The Top Five: A Personal List of Some of My Favorite Mystery, Thriller and Suspense Novels of 2009 (not counting, of course, The Cutting.)
Happy New Year. The following is more than a little unfair to a lot of good writers. I can’t pretend it’s in any way comprehensive. I’ve read only a small percentage of the good and possibly great mysteries and thrillers that have come out over the last twelve months. These are just a few of the ones I read and enjoyed enough to recommend to friends.
And so I’ll now recommend them to you. If you have any personal favorites you’d like to recommend, please let me know either through this site or through Facebook fan page for The Cutting.
Beat The Reaper by Josh Bazell (Little Brown). A wildly original and entertaining comic thriller about a fourteen-year-old hit man named Pietro “Bearclaw” Brnwa. Pietro agrees to rat out his former mob colleagues on the condition that the FBI put him into the witness protection program and pay his way through medical school. We first meet Pietro in his new incarnation as Doctor Peter Brown, a young resident at Manhattan Catholic hospital where, guess what? One of his former mafia colleagues turns up as a patient and instantly recognizes him as “Bearclaw.” The rest is all madness, mayhem and great fun.
Rain Gods by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster). Rain Gods is the second James Burke Lee novel to feature a small town Texas sheriff named Hackberry Holland. Lay Down My Sword and Shield was the first and is definitely on my must read list. Holland is a Korean War Vet, a hard scrabble septuagenarian who longs for nothing more than a quiet life. For better or for worse, in Rain Gods, that’s not what he gets.
The book tells the story of a young innocent named Pete Flores who inadvertently witnesses a the machine gun massacre of nine illegal immigrant women behind a church in Holland’s jurisdiction. Flores and his girlfriend Vicki flee the killer, a psychopathic whack job named Preacher Jack Collins. It’s Holland’s job to find Flores and Vicki before Collins does. A great tale, beautifully told.
Scarecrow by Michael Connelly (Little Brown): Michael Connelly has been one of my favorites for a lot of years. I’ve enjoyed just about every one of his Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller books. Scarecrow brings back crime reporter Jack McEvoy who we first met in The Poet and then again in 2004’s The Narrows. In Scarecrow, McEvoy’s just been laid off from his job on the L.A. Times. He wants to go out with a bang by writing one last great story. He decides to investigate arrest of a young L.A. gangbanger for the brutal rape and murder of an exotic dancer. He soon realizes that the wrong man has been charged with the crime and teams up with his old flame, FBI agent Rachel Walling, to uncover a string of bizarre and frightening serial killings. The real killer? I’m not giving anything away by revealing that its a strange and frightening computer hacker who uses his skills on the Internet to find and track down each of his victims. The Scarecrow is one hell of a good read.
Vanished by Joseph Finder (St. Martin’s Press). Vanished is the first in a new series featuring Mick Heller, corporate espionage operative and former Special Forces tough guy. After hearing from his nerdy fourteen-year-old nephew Gabe Heller comes home to Washington to learn that his older brother Roger has vanished and Roger’s wife Lauren is in a DC hospital in a coma. With help from Gabe, Heller unravels a nasty scheme involving a the CEO of a Security firm intended to look and sound a lot like real life company Blackwater. Vanished moves at breakneck speed and the plots offers up a lot of fun, if not totally believable, twists and turns. Definitely a good read.
The Silent Man by Alex Berenson (G.P. Putnam). This is Berenson’s third novel featuring CIA operative John Wells and his girlfriend and fellow agent Jenny Exley. This time the baddies are Islamist jihadists who manage to get their hands on small nuclear bombs and intend using them on The Great Satan. Unlike most thriller villains who tend to be cardboard thin, Bernson’s are well drawn three-dimensional characters. If you’re not familiar with this series I suggest you start with Berenson’s first, The Faithful Spy, that was published in hardcover in 2006 and in paper in 2008.
As I said at the top, these books represent only a small fraction of the large number of terrific mysteries and thrillers that came out last year. Please let me know what you particular favorites was and, yes, you can include The Cutting on your list