Friday, December 22, 2017

Maigret and the Funeral

I never go anywhere without a book but sometimes you can't take the book you're reading with you.  Case in point, I had to go a funeral last week and Philip Pullman's new book, The Book of Dust - La Belle Sauvage, is a big, fat hardcover and its size made it impossible to conceal and carry.  Georges Simenon is my go-to writer in cases like this - almost all of his paperbacks will neatly fit inside a suit pocket.  But titles and cover designs can be problematic when reading in public.

I couldn't take these because of his fascination with butts.

These two had titles which I felt inappropriate for a funeral.

I have some of the new Penguin translations but as nice as they are, you can see that they are now too big to fit inside a suit pocket.

In the end I narrowed it down to Maigret and the Calame Report,

Maigret and the Apparition, Maigret in Court

and The Hatter's Phantoms - which had the advantage of a neat cover and a Christmas setting for all the murders.

Before I could settle on a book, I found a photograph tucked away inside of Maigret in Court (which I really should be saving for jury duty):

I can't figure out if these people are relatives or not.  No one seems to know.  But the handwriting on the back of the photograph is familiar, so it seems possible they are.

In the end, I settled on Maigret and the Calame Report.  I didn't get much reading done that day after all, but this Maigret feels like it is going to be fantastic.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

New French Crime Fiction

A few years ago, I endured one of the greatest catastrophes of all time in reading translated foreign literature.  For various reasons, sometimes a series is published out of order.  A long time ago (pre-internet) I struggled to discover the correct order of Maj Sjowall’s and Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck series.  And for a long time I held off reading Fred Vargas’s Adamsberg series as the books were published out of order in English.  In 2013, I heard about a fantastic new crime novel from a French writer by the name of Pierre Lemaitre called Alex.  I ran out and bought a copy and was then absolutely gutted to learn that it was the second book in a series.  It turns out that the untranslated first book in the series, Irene, had one of the most tragic and devastating endings in all of crime fiction.  (That sounds like an exaggeration but I think it is accurate.)  Starting on the second book first, experiencing that ending was ruined for me.  Why on earth the publisher chose the second book of a trilogy to be published first, especially when the ending of the first book contains such a smashing revelation, is beyond me.  I dutifully read the rest of the series and though I have since held a grudge for having to read the books out of order, Pierre Lemaitre became one of my favorite crime writers.

That brings us to the two books considered here - Pierre Lemaitre’s new novel Three Days and a Life and Sophie Henaff’s The Awkward Squad.  I am delighted to report that The Awkward Squad is the first book of a series and that it looks to be the start of a great series.  Sophie Henaff is journalist at the French edition of Cosmopolitan magazine and this appears to be her first book, something I find a little hard to believe as this is as finely polished a debut police procedural as I have read in a long time.  And it has a great hook - Anne Capestan, a decorated police officer, is coming off a six-month suspension and as further punishment, is exiled to head up a new squad of Paris’s worst police officers.  Other reviewers have compared this to Mick Herron’s failed spies in his Slow Horses series - an apt comparison and also a great series.  It also brought to mind the ragtag bunch of detectives assembled in the first series of the great TV drama The Wire.  Or to go back further, The Dirty Dozen.  So, not the newest concept but one that delivers when done well - which Henaff does with her awkward squad.  The squad’s first two cold cases inevitably merge (but that’s okay, this happens all the time in crime fiction) and soon Capestan’s assortment of castoffs are doing the same things that got them in trouble to solve these previously unsolvable crimes.  I look forward to reading more Sophie Henaff.

Pierre Lemaitre’s new novel, Three Days and a Life, is a stand alone. This book is stunning. Initially, it is the story of a young boy who impulsively and unintentionally murders a younger boy and conceals his body in a forest outside their small French town. Given the title, I assumed it would take three days for him to be found out or to find a solution to his dilemma. As authorities search for the missing boy, the tension is unbearable. I can't think of anything I've read where I've felt so bad for the suffering of a murderer as he waits for his crime to be uncovered. I don't want to spoil anything but that there is no immediate resolution to the disappearance of the small boy does not mean the murderer escapes. He is unable to forget what he has done and it warps his life until the time comes for him to return to the town where he grew up and murdered his neighbor. When he does, the tension and dread again becomes unbearable as the reader waits for the inevitable. Something does happen but not at all what might be expected. A sentence of a different sort will be served for this crime. Rarely have I read something so powerful, gripping, and agonizing and that has a convincing ending. Though this is not Pierre Lemaitre's first novel it is the perfect book to start reading this great French writer.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Better Late Than Never

My 2016 Top Ten List

Some might say posting a top ten list of books read in a year five months after the year has ended is a case of extreme procrastination.  I prefer to think of it as a case of extended deliberation.  Indeed, the list I drew up at the end of 2016 is not the same as my final May 2017 list.

10. Boxes/Too Close to the Edge by Pascal Garnier

A tie for 10th place for two short novels by Pascal Garnier.  In both books, people leave their lives in the cities and move to villages in the French countryside and have their worlds collapse.  No Peter Mayle-Provence escapism here, these are unromanticized depictions of modern French life.  I also read Garnier's The Eskimo Solution (sort of a reworking of A Modest Proposal that plays with killing the elderly to redistribute their wealth).  And having spent some time in Pascal Garnier's France, I have a better understanding of the rise of Marine Le Pen.  Gallic Books has been translating Garnier's books into English since his death in 2010 and publishing his work in lovely paperback editions.  I look forward to reading more of him.

9. The Human Flies by Hans Olov Lahlum

A wonderful, quirky, and deliberately old-fashioned murder mystery/police procedural set in Oslo, Norway in the late 1960s.  A young detective and the brilliant, wheelchair-bound young woman with whom he clandestinely consults work to find the killer of a retired Norwegian war hero in sort of a variant of a locked room mystery, the locked apartment building mystery.  

8. Leviathan by Paul Auster
 This is the story of a writer who tells the story of a close friend who has gone from writer to terrorist, though since this was written in the early 1990s, he's more of a pre-Unabomber, performance art terrorist rather than an unsympathetic and foreign World Trade Center era terrorist.  

7. Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina
This is the fifth installment of Denise Mina's series about Glasgow Detective Inspector Alex Morrow.  Honestly, it hardly matters what the book is about (a missing woman, a dead body, drugs, etc) - this series is so good I would read an installment about anything.  Morrow is a great character - she's normal, angry, hard-working, fierce, has a dodgy half-brother, and longs to be at home with her twin sons.  In other words, a refreshing change from the bog standard middle-aged, alcoholic male detective or the typical driven but tragically damaged female detective.  I started reading Scottish crime fiction because of William McIlvanney, then Ian Rankin.  While they are both first rate, Mina is the cream of the crop, and not just of Scottish crime fiction, but perhaps of all crime fiction.

6. Some Deaths Before Dying by Peter Dickinson

Back in the early 1990s I used to love Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski novels, about a woman PI in Chicago.  (I need to go back and catch up with that series.)  And back then, before the internet, in every magazine or newspaper profile of her, she always mentioned Peter Dickinson as the best stylist and storyteller in the genre and I've been carrying around that nugget of information about him all these years but never got around to reading him.  I found Some Deaths Before Dying while browsing in the library and loved it.  A physically infirm but mentally sharp old woman learns that one of two old dueling pistols she had given her long-dead husband, a former POW in Burma, as a gift has gone missing and she endeavors to get it back and unravel the complex mysteries stemming from its disappearance.  Quite a wonderful book, and just as much a proper novel as a mystery novel.  And the perfect example of Paretsky's claim about Dickinson's talents as a stylist and a storyteller.  I should probably rank this higher on my list.

5. Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
Technically, this is Claire Fuller's first novel but it is so good that I don't believe it.  This is the story of a young girl in London in the 1970s with two unusual parents - her father is an survivalist (sort of a doomsday prepper 1.0) and her mother, a renowned Germain pianist.  I want to avoid spoilers so let's just say stuff happens and these survival skills are put to the test.  But all the survival skills in the world are not enough for what really has happened.  It's been a long time since I read Rupert Thomson's The Insult but this reminds me a bit of that, something normal that turns into a dark fantasy/fairy tale.  A tremendous debut.

4. The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood
I love novels about artists, painters especially.  This brilliant and strange book is the story of a Scottish painter and how and why she has come to live at a special colony for artists on a Turkish island in the 1970s.  In a way, it reminds me of a William Boyd novel, where we get the story of an artist and her times (in this one, great sections on the London art scene of the 1950s) but at the same time, there is also something very strange going on, the less of which I say the better so as not to spoil anything.  Hypnotic and engrossing.

3. The Black Notebook/Honeymoon by Patrick Modiano

Like number 10, I again cheat and shoehorn in two slim French novels into one entry.  The Black Notebook is the story of a writer trying to reconstruct his past, from when he knew a young woman who may have been involved in a crime (or terrorism).   In Honeymoon, a documentary filmmaker disappears from his own life so as to be able to trace the lives of a couple he knew a long time ago and makes a moving discovery.  Modiano won the Nobel Prize in 2014 and that is how I learned of him and I'm so glad I did.  He's endlessly fascinating.  I'm still trying to figure out how he does what he does in these books.

2. Real Tigers by Mick Herron
I picked Real Tigers because it was published in 2016 but this is more of a series award as I read the three books and novella in this series all at once.  For a long time I thought spy novels were dumb.  By the time I was of an age to start reading them, the Cold War was ending and nothing seemed more pointless than books about our conflicts with the Russians (because we had soundly won the Cold War and there was no way the Russians would ever recover and infiltrate the White House).  After 20 or so years passed, that era started to get interesting again and I read some John LeCarre and realized I was perhaps a bit wrong to dismiss this genre for so long.  But I still thought any new/contemporary novels about espionage were stupid.  But then I found Slow Horses, the first book in what has come to be known as the Slough House series.  Too many crime novels are about diabolical and genius serial killers and reading about them is tiresome because those stories are all played out.  Similarly with spy novels, there is often a secret plot with the fate of the world hanging in the balance and only one special agent who can beat the ticking clock to stop it.  In an amazing stroke of genius, Mick Herron created a small section of MI-5 (the UK's domestic security service) called Slough House, where all the agents who are fuck ups get sent because it is too hard or too costly to fire them.  They are stuck in a disgusting building doing work so punishingly boring it is hoped they will quit.  The head of Slough House is Jackson Lamb, a once great agent during the Cold War who has been sidelined.  In this series, he uses his disgraced agents to handle some interesting cases that arise.  These books are fresh and fantastic and yet deliver those old thrills.

1.  Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer
I had a hard time starting this book.  I did not like the premise - a young medical student with Asperger's is convinced the cadaver he's been assigned in his anatomy class has been murdered and he's compelled to prove it.  But Rubbernecker turns into an extraordinary mystery and a coming of age story of a different kind as well as we follow this young man's search for the truth.   

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Eskimo Solution by Patrick Garnier

The Eskimo Solution by Pascal Garnier

One of my favorite Donald Westlake novels is Jimmy the Kid, in which a motley group of criminals plan a kidnapping of a child based on a book one of them has read in prison, in which the kidnapping of a child is plotted and carried out.  Westlake includes relevant chapters of Child Heist (written by Richard Stark, which happens to be a pen name of Donald Westlake) in Jimmy the Kid.  And this story within a story device works brilliantly and one reads with glee as the kidnapping goes wrong.  

Pascal Garnier flips this formula in The Eskimo Solution. This novel opens with the opening chapter of a novel by a writer named Louis about a man named Louis who is unhappy with his lot in life and concludes that killing his mother would be the solution to his problems.  And when it works, Louis realizes several of his friends could also benefit from such acts and if he did the job himself, his friends would never know and never be caught.  As the real Louis explains to his editor:

“Wait a minute, let me go on. It’s a very modest inheritance - but that’s beside the point.  Since everything goes to plan, no trouble with the law or anything, he starts killing the parents of friends in need.  Of course, he doesn’t tell them what he’s doing - it’s  his little secret, pure charity.  He’s an anonymous benefactor, if you like.”

“He kills people’s parents the way Eskimos leave their elders on a patch of ice because … it’s natural, ecologically sound, a lot more humane and far more economical than endlessly prolonging their suffering in a dismal nursing home.”

As the real Louis writes his novel about the fictitious, murderous Louis, Garnier treats us to installments of the novel in progress as he tells us the real Louis’s story.  The real Louis holes up in a rented house in Normandy to write the novel and to hide from his own troubles and the troubles of his friends, which begin to resemble the troubles of the fictional Louis.  And when the fictional solutions begin to occur in the real world, the fun (or the misery) begins.

Bleak, funny, unpredictable, The Eskimo Solution is tremendously enjoyable.  Pascal Garnier died in 2010 and it is only recently that his novels have begun to be translated into English.  Gallic Books has published nine of his books so far, which is fortunate because as soon as I finished The Eskimo Solution, I wanted more Garnier.  Anyone who appreciates the work of Patricia Highsmith, Donald Westlake, Georges Simenon, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Pierre Lemaitre, or J.G. Ballard should prove to be a natural reader of Pascal Garnier.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Find Her by Lisa Gardner

Last year I was scrolling through tweets about the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England when I saw some of the best marketing for a new book that I have ever seen - petit fours with the title of Lisa Gardner's forthcoming (now out) novel, Find Her.  So simple yet so amazing.  I get hungry and think about the book every time I see this photograph.

My wife is a huge Lisa Gardner fan.  (I tried reading one and was horrified to discover it was about a serial killer who uses spiders and I had to stop reading - irrational fear of spiders.)  My wife is also a real-life, big city detective and a big reader (who also reads much faster than I do) and she loves these Lisa Gardner books.  Most police work is dull and frustrating, occasionally heart-breaking.  And most crime and mystery fiction is completely unrealistic and implausible if you know how things really work - much suspension of belief is required.  But somehow these Lisa Gardner books always win rave reviews from her.  Gardner is especially good on evidence, I am told.

In exchange for an advance copy of Find Her, I made Detective Sweetie (her name in phone calls/text messages) give me a brief review:

Lisa Gardner did it again!

I am an avid Lisa Gardner fan. I have read all her books at least twice. With that said, I will admit that when I read the synopsis of "Find Her" I was a bit skeptical. I wasn't sure if I could get behind a victim turned vigilante. Boy, was I wrong. From the very beginning Gardner draws you in with her complex characters and a story that keeps the reader wanting more. Alternating between past and present, Gardner weaves an amazing web that makes "Find Her" impossible to put down. Clear your calendars folks, once you begin "Find Her" you won't want to stop.

I'm tempted to start reading this book next - but first, I have to find a good bakery.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

My 2015 Top Ten Books

2015 Ten Best Books

10. Blacklands by Belinda Bauer.  A very impressive first novel about a young boy whose uncle was murdered by a famous serial killer and child molester.  With his family still traumatized by the murder of his uncle, the boy begins a secretive correspondence with the imprisoned killer in an attempt to discover where his uncle's remains are, hoping that finding the body will help end his family's suffering.  That saying 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' is suitable here as the boy's plans have unforeseen consequences.  Issues of school bullying and the landscape of Exmoor also add to what was a very compelling read.

9. Disclaimer by Renee Knight.  Another impressive first novel.  The biggest selling book of the year seemed to be Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train (which I read and liked - I thought it was rather good for a mega-best seller - often such books are awful, not so with TGOTT - and I wonder if it will have any lasting effect on the drinking habits of its readers) and early on I kept seeing Disclaimer pitched as the new The Girl on the Train (which itself was the new Gone Girl).  In Disclaimer, a woman finds a new book in her new house that appears to be the novelized version of a dark secret she has but one that she has never told anybody.  We get her story and the fictionalized version in alternating chapters.  And very well done, I thought.

8. Stagestruck by Peter Lovesey.  I read 15 novels by Peter Lovesey this year, most of which were in his Peter Diamond series, about the chief of the CID in Bath.  Nothing more I love than reading a good series but often I have trouble selecting one as the best.  I've selected Stagestruck because I really thought I was going to hate it - the central mystery being who is behind the attack on a pop singer turned actress on her first opening night in the theater.  Most of the book is set in the theater and in addition to a murder or two, there was talk of ghosts.  Sounds terrible.  Instead, Lovesey worked his usual magic (a few of the other books in this series had what I thought were dumb set ups but turned out to be fantastic as well) and was rewarded with a great whodunnit, a thriller, and an interesting look at childhood sexual abuse and vigilantism.

7.  Burning Down George Orwell's House by Andrew Ervin.  A cynical and burned out Chicago advertising executive flees his collapsing life in Chicago to live in a rented cottage on the Isle of Jura where George Orwell once lived.  We get the story of how and why his life in Chicago collapsed as we watch our man potentially threaten the stability of a close-knit and isolated island community.  A dark and cycical comedy, I loved it.  Also, a first novel.

6. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.  So far, there have been five books in this series and I read them all at once.  I'm still not sure which one I like the best so this is more of a group award.  Rivers of London is the story of a young mixed-race (a touch I really loved and that I thought made the character so much more interesting) London cop who inadvertently discovers he has an aptitude for magic (one of the blurbs on my copy described the series as something like CSI crossed with Harry Potter for grown ups - which is the perfect summation, I think) and becomes apprenticed to the one remaining senior police official who practices magic and handles supernatural crimes when the occur.  The books are fast paced and wildly inventive and interesting and many of the storylines carry over from book to book.  Maybe the most fun thing I read all year.  Plus, Aaronovitch loves the architectural history of London and the books are chock full of interesting details.  In general, I do not read much science fiction or fantasy but these books are so much fun that I am wondering what else I may be missing.

5. The Reaper by Peter Lovesey.  A stand alone novel this time, not part of the Peter Diamond series.  A black comedy about a vicar who steals and murders to support and allow the lifestyle he wants while at the same time being a very good and much loved vicar.

4. Confessions by Kinae Minato.  The dark and twisted story of revenge that at Japanese middle school teacher takes on the students she thinks are responsible for the drowning of her daughter in the school swimming pool.  Unbelievable.  And amazing.  But so, so dark.  Not for the faint of heart.

3. Chocky by John Wyndham.  A short but sweet novel about an English family in which their adopted son may either be mentally ill or have an alien for an imaginary friend.

2. Glitz by Elmore Leonard.  I read a few other books by Leonard, my favorite male romance novelist, this year but I liked Glitz the best.  A Miami detective moves to Puerto Rico to recuperate from a gunshot would finds himself involved in the life a young woman whom he knows is going to get herself in trouble in the casinos of San Juan and Atlantic City.  At the same time, a rapist the detective once arrested has tracked him down in Puerto Rico and is seeking revenge.  All these worlds violently collide and order must be restored.

1. Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans.  This, by far, was the best book I read in 2015.  A precocious young boy in London during the Blitz is relocated to the suburbs after the loss of his godmother.  His new family does not have much use for him (aside from collecting the extra rations he qualifies for) until he uses his smarts to aide his foster mother's charity scams.  As in my number ten book, Blacklands, when children take on the adult world, things will invariably go wrong.  But sometimes a good, smart kid can engineer a happy ending.  Warm and funny, sometimes harrowing, always interesting, Crooked Heart is something like what I would imagine Dickens would have created had he lived through the Blitz and could work on a smaller canvas.  It hasn't been too long since I read Crooked Heart but I am already feeling like it is time to re-read it.  Or maybe the listen to the audiobook version of it.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Ultimate in Procrastination: My Year in Reading 2014

NOTE:  After starting to think about the best books I read in 2015 I realized that I never finished my best of 2014 reading list.  I found a few drafts of this posts but never got around to finishing any of them.  I am peerless when it comes to procrastination.

Wild? Unfocused?  Ill-disciplined?  Erratic?  Chaotic?  Unfinished?  In looking back on what I read in 2014, I realized that I started and abandoned dozens of books.  Some didn't pass the 50 page test.  Some had to be returned to the library before I got around to finishing them.  Some were good but then something else captured my attention and lured me away before I could finish them.  I started reading multiple books at the same time again (having dropped that habit maybe a decade ago) and I think the resulting lack of focus resulted in all this reading chaos.  But I did still manage to finish a lot of good books this year.

Archeological Find of the Year:  Memoirs of an Invisible Man by H.F. Saint.  This was a bestseller back in 1987 and was made into an awful (or so I have heard) movie.  I had no interest in the book back then and the paperback copy I acquired in the early 1990s is buried in a storage facility in another state.  And I am not sure why it popped into my head that I had to read this book now but I found a copy at the library and it was probably the most engaging thing I read all year.  When a securities analyst is caught in a explosion at a New Jersey research facility he isn't killed - he is rendered invisible.  And then has to figure out how to survive and live a life worth living while on the run from a secret government agency that wants to turn him into an intelligence asset.  I think most people imagine invisibility would be fun (and I was formerly one of them) but in H.F. Saint's world, it is a constant struggle to stay clothed, fed, safe, and even loved.  This novel is somewhat similar to Donald Westlake's novel Smoke but I think Memoirs is the better of the two.  

Country of the Year:  France wins the award this year for the four crime novels by Fred Vargas I read.  Plus the first novel in Pierre Lemaitre's Verhoeven trilogy, Irene.  (Which was actually the second to be published in English.  The second book, Alex, was published first.  And while I am thankful they were translated, the person who made the decision to publish these out of order should be sent to the guillotine as doing so ruined what would have maybe been the most devastating ending of any crime novel I can recall reading - with the possible exception of Mo Hayder's The Treatment.)  I also greatly enjoyed Katherine Pancol's The Yellow Eyes of the Crocodile.  And further padding France's lead in the race were the new translations of Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret novels published by Penguin.  (Penguin is publishing, IN ORDER, new translations of all 75 of the Maigret novels.  Thank you, Penguin.)  Special thanks to my sweetie for the orange caffe au lait bowls that became necessary for me to have because of all the coffee drinking I was reading about in French fiction.

My Top Ten List:

10:  Her by Harriet Lane.  A chilling revenge story.  Nina knows what Emma has done to her.  Emma has no idea who Nina is or that she has ever done anything to her.  Nina toys with Emma like a cat toys with its prey before taking her final revenge - something terribly shocking - but real world shocking (as in not gory, sadistic violence - but something plausible and far worse).  Comparable to the best of Patricia Highsmith.

9:  Memoirs of an Invisible Man by H.F. Saint

8:  A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel.  A confession - I have been a big fan of Mantel's work since the late 1990s.  I can't think of a writer who got better reviews for so long before she hit the big time, with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.  I feel like I am the only person who has read and loved early Mantel but hasn't been able to finish Wolf Hall.  Somehow I skipped this novel, the story of an English family in present day England that cannot escape the effects of trauma they experienced while working as missionaries in apartheid era South Africa.  This was a great book.

7:  The Secret Place by Tana French.  This is only French's fifth novel and the fifth in her ongoing series about the Dublin Murder Squad.  Two detectives must solve a murder at an all-girls school.  Page after page of amazing dialog.  French has been so good from the start that I would not be surprised if we were to find out she experienced a Robert Johnson/Crossroads type event before she wrote her first novel.

6:  LaBrava by Elmore Leonard.  Perhaps my favorite novel from my favorite male romance novelist.  A film noir story set in Miami just before the drug war exploded.

5:  Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation; Authority; Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer.  Three interlinked novels about a secretive government agency tasked with securing and studying a large chunk of Florida after an undefined environmental catastrophe.  Or maybe something like what John le Carre and J.G. Ballard would create if they turned the TV series LOST into a sprawling three part story - but better.  Area X is weird and at times I was unsure what was happening but I think that was by design.  An amazing reading experience - haven't read anything like it and I still think about it.

4:  True Believers by Kurt Andersen.  The story of a law professor who was unable to be appointed to the Supreme Court because of her anti-war activities at Harvard in the late 1960s.  Just what did she do?  I am not saying because I hate spoilers.  Lots of great material about James Bond in this story, too.  Kind of a crappy summary for such an engaging book.  Andersen is a long time magazine editor and has since morphed into a radio host and a witty and astute cultural critic.

3:  Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe.  A farcical spy novel set at the Brussels World Fair in 1958.  An unassuming English civil servant is forced to become an intelligence operative by two British agents who reminded me of Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens from Michael Gilbert's short stories reimagined as a comedy double act.  (I have since learned they are modeled after two characters in Alfred Hitchcock's comedic thriller A Lady Vanishes - which I have yet to see.)  Also, a lot of James Bond material in this book, just like my number four choice, True Believers.

2:  The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe.  Yes, Coe takes two of the top three spots.  I got behind on reading him (I had nice UK editions of the books and didn't want to spoil them by reading them - took a while to obtain reading copies.)  Maxwell Sim takes a job selling environmentally-friendly toothbrushes and attempts to drive across the UK - but inadvertently (to him) ends up mimicking Donald Crowhurst's trans-oceanic voyage while at the same time reading about Crowhurst.  Coe has a lot of fun with structure in this book.  Generally novels that play games with structure are no fun but with Coe it is pure pleasure.  Again, I find it a bit hard to convey just how wonderful this book is.

1:  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.  Technically, the best book I read in 2014 but as I look back, not much separates the top ten in this list.  The top ten are all pretty great this year. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves has a twist in it that hinders my ability to discuss it.  Even acknowledging this feels like a betrayal but the book was nominated for the Booker Prize so many people will already know what I am on about here.  Let us say that this is the story of a family coming to terms with its role in a chimpanzee research project.  How can that make for the best book of the year?  Trust me, it does.  

So, a very good year in reading for me.  In fact, books by perennial favorites Michael Connelly, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin, P.M. Hubbard, and Patricia Highsmith didn't crack the top ten.