VJ Books Blog

(mcherald.com, Nov. 22, JC Patterson)

Here’s a by-the-book breakdown of fine reads I have known and appreciated this year.

The Big Boys: Heavyweight hits like Richard Price’s Lush Life, The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski , and my favorite read of 2008: The Given Day by Dennis Lehane, topped bestseller lists and Oprah’s Bookclub. These massive parables of crime, historical cops and a boy and his dogs are flat out brilliant.

Lady Killers: A bevy of female authors, featuring Nevada Barr‘s long-awaited Winter Study gave the female lead muscles aplenty. Also impressive is April Smith’s The Judas Horse and Andrea Kane‘s Twisted. Like Barr’s Anna Pigeon, both spotlight damaged amazons who work outside the law. Powerful period dramas like The Outlander by Gil Adamson and Ron Rash’s Serena use the American wilderness as backdrops for their murderous lady protagonists.

Big Easy Survival Guides: Among the numerous post-Katrina testaments, two outstanding novels of families and survival rose to the surface. Amanda Boyden’s Babylon Rolling chose a diverse Uptown neighborhood one year before Katrina, exploring its various classes and explosive confrontations. City Of Refuge by Tom Piazza was picked as the “One Book, One New Orleans” novel. Piazza follows two families – one from the Ninth Ward, the other from the Garden District – in their mounting efforts to cope with the floodwaters’ fury.

Murderously Short: Mystery impresarios Laura Lippman and Brandon’s John Floyd cast a web of suspense with their acclaimed short story collections. Lippman recently won a Best Short Story Edgar Award for Hardly Knew Her. The omnibus also includes several new entries from the queen of crime fiction. Midnight, John Floyd’s second volume of sublime short mysteries, offers tasty reading snacks whenever you’re in the mood for tiny crimes.

Musical Mecca: Two of music’s greatest lyricists are honored in best-selling keepsakes. Paul Simon’s Lyrics has the words to every song he’s written from 1964-2008. Packed with notes, photos and personal glimpses, Lyrics is long overdue, but well worth the wait. John Lennon: The Life by Phillip Norman is an accurate and honest look at “the smart Beatle” by the author of Shout!: The Beatles In Their Generation.

No. 1 With A Bullet: From L.A. to Edinburgh, the world’s best crime novelists outdo themselves with these killer thrillers. Michael Connelly’s The Brass Verdict features the first-ever head butts between detective Harry Bosch and Lincoln-lawyer Mickey Haller. Exit Music by Ian Rankin is Scottish sleuth John Rebus’ final, explosive case before his mandatory retirement.

Psyched Out: In psychological thrillers, I recommend Thomas H. Cook’s masterful Master Of The Delta, set in 1950s Mississippi. A big nod also goes to Bobby Cole’s The Dummy Line, a hunter’s worst nightmare, where a father and daughter brave murderous rednecks in the Alabama woods.

You Want Action?: James Lee Burke‘s Swan Peak takes Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell to Montana to battle some Big Sky bad guys. Night of Thunder burns rubber as Stephen Hunter combines NASCAR and big guns for a Bob Lee Swaggart shoot ’em up.

JC Patterson is a literary critic and is active in local theater productions.