Friday, December 23, 2016

Favorite Reads of 2016

Goodreads says that I have read 83 books in 2016, which means I will probably end with a total of 85 books read. I tried to cut my list of favorite books for 2016 down to less than ten, but that did not work, and for the third year I ended up with 11 books on the list.

Four of the books fall in the spy fiction sub-genre. Five of the books were published between 1939 and 1986. Six of the books were published between 2001 and 2016 and three of those were published in 2016.

The links go to my reviews / overviews.

Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout (1939)
As usual, the Nero Wolfe mysteries I read this year were among my top reads (and all were rereads). I chose just one book to represent this author.

Nero Wolfe is well known for his extreme distaste for leaving his home. Some Buried Caesar is one of two novels that I can remember where Wolfe and Archie are away from the brownstone from the beginning to the end of the book. Archie drives Wolfe to an exposition where he will display some of his prize orchids, so the story places Archie and Nero into an environment that they know little about. But my favorite thing about this book is that it introduces Lily Rowan.

She Shall Have Murder by Delano Ames (1948)
A Golden Age mystery, set in post-war London, with rationing, feeding the gasmeters, etc. At the beginning of this book, Jane Hamish is writing a mystery story and Dagobert, her lover, is giving her ideas for the plot. Dagobert is unemployed; Jane works in a lawyer's office. Although at first I found Dagobert very annoying, he grew on me as the book moved along and Jane Hamish and Dagobert Brown quickly became my favorite detecting couple in Golden Age fiction.

From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming (1957)
This is the fifth novel in the James Bond series, the fourth that I read this year, and it is by far my favorite so far. I have always loved the movie, and luckily in this case the movie and the book are very close.

The three previous Bond books I read were more like adventure stories. From Russia with Love sticks closer to the conventional type of spy story I prefer. Early chapters focus on SMERSH agents setting up a plot to assassinate James Bond and our hero doesn't show up until later in the story. The plot is complicated, there is a train trip on the Orient Express with a beautiful enemy agent, and plenty of exotic settings.

The Labyrinth Makers by Anthony Price (1970)
David Audley works for England's Ministry of Defence, but as a researcher, doing behind the scenes work. For his latest assignment he goes out in the field and he is not thrilled with this change. A WWII-era British cargo plane has been discovered at the bottom of a drained lake, complete with the dead pilot and not much else. His job is to figure out why the Soviets are so interested in the empty plane. The beginning of a spy series with eighteen more books, this is just the type of spy fiction I like: a quiet book, a lot of talking and thinking and not a lot of action.

A Perfect Spy by John le Carré (1986)
This is one of seven books I read this year by John le Carré and they were all excellent books. I picked just one of them to represent this author.

Magnus Pym, a British spy assigned to an important post in Vienna, has disappeared. After he gets a call that his father has died, he leaves for the funeral in London, but he doesn't return when expected. British intelligence agents mount a search for him. Being the gifted spy that he is, Pym easily eludes them for the majority of the book. A Perfect Spy revolves around Magnus Pym's relationship with his father, Rick, a con man who uses everyone in his life to achieve his own goals. The story is mostly autobiographical.

Pashazade by John Courtenay Grimwood (2001)
The first book in the Arabesk Trilogy. The story starts with the investigation of a murder, but the chapters skip back and forth in time, sometimes a few days, sometimes going back years in flashbacks. The setting in the present time is El Iskandryia, a North African metropolis in a world where "the United States brokered a deal that ended World War I and the Ottoman Empire never collapsed," as described on the back of the book. So this is an alternate history, sci-fi, coming of age thriller, and just my cup of tea. Pashazade has elements of a police procedural; the crime is investigated by Chief of Detectives Felix Abrinsky, formerly a policeman in Los Angeles, California, and high tech forensics are used .

Sleeping Dogs by Ed Gorman (2008)
The first in a series of five novels about Dev Conrad, a political consultant. In this novel he is working for an Illinois Senator who is running for reelection. The attitude towards politics in this novel is very cynical. Conrad truly wants his candidate to win because he believes he is the better choice of those available, but he does not see one side as bad and the other as good. No political party or ideology is demonized.

Dev Conrad is a great character. Human, not perfect, he cares about people and about his work. The people working on the campaign appear to be a close-knit group but not everyone is what they seem. The story's ending worked very well. It was logical and made sense but was a surprise to me.

An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer (2012)
Steinhauer is close to the top of my list of favorite spy fiction authors. An American Spy was the third book in his Tourist trilogy,  featuring Milo Weaver, CIA agent in the Department of Tourism. "Tourists" are undercover agents with no identity and no home. Milo is not the James Bond type, although there are plenty of thrilling escapades and violence. But we see the other side of this spy's life, the family he wishes he could spend more time with. I enjoyed picking up on Milo Weaver's adventures again. I like the depth of the characters and the exploration of the conflicts in their lives within this framework. The first book in the trilogy is The Tourist, the second is The Nearest Exit.

A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward (2016)
This is Sarah Ward's second novel featuring Detective Inspector Francis Sadler and his team. It is a good police procedural, focusing as much on some of the people related to the crime as on the investigative team.

The dead body of a man is found in an abandoned mortuary, located in an overgrown area outside of Bampton, Derbyshire. The deceased was supposedly murdered twelve years before. His wife, Lena, confessed to the crime and served a ten year prison sentence. Thus begins an unusual case which combines an investigation into who was killed years ago with an inquiry into whether the proper procedures were followed at that time. The plot is very complex but not at the expense of the reader's enjoyment.

See Also Deception by Larry D. Sweazy (2016)
This is the second book in a series featuring Marjorie Trumaine, set on a farm in rural North Dakota in 1964. Marjorie is an indexer, creating indexes for non-fiction books. She does this work freelance to make money that she and her husband, Hank, badly need. The area is affected by a drought, with a severe impact on the crops and livestock on the farm. Hank is an invalid due to an accident on the farm and Marjorie shoulders the responsibility for running the farm.

In this book, Marjorie's best friend in the area, a librarian, commits suicide. She begins to suspect that the suicide was faked but the police will not discuss the case with her. In addition to providing an intriguing mystery, the story gives us a vivid picture of what it was like to be a woman at this time, and how difficult it was to be heard in a man's world.

Shot in Detroit by Patricia Abbott (2016)
A novel of psychological suspense, set in 2007 Detroit. It does not paint a pretty picture of that area or the struggle to survive financially in that environment. The story centers on a female photographer who is working on a project to photograph black men who have died much too young. The subject matter is sometimes unsettling and the story is dark.

Violet Hart is the center of this story. She has family issues; her father deserted her family and her sister died when she was young. She has trouble making ends meet and wants very much to succeed in artistic photography. She is not a very likable person, willing to use people to get what she wants, always pushing her agenda first.


Bernadette said...

Even though I think I have read reasonably widely in the crime genre there are still so many authors for me to try.

Your description of that Ed Gorman book with the political consultant character sounds like just my kind of thing so that's another one to go on my list to try out. You introduced me to Larry D Sweazy who will be appearing on my own favourites list for 2016 so I have high hopes. Happy reading for 2017 :)

Anonymous said...

Such excellent choices, Tracy! And I like the fact that they run the crime-fictional gamut, and reflect all sorts of different types of stories.

TracyK said...

I know, Bernadette, I have so many authors I want to try, some that I have in my piles and some that I hope to get some day.

I have read Ed Gorman's books (part of one series) before but this one came to my attention at Patti Abbott's blog. It was a book where the ending made it all work for me. If you do read it, whether you like it or not, I will be interested in your take on it.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Margot, I had a great reading year and I am trying to expand my horizons to different kinds of crime fiction

Anonymous said...

I think Blogger ate up my first comment. I was saying what a great list as you have more than a few titles that grabbed my attention. I will make sure to start with your favorite Rex Stout title for this year as I know you are a huge fan. Hopefully you can start anywhere in the series and not be lost....-K.

TracyK said...

I do hope you like a Rex Stout mystery if you try one, Keishon. Definitely go for a Nero Wolfe, other than that it doesn't matter. When I first read them I read them in no particular order; I was very young and got whatever was available from the library. Not everyone finds them as appealing as I do, they are dated in many ways, but it is always good to try at least one.

Jason Half said...

Very fun to read through your list of notable books for the year. I always enjoy finding lists like these, as invariably they bring to my attention new authors (or ones that I knew about but never got around to reading). I too am going to seek out the Ed Gorman story Sleeping Dogs for the new year, as it sounds very intriguing. I recognize how fascinating the ethically muddy waters of backstage politicking can be in books like Hammett's The Glass Key and movies like Preston Sturges' The Great McGinty.

Thanks for the reviews, Tracy, and have a great 2017!

TracyK said...

Thanks, Jason. I have a lot of authors I keep meaning to read but don't get to. I think (hope) you will enjoy the Ed Gorman book. And I hope 2017 is very good for you too.

Clothes In Books said...

Great collection - I either have read or would read all of them!

TracyK said...

I look forward to your lists, Moira. Coming in January?

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, I couldn't read Sarah's A DEADLY THAW and Patti's SHOT IN DETROIT last year, but I definitely hope to read them in 2017. I like your choice of favourite reads — such variety.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Prashant. I am sure you will enjoy Sarah's and Patti's books when you get to them. They are great reads.

Clothes In Books said...

Yes|! I always wait till January, it makes me less frantic in December!