Philip Rafferty: Top five books of 2018

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This was the year of crime fiction conversations for me. I had the amazing opportunity to interview Joe Ide and Lou Berney this fall, two of the five authors on my list. Both have published incredible books in 2018, and both talked about the current age they are writing in when I met them. They independently referred to this time as a ‘new golden age of crime fiction’ and maybe they’re right. All five of my picks are incredible books in their own right, but beyond this I see them as parts of this new golden age – books that transcend the limitations of genre fiction, mixing crime fiction motifs with literary sensibilities to produce text that will stand the test of time.

5 – The Annotated Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler edited by Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson, and Anthony Rizzuto 

Though it is not new, this reissue adds an essential critical component to the crime fiction conversation. This annotated edition of Chandler’s classic novel shines a new light on this canonical text. For my money Philip Marlowe is the best and most important detective in crime fiction. Marlowe’s first person point of view comes from the man who, as Chandler writes in his genre defining essay, “Down these mean streets… must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid,” is a major and defining invention of 20th century literature. Editors Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson and Anthony Rizzuto think so too and show us on every annotated page. They have done painstaking and wonderful work here. The book is a master course in crime and in Marlowe, and the format – the notes are on the adjoining page – make for a super user friendly experience. Check out our Chandler Primer here. 
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4 – The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos is a hero. He’s been cranking out novels about the Washington DC metro area for the last 25 years, and they are all great. Pelecanos is not as big a name as he should be in the crime fiction world and if you are unfamiliar with his work then The Man Who Came Uptown is a perfect place to start. When the book opens, Michael Hudson is in prison for a botched robbery job. He spends his time behind bars devouring books. When Michael is let out, years after his offense because of new evidence about his case surfaces, he is confronted with a DC completely different from the one once knew. Michael is forced to reckon with his past on the outside and to find his place in a new world. A book lover’s book full of literary references to great crime fiction, this one is imbued with a gentleness and heart on every page.
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3 – Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne 

Lawrence Osborne was commissioned by the Raymond Chandler Estate to write Only To Sleep. The book opens in 1988 and we find an aged Philip Marlowe living out his last days in Baja, California. But his retirement is short lived and within pages the iconic sleuth is drawn back into the work he knows best. The art of pastiche soaks up the first few pages here, and I was initially hesitant to accept Osborne’s Marlowe. But with the last four paragraphs of chapter one, Osborne delivers us mind-blowing prose that gallops off the page. Simple homage turns into something that is completely and utterly its own. The style and prose are tremendous, the voice is crisp like newly minted money, and the book is so much more than a Chandler imitation. Osborne’s work is love letter to this formative and quintessential character as well as a meditation on death and time. Read our full review here. 
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2 – Wrecked by Joe Ide

Wrecked is the third book in Joe Ide’s IQ series and it is the best so far.  The characters are evolving over this series and it fun to watch them grow. Ide is great for two reasons: the spot-on dialogue and the giant cast of characters in these books. In the latest installment, Isaiah ‘IQ’ Quintabe is drawn into a case involving a bad bad guy. The action in Wrecked is fantastic and the humanity of the main characters in the book is really touching. Vicki Westfield wrote a great review of the audio book and notes that the narrator, Sullivan Jones, does a good job getting Ide’s awesome dialogue right. There is nothing I love more than a series, and this is one not to be missed. Read our full review here. 
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1 – November Road by Lou Berney 

Lou Berney’s November Road is easily the best book of 2018. On his book tour this fall, Berney talked about what inspired this novel. He spoke about the personal aspects of the book, how the two main characters are inspired by his parents, and about the research that went into writing a book that uses the Kennedy assassination as a catalyst for the action in the narrative. The result of this inspiration is the arrival at nothing short of a perfect book. Many have called November Road the best novel ever written about JFK’s assassination and they are right. Even though Kennedy’s death is not central to the narrative, this book truly reckons with how that day in November changed America. Upon finishing this novel, it is clear that you’ve read an instant and timeless classic. It’s a true example of the amazing things going in this new golden age of crime fiction. Read our full review here. 
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Click here to read about my top five books of 2017. 

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