2019 was a solid reading year. I finished 51 titles, which is 13 fewer than last year’s mark. As usual, the majority of the titles were fiction, but I did increase my nonfiction intake over last year, which means I’ve been trending upwards for two straight years.
My fiction reading was dominated by my obligations to Mystery Scene Magazine—thirty titles, novels, collections, and anthologies, plus a bunch of magazines. I was able to read some old favorites, too. I read four novels by Lionel White, including his classic novel, The Killing, to prepare for an essay I wrote for Stark House, two novels by Ed Gorman, including the Sam McCain novel, Save the Last Dance for Me, a Jack Higgins novel and a Richard Laymon novel.
I also read a bunch of authors new to me—16 in total—including impressive works by Mike Miner (The Hurt Business), Sandra Ireland (Bone Deep), Peter Temple (Bad Debts), Rachel Howzell Hall (They All Fall Down), Oscar de Muriel (Loch of the Dead), and Kerry Greenwood (Blood and Circuses).
There were a few titles that rose to the top, which I skimmed (with some difficulty) down to five. With that said, my five favorite fiction titles that I read in 2018 are (and in no particular order):
Bad Debts, by Peter Temple, is the first novel featuring Australian debt-collector, part-time lawyer, and furniture maker, Jack Irish. Published in 1996, it has lost little of its power. Irish is cynical, romantic, and believable as an idealistic, but worn-out seeker of truth. Peter Temple is a brilliant and flashy writer that adds just enough societal observation to elevate it into something approaching literature (in a good way).
Condor: The Short Takes collects six tales featuring James Grady’s crazy spy, Condor. It’s the same Condor that found fame, with Robert Redford’s face, in the film Three Days of the Condor, but the stories are very much about the oddness of our time. The first is set shortly after the 9/11 attacks and the final story—clocking in at very close to a short novel—is about Russian election meddling. The stories showcase a shimmering, yet at times hard to understand, brilliance wrapped in a meaningful schizophrenic style that is as telling of our culture—never-ending news cycles, the fervency of self-inflicted and self-described crises—as it is entertaining. Read my Mystery Scene review.
The Second Sleep, by Robert Harris, is a thriller with a message about the fragility of modern culture and a coming dystopian post-technological world where the Church is the law and its only guidelines are superstition and fear. This second Dark Age is brought about by human fear and hubris, but the story is played as a tight mystery whodunit that flawlessly plants clues many readers may miss the first time around. Read my Mystery Scene review.
Pursuit, by Joyce Carol Oates, is a brilliant—does Oates write any other way?—dark suspense novel about stalking, abuse, and the female experience in our modern society. Pursuit reminds me, to quote myself, “why I would walk 10 miles in the snow to read a handful of Joyce Carol Oates’ brilliant words.”
Blood in the Sky is Steve Hamilton’s fifth Alex McKnight novel that is as much an adventure tale as it is a detective story. McKnight is looking for his best friend’s brother who disappeared while acting as a hunting guide in the Canadian wilderness. The trail starts and ends in the Canada’s vast and cold forests, but nothing turns out as expected. Originally published in 2004, Blood is the Sky is still an impressive and surprising read that pumps new and original life into the private eye genre.
I hope 2020’s reading is as good as 2019’s was.