2005 is so last year, part I: the American version

A few people have asked — very nicely, I might add — if I’m going to be writing up my own “Best of ’05” list. For one thing, my final column for the Sun (which runs on Christmas Day) will be different in that it is such a list, but of mystery themed non-fiction. But at the same time, the sheer abundance of these lists brings out the contrarian in me. So instead, I’m going to use David Montgomery’s recent post as a jumping off point and add some thoughts of my own, in several parts — but be warned, as they aren’t meant to be comprehensive, either…

Montgomery says that it’s been a good year for crime fiction, but not a

great one. I agree in some part (especially about the last quarter,

where I often struggled to find good books that I wanted to read

instead of diving into the ’06 galley stash) but I think that in a way,

it’s been the year of the underrated crime writer. Yes, there were

excellent turns by all the writers he mentioned, but let’s not forget

books like Jan Burke’s BLOODLINES, Don Winslow’s THE POWER OF THE DOG,

Kent Harrington’s RED JUNGLE (which, by only being published by Dennis

McMillan, unfortunately makes it easier for the mystery reading public

to forget) Peter Moore Smith’s LOS ANGELES (also easily forgotten

because it was published way back in January and because there’d been a

five year gap since RAVELING) Peter Craig’s BLOOD FATHER, Mark Haskell

Smith’s DELICIOUS, Jess Walter’s CITIZEN VINCE, and Jodi Compton’s

SYMPATHY BETWEEN HUMANS. These are all people who write exceptionally

well, who have varying ranges of audience but who all have the chops to

be around for a long time to come, should luck and sales hold. But by

virtue of being so good, it’s easy to forget about them, perverse as it


In terms of debuts, I think I found more to like, but it might be

telling that many of my favorite newcomers were not marketed as crime

writers. Megan Abbott’s DIE A LITTLE? Simon & Schuster thought they

bought historical fiction. Kelly Braffet’s JOSIE AND JACK? It’s not

even on the Edgar submission list. Neither is Martha O’Connor’s THE

BITCH POSSE, whose acid-laced prose lingers in my mind many months

after I read it. Other hybrids, debut or otherwise, included Clare

Sambrook’s HIDE AND SEEK, Clare Clark’s THE GREAT STINK (which at least

was nominated for the Creasey Dagger) Janni Visman’s YELLOW, and most

especially Lee Martin’s THE BRIGHT FOREVER, which is definitely up

there in top ten-ness, and Mitch Cullin’s A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND.

If 2005 should be remembered for one thing, it should be for the quality of books published as paperback originals, especially TPO. It might have been a good year in general and slightly off one for debuts (although I think it’s often wiser to start your career with a flawed book and build your way up, so I suspect we’ll be hearing lots from many of 2005’s newcomers in the future) but there were some seriously outstanding PBOs published this year, starting with Jeffrey Ford’s THE GIRL IN THE GLASS — if this doesn’t show up on various awards lists, I will be an extremely unhappy camper. Then there was pretty much anything published by Bitter Lemon Press (especially Tonino Benacquista’s SOMEONE ELSE and Giancarlo Carofiglio’s INVOLUNTARY WITNESS), Jean-Claude Izzo’s TOTAL CHAOS, Rochelle Krich’s NOW YOU SEE ME, Charlie Huston’s SIX BAD THINGS, Poppy Z. Brite’s LIQUOR, David Bowker’s HOW TO BE BAD, Jon Evans’ BLOOD PRICE, Reed Coleman’s THE JAMES DEANS, Naomi Hirahara’s GASA-GASA GIRL and Fred Vargas’ HAVE MERCY ON US ALL. And I know I left some TPOs off. The point is, expect many, many more books to go that route in 2006 and beyond. And if so, make sure to read them.

In Part II, I’ll scope out the Canadian and UK story in crime fiction and see what I come up with.