This year’s list was more difficult to create than its predecessors because, simply, I read so many wonderfully entertaining novels. The year was a year of discovery. I discovered a dozen or so new authors, the bulk of them wrote during the paperback revolution in the 1950s and 60s and I also rediscovered a bevy of authors whom I had ignored for years. The most important from the latter group is Brian Garfield and Donald Hamilton, and from the former H. A. DeRosso, Merle Constiner and Robert Colby.
Here it is, in ascending order.
5. Line of Fire by Donald Hamilton. I read this title in March and I was awed by the power of both its linear storyline and tight, literate, prose. A perfect suspense novel.
4. Cage of Night by Ed Gorman. This is another early 2009 read; I read it in April. It is a story that doesn’t fit a category, exactly, but it lives somewhere between dark suspense, supernatural horror and crime. It is one of the finest horror novels I have ever read.
3. Under the Burning Sun by H. A. DeRosso. I read this one in December. This is a collection of stories written, for the most part, in the 1950s and 60s. The stories, particularly the “shadowlands” westerns are unforgettable. DeRosso was thirty or more years ahead of his time.
2. Fear in a Handful of Dust by Brian Garfield (originally published as by John Ives). I read this title in July. This modern western / suspense novel knocked me off my feet. It is literally perfect. A masterpiece of suspense.
1. Violent Saturday by W. L. Heath. I read it in May. There are only a few crime novels I would ever refer to as beautiful—defined as haunting, sharp, and meaningful—and this is one of them. It is a novel that everyone should read. Really, I mean everyone.
This list easily could have gone to ten of fifteen titles, but I sweated, worked, chaffed, and even cried a few times in my attempts to reduce it to the mandatory five. A few more titles that could have made the list but didn't are: Northfield by Johnny D. Boggs, North Star by Richard S. Wheeler, The Midnight Room and Ticket to Ride by Ed Gorman, Necessity by Brian Garfield, Binary by John Lange, and Slammer by Allan Guthrie.
All in all 2009 was a fine year for reading. I bet 2010 will be just as good.