My Top Ten Favorite Novels of 2016
Redemption Road by John Hart
A former police detective is released from prison after 13 years for killing the woman he was supposedly having an affair with. Meanwhile, the son of the woman lays in waits for him with the gun he stole from his father. The detective's former colleagues don't believe he should have ever been released. A female officer who was also colleague has been accused of excessive force while freeing a kidnapped girl. Now, another girl has gone missing.
When all the characters have a back story that could be by themselves an engrossing novel, the brilliant novelists real trick is making them all fit together so that the parts add up to more than the whole. If he hadn't proven it before with his other fine novels, The Last Child and Iron House, John Hart is just such a brilliant writer in Redemption Road.
Hart is also brilliant at releasing information about his characters at the most opportune and suspenseful time in the story (in this case, several stories) progression. I advise not skipping pages in this page-turner. Not that you'll want to.
Shaker by Scott Frank
I have always been a big fan of Scott Frank's work as a writer and later writer/director of movies such as "Dead Again," "Out of Sight," "Minority Report," and "The Lookout." So, when I came across his novel, Shaker, I knew I had to give it a chance. As expected, I wasn't disappointed.
It is the very cinematically-told story of Roy Cooper, an off-the-grid, middle-aged fixer on the fringe of the East Coast mob, finishes his job in Los Angeles just in time to get mixed up in the bloodshed and chaos of the aftershocks of an earthquake. Despite trying to recuperate from gunshot wounds, he somehow ends up on television coverage making him the target of gangbangers, his employers, and a police detective who has some questions he doesn't want to answer.
There isn't a false step in this gritty, realistic portrayal of a cultural cross-section of a city, a time, and a disaster.
Faithful by Alice Hoffman
This is a book about a tragic incident, but it isn't a tragedy. It is a challenging book, but in the hands of a masterful artist like Alice Hoffman, the reader is rewarded with a book of lasting illumination.
Shelby Richmond's best friend's future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt. She is a young woman trying to make her way in the world totally certain she doesn't deserve to find happiness. Sharing compassion with others but leaving none for herself, she makes questionable personal decisions while helping others find their way.
She finds her way back home with the help from a most unexpected source. Proving, we don't always see the bridges we've built because we are blinded by the ones we've burned.
The Promise by Robert Crais
In The Promise, Crais brings together his series characters Elvis Cole, Joe Pike, K-9 Officer Scott James and his German shepherd, Maggie to solve the mystery of a grief-stricken mother, an anything-but-ordinary house in Echo Park, and a killer who may be a foreign terrorist bomber.
Robert Crais has a special knack for creating indelible characters who stay with you long after the plot lines and inventive twists have faded. Maggie, the former combat veteran German Shepherd is one of my favorite characters of my recent reading. She's slowing getting her new master, Officer Scott James up to full speed. Joe Pike continues to surprise with his unexpected depths. Elvis Pike seems like the Crais stand-in trying to direct these autonomous elements into a productive collaboration.
Even if you haven't read Suspect (you should) which introduced Scott James and Maggie, you should not miss The Promise.
Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
For followers of Harry Bosch, it's great to see him move closer to retirement, but free of the petty interference of the larger LAPD. As a part-time cold case detective for the San Fernando PD, he can choose his cases, work on his own, even take private detective work, and find it easier to make time for his daughter. But Harry being Harry, he'll still find ways to push and most often skirt the envelope.
One of those outside cases turns out to be a reclusive billionaire, dying without an heir, wants to know for certain if he didn't father a child earlier in his life, a case of loving a woman below his status. His powerful father had the problem handled, but refused to disclose to his son what happened to the pregnancy. If Bosch takes the case of delving into the man's past, he must do it in total secrecy and can only report to the dying man because forces after control of his estate would not look kindly upon a discovered heir.
At the same time, he finds a cold case in San Fernando may have become hot again as a serial rapist may have become active again. Harry learns again that even a loner needs a quality partner to pull all the threads. He finds such a realization in the person of Detective Bella Lourdes.
In the end, his half-brother, Mickey Haller, The Lincoln Lawyer, not the likeliest of partners to curtail Harry's impulse to cross the line, proves again he can show up to mitigate the repercussions.
End of Watch by Stephen King
The finale to the Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers trilogy, End of Watch is a bittersweet, but appropriate wrap-up to the stories of former police detective Bill Hodges and the diabolical Brady Hartsfield. Although the supporting characters of Holly Gibney and Jerome Robinson enriched the series so much, it was always Bill's quest to solve the evil that was Brady Hartsfield. A friend recently told me about handheld relaxation devices like video games which captivate the user with repetitive visuals and soothing music to lower anxiety. If you read this book, you might develop a slightly different perspective on those devices.
Stephen King has been around for so long now, it seems as though he's had three or four different literary careers. When I recommend this series, I often get: "I don't like all that scary, gory Stephen King stuff." Or: "All that long, apocalyptic crap." Or: "He's gone all convoluted alternate universe." But, he also writes first-rate solid mystery thrillers like Dolores Claiborne, Joyland, and this series. It's hard to recommend one when you should read all three, but I've been told they read just fine as stand-alones.
The Second Girl by David Swinson
Frank Marr is a former police detective hiding a drug problem while he survives as a private eye for a defense attorney who may or may not be his girlfriend. While casing a drug operation to lift some product for his own use, he rescues a kidnapped teenage girl and again becomes a reluctant hero. He agrees to investigate the disappearance of another girl--possibly connected to the first. While piecing together the puzzle, he walks a fine line in every aspect of his life.
I didn't want to like this book as much as I did. Swinson's main character is not the easier protagonist to get behind. But Swinson's honest portrayal quickly gave me a glimpse that a flawed hero is so much closer to reality. Frank Marr's litany of rationalizations to get his job done and do it well seem uncomfortably familiar. Not to mention it is a persuasive, hard-to-put-down story.
American Girls by Allison Umminger
Anna is a fifteen-year-old girl who "borrows" her stepmom's credit card and runs away to Los Angeles to visit her half-sister, a struggling actress. But LA isn't quite the glamorous escape Anna had imagined. Anna hangs out behind the scenes on TV and movie sets until her sister's ex-boyfriend gives her a research project to help him finish his indie film about girls who follow a Manson-like maniac. She notices some parallels between herself and the girls she researches. Befriending one of the twin brothers who are the fading stars of her sister's TV series, she learns that even Hollywood stars are as vulnerable as anyone who might be influenced by money, stardom, or ambition.
Alison Umminger reveals the way every generation has its own rebels and conformists, and it's all really just the same reaction. One generation can inform the next, with only the specific issues changing.
This book is funny, scary, insightful, intriguing, and most of all, entertaining.
As Good As Gone by Larry Watson
Calvin Sidey is a man out of his place and time. He's a western character, not a cowboy exactly, or a former gunslinger, just a guy who scratched out a living in the West. His son who lives in town in the modern world has tried to stay in touch, but it was always awkward. Now, the son's wife needs an operation. He needs Calvin to come into town and look after his grandchildren, Ann, 17, and Will, 11-years- old. Cal must deal with teenager, pre-teen, and neighbor problems which never were an issue, alone, on the prairie. Also, his past is not as far behind him as he might have hoped.
I liked this spare, but sincere novel because it never even veered toward cliche. The results are not what one might expect, but the characters are true and not manipulated for the convenience of the story. Calvin hasn't become anybody's cuddly grandpa in the end.
Watson doesn't leave the reader, as many of these types of stories do, with the idea that we should all be like that guy and the world would be a better place. Rather, that we might consider the best of his actions as something we might have lost.
Time Zero by Carolyn Cohagen
This is an excellent first book in a series. I often resist recommending such a novel until I've finished the series. However, this book stand on its own merits. Now, I probably will read the next book, but this one is so good, I could be satisfied leaving the series right here.
This slightly futuristic, alternative time line deals with many fundamental societal issues. Cohagen could have slipped into preachy browbeating and ultra-ironic posing, but she tells her story straight with her characters conveying their own perceptions and worldviews. Like the reader, many of those characters are learning as they go.
Fifteen-year-old Mina Clark lives in a future Manhattan where girls aren't allowed to get an education, need permission to speak to boys, and must have their marriages negotiated by contract. But Mina's grandmother has secretly been teaching her to read, laying the groundwork for Mina to be open to the rebellion, romance, and danger that threatens her family's reputation and Mina's future.
Tied for 11th:
Find Her by Lisa Gardner
Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham
Special kudos to Maggie Stiefvater for how she wrapped up the Raven Boys series with the Raven King.