Scudder, one of my all-time favorite private eyes in fiction, but thankfully, Mr. Block decided he had another story to tell about Matt Scudder and the result is one of the strongest Scudder novels yet.
2) SUNSET AND SAW DUST by Joe R. Lansdale
2011 was a great year for discovering "new-to-me" authors. I'm almost ashamed to admit I'd never read Lansdale until Ruth Jordan sent me this book. It's a pretty brutal story, set in depression era Texas, about Sunset Jones, who kills her abusive husband and ends up taking over his job as constable. The story itself is notable, but Lansdale's prose and characterizations are what really make the novel shine.
3) THE COLD KISS by John Rector
I swear, I couldn't read this book fast enough. The setting is familiar, almost has a Bates Motel feel to it. But the characters are as unique and creepy as they come. I actually read two of Rector's novels this year (the other one being ALREADY GONE) and you can officially count me as a huge John Rector fan.
4) THE LOCK ARTIST by Steve Hamilton
Michael might be mute, but he is also a genius–at safe-cracking. This novel intertwines his tragic history and his evolution as a lock artist, able to open even the toughest safe. Sure, he can't talk, but Michael is one of the most compelling voices I've read in a long time, and his story is even more compelling.
5) A FIELD OF DARKNESS by Cornelia Read
Talk about compelling voices. I can't get enough of Madeleine Dare, Cornelia Read's protagonist. Her take on life is unique, given her family history. As Madeleine says, "our money is so old it ran out." In this novel, Madeleine learns a chilling family secret and sets out to find the truth.
6) THE END OF EVERYTHING by Megan Abbott
This novel has received numerous accolades this year, and deservedly so. When 13 year-old Lizzie's best friend Evie disappears without a trace, Lizzie begins a furtive search of her own and uncovers secrets about her closest friend she never imagined existed. Parts of this book literally took my breath away.
7) DOPE by Sara Gran
Hell's Kitchen, 1950s. Josephine, a former addict, is offered a thousand dollars to find a suburban couple's missing daughter. It seems easy enough, but Josephine soon finds herself entrenched in the gritty NYC drug culture she thought she'd escaped from. I loved it for the story and the atmosphere, and I'm looking forward to reading more of Gran's work.
8) SOUTHERN GODS by John Hornor Jacobs
Recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram is working as muscle when a Memphis DJ hires him to find blues man Ramblin' John Hastur. Part mystery, part horror, and part southern gothic, I've never read anything like it. But its true strength is its lovely prose, its rich atmosphere, and its vivid characters.
9) A SIMPLE ACT OF VIOLENCE by R.J. Ellory
What begins as a fairly straightforward investigation into a group of Washington DC killings, evolves into a story about CIA activities in Nicaragua, government conspiracy, and the corruption caused by power. In less competent hands, this multi-layered plot could become convoluted, but Ellory expertly weaves the elements together by carefully doling out information, slowly, even exquisitely. Part police procedural, part murder mystery, and part conspiracy thriller, A SIMPLE ACT OF VIOLENCE is so well-done it marvels the writer in me and delights the reader in me.
10) CALIFORNIA GIRL by T. Jefferson Parker
Orange County, California, 1950s. When the body of lovely Janelle Vonn, who disappeared years before, is discovered in an abandoned orange packing plant, the Becker brothers set out to uncover the truth about Janelle's death. The plot is multi-layered and nicely woven together, which as I noted above is not an easy thing to do, but Parker makes it seems effortless.