Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best of 2016

After reading only women authors for a year, I thought I would embark on reading only authors of color, and authors in translation, for a year.  I thought these back-to-back experiments would make me a better reader and writer, and I think it was true.  I definitely sought out new voices that I might not have tried otherwise.  And below are my favorites of all that I found.

1.  The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

2.  The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

3.  The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

4.   The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaVelle

5.  Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

6.  The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

7.  Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

8.  The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

9.  Moonstone by Sjón

10.  The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria by Carlos Hernandez

Happy reading!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

#56: Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra

Multiple Choice is a slender, playful work from Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra that takes the shape of a standardized test, with multiple choice questions and "Reader Comprehension" sections; but this gimmick is only the book's surface.

One could easily read this in one session, but for readers who take more time, Multiple Choice plumbs greater depths. Zambra reflects on everything from Chile's tormented history to the trials and tribulations of relationships and family life.

At first glance Multiple Choice looks pretty light, but Zambra is a sophisticated writer, gently steering from humor to pathos to other emotions.  Recommended for fans of offbeat literary fiction.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

#55: Desperado: A Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos

A down-on-his-luck guy reluctantly helps an old high school friend who is getting blackmailed--but when the old friend turns up dead, things quickly go from bad to worse in Desperado:  A Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos.

Ramos hits all of the right genre beats, including a can't-win-for-losing protagonist, but adds interest by setting the story in the center of Latino culture in a gentrifying Denver. 

I would recommend this novel to any noir fans, especially readers who want to hear from a different voice in the genre.

This was a surprise gift from the Seattle Mystery Bookshop on a recent visit to Seattle.  I bought The Tokyo Zodiac Murders there and was given a brown paper-wrapped package as a "Mystery Date" for my purchase.  It was a welcome surprise.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

#54: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Writer/Director/Actress Mindy Kaling dishes on pop culture, relationships, and her own sometimes funny/sometimes painful childhood in Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).

Kaling is probably best known from the television show The Office, and she talks quite a bit about that experience for fans, but her stories of the slings and arrows it took to get there are also interesting. 

Kaling also addresses body image issues and being a person of color in the entertainment field, among other topics, although generally with a light hand. 

She acknowledges her slender book is more or less in the same category as the ones written by people like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Sarah Silverman (all three of which I also liked) and would be enjoyed by readers who are fans of any of these talents. 

I have listened to all of these, and others (such as Lena Durham's) read by the author on audiobook, which I think adds value. 

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Memorial Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

#53: The Voice of the Violin by Andrea Camilleri

Inspector Montalbano is in a squad car that swerves to miss a chicken, and smashes into a parked car; shortly thereafter a grisly murder is discovered, sending the policeman sifting through clues in The Voice of the Violin.

Andrea Camilleri has written a long and popular series of police procedurals featuring Montalbano, that have spun off into other media platforms in his native Italy and elsewhere.

I pick one up whenever I come across one, and enjoy them; the mysteries are solid and the characters quirky, bordering sometimes on comic. Montalbano's own personal code of honor, and his vast appetites--for food, and for attractive women whether they might be witnesses or suspects--always plays a role as well.

I listened to this one on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Memorial Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Friday, December 2, 2016

#52: The Bastards of Pizzofalcone by Maurizio de Giovanni

A group of unwanted cops are sent to staff a precinct on the verge of closing; but when an affluent woman is murdered, they have a chance to redeem themselves both personally and professionally in The Bastards of Pizzofalcone.

This is the first novel in a new Italian crime series from Maurizio de Giovanni, bringing the lead cop over from his solid thriller The Crocodile.  Lojacono, called "The Chinaman," teams up with a handful of tarnished heroes on this and several other cases that thread throughout, as they try to hold various aspects of their personal lives together.

de Giovanni acknowledges Ed McBain and his "87th Precinct" books in the writing of this novel, and his nods to the source material show throughout.  Fans of McBain will enjoy this outing, a story that would fit right into that series but seen through a different cultural lens.

I thought the mystery was somewhat slight, but the characters and situations highly interesting, making it a fast read.

I was sent a review copy by World Noir and read it quickly.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

#51: The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Harry Hole is a hard-living cop whose reputation as the best investigator in Oslo is tested by the emergence of a serial killer in Jo Nesbo's The Snowman.

I first discovered Nesbo reading The Redbreast, one of my favorite books of that year, and found his dark, action-packed crime stories the greatest successor to the late Stieg Larsson that I know of.

The Snowman is probably the best I've read in the series since.  It rockets from one plot twist to the next, and from one false lead to the next, ending in a cinematic showdown that is wholly satisfying.

But what really holds the book together is the flawed, mesmerizing character of Hole.  It helps to have followed the character through the previous books (if nothing else, to understand the identities of the people, all deceased, in the photographs on his office wall) but is not prohibitive to the mystery side.

I continue to enjoy this series and recommend it to readers of dark mysteries and thrillers, especially of the Scandinavian kind.

I listened to this on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

#50: Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

A political cartoonist in Bogota is honored for a life's work, and sees a chance to reunite with his estranged wife, a radio personality; but a young woman's sudden appearance in his life unearths a story he would prefer to stay buried in Juan Gabriel Vasquez's novel Reputations.

Vasquez writes a somewhat melancholy character study, as the cartoonist looks back at his career, its influences, and how it impacted his family life, all sketched in over a day and a night and a day.

The history and politics of Columbia adds interest to readers.

I enjoyed Reputations, seemingly written in straightforward prose but with emotional resonance throughout.  Recommended.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Monday, November 7, 2016

#49: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

A humble Indian driver turned business entrepreneur writes a series of letters to the Premier of China, and through these letters gradually reveals an unsettling tale of crime, murder, and revenge, in Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger.

Adiga's debut novel, a Man Booker Prize winner, works on several levels; on one, it is a darkly humorous story--told in epistolary form--with an unreliable narrator, but it is also a brutal indictment of the caste system in India, and India society and politics in general.

The White Tiger can be enjoyed on the surface as a thriller, or more deeply as a look at a fractured society.  Recommended either way.

I listened to a very good audiobook reading of this on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

#48: Silenced by Kristina Ohlsson

An immigrant killed in a hit and run, a vicar and his wife in a murder-suicide, and a young woman being terrorized in Bangkok are all tied together, and it's up to a special squad of Stockholm detectives to figure out how in Kristina Ohlsson's Silenced.

Ohlsson weaves a tangled plot, even more knotty with the complex backstories of the team of detectives trying to solve the various cases.  One is pregnant by a married lover, another senses trouble at home, a third is going through a volcanic divorce which is impacting his work.

Characters you can invest in, and sharp storytelling, make Silenced a satisfying read, especially for fans of Scandinavian crime stories.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Friday, October 21, 2016

#47: Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami

Two disaffected young friends knock around Japan in the early 70s in two novellas from Haruki Murakami.

Wind/Pinball is a combined re-release of Murakami's first two works, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973

In the first story, the narrator and his friend The Rat are both in college and hanging around a local bar, falling in and out of love with various young women. 

In the second, they are both emerging young professionals, and the protagonist finds himself living with a pair of odd twins and spending a lot of time obsessing over a rare pinball machine.

These first Murakami novels feature a lot of the hallmarks of his later best-known work; they are awash in pop culture and malaise, bordering on the surreal at times.  Definitely of interest to Murakami fans, and of interest to other readers who enjoy offbeat narratives.

I checked this out on audiobook from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

#46: The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

 An artist is murdered in his studio, and later his family is dismembered and scattered across Japan; years later, two quirky friends take on this long-unsolved mystery in Soji Shimada's The Tokyo Zodiac Murders.

Despite its sometimes shocking trappings, including gruesome murders and grisly astrology rituals, at its heart Shimada has written a classic locked-room mystery.  Shimada even interjects himself twice into the story, telling the reader that all the clues to solve the mystery have been given out and invites the reader to try and solve it before the end.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is an offbeat blend of cozy murder mystery and gory violence, an unusual read.

This release is from the Pushkin Vertigo imprint, which has been dedicated to bringing back classic genre novels from around the world.  I found this at the famous Seattle Mystery Bookshop and read it on a flight back from Seattle.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

#45: The Madmen of Benghazi by Gérard de Villiers

Freelance superspy Malko Linge drops into Libya to try and help stabilize the government, only to find himself in deep with various government agencies, political groups, and hot-tempered women in Gerard de Villiers' The Madmen of Benghazi.

de Villiers wrote hundreds of spy novels in his native France that were known for their political astuteness as well as their raunchy sex and explosive violence.  de Villiers is often compared to Ian Fleming, but his novels remind me more of those spinner-rack Men's Adventures paperbacks of the 60s and 70s.

These novels are finally getting translated into English, and this is the second one I've read recently.  They are quick reads, and enjoyable, if often impolite.

I found this used and read it fast on a plane ride to Seattle.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

#44: Vertigo by Boileau-Narcejac

A suspicious husband asks his friend to trail his melancholy wife; when the friend becomes obsessed, and that obsession seems to lead to madness, the plot twists and turns and twists again in Vertigo.

Boileau-Narcejac was Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, whose writing collaboration produced a string of classics, including this one that Alfred Hitchcock turned into one of his iconic films.

Even if you know the movie's beats, this is a rock-solid psychological noir, brought back into print by the Pushkin Vertigo imprint that features genre novels from around the world.

Recommended for fans of the film, or noir fans in general.

I bought this at Sandmeyer's Bookstore in downtown Chicago and read it on a long flight to Seattle.

Monday, October 10, 2016

#43: The Kingdom by Fuminori Nakamura

In Tokyo, a young woman works for a shadowy crime gang, luring businessmen and then getting compromising photos of them; when a rival gang makes an appearance, she plays a dangerous game pitting one against the other in Fuminori Nakamura's The Kingdom.

On the surface, this is a hard-boiled noir in the vein of Red Harvest (which begat Yojimbo, which begat A Fistful of Dollars, and on and on).  But this is Nakamura, whose novels ooze and seep, creep and crawl, creating high levels of dread.  Grinding, inescapable fate of the type Cornell Woolrich ate for breakfast is the standard fare.

Nakamura's novels are unsettling, to say the least, often with uncomfortable subject matter, but if you are interested in going down an inky-black road The Kingdom may be his most accessible novel that I've read to date.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana and read it quickly.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

#42: The Boy in the Shadows by Carl-Johan Vallgren

A child disappears, and years later, his now-adult brother does as well; when the brother's wife turns to a recovering addict turned part-time investigator to help, the city of Stockholm threatens to explode in Carl-Johan Vallgren's The Boy in the Shadows.

Vallgren's thriller has all the hallmarks of Scandinavian noir--gloomy characters, grisly murders, and long-buried secrets--but broadens the horizon with secret military experiments and intimations of curses and black magic.  A lot of things thrown in the pot, but the story never stops moving.

Vallgren's novel also benefits from an unusual protagonist and a complex collection of supporting characters and backstories, which in the end tie into the present storyline nicely.

All in all, a satisfying read, and one I consumed quickly.

I borrowed this from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Monday, October 3, 2016

#41: The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo

During a sub-zero Oslo Christmas, a young man from the Salvation Army is shot on the street; but the crime reverberates through time, and reveals hidden family secrets, in Jo Nesbo's The Redeemer.

I think Nesbo is not just one of the great Scandinavian thriller writers, but one of the great contemporary thriller writers anywhere.  His flawed series detective, Harry Hole, is an obsessed, complex figure with a handful of demons.  And Nesbo's plots are always taut and razor-sharp.

More American-flavored than a lot of his Scandinavian contemporaries, and benefits from having read the prior novels, but another worthy addition to Nesbo's work.

I listened to a good audiobook reading of this novel on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

#40: Sergio Y by Alexandre Vidal Porto

A São Paulo therapist sees a young man, and feels the sessions come to a solid conclusion before his patient moves to New York; but when the young man is murdered, and another life is revealed, it sends the therapist on a voyage of self-discovery in Sergio Y by Alexandre Vidal Porto.

Sergio Y is a slender, philosophical slice of life which paints gentle portraits of several people in transition.  Despite the framing device of a murder, the novel largely functions as a character study, and of family and relationship dynamics.

Although the novel seems a slight read at the outset, some of the ideas and images resonate.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

#39: Super Extra Grande by Yoss

A veterinarian who specializes in gigantic alien animals is tasked with rescuing two former love interests (who have been inconveniently swallowed by a huge creature) in Super Extra Grande by Yoss.

Super Extra Grande, by a Cuban sci-fi writer and rock star, is a nutty romp, part raunchy Fantastic Voyage and part Spanglish Gulliver's Travels

It is a slender but engaging story speculating on a future where a handful of alien races have achieved interstellar travel and have turned the galaxy into a pan-sexual, polyglot stew.  Funny, especially if you like reading about people getting pooped out of oversized aliens.

A bought this with an Amazon gift card I got for my birthday and read it quickly.  Enjoyable.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

#38: Little Green by Walter Mosley

L.A. private eye Easy Rawlins heads to the Sunset Strip at the height of the psychedelic 60s to find a missing young man, only to run afoul of angry hippies, murderous drug dealers, and other dangerous characters in Walter Mosley's Little Green.

Mosley's Easy Rawlins series is a great achievement in contemporary detective fiction, as Mosley has charted Rawlins' life from post-World War II California through the Cold War 50s to the late 60s counterculture, creating a rich accounting of various characters and events along the way. 

I continue to enjoy this series as the character grows and changes (having survived what appeared to be a fatal car wreck at the end of the last novel) along with a dynamic supporting cast of various friends, family, lowlifes, and cops.

Michael Boatman did a great read of this novel on audiobook, which I heard on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Memorial Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Friday, September 9, 2016

#37: The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria by Carlos Hernandez

The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria by Carlos Hernandez is a neat batch of contemporary science fiction and fantasy stories that feature everything from robot pandas to ghosts lodged in false teeth and pianos to dangerous reality show hijinks. 

The title of the collection gives away the general hook for each story, which feature Cuban characters and culture either prominently or implicitly. 

The title is certainly eye-catching--and the main reason I nabbed Hernandez's work for my beloved Kindle--but the stories are solid of their own accord for any fans of sci-fi and fantasy.

I liked Hernandez's voice throughout and will look for more from this author.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

#36: The Silent Dead by Tetsuya Honda

A string of grisly homicides lead a young female cop towards a mysterious website--but she has to fight against the rigid political and social structure of Tokyo's police world all the while--in Tetsuya Honda's The Silent Dead.

This is the first English translation in Honda's popular police procedural series, which has also found its way to movies and television in Japan. 

Despite some gory trappings, the characters and relationships are easily digestible and television-ready.  The story is not overly demanding, but of more interest to readers who want a glimpse of contemporary Japanese culture.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

#35: The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

Upon the accidental death of his father, a slave child falls in with abolitionist John Brown, becoming an often unwilling witness to history in James McBride's The Good Lord Bird.

With its sometimes comedic first-person narration (with the protagonist as an elderly man looking backwards), vivid real-life historic figures (also including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Jeb Stuart, and Robert E. Lee, among many others) and offbeat takes on historic narratives, McBride's novel reminds me a bit of True Grit and a lot of Little Big Man.  Fans of both of those novels, or even the films, will find a lot to enjoy here.

The Good Lord Bird is on one hand a big, brawling western-flavored story, but on the other filled with small, interesting character interactions--especially how the narrator, Onion, ended up living several years as a little girl and not a little boy, and the towering madness of John Brown.

This was a very enjoyable novel made more so by a very good narration on audio book by Michael Boatman. 

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Friday, September 2, 2016

#34: Moonstone by Sjón

A gay teen in early twentieth century Iceland finds escape in movies, as the real world--in the form of World War, pandemic flu, and even an active volcano--creeps in on his life in Sjón's slender, lyrical tale Moonstone.

Sjón is an interesting feature in Icelandic culture as he writes novels, poetry, stage plays, and works with musicians, among other things. 

Whether the reader knows Sjón's celebrity status or not won't diminish the power of this often provocative work.  Although seemingly slight, the images and emotions in the storytelling will resonate after the last page, for discerning readers.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana and read it quickly.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

#33: For All the Gold in the World by Massimo Carlotto

An armed robbery spirals into a heinous crime and orphans a young boy, sending The Alligator and his friends seeking revenge in For All the Gold in the World by Massimo Carlotto.

Carlotto's Alligator is a semi-reformed, largely philosophical criminal who roams Italy looking to right wrongs set aside by the machinery of justice.  The Alligator's world is one where various strains of criminals have a more intricate code of honor and respect than law enforcement or any of the "civilians" that might wander into their path.

I have read several of Carlotto's tough-minded, sardonic crime stories and find them to be enjoyable, quick reads.  Good for fans of international noir.

This was sent to me by World Noir and I read it quickly.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

#32: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

In a star-spanning future, a young soldier is given the seemingly suicidal mission of re-taking a fortress captured by heretics, only to find navigating galactic politics is even harder in Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit.

This is as dense and intricate a bit of world-building that I've seen in a science fiction novel; so much so that it took about thirty or forty pages before I had the slightest notion of what was going on.  But once I got into the novel's baroque rhythms I really enjoyed it. 

The storytelling is great on the intimate level--as our protagonist struggles with being mind-melded to a genocidal general kept around as a ghost--up to the epic sweep of world-breaking battles and empire-cracking machinations.

A unique setting and plenty of unusual ideas makes Ninefox Gambit recommended for sci-fi fans.

I bought this from Amazon and read it quickly.

Friday, August 5, 2016

#31: The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin

A seemingly unstoppable alien armada is a few hundred years away from arriving from deep space and conquering Earth, sending humanity through various highs and lows as the day approaches in Liu Cixin's epic The Dark Forest.

The Dark Forest is the sequel to one of my favorite reads of the year, The Three-Body Problem.  This one is less action-oriented, which is hard to say about a novel which had long stretches of math, but The Dark Forest is more philosophical in its plotting but still full of interesting ideas.

The decade-spanning and galaxy-stretching storyline features Earth's desperate plan to anoint several "Wallfacers" to develop secret strategies to defeat the invasion--and the confusion that arises when the aliens and their human henchmen seem intent on killing just one lowly, underachieving scientist. 

A really worthwhile read for fans looking for a fresh voice in science fiction.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana, and had to renew this behemoth several times to finish it.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

#30: The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome by Serge Brussolo

A pulp-loving schlub realizes he can dredge unique artwork out of his dreams--but when the dream world becomes more attractive than the real world, he runs into trouble in Serge Brussolo's hallucinatory neo-noir The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome.

Brussolo appears to be somewhat of a cult figure in his native France, but this is his first novel translated into English.  If this psychedelic mash-up of genres is any indication, he could develop a following here as well.

The dream world story is hard-boiled crime, and the real world story is near-future dystopian science fiction; both genres on hand will be pleasing to fans.

If the plot of Brussolo's work sounds to the reader like the plot of Inception, it does have some similarities, though this novel was published before the film.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

#29: Lord of the Swallows by Gérard de Villiers

Part-time spy and full-time ladies' man Malko Linge swings into action when the wife of a Soviet agent offers up a list of spies--but only if Linge kills her husband's mistress--in Gérard de Villiers' espionage thriller Lord of the Swallows.

de Villiers is just now getting widespread attention in English translation after penning about 200 spy novels featuring Linge over almost fifty years. 

Although compared to a French James Bond, I found the character, who favors kinky sex and politically incorrect views, to have more in common with "Men's Adventure" spies of the 60s and 70s like Joe Gall and Sam Durell.  Stories ripped from the headlines--or sometimes predicting the headlines, over the years--points towards de Villiers' longevity.

I thought this was a crackling thriller and read it quickly, and will be looking for the other recent translations of these novels.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it very quickly.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

#28: Apricot's Revenge by Song Ying

The death of two real estate tycoons sends a group of cops, and one intrepid reporter, chasing a case that leads back to the darkest days of the Cultural Revolution in Apricot's Revenge by Song Ying.

This mystery, translated from Chinese, hits some pretty good beats, but probably is most interesting as a snapshot of life in contemporary China.  How the characters live and interact is as compelling as how the mystery unfolds.  The structure of the story is a bit unusual as well (though what part is due to the translation, I am not certain).

Overall, Song Ying has produced a solid police procedural, with insights into Chinese culture, of interest to mystery readers looking for a different voice and setting.

I picked this up at the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

#27: Borkmann's Point by Håkan Nesser

A veteran police detective is vacationing in rural Sweden, and gets caught up in a serial killer case, in Håkan Nesser's Borkmann's Point.

The killer is called The Axman, and the local cops include a chief very close to retirement with a squad of inexperienced or ineffective detectives.  Save one, an ambitious young woman who abruptly goes missing during the investigation, spurring the veteran cop along.

Nesser has had a popular run of mysteries in his native Sweden, and I enjoyed this one more as a character study than a mystery, as I felt a few story elements didn't hang together towards the end.  But I will look for more of Nesser's work for its slice-of-life elements as well as rich characterizations.

I bought this from a used Engligh-language bookshop on a recent visit to Rome.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

#26: The Bat by Jo Nesbo

Oslo cop Harry Hole is a fish out of water in the Australian Outback, tasked to find out who murdered a minor Norwegian celebrity (and salvage his career at the same time) in Jo Nesbo's initial novel in this crackling crime series, The Bat.

A good mystery, but also interesting as a study of a very flawed protagonist (and almost equally flawed supporting characters) as well as perspectives on Australian life.

Nesbo was already a big star in Norway when his newer books began to come out in English, so publishers have scrambled to shore up the gaps in his bibliography.  In this post-Stieg Larsson era, I recommend Nesbo and Arnaldur Indriðason to anyone trying to fill the void after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I found this in a used English-language bookstore in Rome and read it on the long flight home.

Monday, May 23, 2016

#25: The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette

A super-cool killer tries to get out of the game, but naturally nothing goes as planned in Jean-Patrick Manchette's existential crime novel The Prone Gunman.

In my readings of international fiction I have often seen Manchette name-checked alongside the works of people I really enjoy, like Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Claude Izzo, and Sebastien Japrisot, so when I saw a paperback of The Prone Gunman in a little English-language used bookstore in Rome I snapped it up.

Manchette definitely tries for a Jean-Paul Belmondo/Alain Delon kind of cool in his protagonist, but infuses the story with the ambience of Camus' The Stranger.  It is at the same time a crackling spy novel as well as a deconstruction of the genre. 

Overall highly rewarding for those readers interested in this style and time period.  I consumed this very quickly over a night or two in Rome.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

#24: Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt

Tough Oslo cop Hanne Wilhelmsen hunts a serial killer targeting immigrants in Anne Holt's Blessed Are Those Who Thirst.

Holt writes very hard-nosed mysteries with rich characterizations, making a satisfying read overall. 

Holt arrived on the English-language scene with 1222, a very tightly-wound locked-room style thriller, and now her older novels are rightfully being translated and filled in, like other successful Scandinavian writers before her finding hungry readers in the States.

I bought this in a used bookstore in Chicago but read it very quickly on a recent trip to Italy.  I need to look for more of Holt's novels featuring Wilhelmsen.  Recommended for Scandinavian mystery fans.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

#23: A Beam of Light by Andrea Camilleri

World-weary Sicilian cop Montalbano deals with a spate of crimes as a long-time relationship falters in Andrea Camilleri's A Beam of Light.

Camilleri has written a long-running series of police procedurals that have been popular in Italy and world-wide, and I grab one whenever I find one (this one I landed for a shiny quarter at a library book sale).  They are in general broadly comic, with gritty crimes (though this one sports an especially melancholy ending).

Here there are arms smugglers, art thieves, and other general criminal types, all framed by a prophetic dream Montalbano has at the outset of a trying week.

Camilleri's novels are solid mysteries with an international flavor.  I read this in a few nights while, ironically, in Italy.

Monday, May 16, 2016

#22: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

The drama of the Cultural Revolution ultimately leads to the rise of an alien invasion from a relentless, seemingly unstoppable foe in Liu Cixin's mind-blowing sci-fi epic The Three-Body Problem.

Readers of this blog know that I consume books voraciously, so I don't take lightly writing that The Three-Body Problem is the most astounding science fiction novel I have read in a long time--one has not altered my thinking so much since I finished Samuel R. Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, which turned me away from lantern-jawed Heinlein heroes to trippy Philip K. Dick antiheroes in an instant, never to look back.

I definitely skimmed a bit over the math and science, but just the sheer volume of ideas, and originality of thought, had my subconscious burbling for a long time.  Even though the novel is several inches thick, I read it in record time (although a long flight helped).

The Three-Body Problem is getting a lot of buzz and attention, and rightfully so.  It is on track to be my pick of the year, and I am recommending it to all fans of science fiction. 

I nabbed this off of Amazon in paperback and am on the prowl for the sequel.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

#21: A Legend of the Future by Augustín de Rojas

A spaceship is damaged, and the survivors try to navigate the failing craft back to Earth while hanging on to their own minds and bodies in Augustin de Rojas' A Legend of the Future.

A Legend of the Future is a classic slice of Cuban science fiction but lives right in the same neighborhood as Stanislaw Lem, the Strugatsky Brothers, and director Andrei Tarkovsky; and if this makes you rub your hands together in glee seek this novel out immediately.

It is a world- and time-spanning mindbender with political overtones and some unique storytelling even as it follows the conventions of the Soviet Bloc Sci-Fi of the era. Relentlessly downbeat throughout as we follow the struggle of our radiation-sick cosmonauts (and one disembodied brain), though with a surprisingly upbeat finish.

I bought this from Restless Books and consumed it quickly.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

#20: The Treacherous Net by Helene Tursten

Irene Huss and the cops of Goteborg, Sweden are on the trail of a murderous child predator in Helene Tursten's The Treacherous Net.

The "net" of the title is not only the internet, but refers to a cold case being followed by her soon-to-be retiring boss, where a father and son were murdered decades apart with the same gun.

And the title also refers to spy networks, and events during World War II in Sweden.

All in all a very satisfying new police procedural from Tursten, who has deftly mixed often gruesome crimes with Huss' personal family drama over a number of novels.  I have read several of them and enjoyed them quite a bit.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond Indiana and read it quickly.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

#19: Styx by Bavo Dhooge

A serial killer called The Stuffer is on the loose in Ostend, Belgium, and it's up to crooked cop Rafael Styx to capture the killer and save his reputation.  But when he is himself murdered by The Stuffer, and comes back as a zombie, the story tilts in a different direction in Bavo Dhooge's genre-bending and mind-bending Styx.

The first chunk of the book is straight police procedural, before taking a lunatic left turn into a world that includes a pocket watch with time-traveling powers and the ghost of Marvin Gaye.  I found Dhooge's writing to be very fresh and original, but certainly will require an open mind and sense of humor from the reader.

Plotting that includes the Belgian Surrealists and the Congolese sapeurs add interest, as if it wasn't interesting enough already.  Recommended for fans of something different in both the mystery and horror genres.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

#18: A Superior Man by Paul Yee

In the 1800s, Yang Hok has worked helping to build the railroad across Canada; just as he is about to return to China, triumphant and with money in his pocket, a Native woman deposits a previously unknown son at his feet, sending both father and son on an epic journey through the wilderness in Paul Yee's A Superior Man.

A Superior Man is at first glance a brawny, sprawling Western, with violence brought on by racial tensions veined throughout, but at its heart is a wry story about the relationship between a man who didn't know he was a father and the son who didn't know he had a dad.

Yee writes great characters, set against an unforgiving backdrop, for a memorable story showcasing a slice of history--the lives of Chinese workers building the railroads--not often profiled in fiction.

I would put this novel in the same category as works like True Grit and Little Big Man and would recommend it to those readers who enjoyed those books or movies.

I checked it our from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

#17: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

A young woman is the first to leave her remote village and go to a prestigious college across the galaxy--but when aliens board her ship en route, her future shifts dramatically in Nnedi Okorafor's Binti.

This slender sci-fi adventure, with its undertones of tolerance and acceptance, could easily be a young adult novel, although I don't think it has been billed as such.  It is accessible to any reader with its clever protagonist, unique aliens, and some well-developed world-building.   

Binti ended sooner than I might have liked, but hopefully might be the opening salvo for future adventures.

I bought this novel for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.  I was interested enough to start looking for more writing from Okorafor.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

#16: The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura

A college student finds a gun at what looks like the scene of a suicide attempt, and rather than calling the police becomes morbidly fascinated with owning the weapon in Fuminori Nakamura's creepy novel The Gun.

I have read several novels by Nakamura and find him to be adept at getting under your skin with unsettling characters and situations.  The Gun isn't so much a mystery or thriller as it is a skin-crawling character study about a young man slowly unraveling, as he fantasizes about murdering various people and becomes more distant from friends and the normal world.

Nakamura's disturbing narratives aren't for everyone, but he is an adept writer and storyteller for those looking for inky-black tales.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond Indiana and read it quickly.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

#15: Juba! by Walter Dean Myers

Juba! tells the real-life story of a free black man in 1800s New York with a notable talent for dance, whose rise to stardom begins when he is noticed by no less a person than Charles Dickens in Walter Dean Myers' interesting young adult novel.

I have been reading Myers since I was a young adult myself and still dip my toe into his work when something catches my eye.  Unfortunately this is Myers' last work, and was published posthumously.

I found Juba! to be nicely done but slight, although of interest to show the history and perception of race and race relations in that time period.

I listened to an audiobook version on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana, with a really good reading by Brandon Gill.

Juba! is worthwhile, but even more so I hope it introduces new readers to Myers' large and solid body of work.

Monday, March 21, 2016

#14: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

The barriers between the normal world and the magical world of the Djinn are breaking down across the planet, unleashing a war between good and evil that lasts 1,001 nights in Salman Rushdie's Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.

This is an epic, sprawling novel, alternating between whimsy and windy, panoramic scenes of battle contrasted with intimate scenes of romance, as several disparate characters--including an aging gardener who can suddenly levitate, a graphic artist whose superhero creation seems to come to life, and a social-climbing trophy wife imbued with murderous powers--band together to try and restore the world to normalcy.

The storytelling, obviously harking back to the Arabian Nights while keeping a contemporary vibe, is unique, and the large cast of characters--magical and mortal, human and ghostly, and so on--keep things interesting.

I would say the overall impression is a little uneven, but many readers looking for something different will find something worthwhile.

I bought this for myself with Christmas money and enjoyed it throughout.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

#13: The Case of Lisandra P by Helene Gremillon

A psychiatrist's wife plummets from a balcony, and he becomes the prime suspect; but a troubled, alcoholic patient believes in his innocence, and starts an investigation of her own in Helene Gremillon's psychological thriller The Case of Lisandra P.

This novel is set against the backdrop of Buenos Aires in the 1980s, a time of political unrest where citizens disappeared or came under torture from a military regime.  The protagonist's daughter is one of the disappeared, and the psychiatrist's possible role comes under scrutiny as well.

Gremillon writes a tight, relentless thriller, presented in a unique format including transcripts, drawings, and even sheet music.  Overall it lends to a unique style, with a lot of energy despite a downbeat ending.

I checked this novel out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.


Monday, March 7, 2016

#12: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaVelle

In 1920s New York, a Harlem street hustler/street musician is asked to play a gig at a mysterious old house, leading him down a path of madness and murder in Victor LaVelle's The Ballad of Black Tom.

LaVelle's jumping-off point for his novel is H.P. Lovecraft's The Horror at Red Hook, which when seen through contemporary eyes is rife with racism and general xenophobia.  LaVelle flips the story from the eyes of a white policeman to that of the black characters, with compelling results.

But LaVelle's novel is more than just a clever exercise; it is distinctly creepy and frightening in its own right.  The most chilling moment for me came when Tom decides he would rather have the vast indifference of cosmic gods than the close attention of white cops on Earth, an interesting take on Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos.

I would recommend going back and reading Lovecraft's story after as I did, as a study in contrast, but The Ballad of Black Tom is a solid horror story for fans either way.

I bought this for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

Friday, March 4, 2016

#11: Crossing the Line by Frédérique Molay

It's Christmas in Paris, but the stalwart cops of La Crim' and their chief, Nico Sirsky, have a tricky murder on their hands in Frederique Molay's French thriller Crossing the Line.

It seems as if a cadaver donated to science has a dental filling which holds a secret message, leading the police on a trail that includes mysterious disappearances and shadowy medical practices.

Molay's novel is brisk and undemanding, focusing more on the procedural than the police in this police procedural, but flashes of life in Paris over the holidays are welcome.

This novel comes from Le French Book, a publishing house bringing French beach reads to the U.S.; I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond Indiana and enjoyed it.

Friday, February 26, 2016

#10: The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga

Three knockabout friends in Cape Town hang out, use drugs, and also sell them--primarily HIV drugs--in Masande Ntshanga's episodic novel The Reactive.

This slice-of-life novel, set in South Africa, tries to frame its story around a mysterious masked man who wants to buy a large quantity of drugs from the trio; but the novel is more rewarding when it peers into the thoughts of the characters, and their lives on the fringe of a ramshackle neighborhood.  How each of the friends became adrift, sniffing glue and dreaming, is really the core of the book.

I liked Ntshanga's writing, especially his characterization, and found this to be an interesting, change-of-pace slice of literary fiction.

This was sent to me by Two Dollar Radio and I read it quickly.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

#9: MemoRandom by Anders de la Motte

A cop has a stroke and gets in a serious car accident, awakening to find he is in hot water for forgetting the identity of a confidential informant called Janus; meanwhile, a young Iraqi man blames his brother's death during a police shoot-out on an underworld figure also called Janus. 

Naturally, these two men's paths collide, with explosive results, in MemoRandom by Anders de la Motte.

MemoRandom is an electrifying, cinematic thriller brimming with action and alarming twists and turns.  It is a straight American-style beach read with an overlay of Scandinavian winter and the brooding characters it produces.

I thoroughly enjoyed this thriller novel and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the genre.  If you also enjoy Scandinavian thrillers, it's an added bonus.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond Indiana and read it briskly.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

#8: The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

A crusading journalist at a failing magazine lucks into a hot story involving the murder of a computer genius; at the same time, a famous hacker (and his sometimes lover) decides to get involved in the mystery as well in The Girl in the Spider's Web, a continuation of the Millennium Series.

The series, which began with Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, seemed to open the floodgates for interest in Scandinavian mysteries and crime stories.  Unfortunately Larsson died abruptly after completing only three novels, and in his wake was quite a bit of controversy about writing he left behind as well as his estate in general.

I decided I would read Lagercrantz's novel on its own merits, outside of the controversy.  I actually found this to be a largely seamless transition to a new author, capturing Larsson's knack for earthy storytelling and larger-than-life villains. 

Blomkvist and Salander have a more cerebral adventure this time out, dealing quite a bit with Artificial Intelligence and Autism and political maneuverings, peppered with action.  Lagercrantz definitely left elbow room for another book, if this one goes over well, and I hope it does.

I listened to a very good audiobook version of this novel on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Monday, February 15, 2016

#7: The Night of the Panthers by Piergiorgio Pulixi

A band of cops called The Panthers rule a city nicknamed "The Jungle" with their own tarnished code of ethics; but when an especially murderous criminal kingpin is on the rise, they pull out all the stops in Piergiorgio Pulixi's The Night of the Panthers.

This very tough crime novel in the World Noir line is as amoral a thriller as I've read, as the cops try to out-bad the worst of the worst. The novel moves at a lightning pace, and has looks into Italian life, but a constant barrage of murder, rape, and torture make it not for all audiences.

About as bleak a crime story as you'll find, but Pulixi's colorful characters and breakneck storytelling is of interest.

I was sent this by World Noir, a part of Europa Editions, and have enjoyed all of their offerings thus far.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

#6: Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias

Fernando is a low-level drug dealer in Austin who crosses paths with high-level baddies from another realm in Gabino Iglesias' Zero Saints.

Zero Saints is a tightly-wound street-view story of revenge, if that story was penned by H.P. Lovecraft.  This genre-bender finds our edgy narrator getting knocked on the head and waking up to a murderous scene with a whiff of the otherworldly.  Naturally, as much as he would like to snake away he keeps getting drawn back into the path of a gang who might have made an unholy pact or two on their rise through the mean back alleys of Texas.

Meanwhile, our tarnished hero makes a few deals of his own, including befriending a pack of unnaturally intelligent dogs and grabbing a handful of holy bullets.

Though marred a touch by an abrupt ending, this is a crackling read, with some unsettling undertones, and long stretches of Spanish, Spanglish, and English.  Worthwhile for those interested in both horror and noir genres.

I bought this one for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.  I will definitely look for more from Iglesias.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

#5: The Square of Revenge by Pieter Aspe

The quirky, hard-drinking cops of Bruges are on a strange case that seems to point towards the Knights Templar in Pieter Aspe's enjoyable crime romp The Square of Revenge.

This is the first of Aspe's books to be translated into English, and he is apparently already a big hit in his native Belgium.  I can see him having a successful run here, between descriptions of life in a beautiful medieval city and an unusual crime story (that begins with crooks melting all the gold at a jewelry store and ends with kidnappers proposing a bonfire of priceless paintings).

The story wraps up on a somewhat serious note, involving deep family secrets, but the colorfully-drawn characters really carry the day.  I will look for more work from Aspe.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

#4: The Intruder by Hakan Ostlundh

A photographer brings his family to a remote farm on the Swedish island of Gotland, hoping for a fresh start, but trouble finds them anyway in Hakan Ostlundh's The Intruder.

In winter, my mind turns to Scandinavian mysteries, and this one has all of the hallmarks; a little morose, with frightening violence, and a plot that focuses more on emotional drama than the crime at hand.

Here the photographer has quite a few secrets, both in his family history and in his marriage, as does the lead police detective, who is just coming back to the force after a serious injury.  He has been given a strange but rather mild case that starts with somebody trashing a vacation rental, but quickly escalates from there.

Ostlundh has written a solidly gloomy little thriller that I enjoyed more for its exploration of relationships than for the mystery.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond Indiana.

Monday, January 18, 2016

#3: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Three young men make a blood pact; later one becomes part of the VietCong, another is part of the South Vietnamese army, and the third--our protagonist--lives somewhere in between in Viet Thanh Nguyen's debut novel The Sympathizer.

This is a great debut novel, written on a broad, panoramic stage but full of wry human insights about relationships. 

The novel opens with the fall of VietNam in 1975, and two of the young men narrowly escaping to America on one of the last planes out (with the help of a shadowy friend from the CIA).  After our protagonist makes a memorable visit to a movie set as an advisor--think a coded version of "Apocalypse Now"--the seeds of a dramatic return begin to form in his friend.

Both are alienated from America in ways that are both funny and terrible, and volunteer for a suicidal mission to start a new rebellion against the Communists.  The latter part of the book details their misadventures, topped with a harrowing final coda.

The Sympathizer is just a really fine, literate novel showcasing an interesting part of world history, from a different perspective than what we might typically read in the States.  I will definitely look for Viet Thanh Nguyen's follow-up work.

I was given this book by my daughter for Christmas and read it quickly.  Recommended.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

#2: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

Two soldiers and lovers--born with extraordinary, hidden powers--are part of a caravan attacked by a supernatural beast, and soon pledge to end its reign of terror in Kai Ashante Wilson's genre-bending fantasy The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps.

This brief plot summary does not do this slender volume justice, as it is packed with ideas; at one hand the novel has literary overtones--complete with footnotes--on the other it is a brawling adventure/fantasy, with undercurrents of far-future science fiction.  It is a crazy mind-meld of Gene Wolfe, Fritz Leiber, and Samuel R. Delany, with a soundtrack by NWA.  If any or all of these artists appeal to you, this is your next read.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is a very fresh slice of fantasy for those fans looking for contemporary takes on an old genre.  Recommended for fans.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana, and read it quickly.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

#1: Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala

A young orphan in a war-torn African country is conscripted into a ragtag rebel group by a charismatic leader, and sees the horrors of war all too soon, in Uzodinma Iweala's Beasts of No Nation.

Iweala creates a fully-formed protagonist whose thoughts and fantasies are often at odds with an almost journalistic attention to the grim realities of battle.His novel is a worthwhile look at the issue of child soldiers, but its harrowing depictions of murder, rape, and child molesting make the novel not for all tastes.

This books kicks off my year of reading only authors of color and authors in translation, and was a good start.  I received this in paperback from my wife for Christmas and read it quickly over break.

Recommended to those interest in the subject and able to withstand strong subject matter.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Favorite Reads of 2015

After doing the 50 books a year reading challenge for a number of years now, I thought I would change it up this time and read only books by women authors.  This challenge initially came from my wife, who felt--rightfully so--that I wasn't reading enough women.

This turned out to be a great thing, as not only did it energize my reading--I exceeded 50 books this year, which I had not been able to do for a while--but it also forced me to find authors I might have passed over before, several of whom I enjoyed immensely and will look for more from.

I think it made me a better reader, and I hope a better writer.  It was such a good thing that in 2016 I am going to take on another challenge a friend put before me, which was to read only authors of color for one year.  I think I will expand this challenge a bit and also include authors in translation.  I'm curious to see what I will find in 2016.

But before that, here is a look back to 2015, and my favorite reads.  Instead of doing a Top Ten, as this was a special challenge I decided to make it an even dozen.  Curiously, there are three dystopian novels and three Eastern European stories.  I would consider five science fiction, two thrillers, and one lone western.  An interesting mix:

1.  Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

2.  Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

3.  The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato

4.  The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell

5.  Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell

6.  Innocence by Heda Margolius Kovaly

7.  Girl at War by Sara Novic

8.  When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen

9.  Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg

10.  White Crocodile by KT Medina

11.  Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

12.  The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Happy Reading!