Monday, December 29, 2014

2014: The Year in Reading

2014 was a great year for reading in both quantity and quality. I finished 64 titles, and will likely finish one more—Logan’s Search by William F. Nolan. I surpassed last year’s mark by nine. The majority of the titles were fiction, but the total includes a tolerable number of nonfiction works, too. The nonfiction tended towards history and true crime, which included a number of interesting titles including A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger and My Silent War by Kim Philby.

I entered 2014 with two reading goals—1. Increase the number of “new” authors (in 2013 I read only five authors new to me); and 2. Increase the number of female authors on my reading list. I successfully increased the number of new writers, but the second goal was an abject failure. I only read one book—a nonfiction book titled Dirt, Water, Stone: A Century of Preserving Mesa Verde by Kathleen Fiero. So, 2015 will have to be the year of the woman in my reading list.

I became acquainted with the work of eight authors in 2014: Andrew Hunt (City of Saints), Richard Hoyt (Trotsky’s Run), J. J. Maric (Gideon’s Staff), Stephen Overholser (Shadow Valley Rising), Steve Brewer (Baby Face), Michael Parker (The Eagle’s Covenant), Robert Parker (Passport to Peril), and Gregg Loomis (The Julian Secret). The best of the “new”—not so new really since it was published in 1982—was Richard Hoyt’s Trotsky’s Run.  

As is my habit, I returned to old favorites many, many times. In fact, four authors accounted for 24 titles, which is approximately 38 percent of the total for 2014. I read nine by Harry Patterson, eight by Ed Gorman, four by Garry Disher, and three by Lawrence Block. I had a few special projects that inflated the number of titles read by specific authors including my ongoing initiative to read and review all of Harry Patterson’s early novels—34 novels published between 1959 and 1974—interviews with Garry Disher and Ed Gorman, not to mention an Introduction I wrote for Stark House Press’s forthcoming release of Mr Gorman’s classic private eye novels The Autumn Dead and The Night Remembers. An omnibus I recommend absolutely.

Now all that is left is my top five favorite novels of—at least that I read in—2014. No rules, except no repeats. If I read it in a prior year it is not eligible for the top five. It was difficult to pare the list to five, and there were three or four that were cut from the list that I wish hadn’t been. With that said, my five favorite novels of 2014 are—

5.  Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell. The work of David Morrell has been a staple of my reading since my teens, and I generally read his new work as it is released. Murder, however, was an exception. I waited more than eighteen months from its release before reading it, which was a mistake because it is, simply put, fantastic. It is a Victorian novel—think of the journal entries of Dracula mixed with the sophisticated mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, and the setting and description of Charles Dickens—but also very modern, and very David Morrell.   
4.  Trotsky’s Run by Richard Hoyt.  Trotsky’s Run is my first experience with the work of Richard Hoyt.  It was published in 1982 by William Morrow, and I ran across the mass market edition released by TOR in 1983.  It is an espionage novel with a cleverly devised plot, humor, a little tradecraft, a bunch of history—both now and then—and a somewhat satirical view of cold war paranoia. Read the Gravetapping review.

3.  Goin’ by Jack M. Bickham. Goin’ is a running-from-age novel rather than a coming-of-age novel. Stan is middle-age. He has a wife, now ex-wife, and a daughter. He is miserable, empty, and searching for something to make things better. He buys a small Honda street bike and hits the road. He finds adventure in the same vein as a 1960s television show—think Route 66. It has the feel of a coming-of-age tale, but it is shadowed with a darkness and cynicism that comes only with age and experience. Goin’ spoke to me—I, somehow, am inching in to middle age. I understood the struggles, and fears of the protagonist. Read the Gravetapping review.   

2.  Whispering Death by Garry Disher. This is the sixth, and most recent, entry in the Hal Challis and Ellen Destry series of crime novels. It is a police procedural of the best kind. It is human, interesting, and entertaining. The antagonists are a serial rapist, and a brilliantly executed professional criminal named Grace. The beauty of this novel, and everything written by Mr Disher, is the crafty manner information is kept from the reader—from back stories to motive.   

1.  Strangers by Bill Pronzini. Strangers is a special novel. It is atmospheric, weighty, and entertaining. It is plot driven, but the procedural mystery runs a distant second to its raw emotional impact. The setting—desolate, stark, empty—fits the thematic structure of the story. It is one of the more powerful Nameless novels. Its emotional impact is on par with Mr Pronzini’s standalone work; particularly his masterful Blue Lonesome—which shares a similar setting, but very different leading woman—and The Crimes of Jordan Wise.  Read the Gravetapping review.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Ben, you read some very interesting fiction in 2014. I'm making a note of some of your new authors and favourite novels. Your two reading goals have been my goals too except I have been faring poorly on the second goal. Three authors I definitely intend to read in 2015 are Ed Gorman, Bill Pronzini, and Lawrence Block. I know I'm in for a treat. About Harry Patterson, what can I say? Any friend of Patterson or Higgins is a friend of mine. I continue to look forward to reading your reviews of his early novels. How many of the 34 novels have you read and reviewed so far? I'd love to sit with a stack of them.

A very Happy and Healthy New Year to you and your family, Ben!

Ben Boulden said...

Prashant. You can't go wrong with Gorman, Pronzini, and Block. My favorite Block novel of 2014 was A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, which is the basis for the film of the same title.

Harry Patterson's work is interesting. I've been reading and re-reading it since I was 14 or 15, and I never seem to tire of it. It seems like an old friend. I have reviewed 17 of the first 34. Mostly in order; however there have been a few reviewed out of order.

Thanks for reading, and I agree. Any friend of Harry Patterson's work is a friend of mine.