Monday, December 27, 2010

Some Recommendations

Tis the season for lists. As someone who reads (a lot), I’m inclined to recommend books I enjoy to my friends and even strangers.

So, like many others, I’m offering here some of the books I read, enjoyed and reviewed in 2010. Not all were written in this year and they are a mixed assortment of fiction and non-fiction. Here they are, in no particular order:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The story of Henry VIII and his many marriages has been told before. But this is a version seen from another angle. Henry, Anne Boleyn and the stars in other depictions here become pawns of another player’s game. Though it is Henry’s and Anne’s desire for a marriage blessed, if not sanctified, by the church around which much of the book centers, it is the character and vision of Thomas Cromwell provides the driving force and interest.

The Killer of Little Shepherds by Douglas Starr
Starr tracks the pursuit of a brutal serial killer in 19th century France and parallels it with the development of the forensic sciences which aided his capture and assured his conviction. In fact, it may have set the pattern for how law enforcement would gather evidence and pursue criminals in the future.

Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch
Clinch tells the tale through the viewpoints of a variety of characters from the present and past, painting the rural landscape and people in vivid, poetic colors. His inspiration was the real-life story of the Ward brothers told in the 1992 documentary film, ‘Brother’s Keeper,’ but this is his own retelling of that narrative. It is a tale as moving as it is bleak.

Best American Noir, edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler
If you’re already a fan of the genre, you’ll be pleased with this magnificent edition. If you don’t know what noir is, then this is a splendid introduction.

The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke
Few today write such poetic prose about such dark and horrific events. An absorbing plot, fascinating characters, plenty of suspense—what’s not to like?

The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan
You don’t have to be an old Asia hand to enjoy this book. But, if you are, it’s certain to bring back memories and an itch to revisit some former haunts.

Cornelius The Orphan by Douglas Quinn
Cornelius is based on a real person, though Quinn has used the broad brush of fiction to depict his history. If this novel whets your taste for more (as it has mine), there is a sequel in the offing involving the orphan’s son, Samuel.

The Tiger by John Vaillant
People are fascinated by monsters, be they human or other animal. If this book were simply about a man-eating tiger and the hunt to stop the beast it would have an attraction for many readers. But Vaillant’s story goes much deeper.

Heresy by S J. Parris
Building on the historical fact of Giordano Bruno’s visit to Oxford in 1583, S. J. Parris has crafted an intriguing mystery set against the religious turbulence of Tudor England.

Monster in the Box by Ruth Rendell
No one explores criminal motivation quite so well as Ruth Rendell, and this novel is additional proof of her skill.

The Day After Yesterday by Wayne D. Dundee
Get set for nail-biting action when PI Joe Hannibal confronts a murderous conspiracy which puts him on a collision course with rightwing militia, a dangerous terrorist, the FBI and Homeland Security.

Talking About Detective Fiction by P. D. James
The focus is mostly on English writers. But that’s okay. Who is better qualified to comment on the subject?

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley
Bradley has created one of the most engaging sleuths in recent years and I’m glad to see her adventures are just begun. He reveals in an afterword he is already at work on the third novel in the series.

The Adventures of Elizabeth Fortune by Kae Cheatham
If you enjoy fast-paced adventure, accurately depicted historical fiction, mysteries and/or romance, this is a recommended read. Personally I’m looking forward to a promised sequel.

The Man From Beijing by Henning Mankell
Mankell has penned a riveting thriller which has its dark origins 150 years in the past and takes the reader on a wild ride from Sweden to the United States, from China to Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

A King of Infinite Space by Tyler Dilts
Haunted and guilt-ridden by the tragic death of his wife and their unborn child, Detective Danny Beckett is in limbo, taking refuge in the routine of his job and alcohol. The brutal murder of a teacher—who he eventually learns had ties to his past—gives his life a new incentive.

Passing Strange by Martha Sandweiss
Sandweiss has written an important and moving book which inspires the hope one day we might move above the minor differences which separate us, amalgamating even beyond Clarence King’s ideal to a truly “human race.”

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
Though Larsson did a commendable job of wrapping up the trilogy, this third novel in the series is not a standalone. The first hundred pages or so are an attempt to fill in what happened before, but I think reading the first two is necessary to fully understand what is going on.

Caught by Harlan Coben
Coben has crafted another fast-paced thriller displaying his superb insight into life in suburbia and a gift for realistic depiction of teen angst.

The Lost Cyclist by David Herlihy
This book had a personal interest for me since my maternal grandfather was one of those cycling pioneers and might have felt at home in company with men like Lenz and Sachtleben.


  1. Thanks, John, there are some books I will be looking for. Love Harlan Coben's thrillers and haven't read that one. Mankell of course writes about my favourite detective of all (well second because there is Harry Bosch) Wallander.(My favourite European detective would be better).

  2. Nice list, John.
    Thanks for including my book. I'll have to get busy on that sequel :).

  3. John - Thanks very much for these recommendations. I must agree 100% with you about the Mankell, the Burke, the Bradley and the James. They are terrific books and I heartily recommend them myself.