2010 was a banner year for crime fiction. The final installment of Stieg Larsson's seminal Girl trilogy continued raising the genre’s status and the film release of Winter’s Bone opened millions of eyes to crime’s literary underground, where virtuosos like Daniel Woodrell, Jim Nesbit and David Peace — today’s Dostoevsky, Kafka, and Poe – write crime as high art, but whose works are often obscured by the formulaic claptrap of bestsellerdom.
Here, in my lowly opinion, are the top ten crime novels of 2010. Please Note: I don’t claim to have read every novel in which crime plays a central role published last year – daddy needs to keep his day job – but I sure as hell tried. So throw the quick-lime and shovels in the trunk, get your gloves on and masks up, and let’s get gritty ...
The last decade has brought a massive infusion of new talent to crime fiction and its sub-genres. Brilliant young writers all over the world are brushing off stale literary conventions and using their formidable skills to write stories in which things actually happen. And with these guys – they’re usually very bad things.
Carrying the torch are James Ellroy, Dennis Lehane, and Ken Bruen – the unholy trinity of modern crime. But coming up fast from the shadows is a fierce new breed of gifted writers. They’re bringing a new level of violence and linguistic excellence to the craft and giving life to some of the darkest visions put to paper since Poe was found floating in a Baltimore gutter.
These are the 10 to look out for the next time you’re out after dark:
1. Charlie Huston writes ultra-violent pulp so fluid it cuts out the middleman and projects itself straight to your brainpan in digital HD. Huston always delivers, but the 3-part Henry Thompson series is a great place to start. It starts when Henry, a typical NY bartender with a coulda-been-a-contender story stumbles into the crosshairs of the Russian mob. By the end, he’s a rusty, pill-popping hitman submitting to indentured servitude to keep his parents alive. Along the way, he discovers a knack for killing and leaves a trail of bodies leading to a Grand Guignol finale that kicks like a tweaker on Cops. Warning: Don’t start a Huston book unless you’re ready to forego unessential activities (like bathing and sleeping) for days. His work is best described as paper crack.
You may be wondering why someone would write a top ten of 2009 list three months into 2010. Well I have two excuses. One: I didn't want to write a list until I was absolutely certain I had read every book that had a chance of making it on the list. All that reading takes a lot of time. Now, with my eyes blurry and my dreams dark, I can honestly say that I've read every book worth considering (with one exception, which I will admit to later) for the top ten.
Reason two is a tad more subjective: I've noticed with horror that nearly every Top 10 of 2009 list on the internet picks Michael Connelly's mediocre thriller The Scarecrow as one of the best of the year. Come on, folks! We can do better than that! I trust that anyone who included that one (not to mention some of the other stinkers I saw) on their list didn't have a chance to read the following titles. So, I finally decided to break my silence. 2009 was a banner year for crime fiction, and the following books deserve to be talked about. Enjoy.
Yeah, of course Blueprint is my number one hiphop album of the last ten years. It's not like it was a very hard choice (and it's not like a few of you didn't guess it). I already wrote about why I love the album so much here.
As we near the top of the Hiphop Masterpieces of the 2000s list, a common thread begins to emerge: business. How to succeed in a cutthroat business environment has always been, to a surprising and largely unrecognized degree, one of hiphop's core lyrical themes. Inspired by films like The Godfather and Goodfellas, following the early lead of EMPD and Q-Tip (who advised that "record company people are shady"), rappers have aligned their egos with their management skills, taking pride in their abilities to compete and win in the rap game (which, Nas famously pointed out, has a lot in common with the crack game). Like the novels of Horatio Alger, modern hiphop offers inspirational stories about working hard, focusing on goals, avoiding traps and pitfalls, coming out on top.
Many music critics placed Kanye West's first album College Dropout near the top of their best-of-the-decade lists. That was an excellent record, featuring his lyrical breakthrough "Through The Wire", but for the LitKicks Best Five of the 2000s I'm going with Ye's third album Graduation, the conclusion of his college trilogy.
Now Peter Piper picked peppers, and Run rocked rhymes
I'm 50 Cent, I write a little bit but I pop nines ...
Oh, he was so authentic. 50 Cent feels like a cartoon character lately, because his last three albums were weak and nobody wants to hear over and over again how much money he has, how big his house is, how far he's removed himself from the street. Get Rich or Die Tryin' was 50's first album. He still had everything to prove when he recorded it, and the story he told was as real and as common as yesterday's newspaper.
(Here's a list for the ages. The first decade of our new millennium will be remembered for many things, but during these years there has been no creative form more alive, more original, and more attuned to a unique sense of craft than hiphop. Born in the late 70s, exploding with raw talent in the mid-90s, classic hiphop (like jazz and blues, an American original) reached a new level of artistic maturity and expression in the 2000s. Some may not be aware of the value of 2000s-era hiphop, but genius must never be ignored, so Literary Kicks is honoring the past decade with a countdown of its five greatest hiphop album masterpieces. We'll profile one album a week, for five weeks, beginning here with #5. -- Levi)
(Once again, a word from our crime/noir genre specialist Garrett Kenyon. -- Levi)
Christmas is the perfect time for true crime. You have to deal with members of the family you only see once a year, eat dry turkey and drink poxy eggnog, and pretend to be excited about the new shirt you’ll be returning next week. All this while dealing with a gaggle of kids excited about an overweight, glorified second-story man who’ll be reverse-burglarizing your home when the lights go out.
1. S. A. Griffin, a Los Angeles poet, actor, beatnik and longtime friend of LitKicks, is going to be filling the shell of a bomb with pages of poetry and touring the USA with it in 2010.
2. Here's another bombshell: the conglomerate that publishes Kirkus, a book review magazine, has been unable to sell it and will shut it down instead. Kirkus has a big presence within the book industry because it publishes early capsule reviews of many books, and is only known to most readers as the source of countless back-cover blurbs. It's unclear where publishers will now go to fill this back-cover blurb space. Here's more on the Kirkus shutdown from one of their freelancers.