by Scott Adlerberg
It's always fun to share thoughts on favorite books, so here are the ones I read the past year and liked the most (whether they were published in 2015 or not). In no particular order:
The Dead Mountaineers Inn, The Brothers Strugatsky
Russian masters of science fiction The Brothers Strugatsky published this book in 1970, perhaps to get something past the Soviet censors without the struggles they usually encountered. It's subtitled One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre, and it is in fact a send-up of the classic locked-room, isolated country house murder mystery. At the same time, it's a terrific whodunnit in its own right, though not without lots of weirdness as you'd only expect from the Strugatsky boys. Few writers I've encountered can be so silly, thought-provoking, and serious at the same time. As I write this, I'm actually two thirds way through the novel, and I don't know whether the solution will be rationally based or have a sci-fi tinged solution. Doesn't matter. Makes my favorite list already for sheer enjoyment. However the brothers end it, I'm confident the resolution will be satisfying. Kudos to Melville House for recently putting this out. This is the book's first appearance in English translation.
The Conjure-Man Dies, Rudolph Fisher
Blind Man with a Pistol, Chester Himes
And speaking of Chester Himes, here's one I read for the first time this year, and all I can say is....wow. Blind Man with a Pistol is the 8th and last completed of his Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson books, and one comes away from reading it realizing Himes was only becoming more and more furious with age. Chaos rules in this novel, a blistering almost absurdist work where violence is rampant and good luck if anything, from minor crimes to murder, gets solved. The final images of total communication breakdown and a blind man firing a gun in an enclosed space are haunting. Remarkably relevant to today's world.
The Hare, Cesar Aira
Little Apple, Leo Perutz
House of Psychotic Women, Kier-La Janisse
Death Don't Have No Mercy, William Boyle
Eight stories about men who drink too much, have damaged souls, and whose lives, for all purposes, may already be over. None of the main characters is all that old - we're talking about men in their twenties and early thirties - but they've already made a lot of bad choices and they continue to make bad choices. Still, you'll be hard-pressed to encounter more entertaining, compelling fiction about sad people than the fiction you'll find here. Boyle has a style of elegant simplicity that makes for compulsive reading, and his way of evoking place, Brooklyn around Coney Island, upstate New York, a hotel room in Montreal, is impeccable. Environment almost is a separate character in these stories, and you just sink into each specific place as events unfold and lives unravel.
Picnic at Hanging Rock, Joan Lindsay
While reading, I spent a lot of time in the past this year. Here's another historical novel. If you know the movie, you know the novel's story. For years I'd wanted to catch up with the book, and doing so confirmed how closely Peter Weir's movie follows it. Still, knowing how everything plays out didn't diminish my pleasure. Smoothly constructed, rich in atmosphere and foreboding, Picnic at Hanging Rock has got to be one of the few books containing mystery that ends without providing answers yet leaves the reader satisfied. Actually, it contains mysteries within mysteries within mysteries. It's a superb feat of literary tantalization.
Zero Saints, Gabino Iglesias
There's plenty about this book in the previous two posts I did here. Suffice it to say....it's good.
Safe Inside the Violence by Chris Irvin
Chris Irvin focuses on the unnoticed people in life. The ones who grind life out with great resolve but little chance of getting recognition. He's a calm and lucid chronicler of people battling social forces they had no part in creating, and he has a way of telling quiet stories that take unexpected turns. Safe Inside the Violence is a strong collection that's billed as crime stories, but it really shouldn't be pigeonholed. Crime plays a part, but conventional tropes do not. These are closely observed character studies that smolder with tension. In each story, you get the sense of a writer in full command of his material.
The Blind Alley by Jake Hinkson
Jake Hinkson's idiosyncratic look at film noir is a must for noir buffs and general film lovers alike. Few people can match him for a combination of knowledge and readability. I've written about this book in depth elsewhere, so I won't repeat myself here, but I'll just say that this is one volume that now has a spot to stay in my film book library.
Some old books, some new books. What else is new? There's always that tension between the desire to read past authors and the pull to read contemporary authors. There are old books you want to explore and the new books you want to jump right into. I assume most everyone grapples with this problem? Anyway, I expect the same pleasant inner tension will be there next year.