As usual, I cheated a bit putting together this list and doubled up on books that share the same theme. Also know Mark Pryor’s The Crypt Thief and Duane Swierzcynski’s Point & Shoot could have easily made this list. Also if I had gotten a chance to read some books that time just didn’t permit, like Urban Waite’s Carrion Birds and Adrian McGinty’s I Hear The Sirens In The Streets and Rules of The Wolfe by James Carlos Blake, I probably would have tried to squeeze them in, as well.
1. The Double by George Pelecanos
Pelecanos takes the simple set up of his retrieval specialist Spero Lucas recovering a stolen painting from a gigolo conman and creates a hard boiled novel rich in character dialogue, social awareness, and good straight up action scenes. Only problem is that I can’t wait for the third Spero novel.
2. The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell
In fewer than 180 pages this book covers more depth than some authors’ massive operas. Through time shifts and chapters that serve as mini-character biographies, Woodrell builds a literary mosaic about a mysterious explosion and the devastating effect it has on one town.
Two of the greatest private eye heroes, Easy Rawlins and Moe Pager, walked the mean streets of the late ’60s this year. Read back to back, you get a look at the period from different age, racial, and coastal perspectives with two well defined heroes each in a beatifully crafted mystery.
4. A Serpents’ Tooth by Craig Johnson
This game changing book in the Walt Longmire series has the Wyoming sheriff dealing with a well armed religious cult, the CIA, a unique crime, and his most lethal nemesis. Johnson’s humor and humanity finds a way to both highlight and offset the story’s dark undercurrent.
5. Donnybrook by Frank Bill
This rough and tumble tale of different red neck ruffians and their pursuers heading for a bare knuckles competition takes hard boiled writing to new and sometimes disturbing heights. Bill keeps his characters grounded no matter how wild the story gets and gives us some involving blow-by-blow fight scenes.
6. Evil In All It’s Disguises by Hilary Davidson
Everything comes to a head in the third installment of this series featuring travel writer Lily Moore. When looking into the disappearance of a fellow writer in Acapulco, Lily finds herself in a creepy hotel and a plot involving her ex-boyfreind. Davidson blends noir, the traditional thriller, and her edgy sensibility, putting her into a class all her own.
7. The Return by Michael Gruber
Gruber’s South of the border revenge tale proves to have more depth than you might expect. A wealthy book editor and his slightly unhinged buddy from Vietnam travel to Mexico with a camper full of guns to settle a mysterious score. Gruber’s rich prose style and sense of place create a book that lingers.
8. The Rake by Scott Phillips
This year’s book with the most laughs follows an American soap opera actor in Paris, trying to broker a film deal and juggle several lovers, one of whom is a possible financier who’s an arms dealer. Phillips is one of the best tour guides for bad behavior.
9. Shoot The Woman First by Wallace Stroby
A heist novel with humanity. After a double cross from robbing a drug dealer, Crissa Stone tries to get her dead partner’s share to his family with a bunch of bad guys on her trail, including Burke, a crooked cop who proves to be one of this year’s best villains. Stroby finds a way to give entertaining action and dialogue while showing the toll a life of crime takes.
10. Ratlines by Stuart Neville
In Neville’s dark, James Ellroy-style historical noir, an investigator is trapped between different factions relating to the Nazis who found asylum in Ireland. The book is a hard punch to the gut that leaves you reeling.
TWO HIGHLY HONORABLE MENTIONS
These authors weren’t on the list list because their books didn’t quite fit the category of 2013 novel, yet they are well worth reading.
Nightmare Range by Martin Limon
A collection of all the stories featuring Sueno and Bascome, two CID cops in ’70s Korea. Great procedural story telling with a strong sense of mood and place. Read as a collection you get the sense of futility our heroes face in doing their job and the right thing.
Finally an American publisher (kudos to NewPulp Press) brought Scotland’s prince of darkness to bookstores in this country. Black’s Gus Dury, a fired journalist hack turned half-assed PI, is a great damaged anti-hero and perfect guide through Edinburgh’s meaner streets.