MyBookishWays: Top five books of 2012

4 Mins read

Ahhhh, top five lists. These are always rather tough for me, because I read a lot, and 2012 has been a wonderful year for crime, mystery, and suspense. The year has seen new releases from debut crime authors such as Andy Siegel with his humour-infused legal thriller Suzy’s Case, Mark Pryor’s international mystery The Bookseller, and others such as Harry Bingham’s superb Talking To the Dead (one of DavidPrestidge’s top five), and Karin Slaughter’s Criminal. What struck me most this year, however, was the arrival of some of the best southern noir I’ve ever read. In fact, it dominates my list this year, but I’m a Texas girl, so I’m ok with that!

5 – Dare Me by Megan Abbott
Here in the US, the term ‘mean girl’ has been ubiquitous for a while now, and is never at the forefront more than in Dare Me. Tall, beautiful Addy is a cheerleader, along with her best friend Beth, and they rule their school. They crush lesser girls beneath their perfectly shod feet every day and blind people with their white teeth and glossy pouts. Everything seems perfect until an enigmatic new cheer coach shows up, and the cracks in their friendship begin to show. Murder and mayhem inevitably follow, but this book is so insidious, you may not see it coming. Think you have no interest in cheerleading? By the time you finish this, you may want to find out everything about the sport. It’s not all short skirts and bright smiles. These girls are athletes, and they’re constantly and relentlessly pushed to the limit. Megan Abbott is a pro, and her skills are on fine display in this quick, dirty crime novel about cheerleaders that will do anything to win, and ultimately the powers of both friendship and obsession. This one had me holding my breath while I turned the pages.
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4 – Last Call for the Living by Peter Farris
Peter Farris’s debut novel is about damaged young Charlie, who is taken hostage by Hobe Hicklin, a man just out of jail and has just executed a bank clerk. Hicklin isn’t quite sure why he takes Charlie hostage, but what follows is an insane, non-stop, bullet of a crime story that never quits. If you’ve ever been curious about Stockholm syndrome, Farris explores the odd dynamic betweem kidnapper and victim as Charlie and Hobe veer toward inevitable tragedy. You’ll find yourself sympathising with some pretty nasty characters, and to me, that takes talent as an author. This is southern noir at its best, and if you’re looking for something to bust you out of a reading rut, Last Call for the Living might be just the thing.
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3 – The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli
Tom Piccirilli’s The Last Kind Words is as much family saga as it is crime novel. When the impending execution of his brother Collie brings Terry Rand home for the first time in five years, he quickly realises just how much his brother’s arrest for a series of brutal murder has shattered his family. The Rands may be criminals, but they’re not killers, and they’re one of the most colourful families I’ve come across in recent offerings. Everyone is named after a dog breed, and it’s that touch of eccentricity that really sets the tone for this unique thriller. Terry Rand is somewhat of a man of mystery, quiet and reserved, but astute enough to know that his once close family is fracturing. Collie insists that out of the eight he killed, there’s one that he wasn’t responsible for, and he wants Terry to find out who was. Terry’s journey to find the truth is just half of this excellent mystery/thriller about the ties that bind and how secrets can destroy a family. Superb.
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2 – Edge of Dark Water by Joe R Lansdale
Joe Lansdale is somewhat of a legend and Edge of Dark Water makes it obvious just why that is. It’s a cautionary tale/friendship saga/southern crime/horror novel that hits all the right notes and is infused with all the Texas grit of the Sabine River, and then some. When three young friends discover that the beautiful May Lynn has been murdered, they decide to take her ashes to Hollywood where she so desperately wanted to go. On their trip down the Sabine, they encounter one of the creepiest killers around and encounter near constant trouble. Told in the voice of 16-year-old Sue Ellen, Lansdale captures perfectly the angst and pathos of being a teenager in Depression-era Texas. Along with Jinx, he paints the portraits of two very strong females, and their equally interesting friend Terry, in a time when girls weren’t meant to get their hands dirty. Fans of literary horror and southern gothic will love this one.
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1 – The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters
Perhaps one of my favourites not only of 2012, but period, is The Last Policeman. What would you do if a life-destroying asteroid was going to hit in six months? Would you quit your job? Go on an extended vacation? Succumb to your base desires and live it up? Detective Hank Palace of Concord, New Hampshire will go on doing the only thing he ever wanted to do: be a cop. The apparent suicide of a man in a McDonald’s bathroom leaves Hank with many more questions than answers and he’s determined to get to the bottom of it, asteroid, or no asteroid. Much more than a crime novel, The Last Policeman is the story of a man determined to do the right thing as society crumbles around him. His graceful, quiet determination in the face of so much uncertainty is what highlights this fantastic book. Beautifully written, subtle, and instantly addictive, The Last Policeman is a must-read for any mystery and literary fan.
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