RoughJustice: Top five books of 2012

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Top five lists are great fun to write, except in years like this when there have been so many great books. I can mention some who nearly made the list. Chuck Wendig’s two Miriam Black novels, Blackbirds and Mockingbird, are great examples of the way crime fiction is being blended with other genres, in this case the supernatural. Jake Hinkson’s Hell on Church Street was the first book I reviewed for the site way back in February, and it remains a superior Thompson-like noir. I am very much looking forward to his The Posthumous Man next year. Jimmy the Stick, by debut author Michael Mayo, looked for a long time like it was going to make the list, and would have done if there hadn’t been a couple of killers this December. There were some other great reads too, but here’s my top five…

5 – Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand
Hand brings together Nordic folklore, the Black Metal music scene, and Iceland’s stunning scenery to create both a gripping fish-out-of-water thriller and a touching meditation on creativity. Her protagonist Cass Neary has misplaced her talent as a photographer and used up any goodwill she may have deserved thanks to drink and drugs. Nevertheless Hand is able to find the character’s humanity, and Neary never loses our sympathy, despite her bad choices. Available Dark would be a stand out book in any year, and the paperback and Kindle versions are to be released in January…
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4 – The Providence Rider by Robert McCammon
Over four books set in late 17th and early 18th century New York, McCammon has transformed Matthew Corbett from magistrate’s clerk to problem solver with The Herald Agency. Corbett’s success, alongside colleague Hudson Grreathouse, hasn’t  gone unnoticed, and the inconvenience he’s caused to ‘the king of criminals’ Professor Fell led to him being marked for death. Now the professor has problems of his own, a traitor among his lieutenants, and he wants Corbett to find out who. McCammon, like Michael Chabon and Dan Simmons, is a fine literary writer, at home in any genre, and this series of historical thrillers just keeps getting better. He takes the time to bring the fledgeling metropolis to life, and has built a community of friends and enemies around Corbett who are almost as richly written as the main character himself.
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3 – Frank Sinatra in a Blender by Matthew McBride
This came out as an ebook last year but has finally seen print in a paperback edition by New Pulp Press this month. When two morons, at the absolute rock bottom of the St Louis criminal totem pole, rob a credit union payroll, players higher up know these two losers won’t be able to keep the score, and the hunt is on. Private eye Nick Valentine is playing both sides of the street, working both for the chief (of police) but also with his thieving mates. Valentine drinks and takes drugs, and is proud of the fact that he’s given up cigarettes and coffee… The book is an absolute riot, funny and fast paced, and just about the only time I put it down was to laugh out loud. If you don’t find the thought of ex-Amish cops blackmailing coffee shop owners for free breakfasts using the photos they took of their wives having sex with Alsatians amusing, then this book isn’t for you. By the way, the eponymous Frank is Nick’s Yorkshire terrier, and yes, he does end up in a blender. Poor pooch.
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2 – Gun Church by Reed Farrel Coleman
This is very much at the literary end of the crime fiction spectrum, in-keeping with Coleman’s other books, the Moe Prager series. Gun Church is the story of Kip Weiler, an 80s publishing phenomenon now killing time teaching creative writing in an out-of-the-way community college. A narrow escape from a Columbine-style massacre leads to his introduction into a gun cult, and with it the return of his muse. Dark and powerful, with an ending that that’s hopeful, this is writing of the highest calibre and it will stay with me for some time.
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1 – Rough Riders by Charlie Stella
Stella moves his chronicling of New York’s wise guys to the snowy terrain of North Dakota in a tale mirroring the true crime career of Whitey Bulger. Stupid, greedy people do stupid, greedy things, but Stella writes the criminals just as well as the cops, taking the effort to make sure we know even the most desperate of them have dreams. Stella cares about his characters and he made me care about them too. Close to a masterpiece, Rough Riders is number one with a bullet.
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