In all, I read 73 books (about six a month) for a total of 23,532 pages.
It’s not the volume that counts, it’s the quality and significance of the books. I’ll admit that I don’t always read great literature, but I do seek out great story-tellers with a gift for words. The amount that I read reflects a daily reading habit. I read before I go to bed, or when I want to escape stress or boredom. It’s better than drugs.
This blog, launched in April 2013, is my way of processing what I read. 2019 was the second year in a row when I was able to post at least one review a week. I hit an all-time high blog visits for a single month on June 28.
Oh, what a year of reading this was – from feminist pulp fiction to fine classic literature to the whimsical and the gothic and gems of wordsmithing. Based on the number of page views they received, the following posts were most popular:
8. NOVEMBER ROAD.
10. Tied for tenth place were CHRISTMAS TALES OF MURDER AND MAYHEM, THE CRIME OF JULIAN WELLS, FOLLOW HER HOME, THE DRY, THE WIFE and AN UNSUITABLE JOB FOR A WOMAN.
My own favorite books of the year were a little different. They were:
- THE MARS ROOM by Rachel Kushner. This is not only one of the most beautifully written books I read this year, it was one of the most challenging. Kushner’s prose is studded with gem-like descriptions. Toward the end of the book, she juxtaposes the musings of Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond with the ravings of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. This book was deservedly short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. I’d call it a modern day CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. The questions it poses linger long after you finish reading.
- Thomas H. Cook’s THE CRIME OF JULIAN WELLS was a quietly told, wrenching story in the style of Graham Greene. This tale of a man’s lifelong guilt for events he set in motion in his 20s is a classical tragedy. In a year that included investigations into President Donald Trump dealings with Ukraine and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s and associates’ dealings with underage girls, a return to conscience and remorse is refreshing.
- Jane Harper’s THE DRY and THE LOST MAN. Australian author Harper’s portrayal of small towns economically crumbling under devastating droughts were prophetic as wild fires burned across Australia at the end of 2019. Her books are tightly plotted and suspenseful with the drought-stricken landscape virtually a character in the story.
- QUICKSAND by Malin Persson Giolito, who also is the daughter of mystery writer Lief G. W. Persson. This book begins with a horrific school shooting and the arrest of a student, Maja Norberg, who admits to a portion of the event. In Giolito’s skilled hands, readers must continually shift their perceptions of guilt and innocence in this case.
- THE FAR EMPTY by J. Todd Scott. The plot is pure Greek tragedy; the setting is pure Texas. This is a dark tale of drug lords on both sides of the Rio Grande and a despotic sheriff who held a small Texas town by the throat. Until the end, there seems no way that good can triumph over evil. If you like the Longmire series, you’ll like this one.
But to drill down to specifics:
My favorite character of the year was Nina Markova from THE HUNTRESS by Kate Quinn. She was spunky, courageous, irreverent, smart and powerful. I would read any book she ever appeared in — although I fear this is her only one.
The book with the most unexpected ending was THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson. I could so identify with Reykjavik detective Hulda Hermannsdóttir, who at 64 is being shuffled off to pasture by her younger boss. While she investigates her final case before retiring, you’ll discover Hulda’s own dark past. The ending is a stunner.
The best mysteries based Los Angeles that I read this year was Rachel Howzell Hall’s LAND OF SHADOWS, SKIES OF ASH and TRAIL OF ECHOES, which feature Los Angeles Police Detective Elouise “Lou” Norton. Lou Norton is a fresh face and voice in L.A.’s long history of mystery and crime novels. As I read, I could visualize the places Lou is going to during her investigations.
The best nonfiction crime book I read this year was Michelle McNamara’s I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK: ONE WOMAN’S OBSESSIVE SEARCH FOR THE GOLDEN STATE KILLER. Ms. McNamara had a vivid, distinctive voice and keen eye for detail. Unfortunately, she died before finishing this book. Her husband and a colleague completed it – with flawed results.
But the story is compelling. For 44 years, police up and down California failed to catch the person believed to be responsible for as many as 13 murders, 50 rapes and more than 100 burglaries committed between 1974 and 1986.
Ms. McNamara takes readers back in time — before DNA databases and interagency computer networks — to the terrors brought to neighborhoods from Sacramento to Orange County. Her book also provides a peek into the world of amateur crime investigators who share information online, proposing theories and attempting to identify cold case criminals.
Neither Ms. McNamara nor her fellow online investigators led police to the Golden State Killer. Using crime scene DNA and a genealogical DNA database, police identified Joseph James DeAngelo, 73, as a suspect in the Golden State crimes. In April 2018, DeAngelo was arrested on suspicion of being the Golden State Killer. He has yet to come to trial.
This is a great example of how mysteries (fictional and factual) are changing. Cell phones, inter-agency databases, DNA and amateur internet sleuths have created an entirely new landscape for crime solving – and crime fiction.
The best modern adaptation of an old storyline I read this year was Joe Ide’s IQ, which reworks the Sherlock Holmes trope with a young black genius with keen powers of observation and brilliant deductive reasoning as a crime solver.
I’ve been looking for a new approach to my reading in 2020:
· Read the works of a single author chronologically?
· Read prize winners – Man Booker, Crime Writers Association, etc.?
· Read a genre – historical fiction, true crime, Golden Age of Detection?
· Read geographically – Asia? Australia? Scotland? Nordic?
Any of you have suggestions?