2012 was an intensely crazy year for me, full of tremendous ups and downs, and though I did not read quite as many books this year as I might normally do, I did manage to squeeze quite a few in. Among them, many were newly published this year, and what follows is my list of the Best Damn Books of 2012, according to Ed.
1. Tribesmen, Adam Cesare
Newcomer Adam Cesare kicked the year off with his first novel, the story of an Italian exploitation film crew gone into the jungle to make a cannibal picture a la Cannibal Holocaust. Naturally, things go horribly wrong the moment they arrive. Tribesmen is a story I could not possibly love more, and Cesare nailed it beat for beat. I adore everything this cat puts on paper and can’t recommend this, and all of his other work, highly enough.
2. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn has been making major waves in the publishing world for a few years now, but I never took on her work until this, her third novel. And as soon as I finished it, I ran out to get her first two, which I devoured immediately. Hers is a literary voice that lends new light to the crime genre, where her characters are middle American women with deep pain in their histories, sometimes of their own doing, that haunts them and those who come too close to them. In Gone Girl, a dual narrative of a man and his missing wife weaves an intricate and addictive web of lies of conceit that drew me in so deeply I could do nothing but read until it was, sadly, done. An astonishing novel.
3. Hard Bite, Anonymous-9
Elaine Ash, aka Anonymous-9, debuted her first novel this year by way of Scotland’s terrific crime imprint, Blasted Heath. Hard Bite is an extraordinary tale of vigilantism and revenge wherein the bodily devastated survivor of a hit-and-run takes it upon himself to seek bloody vengeance upon anyone in Los Angeles with a mind to do the same. In a world saturated by clichéd crime novels, Hard Bite is a one-of-a-kind relief from the rank and file.
4. Ink, Damien Walters Grintalis
I met Damien at World Horror in Salt Lake City last spring, when she told me about her forthcoming first novel from Samhain, Ink. It was not until the end of the year that the novel was finally released, and I tore into it with reckless abandon. Here is a deeply entertaining story of a man whose life has completely unraveled (in a way eerily familiar to me, I might add), when a chance encounter with a bizarre tattoo artist becomes his first step to a new beginning…until everything starts developing into a horrific nightmare. Grintalis’s characters are rich and genuine, and her pulsing prose kept me glued to the book until the end. I eagerly look forward to her next effort, as she is going to be one to watch.
5. Dead Harvest & The Wrong Goodbye, Chris F. Holm
One of several cooler-than-cool new urban fantasy series from UK imprint Angry Robot, Holm put out the first two of his otherworldly detective noir novels out this year, a pair of stories that concern a “soul collector” whose conscience and curious mind get the better of him when what seem like simple jobs turn out to have much, much more at stake. Pulpy and frenetic, Holm’s novels are amazingly fun new takes on well-known tropes that deserve a lot more than the already tired “urban fantasy” label. These babies are in a class of their own.
6. Jane Carver of Waar, Nathan Long
As an unapologetic worshipper at the altar of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the moment I became aware of this irreverent homage to ERB’s Barsoom saga I rushed to get my hands on it. I was in no way disappointed—Long’s ongoing series about a rough and tumble biker mama stranded on a distant planet is hilarious, exciting, and the most fun I’ve had reading in ages. A second book is out now, and I hope many more to come.
7. Dare Me, Megan Abbott
Known primarily for her early 20th Century era crime novels, Megan Abbott might have taken a risk when she decided to write a noir tale about modern day high school cheerleaders. Had I not already been a diehard fan, I may have balked at that premise, but thankfully I knew damn well I’m always in for a crime fiction masterwork when Ms. Abbott is at the helm. And to be truthful, Dare Me is probably my new favorite of her books. It’s dark and blackly funny, unpredictable and uncomfortably honest. I would say anything from Megan Abbott is cause for celebration, but this one is an absolute masterpiece and a must-read.
8. Torn, Lee Thomas
As long as Lee Thomas keeps releasing new books every year, he will always have a place on this list. His big release in 2012 was Torn, a short novel from Cemetery Dance about a small-town sheriff, a werewolf on the loose, and the high cost of long-buried secrets. Like anything Thomas writes, the prose is pitch-perfect and the characters dig into you long after you’ve stopped reading. I’ve been an enormous fan ever since last year’s The German and Torn does nothing to disappoint in the wake of that literary gem.
9. Last Call for the Living, Peter Farris
The best example of rural noir I’ve read in years, Farris’s first novel about a mousy bank clerk and a frighteningly dangerous ex-con is equal parts bank heist story, hostage story, and cat-and-mouse game that is almost a bildungsroman in miniature as the protagonist, Charlie Colquitt, is fundamentally transformed by an inevitable chain of events that were set in motion before he was even born. Farris’s prose is as tight as anything I’ve ever read, and if this spectacular novel is an omen of things to come then I’m expecting great things in the future from this terrific author.
10. The Next One to Fall, Hilary Davidson
Davidson’s second offering, and the first sequel to her terrific debut, The Damage Done, certainly did not fall prey to the sophomore curse. In The Next One to Fall, the action moves from New York City to the ruins of Machu Picchu where travel writer Lily Moore is supposed to be on vacation/assignment, but upon witnessing a murder she gets entangled in a complex web of family secrets and violence. Hilary Davidson has fast become a “go-to” author for me, and I can’t wait until the next installment in this marvelous series.