Best crime fiction of 2009: books by Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman and others
Adam Woog's picks for the best in crime fiction for 2009 include books by masters Michael Connelly and Laura Lippman, and lesser-known talents such as Josh Bazell, Bill James and Attica Locke.
Special to The Seattle Times
Now's the time to choose some favorites from 2009's wealth of great crime books. Here goes:
"Beat the Reaper" by Josh Bazell (Little, Brown). Emergency-room physician Peter Brown has an unusual résumé: Once a mob killer, now he's in the witness-protection program. In this scurrilously funny book, the doc sprints for safety after a patient blows his cover. Bonus features provided by the physician-author include details about why you really don't want a lengthy hospital stay, plus instructions for a surprising use of one's own leg bone.
"9 Dragons" by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown). Steely LAPD detective Harry Bosch ventures far from his comfort zone — to Hong Kong — to rescue his daughter from kidnappers and to grapple with the long arms of the Chinese underworld. As always, Bosch mingles compassion (for good people) with ruthlessness (for the bad). His mission ends in both tragedy and a hint of redemption.
"Pix" by Bill James (Countryman). In James' sublimely strange world, everyone speaks a language as artificial, opaque, and droll as anything Damon Runyon ever wrote. Here, British coppers Harpur and Iles struggle to retain their city's delicate good-guy/bad-guy balance after one villain steals a houseful of paintings from another.
"The Girl Who Played With Fire" by Stieg Larsson (Knopf, translated by Reg Keeland). Larsson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" was astonishing both in quality and popularity. The late Swede's sequel is equally mesmerizing. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander — the near-autistic, punkish computer hacker of the title — chase a sex-trafficking operation. Lisbeth has personal reasons ... and then her fingerprints are found on a murder weapon.
"Life Sentences" by Laura Lippman (Morrow). A best-selling memoirist revisits an old crime: Her childhood classmate once went to prison rather than reveal what happened to her missing infant. As the memoirist searches for her friend, she starts doubting her own memories. The big-hearted and gifted Lippman always knows what she's doing.
"Black Water Rising" by Attica Locke (Harper). Jay Porter, black activist turned small-time Houston lawyer, is keeping his head down and trying to provide for his family — until he saves a white woman from drowning and everything goes bad. This whip-smart debut is a powerful mystery and a sharp, literate portrait of Houston's uneasy multiracial society.
"Skeleton Hill" by Peter Lovesey (Soho). Inspector Peter Diamond, always thoughtful and humane, delves into the obsessive world of historical re-enactments when two participants in a re-enacted battle find a corpse in a shallow grave — and then one of them disappears.
"Stone's Fall" by Iain Pears (Spiegel & Grau). This brilliant novel of ideas disguised as an historical mystery starts with a question: Why did munitions czar John Stone fall to his death, leaving a fortune to an unnamed child? Set against the shattering changes of Victorian Europe's Industrial Revolution, this is a dazzling dive into the elusiveness of truth, the nature of spying, and — believe it or not — the poetry and beauty of commerce.
"The Shanghai Moon" by S.J. Rozan (Minotaur). Rozan's sure-footed and deeply satisfying private-eye story finds New Yorkers Lydia Chin and Bill Smith reuniting after years of estrangement. They're tracking a fortune in jewels, last seen in China as World War II-era booty.
"The Chalk Circle Man" by Fred Vargas (Penguin, translated by Sian Reynolds). France's ineffable Commissaire Adamsberg has a knack for connecting disparate events with an enigmatic combination of brains, observation, and near-mystical intuition. Here, he senses unspeakable evil behind chalk circles marking bits of Parisian trash.
Seattle writer Adam Woog's column on crime fiction appears on the second Sunday of the month in The Seattle Times.