Favorite crime fiction 2008: in a great year for the genre, these ten were the standouts

December 28, 2008 at 1:02 pm (Best of 2008, books, Mystery fiction)

I hasten to add – the standouts for Your Faithful Blogger, at least. With “Best of” lists still pouring in, it’s obvious that there’s lots of room for differing opinions here!

Anyway – here goes:

cold Cold in Hand by John Harvey. Harvey is an author that Marge (my Bouchercon boon companion) and I have long admired and championed. Cold in Hand is a novel that shocks and stuns and is beautifully written. John Harvey seemed to be enjoying himself hugely at Bouchercon this past October. And we enjoyed his enjoyment!

dakar The Demon of Dakar by Kjell Eriksson. I’ve fallen behind on my reading of the stellar Scandinavians. As for this particular novel, the humanity of the characters shone throughout and the plot was utterly compelling.

flesh Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell. One of my retirement projects is to go back and read the Rendell/Barbara Vine novels I missed, and the ones I wish to revisit because they were so terrific the first time. At any rate, this Wexford novel shows Rendell writing at the height of her formidable powers. (The next Rendell, a non-Wexford entitled Portobello, is due out here in April; the next Vine, The Birthday Present, in March.)

girl2 The Girl of His Dreams by Donna Leon. Yet another author who, with each new novel, goes from strength to strength. Guido Brunetti is one of my all time favorite fictional policemen. and Venice, of course, is the setting from Heaven. Leon brings this complex, magical city vividly to life in every novel in this superlative series. (The next entry,  About Face, is due out in April of next year.)

monde Monsieur Monde Vanishes by Georges Simenon. Originally published in 1945 as La Fuite de Monsieur Monde (literally “The Flight of Monsieur Monde”), this was my first venture into the non-Maigret canon of this incredibly prolific author. What I found was a powerful tale of one man’s escape from that favorite target of French intellectuals, the stifling conventions and expectations of the bourgeoisie.

chameleon The Chameleon’s Shadow by Minette Walters. I’ve followed this author’s career with interest ever since she burst onto the crime writing scene in 1992 with her remarkably polished and atmospheric first novel, The Ice House. Her next book, The Sculptress, won the coveted Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel in 1993; the following year, The Scold’s Bridle won the equally prestigious CWA Gold Dagger.  I very much liked all three of these novels, but in the years following, I found that her books did not always work for me. Walters has frequently been likened to Ruth Rendell. I do think she shares with Rendell an unusually degree of insight into the disturbed mind. Is she “another Rendell,” or “on a par with Rendell,” as reviewers love to exclaim? Well, in the opinion of this ardent fan of the oeuvre of Baroness Rendell of Baberg (and isn’t that a fine title, right up there with the Baroness James of Holland Park!) – not quite. But for me, in all fairness, probably no one could be. All the same, when Walters is good, she is very good indeed. And the story she tells of a damaged Iraq War veteran in The Chameleon’s Shadow is without a doubt one of the most compelling works of fiction I read all year.

nouf1 Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris. IMHO, this book would have worked better as a straightforward narrative minus the “detective interruptions.” Still, the writing was so superior, the setting so vividly rendered, and the characters’ pain so palpable that I’m including it here anyway.

pure The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill. This is the second entry in Hilll’s Simon Serrailler series. The first is The Various Haunts of Men; I now wish I had read that novel first. Simon Serailler is part Thomas Lynley, part Adam Dalgliesh, an artist from a distinguished, conflict-ridden family. This is the British police procedural writ large, a regular candy box of a novel. I anxiously await the third entry in the series,  The Risk of Darkness, due out here in March.

graving The Graving Dock by Gabriel Cohen. Does St. Martins Monotaur know what a gem it has in Gabriel Cohen? As I was asking myself this question, I went on their site – and wow! This publisher’s roster includes some of the best in the business: Ken Bruen, Archer Mayor, Ian Rankin,  Kjell Eriksson,  Caroline Graham, Barry Maitland,  Qiu Xiaolong,  Clare Curzon, and many more of that caliber. So…do they have much of an advertising budget, I wonder?  I ask because I hate to see a writer of Cohen’s tremendous talent go undiscovered by discerning readers of crime fiction. In Red Hook, the first novel in this series, we get to know Jack Leightner, a cop who’s struggling with the usual personal and professional demons. Why then are these novels a cut above? Because Leightner is an enormously appealing protagonist, a guy with a good heart that you can’t help but root for. And he’s doing all this struggling in Brooklyn, a locale that Cohen obviously knows well. The venerable borough springs to life in his  assured hands. Do yourself a favor and read these novels. Start with The Graving Dock, the sequel to Red Hook, if you prefer. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

black1 And finally, it’s back to the Scandinavians with Black Seconds by Karin Fossum. I’ve already praised this powerful novel to the skies, but I’m happy to praise it again. Tautly constructed, beautifully written, filled with subtle understanding of and compassion for the pathos of the human condition, it represents crime writing – writing period, for that matter – at its very best.

11 Comments

  1. Pauline Cohen said,

    Roberta,

    I don’t want the year to end without telling you how much I admire both the content and the appearance of your blog. I also applaud its ease of use.

    I look forward to reading your insights in 2009 and for many more years.

    Happy New Year to you and your readers.

    Pauline

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Pauline, thank you for your gracious comment. Appreciation like that makes the hard work – and boy, is this hard work! – worthwhile. Same goes for you too, Kerrie.

  2. Kerrie said,

    Ooh yes. I agree with so many of these. Would you like to comment on my blog at http://paradise-mysteries.blogspot.com/2008/12/your-best-crime-fiction-reads-in-2008.html so I can include these in the “best reads for 2008” thingy that I am doing?

  3. Kathy Durkin said,

    Hi Roberta,

    THANKS for including so many wonderful women authors.

    I agree with the ones you listed above which I read including Finding Nouf
    and The Girl of my Dreams (I am a Donna Leon addict who seriously needs
    a 12-step program to deal when she doesn’t have a new book out).

    I add though what I thought was the best read of this year: The Likeness
    by Tana French. Also, second best I thought was the brilliant French
    historian Fred Vargas’ This Night’s Foul Work.

    Nearly had apoplexy upon going to the Rap Sheet and seeing a list of top 2008 books with only one woman author, then after blogging a complaint, along with others, part two of the list had NO women authors at all. Don’t know who is doing the reading over there.

    It seems like women’s websites are so much more inclusive.

    Will bookmark this website and note down the books you list.

    Happy New Year!

    Kathy Durkin
    New York

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Kathy, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I got on The Rap Sheet site to have a look at your comments re the lack of women writers on the January Magazine “Best Books” list – very interesting! There are so many terrific women writing crime fiction right now, it does seem like a rather oddly skewed selection.

  4. Kathy Durkin said,

    HI Roberta,

    What it seems to me is that male readers tend to read male writers.
    Women tend to read both female and male writers.

    On blogs and websites set up by women, there is more representation
    of women writers, such as this one, Sarah Weinman’s wonderful Confessions
    of an Idiosyncratic Mind, and definitely EuroCrime which is always fair.
    (I only mention these; there are others).

    There was a to-do which was in the press about a discussion, I think by
    Val MacDermid with a male reviewer who admitted that he only read male
    writers’ books.

    Yes, there are so many great women writers now who should get
    recognition and acknowledgement.

    Best wishes in the new year and glad I found your blog,
    Kathy Durkin

    Thanks for your comment above.

  5. nbmandel said,

    I’m not an intensive crime reader, but I’d second This Night’s Foul Work by Fred Vargas, who is, by the way, a woman. A very engaging book.

  6. Walter A.P. Soethoudt said,

    In your the best of 2008 list I am missing the wonderfull and aducated Craig Mcdonald’s ‘Toros & Torsos’

  7. Roberta Rood said,

    Thanks to both nbmandel and Walter A.P. Soethoudt for the recommendations. I’ve gotten the Craig McDonald from the library & am already very intrigued!

  8. How to present: The Art of the Mystery « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] event eager for recommendations. So I consulted my “Best Mysteries” posts for 2007 and 2008 and got some good ideas from those. But this made me think about what my favorite […]

  9. Mysteries go global, part two: Scandinavia « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] a crime fiction Renaissance. I particularly like Kjell Eriksson, whose Demon of Dakar made my Best of 2008 short list. (And I’m also a fan of Mankell’s Wallander novels. The first one I tried was One Step […]

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