Vicki Weisfeld: Top five books of 2016

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If Santa is very good to you, he may put one of these terrific books from 2016 in your Christmas stocking – perhaps as an example of how naughtiness doesn’t pay (or does it?). If you enjoy audiobooks, one of my top five were made even more memorable by an excellent narrator.

Black Wings Has My Angel, Elliott Chaze5 – Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze
First published in 1954, this book was reissued in 2016 by The New York Review of Books. Chaze was a Mississippi newspaper man who created a noir classic with this tale about Tim Sunblade and the woman he teams up with for fun and adventure, Virginia (the name packed with irony). He gets both. Tim’s an escaped prisoner, and Virginia has a lot to hide too, as it turns out, which is gradually revealed in their long car trip from Mississippi west to Denver and back to New Orleans. If Raymond Chandler’s wise-cracking characters and luscious dolls appeal to you, this book is like an easy slide back to the 1930s. A full review is here.
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4 – Redemption Road by John Hart, narrated by Scott Shepherd
John Hart’s latest lets you know from the get-go that you are in the hands of a master of the crime genre. It was his first book with a female protagonist, but he writes compellingly from police detective Elizabeth Black’s perspective. Her career begins to get away from her as she tries to protect her former mentor, imprisoned for murders she does not believe he committed. Meanwhile, she is under public and police scrutiny for the death of two suspects in her custody. Hero cop or angel of death? Read the review.
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Far Empty, J Todd Scott3 – The Far Empty by J Todd Scott
An extremely well-crafted debut from a former DEA agent about the rents in the social fabric blanketing Texas’s Big Bend country, south and east of El Paso and just across the Mexican border. A large cast of characters brings the various aspects of the community alive, and in a small town, inevitably they intersect. At the center of the action is the county’s despotic sheriff, though the story is mainly told through the eyes of his 17-year-old son and shiny new deputy Chris Cherry, who has the quaint impression law enforcement is about enforcing the law, not breaking it. This is a wild west ride with authenticity. A full review is here.
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Heavenly Table, Donald Ray Pollock2 – The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock
In the early 1900s, a trio of unloveable losers, sons of a half-crazed father – you’ll be glad to see his exit from the narrative – try to work their way north from a brutal job in Georgia by way of a succession of crimes. They get as far as southern Ohio when bits of civilisation grab onto them. This book is disturbing in the way Cormac McCarthy’s work is disturbing—brutal, only briefly comic, and mostly not for the squeamish—and in its own way, completely unforgettable. It’s a brave book, deserving of being taken seriously. A full review is here.
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Dodgers, Bill Beverly1 – Dodgers by Bill Beverly
This book will one day be considered a modern crime classic, alongside Richard Price’s Clockers. The story involves low-level runners in the Los Angeles drug trade, and achieves a powerful emotional resonance. The main character, East, is asked to travel with three other young men to Wisconsin and kill a man about to testify against their gang’s leader. One of the four turns out to be his younger brother, age 13, and a stone killer. As in Black Wings (above), an archetypical American road trip provides the opportunity to strip away the past and see what’s left. Pleasingly literary, the book doesn’t let plot overwhelm the need for character development. There’s plenty of both. Humour, too. A full review is here.
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Here are my top five crime books of 2015.

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