DispatchesFromNoir: Top five books of 2012

4 Mins read

Any year is a great year to read crime fiction, but 2012 was a great year to begin reviewing crime fiction. Since coming aboard in May, I’ve read quite a bit of crime fiction and have been impressed by much of it. My own tastes run towards hardboiled and noir, and 2012 was a banner year for new books in this area of the genre. From hard-hitting pulp to literary melancholy, great crime fiction took on a number of forms and could be found all the way from Atlantic City to Stockholm. So without further ado, let’s revisit five crime novels from the past year. If you missed them over the past 12 months, you might want to take a second look before all those great releases for 2013 distract you.

5 – Outerborough Blues by Andrew Cotto
Andrew Cotto’s ‘Brooklyn mystery’ is less a whodunit than an elegiac meditation on loss and stability. The author’s literary prose grounds this urban noir in a colourful Brooklyn milieu. Like most good noir, Outerborough Blues has an unlucky protagonist, Caesar Stiles. Similarly, the novel does not skimp when handing him a heaped helping of misfortune. But Cotto elevates Outerborough Blues into my top five this year by dint of his insightful and incisive exploration of Caesar’s attempts to achieve normalcy in the face of continual loss. While not quite your standard genre thriller – and this is a good thing – Outerborough Blues has Caesar solving two mysteries: finding his lover’s missing brother and discovering the identity of a cryptic ‘orange man’ who has been following him. Unlicensed PI Caesar Stiles finds the answers, but the mournful ache is not abated. If you want a thoughtful, nuanced mystery to make you hurt so good, check out Outerborough Blues.
Buy now on Amazon

4 – The Cocktail Waitress by James M Cain
2012 would be a notable year for crime fiction if this were the only book released. After all, not many years bring us new works from all-time noir great James M Cain. While it may not be Cain’s best work, The Cocktail Waitress deserves special mention. The cocktail waitress in question is Joan Medford. She’s recently widowed and trying to survive. As in any number of Cain novels, Joan Medford is a desperate woman. Unlike most Cain novels, however, The Cocktail Waitress is narrated by the desperate Medford. She attracts several ill-fated lovers, and protests her innocence repeatedly. All her excuses are plausible, yet death is inevitable in her wake. We want to believe Joan, but the doubts are never put to rest. Ever the cagey master, Cain refuses to tells us if we’re dealing with a spectacularly unfortunate woman, or his most chilling femme fatale yet.
Buy now on Amazon

3 – Easy Money by Jens Lapidus
Scandinavian noir has been a hot commodity for some time, but much of the fiction described by that moniker has little actual connection with noir. Jens Lapidus’ debut is also the first volume in the Stockholm Noir Trilogy – a well-deserved appellation, in this instance. In the vein of James Ellroy, Lapidus presents interlocking stories of small-time hoods while weaving them into a crime epic. The author is a practicing defense attorney in Stockholm, and his intimate knowledge of the Swedish legal system adds a layer of realism to the novel. Easy Money captures the grit floating amongst various strata of Swedish society, and yet presents sympathetic protagonists trapped in their unsavory roles. It will also leave you wanting more from Lapidus – which is good, because the second volume of the Stockholm Noir Trilogy, Never Screw Up, will be released in English this year.
Buy now on Amazon

2 – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
One of the most critically acclaimed books of the year, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is an impressive thriller. It begins as a missing persons case. Amy Dunne is nowhere to be seen, her blood is found in the kitchen and the living room has been trashed. Unsurprisingly, her husband Nick soon becomes a suspect. The first half of the book leaves us with little reason to doubt the suspicion. He seems to display a raft of common male flaws, while Amy seems an uncommonly sweet and accommodating spouse. But are things what they seem? The short answer is no; nothing is as it seems right down to the final turn of the plot. And Flynn’s plot has plenty of thrilling twists, with each one revealing more about Nick and Amy’s twisted relationship. Watch for a full review soon.
Buy now on Amazon

1 – False Negative by Joseph Koenig
Other Hard Case Crime novels may have received more attention this year, but I found False Negative to be the most compelling release from Hard Case in 2012. More than that, I found it to be the best crime novel I read all year. From the Glen Orbik painting on the cover to the novel’s lurid conclusion, Koenig’s first novel in nearly 20 years is brimful of 50s-era prose. But Koenig goes a step beyond this and draws back the curtain on pulp magazines. While we remember hardboiled detectives, the hardboiled reporter was a no less important pulp hero during its heyday. Using a reporter protagonist, Koenig shows us the sausage being made. And therein lies the value of False Negative. The author demonstrates the exploitation of scandal, the lack of journalistic ethics, the racial biases that pervaded pulpwood magazines in that era. But his terse, hardboiled prose also shows how it produced some beautiful crime fiction. Despite the social commentary, the excitement and suspense never flags in False Negative. This self-aware pulp fiction is a unique – if undervalued – contribution to crime fiction in 2012.
Buy now on Amazon

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related posts

On the Radar: Hotel under siege

For those who love the action genre, Die Hard is perhaps the greatest Christmas movie of all. Now imagine if Die Hard was set in Hamburg. Maybe it would be a little bit like the latest novel by Simone Buchholz, whose Chastity Riley series has…

Hello, is that Vlad? Vlad the Inhaler?

On the Radar — Missing girls, dead children, serial killers, the broken detective… Crime fiction has its clichés, for sure. But our favourite genre always has the scope to throw a curve ball and this week that curve ball is being pitched by Tom Pitts….

CIS: My classics by Attica Locke

The leading American crime author Attica Locke is known for writing emotive and intelligent thrillers. Black Water Rising and The Cutting Season received rave reviews and award nominations, and Pleasantville was one of our favourite books set in the American South during 2015. Next week,…
Crime Fiction Lover