New Year's opened to sunshine and a memory of family here in Milwaukee. Last night was family; the kids(Paul, Jen, Dianne, Jon, Ruth) playing, the children trying not to fall asleep(Cole failed miserably but Laura was passing out poker chips even as Jon and I left at 3:30 in the morning) and Karen was cooking up a storm. Much work has been done on the family homestead the last six months and it was like walking into fairyland last night for me. Since the changes were completed I'd not been to Mequon, but many of the clan have worked hard towards the Christmas wonderment I saw for the first time on the last day of 2006. We were all together to speculate on Farve's moment. None of us are drawing conclusions.
And today I find myself looking back on a year more surreal than a Tom Robbins novel. I'll not get into the many conflicting vibes of 2006 here but concentrate simply on mystery. There's been an underground buzz... many have said that in Mystery 2006 was decidedly unexceptional. But I beg to differ and to follow are a few of my highlights with a note that they all belong to me and me alone.
1.) First "minute" of 2006. Robert Crais's TWO MINUTE RULE was a return to that special something that defined Crais as a unique writer to many of us in the nineties. The nonchalance and irreverence returned with aplomb in this book. It was informative, page turning, and had that certain twinkle in the pen stroke that defines the gentleman for me. A reverence for Chandler with the disregard of Penn and Teller with the best of plotting mystery has to offer. He's lethal. I look forward to the Joe Pike novel.
2.)I discovered Megan Abbott for myself. Have you?
3.)Duane Swierczynski's The Blonde knocked my socks off and Westlake has a true heir.
4.)Denise Mina's The Dead Hour, a follow up to last year's A Field of Blood was another damned fine book from the writer of the Garnet Hill trilogy. Paddy Meehan is something new in female amateur and I'm thinking perhaps the most "relevant" series of today. I'm waiting for book three. Anxiously. And I read the entire Hellblazer run too.
5.) Hard Case Crime- this label continues to amaze me, their mix of old and new and always a capital pulp with no orange juice involved . Charles Ardai is at least an icon and more probably a demi-god.
6.) okay, so it's only been a short while between titles but seeing Steve Hamilton and Sue Dunlap on bookshelves again? Priceless.
7.) The Night Gardener.
8.) He who is William Kent Krueger. Two Anthony's in a row, both books better than the last... and Copper River, better than both of those. The midwestern regional is making a strong contribution to mystery and no one does it better, or ever will.
9.) is a clump..... when you're reading new to you and new authors, looking at future possibilities, and delving into all the mystery history you do not know.... the books can and do overwhelm at times. But this year my belief in many of the writers I started with has been affirmed.
Laura Lippman's No Good Deeds proves that even when you find a strong voice in the stand alone novel you can return to your series and offer a book stronger than any that have come before. She continues to hone her craft in a style and with an ethic that makes every book a wonder, reverent of everything that came before and so unique nothing after will be quite like it.
Michael Connelly continues to make everything he does better than just about anything else out there. He's become so well regarded amongst the reading (note I didn't say mystery) community that we almost forget the craft behind the brand name. That would be a grave mistake, for Connelly's work will always forward mystery and forever be of the highest readability.
Lee Child; charmer, personality, the "total package" and best seller. He's what advertising departments salavate over and very irreverent of his own work. The fact is nobody is attracting readers like Mr. Child and the truth is he may pooh, pooh his own talent and craftsmanship but it is so there. The Hard Way was his best book to date and 2007's? I've no doubt it will be better.
Two that would be on the list alone but aren't out in the U.S. yet.
Ian Rankin's The Naming of The Dead is a tour de force. Written to the score of a famous rock opera and posing questions of the global community in which we live, this book is a concise and timely mystery. With the potential to be his "breakout" American novel, this crime novel is reflective of a time in which none of us see a clear answer but we must all think of the repercussions of our own decisions. That he pulls this off in a long standing series with the most undefined defined character since Hammett wrote his first Continental Op saga is nothing short of miraculous.
Val McDermid's The Grave Tattoo is proof positive that there is nothing that this author cannot do. In "Tattoo" she marries a historical and hugely literary plot, with her first entirely urban crime scenes , and she bounds the two with a traditional mystery. A story of mutiny, tenements and the Lake community comes alive with her pen.
10.) Auld Lang Syne my ass.
On December 28th a book was laid down in bookstores throughout the U.S. The author's name? Sean Doolittle. The book? The Cleanup. It retails for $6.99 (PBO). For those of you who know Doolittle's earlier work it is a marriage of the quirkiness of Dirt and Burn with the tradiotional styling of Raindogs. It is a fantastic read and if you are a fan of Mystery today you owe it to yourselves to find that 6.99 and get this book read before you compile any "best of" lists.
Next time out 2006 the year in pop culture...