HoCaM: Top five crime books of 2011

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I can’t say definitively that these are the best books because I haven’t read everything out there, and who am I to decide for others, right? But these five novels all touched me, thrilled me, and in various ways impressed me the most. Don’t try to get me to list them in order of preference though, because I won’t. I can’t. To be eligible to be on this humble list, the books needed to have been published in Canada for the first time, between January and October of 2011. Of course, I’d prefer to write down a list of 20 or at least 10 titles, but the tough assignment from the CFL throne specified only five. Watch my blog The House of Crime and Mystery where I’ll soon post a list divided in different categories – my house, my rules. So, here is my top five of 2011, in alphabetical order of authors’s last name.

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
Lizzie Hood is a 13-year-old girl who lives in near perfect happiness with her brother and mother. Although fatherless, it’s a normal family. But then there’s Lizzie’s best friend Evie Verver and her seemingly perfect family. Until one day, when Evie doesn’t come back from school. Just like that, Lizzie’s world is shattered, the pieces like slivers of a mirror in which she catches images of her now disturbed life. As with most broken mirrors, this one can’t be perfectly glued back together and Lizzie starts seeing the deformed reality that surrounds her, including many secrets and lies. Because the imperfect world that hides among grown-ups carries themes that can be troubling and disturbing, this could have been a depressing book. In the hands of Megan Abbott it becomes an emotional ride via a coming-of-age-too-fast story that will stay with you long after its resolution.
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A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block
The 17th Matt Scudder novel takes place during his first year as an unlicensed PI. One day, Scudder bumps into Jack Ellery, a childhood friend he hasn’t seen in many years. Now two years into sobriety, Ellery is following the AA 12-step program and making amends with people from his past. He ends up dead because of it. Scudder is hired by Ellery’s sponsor to investigate the murder. People he speaks to get killed, and he also becomes a target. Everything evolves with a slow rhythm. As in life, not everything happens at break-neck pace, but as Scudder gets nearer to the truth, and closer to danger, I couldn’t let go of the book. Block finds a brilliant way of tying everything up for a very satisfying conclusion. He proves once again that you can write a long-standing series and still come up with fresh ideas to renew your characters and keep them interesting.
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The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly
Defense lawyer Mickey Haller is now representing homeowners fighting foreclosures. Mitchell Bondurant, a banker in charge of many of these foreclosure files is brutally murdered and one of Haller’s clients, Lisa Trammel, is arrested and quickly charged with murder. Haller and his team must defend her in what becomes a highly publicised trial. This is one of Connelly’s most complete books: his prose is meticulous and he keeps all threads of the story tightly knitted together. He tells a tale that grips the reader right from the start, when we find Mickey Haller in his ‘office’ (his bulletproof Lincoln Town Car), up until the finale when the truth is revealed. It’s the whole truth, and a bit more than that for the defense lawyer. Connelly delivers a nice conclusion that promises new developments in Mickey Haller’s future.

Motor City Shakedown by DE Johnson
It’s 1911, in Detroit, a war is raging between Italian gangs. You’ll find well-organised, street-smart kids running errands and doing the odd jobs for everyone, corrupt policemen, union workers getting hungrier and angrier, the burgeoning car industry, and an unlikely partnership between three people who need to save their families, themselves and their reputations. While Will Anderson is looking to avenge the murder of his friend Wesley at the hands of crime boss Vito Adamo, he tries to regain Elizabeth Hume’s trust and her love. When their lives are threatened by the Gianolla gang, they find an ally in one of the rare uncorrupted cops in Detroit, Detective Thomas Riordan. The plot takes many twists and even more shady characters in a city that comes alive through its streets, its people and some historical landmarks. If you liked Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro series set in 1990s Boston, you’ll love DE Johnson’s Will and Lizzie in 1910’s Detroit. This is historical crime at its best.
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The Cut by George Pelecanos
Spero Lucas is fresh out of the Marine Corps after fighting in Iraq for 10 years. He now works as a PI and is hired by a drug dealer to find packages that were stolen from his street employees. Spero will unintentionally put innocent lives in the path of a gang of indiscriminate criminals, and he will need to correct the wrongs he causes. Pelecanos gets you right in the middle of people’s lives, at a point where they have bags of experience behind them and when the future in front of them can be rerouted, for the better or the worse. While revisiting some familiar themes, Pelecanos doesn’t repeat himself and instead expertly keeps stretching the boundaries of the crime genre. Don’t be fooled by the genre tag because this is, first and foremost, a great novel that shouldn’t be categorised otherwise.
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