When I can look back over my list of books I’ve read or listened to since January and find more than a dozen that I loved and would recommend enthusiastically, I know it’s been an outstanding year for fiction.
As usual, most of the novels I’ve read have been crime fiction, but one unclassifiable book stands out as a gorgeous exercise of a writer’s extravagant imagination: The Night Circus. Erin Morgenstern’s first novel has its flaws like any book, but it’s worth reading for the imagery alone. The author proves what we sometimes tend to forget, that words alone can paint as powerful a picture as any film.
This year I also let down my guard against “supernatural mysteries” and fell in love with Michael
Koryta’s writing. I read So Cold the River, Koryta’s first paranormal novel, last year and loved the writing but wasn’t entirely persuaded that the story was my kind of thing. After reading Cypress House, a genuine thriller that happens to include talking corpses and glimpses of the future, I was a fan. I enjoyed The Ridge just as much. These are gritty, violent books, not for those with delicate sensibilities, but the writing is amazing and the supernatural elements add to rather than detract from the stories.
Two new writers joined my list of favorite, must-read authors: Chevy Stevens and S.J. Watson. Stevens’s first novel, Still Missing, is a woman’s gripping first-person account of her year as the captive of a lunatic and her eventual escape. Her second book, Never Knowing, is in many ways even more compelling, as it follows a young woman, adopted as a baby, through her discovery of her real parents’ identities and into a disastrously tangled relationship with the rapist who fathered her.
S.J. Watson’s debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, is stunning. I was riveted by this story of a woman who has suffered a head injury and now loses her memory every time she goes to sleep. Christine wakes each morning not knowing who or where she is, who the man in bed with her is, or what her life was up to that moment. Assisted by a doctor, finding ways to get around her recurrent memory loss, Christine secretly pieces together her identity and the horrifying truth behind her injury. This is an amazing and terrifying psychological suspense novel.
I loved the latest books by writers already firmly ensconced on my favorite authors list: Iron House by John Hart; Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson; The Accident by Linwood Barclay; The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld; The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen; Love You More by Lisa Gardiner.
My two favorite novels of the year, though, were Fallen by Karin Slaughter and End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina. Both feature strong female cops investigating crimes that strike close to home. Fallen brings together Will Trent, Sara Linton, and Faith Mitchell in a tumultuous story that begins when Faith’s mother, once a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent like Faith, is kidnapped. Slaughter’s characters are hauntingly real, and her writing thrums with energy.
Denise Mina’s End of the Wasp Season is set in Ireland and has Detective Alex Morrow, heavily pregnant and about to go on maternity leave, chasing down the brutal killers of a young woman who seemed to have no enemies. The reader knows from the beginning who committed the crime, and the knowledge heightens rather than dampens the suspense as Alex begins to circle them – and realizes that the crime touches her personally.
I read others that I enjoyed, but these were the standouts, the books I know I’ll remember a year from now. And I have a bunch of 2011 books yet to read -- Margaret Maron's Three-Day Town, for example -- that I know I will love.
Which books were your favorites this year?