Best Books of 2006

TOP TEN & more from Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

1. ECHO PARK by Michael Connelly: Harry Bosch is back and Connelly has proven that series fiction can get better with age; this is hard boiled fiction that would make Chandler sit up and take notice. Working in the LAPD Open-Unsolved Unit lets Harry obsess over all his old cases, including the Marie Gesto file. Gesto disappeared in 1993, her clothes were found in her car a week or so later, and that was the end of the trail. Spring forward to present day Los Angeles and the arrest of Raynard Waits, who is found with body parts in his car and admits to murdering nine people. His lawyer puts together a deal – his client will provide details on some of the open cases still on the books in return for avoiding the death penalty. When Gesto is one of those cases, and it appears that Harry and his then-partner Jerry Edgar missed an important clue, Harry’s guilt kicks in but eventually so do his suspicions. As in The Closers, police politics rears its ugly head and nothing is quite as it seems to be in L.A., a “sunny place for shady people.” Connelly has elevated the art form by creating a plot as complex as the music his flawed hero listens to, which when combined with its evocative language, arguably makes Echo Park Connelly’s finest novel yet. 10/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™

2. THE TWO MINUTE RULE by Robert Crais: The author of the wonderful Elvis Cole series pens another standalone after Hostage (also a film with Bruce Willis) and Demolition Angel. Max Holman, the “Hero Bandit”, has just finished serving ten years in prison for bank robbery. Holman is a career criminal, now middle aged and finally understanding that he has to change his ways. His estranged son is killed on the day of his release, shattering any hope of a reconciliation. Turns out his son was a police officer and was killed along with three other cops, but when the Los Angeles police department quickly closes the case by blaming a junkie who then kills himself, Holman is unconvinced. He persuades the FBI agent who originally arrested him (and is now retired) to help him find the killer and the story takes off at breakneck speed. Crais creates a world that is totally believable with a likeable ex-con, while good and evil are turned upside down and spin out into a superb story. 02/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™ Copyright © 2006 Cahners Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Reprinted with permission.

3. SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN by Lisa See: Maybe once or twice a year a book comes along that you just want to give to everyone you know. Books like The Kite Runner, Secret Life of Bees, Memoirs of a Geisha or The Ha-Ha, and there are many others, but for me, this year Snow Flower is that book. It is the coming of age story of a young girl named Lily and her “same” (best-friend-for-life,) Snow Flower, set in a remote village in 19th century China. It is a beautiful story about the friendship between these two girls/women, about the cruelty of foot binding told in very graphic detail, and about “nu shu”, a secret language just for women.  This meticulously researched tale will keep you mesmerized until you turn the last page. Don’t miss it! 06/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™

4. THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS by John Boyne: Ostensibly a book for young adults, it is nonetheless a powerful story for all readers; in fact, I’m not sure children would even get all the subtleties and nuances of this story. The title gives a hint as to the substance of the book, it is a Holocaust story, but it is told from the perspective of a nine-year-old German boy named Bruno. Bruno’s father is a high ranking military officer and they live in luxury in Berlin. One night the “Fury” comes to dinner, and Bruno’s life is turned upside down when his father receives a promotion to Commandant and the family is forced to move to “Out-With”. They live in an isolated house and a tutor is brought in for Bruno and his sister. But from his window Bruno can see a barbed-wire fence surrounding a large area that he assumes to be a farm.

Eventually, even though he is forbidden from doing so, his boredom and loneliness drive him to explore his surroundings. He follows along the fence and finds a young boy sitting on the other side, wearing striped pajamas and no shoes. Separated by barbed wire, Bruno and the boy, Shmuel, start talking and find they have much in common. They are the same age, in fact they share the same birthday, and they become friends through the fence. But to tell more of the story would be doing the book a disservice.

For it is in the telling of the story, in the way it unfolds, that completely captures the imagination and the heart, yet it is a maleficent, devastating story that is finally unfurled. It is a book to be read in one sitting, then shared. It is a book that has haunted me since I read it a few months ago, and I suspect will haunt me for quite some time to come. 09/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™ [YOUNG ADULT BOOK]

5. SNOW BLIND by P. J. Tracy: Summer is so good. Another of my favorite series, from the mother/daughter writing team known as P. J. Tracy, is back with their fourth Monkeewrench tale. What could be a more perfect read for days of 90+ degree heat than the latest adventure in wintry, cold, snowy Minnesota?
At the annual snowman building contest sponsored by the police department, all the fun comes to a halt when a young boy realizes that one of the snowmen contains a person – or rather, a dead body. And so does another, and worse yet, the dead are cops. Detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth are there for the contest and find themselves dealing with some sort of macabre cop killer. Then another body is found in a small town outside of Minneapolis, so Magozzi & Rolseth join up with the recently elected Sheriff on her first day of work. The trademark humor of this series is more muted this time, and the Monkeewrench crew has a much smaller role. More than a story about a cop killer, this is a story about justice and what that really means, making this the most compelling and important story in this terrific series. 08/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™

6. DEAD CENTER by David Rosenfelt: I just love Andy Carpenter, the smart-ass New Jersey lawyer with the huge inheritance that allows him the luxury of working – or not. When his ex-girlfriend Laurie calls to say she thinks she’s arrested the wrong guy for murder and needs some help, Andy and his beloved dog Tara are on their way to Findlay, Wisconsin to lend a hand. Laurie dumped Andy and moved back home when she was offered the job as Findlay Chief of Police, but Andy still has feelings for her. Nevertheless he gets to work, investigating the victims who were both members of a religious sect called the Centurions. Smart, engaging characters, lots of laughs, some nice plot twists and simply superb storytelling make Dead Center irresistible.  (Make sure you read the acknowledgments page – Rosenfelt manages to turn that into entertainment and I’m not just saying that because I’m first…) 05/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

7. BABY SHARK by Robert Fate: Let me add my heaping of praise for this debut, a throwback to another era. Set in 1952 Texas, the main character, Kristin Van Dijk, becomes known as Baby Shark. Her father was a pool hustler and she traveled the road with him until he was killed in front of her by a motorcycle gang, who then raped and savagely beat her, set the pool hall on fire and left her for dead. She survives and a year later she’s a trained killing machine, bent on revenge. Oddly enough, considering the male/female dichotomy here, there is something reminiscent of Mike Hammer in this character. It’s very well written and suitably fitting for the time period, touching on women’s roles, politics, and prejudice. Hardboiled fiction really doesn’t get much grittier than this.  12/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™

8. Life, Death & Bialys: A Father/Son Baking Story by Dylan Schaffer: When Dylan was a kid, his father, Flip, took off, which happens to lots of kids. Except he left his kids with a mother who was mentally ill. Needless to say, the children suffered through their childhood, but Dylan grew up to be a very successful attorney and writer, despite his earlier hardships – or perhaps because of them.

While he was writing his first novel, Misdemeanor Man, Flip called and asked him to take a baking class in New York with him. Flip was dying of cancer. Dylan had severe misgivings, but it’s hard to say no to your dying father, so he agreed to this venture. Flip wanted to learn to bake bialys, and signed them up for a class in artisanal baking at a New York City culinary school. He arranged for lodging at a dump in the Bowery, and Dylan figured that Flip would be dead before the class even started. But then there would have been no book to write. Instead, he survived, and they spent a week together in NYC, exploring the city, learning to bake and learning to forgive, or at least deal with all that anger and pain. Alternately moving, heartfelt and funny, this is a memoir to be savored; there is no happily-ever-after here, but rather a slice of life, raw as the dough they pummel together. Schaffer’s memoir is most reminiscent of Tuesdays wth Morrie, but ultimately feels much more real. 09/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™ [NONFICTION]

9. THE FALLEN by T. Jefferson Parker: Homicide Detective Robbie Greenlaw has a gift from an unfortunate accident – he was thrown out a sixth floor window. He survived, but suffers from a rare neurological disorder called synesthesia, which causes him to visualize different colored shapes coming out of a speaker’s mouth, coordinating with the emotions of the speaker; lies are red, jealousy is green and so forth. He doesn’t tell anyone but his wife about it, fearing reprisal, but it turns out to be a somewhat useful tool for a detective to have a sort of built-in lie detector. Greenlaw is assigned to case involving a former cop who is murdered. Things get really complicated when he uncovers a prostitution ring with political and police connections and the story just flies. Parker has achieved the Holy Trinity of starred reviews – Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus, and those stars are well deserved. This is an extraordinary story, told by an extraordinary writer. Don’t miss it. 03/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™

10. HEAT: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford: This is a fun read for anyone who enjoys the Food Network, Mario Batalli, or has a healthy curiosity about what goes on in a high end restaurant kitchen. Buford gave up his “real” job as an editor at the New Yorker to work full time for Batalli in the kitchen at Babbo. Buford is charming and honest about his fun and foibles, from being deliberately bumped 40-some-odd times a shift (by the higher ranking kitchen echelon to keep him in his place,) to the wines that are really used in the restaurant, the blisters on his hands (tongs are useful!), or flying off with Mario to help at a charity event. It’s a foodie’s delight and I couldn’t put it down. 08/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™[NONFICTION]

THRILLERS (alphabetical by author)

ESCAPE CLAUSE by James O. Born: Bill Tasker is one of my favorite heroes. An officer with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, he’s not your typical tough guy cop who solves crimes by busting heads or relying on snitches. Instead, he digs in his heels and uses his streak of stubbornness along with his smarts to a real advantage; he just refuses to give up. Through three books now, he’s shown how to work around orders from his superiors (if necessary), or the FBI, or other agencies, to get the job done. Tenacity is a trait that is often overlooked and desperately needed, especially in law enforcement work, and Tasker – whose name implies a certain tenacity about work – has it in abundance. But he’s not just a nose-to-the-grindstone guy either – he has a life that often intrudes on his work, and vice versa. He’s still in love with his ex-wife, who got tired of competing for his attention with the job, and he’s a great dad to his two young daughters. Tasker is understated and real, a hero for our times.
After a shocking opening, Tasker finds himself in the position of being forced to deal with the results of everything he went through in the first two books – a series best read in order, although there is enough information here to clarify. He’s sent out to a prison in the Everglades to investigate the murder of a wealthy Florida land developer’s son. Nobody really wants him there except for the two good looking women who hone in on the hunky visitor. But this is no romance; Tasker has a few run-ins in town and at the prison, prisoners escape and the bodies start piling up, but our hero is up to the challenge. With this third entry into the series, Born is now firmly entrenched as a “must read”.  02/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™

THE HARD WAY by Lee Child: This is one of my favorite series for pure escapist fiction. The tenth Jack Reacher thriller begins while he’s enjoying an espresso in a sidewalk cafe in New York City. He is approached by a man, obviously ex-military; that is, to Jack it’s obvious as he is an ex-Army MP and extremely observant. That observing nature gets him involved in helping to solve a kidnapping for the very mysterious Edward Lane and his band of disreputable mercenaries, but nothing is quite as it seems. Fast paced as always with some nice twists, this is another exciting adventure for the hero that all women want and all men want to be. 06/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™

THE JURY MASTER by Robert Dugoni: David Sloane is a high powered attorney in San Francisco – with a conscience. After he wins a wrongful death suit for his obnoxious client, instead of celebrating, he suffers a migraine and a recurring nightmare that keeps haunting him. Meanwhile, the special assistant to the U.S. President, Joe Branick, commits suicide in a small West Virginia town – or does he? The local police detective is suspicious when the Justice department takes over the investigation with plenty of attitude. Then Sloane’s secretary tells him that Joe Branick left him a message the night before he died, and a mysterious package shows up in the mail. An ex-CIA agent has a visitor who delivers a thirty-year old file, bringing all sorts of trouble along with it. Innocent people (and animals) are being killed and somehow Mexico is going to solve our oil crisis. Dugoni manages to bring it all together at lighting fast speed in this superb, action-packed debut thriller. 03/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™

KILLER INSTINCT by Joseph Finder: Finder pens another corporate thriller that is his best yet – and that’s saying a lot for the “John Grisham” of the corporate world. Jason Steadman is a happy guy; he’s a successful salesman for Entronics, Panasonic’s biggest rival, he works with some good guys, plays softball for the company team. His wife isn’t so happy; she’d like to see him work a little harder, get further ahead, buy her a bigger house. When he accidentally drives into a ditch, he befriends the tow truck driver, Kurt Semko, ex-Special Forces and semi-pro ball player, recruiting him for the corporate team and getting him a job in security. In a strange twist of fate, good things start happening for Steadman while bad things are happening to his rivals. He becomes uneasy with all the yin and yang and the suspense gets thick as Steadman tries to figure out what is going on and how, or if, to stop it. Believable characters doing unbelievable things combine to make a fast paced, tension filled story that works because of Finder’s superb writing and storytelling skills. This is a page turner of the highest order; don’t plan on putting it down until you turn the last page.  05/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE KING OF LIES by John Hart: This powerful literary thriller starts off slowly but builds momentum like a runaway train. Jackson Workman Pickens, Work to his friends, is an unambitious criminal defense lawyer in a small North Carolina town who has some serious baggage. He’s lost his mother, his father Ezra has been missing for more than a year, leaving Work to deal with his psychologically damaged sister, and his marriage is on the rocks. Ezra, a prosperous attorney of questionable ethics and Work’s boss, made a lot of enemies, so when his body is found, pretty much everyone is a suspect – but only one man is charged with the murder. Small town ostracism and a social climbing wife only add to the difficulties of trying to find out the truth behind the murder, which eventually opens a Pandora’s Box for Work. The writing is beautiful and the story is gripping, but it is the character study of a damaged southern lawyer that puts this debut novel on the must-read list. 06/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™. Copyright © 2006 Cahners Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Reprinted with permission.

TURNING ANGEL by Greg Iles: Do middle aged married men really want to have affairs with their teenage babysitters? Hell, yes! That’s not news, of course, but Iles takes that premise and runs with it. Kate Townsend is a 17 year old Harvard bound high school senior who ends up raped and murdered. Chief suspect is town golden boy Dr. Drew Elliot, 23 years her senior and her lover. Natchez, Mississippi is a hotbed of racial politics and Elliot becomes the prize winning pawn, especially after he calls on his close friend Penn Cage to represent him. Iles claims that all his books are stand alones, but apparently Penn was the protagonist of The Quiet Game and there are references to past events in this book. Penn, a former prosecutor, is retired from law and writing Pulitzer prize winning novels but nonetheless he takes a $20 retainer and starts investigating the murder. Drugs, murders, teenage violence and sex brings a small Southern town to its knees in this twisty torrid tale. 01/06 Stacy Alesi, the BookBitch™

KILL ALL THE LAWYERS by Paul Levine: Levine delivers yet again with this fast, funny legal thriller, third in the Solomon vs. Lord series. Steve Solomon, Miami lawyer who lives by his own law and favors t-shirts with pithy sayings like, “Lawyers do it in their briefs” has his hands full. A former client, Dr. William Kreeger, recently released from prison, has somehow learned that Steve threw the case and got him convicted. Instead of appealing or suing, Dr. Kreeger, a well-known psychologist, decides to torture and kill Steve. Steve’s law partner & lover, Victoria Lord, is pressuring him to make a commitment, and worse than that, he thinks he wants to. Steve’s lovable-albeit-challenging nephew, Bobby, is at full pubescent turmoil, compounded by Bobby’s drug-addict mother finding Jesus and trying to move back into his life. To round out this picture of family dysfunction is Steve’s father, who has also found religion – he’s become an Orthodox Jew and is driving Steve crazier than usual. But despite all their faults, none of them really wants to see Steve get killed. With a little help from friends and family, Steve & Victoria live to fight another day. And to fans of this series, that is very good news indeed. I love this series; it’s become one of those that when I read the latest book – a couple of weeks before the on-sale date, mind you – I’m immediately impatient for the next. Hey, Levine, I know you’re reading – can’t you write any faster???  08/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™

THE LAST SPYMASTER by Gayle Lynds: International spy thrillers are a rare breed ever since the end of the Cold War (if it really ended…) and ones with characters are rich as these, a storyline as plausible yet frightening as this, are even more rare. Charles Jay Tice was the station chief in Berlin for the CIA towards the end of the Cold War. In a shocking turn of events he is convicted of treason and gets life imprisonment in a maximum security prison – yet he manages to escape. Elaine Cunningham is one of the best “hunters” that the CIA has and she is put on the case – and quietly. No one wants word to get out that the world’s most dangerous spy is on the loose. But what she learns makes her question her assignment and her future – she uncovers a much larger conspiracy than anyone ever suspected. Lynds sets a new standard with her taut plotting, believable characters and terse, exciting writing – this is a page turner of the highest magnitude. 06/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™

BOOK OF FATE by Brad Meltzer: A word of caution: don’t start this book unless you have time to finish it – you won’t be able to put it down. Wes Holloway is a young, cocky rising political star and aid to the President of the United States, until an assassination attempt is made. President Manning is unhurt, but his deputy chief of staff, Ron Boyle, is killed, and Holloway takes a bullet to the face. He survives but is permanently disfigured, both physically and emotionally. And that’s just the opener. Things become more complicated some years later when Holloway surprises an intruder who appears to be none other than the dead Ron Boyle. Throw in a psychotic murderer who believes the Freemasons have plotted to kill his mother and some unsavory political types, if you can imagine such a thing, and honey, the plot thickens. The Book of Fate is a fast paced, suspenseful novel of political intrigue that will keep you on the edge of your seat until you turn the last page. And don’t forget to read the author’s note at the end, it’s fascinating. Note for south Floridians – see if you can find the reference to the popular morning radio show hosts, Paul and Young Ron.  09/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch™

BEAUTIFUL LIES by Lisa Unger: Ridley Jones is a freelance writer living in New York City and gets her fifteen minutes of fame when she saves a toddler who wandered out in front of a truck – and the incident is caught on film. Her heroic deed gets her noticed by the Today Show and also by someone claiming to be her father. Her parents deny and when new neighbor Jake saunters into her life, he helps her figure out what is really going on – or does he? Twists and turns and lots of action make this an exhilarating read centered around a “Safe Haven” program where parents who don’t want their babies can leave them with no questions asked, like at hospitals or clinics. While being touted as a debut novel, the careful plotting and well developed characters should tip off any reader that this author has been around – and indeed she has, as Lisa Miscione. 04/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

TOP TEN from Jack Quick

BABY SHARK by Robert Fate: I understand a shark must constantly move to prevent its suffocation and that its attention span is so short that it can learn little from experience. Kristin, the Baby Shark of this book, moves a lot but she has also learned a lot and each experience leads her closer to the revenge she seeks. In October 1952, at the tender age of 17 she watched four bikers kill her pool hustler father in a Texas pool hall fight that leaves two other men dead as well. Sexually assaulted, beaten, and left for dead, she is rescued by the pool hall owner Henry Chin, a Chinese immigrant and father of one of the other murder victims. Since the local police are no help, Chin hires a private investigator to start searching for the killers. Then he hires two “tutors” for Kristin. Both are World War II veterans and with their help she develops into one tough package. Her “uncle” Harlan, a cohort of her father’s, makes sure she also shoots a mean game of stick. At eighteen the Baby Shark is ready to hunt for the killers as she hustles pool in west Texas. Her search for revenge begins on page 65 when the first of her attackers is located. Then the pace picks up. To quote Baby Shark, “Revenge, they say, is best served up cold.” This is the first in a projected series of novels about a teenaged woman taking up the family business – pool hustling. I wish Mr. Fate well with his plans, as I think this will become a very interesting series of reads. Available 09/06.

COLD GRANITE by Stuart MacBride: Another Ian Rankin? Scottish Detective Sergeant Logan McRae has returned to his Aberdeen beat after a year’s medical convalescence to tackle a case that makes even his most callous colleagues cringe: the strangling and mutilation of a four-year-old boy. More children turn up missing and, then, dead and it is obvious the press has a pipeline into the police investigation. Complicating the case is the fact that the forensic pathologist assigned to work with the investigators in McRae’s ex-girlfriend. All in all, an impressive first outing.

THE FAITHFUL SPY by Alex Berenson: CIA agent John Wells, the first Western intelligence officer to penetrate the upper levels of al-Qaeda, is assigned a mission on American soil by bin Laden’s chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Wells, now a devout Muslim (for real), finds his years spent in deep cover have left him conflicted. Has he been turned? The scrutiny intensifies when two bombs go off in L.A., killing 300. Although a bit clunky, the mounting suspense, a believable scenario and a final twist add up to a compelling tale of frightening possibilities. It’s not for the squeamish, though: the torture sequences and bombing descriptions are graphic and chillingly real.

A GARDEN OF VIPERS by Jack Kerley: Three dead women, each killed in a different way. One is a friend of the girlfriend of Mobile, Alabama, detective Carson Ryder. What Ryder and partner Harry Nautilus aren’t sure is whether the three seemingly dissimilar cases are in fact related. Then Ryder learns that Lucas Kincannon, son and scion of one of Mobile’s nouveau rich is after his television reporter girlfriend. This, coupled with some follow the money clues, puts Ryder and Nautilus on a collision course with the city power structure. This is Kerley’s third (after The Hundredth Man and The Death Collectors) and he is rapidly making Mobile the epicenter of new millennium crime detection. The villains are flawed, as are the protagonists, and you are kept in suspense as to just who will overcome their own defects first. While not yet a Burke or a Parker, Kerley is already on my “don’t miss” list.

MAD DOGS by James Grady: Grady’s first novel (Six Days of the Condor, 1974) was awesome and I heartily recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it. Time will tell whether his latest will stand the same test of time. Five former CIA operatives, deemed to be mentally unable to continue, are housed in a top-secret insane asylum in Maine. When their psychiatrist is murdered they realize they will be framed for the crime, so they break out and make their way to Washington, D.C. and a man they hope holds the key to the mystery. On one level this is a well-written thriller that moves at a rapid pace with plenty of action, or you may consider it an extended hallucination not unlike One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Ultimately, it’s a tale of emancipation and coming to terms with the realities of life, and one’s own limitations.

ONE MISSISSIPPI by Mark Childress: It’s the early ’70s and Daniel Musgrove’s father moves the family from Indiana to rural Mississippi. Daniel starts the 11th grade with a new best friend, Tim. When they double date for the junior prom, the teens have an accident on the way home and cause the prom queen to fall off her bike and hit her head. The prom queen of the newly integrated high school is black, but the injury leaves her believing that she is white. When I read Crazy In Alabama, I thought it was an unauthorized biography of my family. With One Mississippi, I realize my younger brother is Daniel. Childress captures the essence of growing up in the South during this era better than anyone. The only other book to come close was Bleachers by John Grisham. So if you grew up in this era as I did, this is a must read. If not, it’s still a damn good one.

PEGASUS DESCENDING by James Lee Burke: Dave Robicheaux can’t escape the past. Years ago when he “was still going steady with Jim Beam straight up and a beer back” a friend, Dallas Klein, was killed in an armored car robbery that Dave witnessed but was too drunk to stop. Now Dallas’ daughter Trish, a grifter and con artist, shows up in New Iberia apparently intent on getting revenge on the mobsters who caused her father’s death, mobsters who coincidentally now live in New Iberia. If possible, Burke-continues to get better. Not only is the story riveting and the prose as elegant as ever, but he breaks the mood from time to time with outrageously funny moments and characters before ratcheting the tension up another notch. For instance, there is “Calamity Jane” AKA Betsy Mossbacher, an FBI agent originally from Chugwater, Wyoming, who deserves her own series. She begins by crashing her vehicle into a New Iberia police cruiser, insults the chief and generally acts more like the proverbial bull in the china shop than a heifer. Mixed in with the serious stuff are incidents like the 911 call from a meth addict who was outraged when his dealer showed up without the drugs the caller had paid for, thereby committing fraud, and according to the caller, added insult to injury by robbing him at gunpoint of seventy-eight dollars and his stash. It just doesn’t get any better.

THE PRESSURE OF DARKNESS by Harry Shannon: Jack Burke earned his stripes as a Special Operations agent near Somalia in 1993, refined his skills in the Las Vegas PD and is now an unlicensed PI in Los Angeles. Nicole Stryker hires him to look into the gruesome death of her father, horror author Peter Stryker. The death has been labeled suicide but Burke picks up indications that it was, in fact, murder. Enter Burke’s former employer, the CIA; drug cartels, religious cult leaders, murder and mutilation of homeless people, a Mexican connection – and it just keeps getting more nerve racking, fast moving and complicated. This is definitely a horror, mystery, PI, military/adventure, techno-thriller with religious overtones, romantic angles and enough guts and gore to satisfy the most blood-thirsty. Amazingly hard to put down even though it runs well over 400 pages. This may be the break out book for Shannon, who has written two previous Mick Callahan novels.

SHADOW LAWS by Jim Michael Hansen: In this second of the “Laws” series, Denver homicide detective Bryson Coventry, and beautiful young attorney Taylor Sutton, are separately hunting vicious killers but for very different reasons. A lawyer friend of Sutton’s has a mysterious client, with whom he has only talked by phone, that he thinks is trying to kill him. He has tapes of their conversations that are not conclusive and wants Sutton’s advice as to whether he can ethically turn them over to the police. In the meantime Coventry is looking for a missing woman that he fears is dead. Soon they are in pursuit of a sicko who likes to play games with his victims, the police and attorneys. Eventually the paths of Coventry and Sutton cross and they close in on the truth. Another excellent outing.

SLAY RIDE by Chris Grabenstein: “Cabbies are a junkie’s favorite ATM. Conveniently located. Always open.” FBI Special Agent Christopher Miller is looking into the murder of the cab driver son of a neighbor. Advertising executive Scott Wilkinson is kidnapped after making the mistake of admonishing limousine driver and former KGB operative Nicolai Kyznetsoff for being a few minutes late. Russian diamond smugglers are bringing in their loot inside nesting matryoshka dolls. Count on Chris Grabenstein to pull it all together in an effort that is much better (IMHO) than his New Jersey amusement park offerings (Tilt-A-Whirl and Mad Mouse). The cast of characters is superb and unforgettable, and yes, all the strings do eventually knot together.

TOP TEN from Geoffrey R. Hamlin

1. Echo Park – Michael Connelly. The latest episode of the Harry Bosch saga is up to Connelly’s usual standards, which are simply those of the finest writer of crime fiction in the United States today. In this novel, Harry, who had been mellowing a little under the influences of a daughter and a competent police chief, proves unable to escape his driven nature and his miserable youth. I worry about Harry and fear that this can only end by him “swallowing his gun.”

2. The Dramatist/Calibre – Ken Bruen. Of all the books by Mr. Bruen released in the U.S. this year, these two affected me the most. There is an incident near the end of the The Dramatist that so shook me that I had to put the book down for a time. That is writing, my friends. Calibre displayed Mr. Bruen’s talent at its most mordent. The protagonist, a Dexter-like soul out of Jim Thompson, is a serial killer who chooses his victims because they are rude and deserve to be punished. He is convinced that he will never be caught because he is a faithful watcher of C.S.I. and has learned all about the mistakes that other killers make. I sort of had to root for him, as I marveled at how well Bruen had captured the essence of Thompson. Great stuff!

3. The One Percent Doctrine – Ron Suskind. Mr Suskind restores my faith in a free press. His earlier book about former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill (The Price of Loyalty) was a fine insightful biography of the man, but even more importantly, a guidebook to how this administration thinks. (I use the word “thinks” loosely.) While his analysis of the mindsets of Bush/Cheney is not as pointed this time, his detailed and persistent reporting on what facts were available to the administration in its “war on terror” and how that information was ignored, twisted and misused is necessary reading for every citizen who votes. If you read this book, then Bob Woodward’s later change of heart (State of Denial) was old news.

4. The Pale Blue Eye – Louis Bayard. Bayard followed up last year’s Mr. Timothy with an even better effort in this period mystery. At the Air Force Academy, we made fun of West Point as “two hundred years of tradition, uninterrupted by any progress whatsoever.” The Pale Blue Eye is set at West Point at the time those traditions were being formed by Colonel Sylvanus Thayer. Col. Thayer asks a retired detective named Gus Landor to help him solve a gruesome murder at the Academy in a discreet fashion. Landor is assisted in these efforts by Cadet Edgar Allan Poe. Need I say more? A fine read with some wonderful plot twists.

5. Pound for Pound – F.X. Toole. In my review of this book, I called it the finest fight book I have read in a long time. I stand by that opinion. This is the real thing.

6. Brooklyn Follies – Paul Auster. The fanciful tale of a man who goes to Brooklyn to die and discovers that life is just too darn interesting to give up on. Besides, people need him. A bookstore, a con man and a utopian vision all contribute to a wonderful story.

7. Dark Light – Randy Wayne White. Hurricanes treated the state of Florida very roughly in 2004, laying waste to the regions of Mr. White on the Gulf Coast and the Bookbitch™ on the Atlantic Coast. Dark Light is Mr. White’s chance to process some of that experience and the post-hurricane difficulties and exploitation. Some reviewers seemed to think that these feelings got in the way of the story. But I am glad we have a voice in Mr. White.

8. The Winter of Frankie Machine – Don Winslow. I am a big fan of Mr. Winslow’s stuff, both light and dark. This is definitely on the light side. The tale of a former mob enforcer who has found happiness in a bait shop and is trying to stay straight is as funny as it gets. The part is made for Robert DeNiro.

9. Deep Blue Alibi – Paul Levine. So sue me, I like funny mystery stories. Blame it on John Dickson Carr. I especially like funny mystery stories involving lawyers. Mr. Levine treats the business of lawyering with irreverence, but affection. And he gets the details right while he is making me laugh. Skip Grisham, read Levine, it’s that simple.

10. Utterly Monkey – Nick Laird. I am still not sure what to make of this book. It is the story of an Irish lawyer who abandons the corporate treadmill for love and freedom, inspired by a beautiful woman and a completely disreputable boyhood friend from Belfast. The woman, not surprisingly, bears a strong resemblance to Zadie Smith (White Teeth), Mr Laird’s companion. On the one hand, you should probably read this book. On the other hand, you really, really don’t want to know what “utterly monkey” refers to.

TOP TEN from Becky Lejeune

1. THIRTEENTH TALE by Dianne Setterfield: This amazing debut is true literary mystery. The past few years have seen something of a resurgence in ‘gothic” literature and Thirteenth Tale is just one of the most recent of these releases. A true booklover’s tale. Anyone who loved Jane Eyre will adore this book.

2. AND SHE WAS by Cindy Dyson: Another fantastic debut. This will remain one of my all time favorite books. Dyson’s writing is brilliant, the story is engaging and the setting is a character in and of itself.

3. DEVIL’S FEATHER by Minette Walters: My first, but most definitely not my last, Minette Walters. This was a thrilling, edge of your seat mystery that you won’t want to put down.

4. LISEY’S STORY by Stephen King: Some readers have been a bit apprehensive about this title because, at first glance, it does not appear to be a typical horror story. I promise, if you do not read this book, you are missing out. A tale of family loyalty and devotion as only Stephen King can do it. Lisey’s Tale bridges the gap between King’s fantastical and realistic horror stories.

5. SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn: This shocking and brutal mystery makes for yet another fantastic debut. Family intrigue, psychological suspense — you name it this book has it. Gillian Flynn is definitely one to keep an eye on in the future.

6. THE HARROWING by Andrea Sokoloff:  What can I say other than I love to find brilliant debut titles? This is a fresh and intriguing, not to mention creepy, spin on the classic ghost story.

7. THE GLASS BOOKS OF THE DREAM EATERS by Gordon Dahlquist: Yep, another brilliant debut. This book is hard to classify and somewhat intimidating but is also a perfect work of art. This Victorian fantasy, sci-fi, adventure tale is incredible and not to be missed.

8. BLOOD KNIGHT by Greg Keyes: I am an extremely picky fantasy reader. The Kingdom of Thorn and Bone series is truly amazing. Book three was no different and I can’t wait for book four – what promises to be a truly exciting conclusion.

9. IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW by Cecelia Ahern: Cecelia Ahern can do no wrong in my eyes. Each of her books is sweet and thoughtful as well as hilarious, not to mention creative – a chick lit title featuring an invisible friend. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Hugh Jackman is slated to star in the movie.

10. CITY OF SHADOWS by Ariana Franklin: Though not a true debut, City of Shadows is the debut mystery under this pseudonym for Diana Norman. Franklin (Norman) weaves true events, including Anna Anderson – the woman who claimed to be Anastasia, into this brilliant historical mystery.

 

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