It’s that time of year again. Time for all of the “Best of…..” book lists to come out. Those lists can be very helpful, especially since I don’t get the chance to read nearly as many books as I would like, and it’s good to have those lists as resources to come back to later. So I thought I’d toss together my own list. But this list isn’t going to be a “Best of 2011” type of list. I just can’t bring myself to “colour within the lines” that way. It’s a weakness I’ve had all my life . Instead, this is a group of books, fictional events and characters who’ve made a real impression on me. It’s absolutely not exhaustive – there are too many fine books out there for that, and I haven’t read nearly all of them. And it’s not objective – feel completely free to disagree with me on all points if you do. Finally, not all of these are books or authors I read in 2011. So…here goes:
Most Haunting, “Stayed With Me” Book
Simon Lelic – Rupture (AKA A Thousand Cuts)
Catherine O’Flynn – What Was Lost
Paddy Richardson – Hunting Blind
Megan Abbott – Bury Me Deep
The winner for me is Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. It’s the story of ten-year-old Kate Meaney, who has just started her own detective agency, Falcon Investigations, and spends much of her time in Green Oaks, the new local mall, looking for crimes to investigate. One day, she gets on a bus with a friend Adrian Palmer to sit entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School, and never comes back. At the time, everyone blames Palmer for Kate’s disappearance. In fact, life’s made so difficult for him that he’s hounded out of town. Twenty years later, Adrian’s sister Lisa is stuck in a dead-end job as an assistant manager of a music store in Green Oaks. One night, she strikes up an unlikely friendship with Kurt, a security guard at the mall. Kurt confesses to Lisa that he’s seen something unusual on the security cameras: a young girl who seems to belong to no-one and seems to be haunting the place. His description reminds Lisa of Kate Meaney, and each in their own way, Lisa and Kurt try to find out what really happened to the girl. This is the story of a mystery, but it is also the story of what happens to those who are devastated by sudden loss and unanswered questions. This one was a tough choice, though, as all of the titles I’ve mentioned have stayed with me…
Funniest Line/Most Humourous Moment
Dorothy Sayers – Strong Poison
Agatha Christie – Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client)
Håkan Nesser – Mind’s Eye
Alexander McCall Smith – The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
I have a background in linguistics, so I really appreciate good verbal timing and expert use of language. With reluctance (because there are gems of humour in all of these nominees!), my choice is the courtroom scene in Håkan Nesser’s Mind’s Eye. Inspector Van Veeteren and his team investigate the murder of Eva Ringard. Her husband, schoolteacher Jurgen Mitter, has been accused of the crime. Admittedly he was at home and extremely drunk on the night of her death, so he can’t reliably account for himself. But he does know he is not guilty. Still he’s arrested and put on trial for murder. At one point, an officious prosecutor pushes him too far and asks how Mitter knows he didn’t kill his wife. Here’s Mitter’s response:
“I know I didn’t kill her; because I didn’t kill her. Just as I’m sure that you know you are not wearing frilly knickers today, because you aren’t. Not today.”
The courtroom breaks into laughter – and so did I.
Sleuth Whose Attitude Towards Life I Most Really Like
Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza – Inspector Espinosa
Adrian Hyland – Emily Tempest
Arnaldur Indriðason – Inspector Erlendur
Kerry Greenwood – Corinna Chapman
The thing about well-written sleuths is that they are multi-dimensional characters. So I can’t say I adore every single thing about any of these fine sleuths. But all of them have qualities I admire very much. So that’s what makes it difficult – very difficult – to choose. Still, the winner by a slender thread for me is Kerry Greenwood’s accountant-turned baker Corinna Chapman. She’s strong, smart, loyal and practical. She’s compassionate without being maudlin and quick-thinking without being rash. I especially like it that she’s happy with exactly who she is. She’s not perfect, and she and I both admit that. Nor is she a “beauty queen” (thank heavens for that!!) But she is content to be Corinna Chapman – not somebody else. I like that. I have to admit that I also like the way she “colours outside the lines,” chiefly because I’ve been known to do that myself. Oh, and I like her sense of humour. Here’s an example:
“I’ve got an order for Health Loaf, guaranteed free of fat. I haven’t told the buyer that unless it’s a special or sweet bread there isn’t any fat in bread. I don’t believe that the Trade Practices Act obliges me to do so.”
See what I mean?
Author I Did Not Expect To Like But Really Do (Shame On Me For Not Being More Open-Minded!)
Susan Wittig Albert
I really do try to be open to all sorts of different writing styles, sub-genres and so on. I do. But I’m not one for overly-frothy cosies, violence-and-gore-filled thrillers or a lot of inch-by-inch (and sometimes unpleasant) forensic detail. I’m not one for “isms” either (although I admit to really liking some of the classics where you do see a lot of them). But sometimes an author surprises one with a story or series that’s much more than it seems on the surface. All of these authors have shown me in different ways that a talented author can make all sorts of different kinds of stories work. For that I’m grateful. My choice (again, a difficult one) is Deon Meyer. When I first started reading Meyer a few years ago I was completely prepared to dislike his work. Why? As I said, I am not generally one for action-packed-in-each-moment-and-filled-with-bloody-violence thrillers. That’s what I thought Meyer’s work would be. I was wrong. His stories are compelling, engaging and full of fascinating characters. He has a way of drawing the reader into the story and making the reader care what happens. Really care. He deals with difficult issues without either flinching or preaching, and his stories have very well-drawn settings. Sorry, Mr. Meyer – I should have known not to doubt you.
Most Dependable, Never-Lets-Me-Down Author
Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine
All of these authors have that rare ability to keep a series going over a long period of time with very few weak points. Almost never have I regretted reading any of their work and that is saying something. I want to be like that when I grow up – if I ever do . But one must make a choice, so….my choice is Michael Connelly. Through rich and evolving characters, innovative plots, strong writing and real respect for the reader, Connelly has kept me reading and I daresay will keep doing so. What a talented author!
And Finally…….Author Whose Books I Would Keep If I Could Only Choose One Author
Did you even have to ask? It’s Agatha Christie. Need I say more?
What about you? This isn’t a meme, but I really am interested in some of the books, authors and characters who’ve meant something to you.
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Tina Turner song.