Though I pretend not to, I enjoy lists. It turns out that lists are more fun to read than to sit down and create; this year-end best of suspense fiction is hobbled by memories of parochial school. In an exercise of extreme cruelty we were forced to write a Christmas card to our parents; to survive, most of us turned it into a letter to Santa. Voila, a list. No one rapped my knuckles with a ruler, nor did I have to stand in the corner and think about my sins; just books, nothing but books.
Hereâ€™s my list of the best of suspense fiction in 2004. Some of the choices were published in 2003, but Iâ€™m behind the curve, so they count.
FOR THE DOGS by Kevin Wignall. If crime writing has a Renaissance Man, itâ€™s Kevin Wignall.
DEATH OF A NATIONALIST. Rebeccaâ€™s Pawelâ€™s marvelous debut.
DECEPTION by Denise Mina. Lachlan Harriot is your native guide through his disintegrating life.
LUX by Maria Flook. She writes beautifully and sheâ€™s wicked funny.
THE PROGRAM by Gregg Hurwitz. Dense, intelligent, emotionally complex.
THE WAKE UP by Robert Ferrigno. Hits the bullseye from the jump and keeps hitting it.
TRIBECA BLUES by Jim Fusilli. Read this one before you read his latest. Be warned: Jim will make you hungry.
THE SIXTH LAMENTATION by William Brodrick. As rich and literary a whodunit as youâ€™re likely to encounter.
THE RIFT ZONE by Raelynn Hillhouse. An auspicious debut from a writer with wit and insight.
ICE RUN by Steve Hamilton. An underrated novel in the wake of A COLD DAY IN PARADISE.
THE MURDER EXCHANGE by Simon Kernick. Great story, can’t wait to see where he goes from here.
These are older, but who isnâ€™t?
WINTER AND NIGHT by SJ Rozan. Her best series novel.
RESURRECTION MEN by Ian Rankin. His best Rebus novel.
FREEDOMLAND by Richard Price. After you read this, youâ€™ll avoid North Jersey.
THE SUGAR HOUSE by Laura Lippman. If you only read one of this authorâ€™s books, read this one. Then youâ€™ll read the others.
A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR. Dennis Lehane before he was Dennis Lehane. Flawed, native, compelling.
I want to mention THE CONCRETE RIVER by John Shannon and Terence Faherty’s KILL ME AGAIN. These books may be out of print, but well worth tracking down. Likewise, Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy; the title confusion between the US and UK is a bit daunting.
Trend of the Year: lousy books from the big names. If suspense fiction is your thing, look beyond the branded authors for people like Lee Child, Ken Bruen, Denise Hamilton, Charlie Stella, or Bill Lashner. For vintage noir, try the titles from HARD CASE CRIME. This is far from comprehensive; I’ll post another list next week of books I wanted to read but didn’t, starting with SJ Rozan’s ABSENT FRIENDS.