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Notable Novels of 2010


Moonshine by Alaya Johnson (Thomas Dunne Books) is a charming dark fantasy set in an alternate New York City of the 1920s. Miss Zephyr Hollis comes from a family of Defenders, humans who hunt down and kill all vampires, no matter whether they’re dangerous or not. Zephyr, a suffragette who fights for the rights of vampires, teaches night school to immigrants, many of them “Others”—non humans including vampires, skinwalkers, fairies, and even the occasional genie. Johnson does a good job incorporating the looseness of the roaring twenties with the viciousness of a vampire gang aided by the corruption of Jimmy Walker’s mayoralty.

The Godfather of Kathmandu by John Burdett (Alfred A. Knopf) is not as good as Burdett’s first three Bangkok novels featuring Thai police detective Sonchai Jipleecheep but it still makes for entertaining reading. It opens with the bizarre murder of an American movie director in Bangkok and moves to Tibet where there are so many twists that I’m still not completely certain I know whodunit.

But the author’s sense of place plus the weirdness and humor in the series will keep fans engrossed.

Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett (Orbit) takes place in the dustbowl during the US’s Great Depression. An evil man is cutting a swathe of death throughout the country. A small group of those whose loved ones he’s murdered hunts him, and as the story continues, the reader begins to realize that in this worldview, almost every bit of progress American civilization has made was wrought literally in blood and sacrifice. While the ending doesn’t live up to the novel’s promise, the book is a good read.

A Dark Matter by Peter Straub (Doubleday) is an elegant, enjoyable gem of a novel by one of the best horror stylists working in the field today. The book, which reads much quicker than its 416 pages would suggest, is about the aftermath of a cataclysmic event that took place in the sixties when a group of teenagers were led by their self-styled guru into a mystical miasma for which none of them were prepared, with dire consequences for all of them. Now, years later, the one member of the group who did not fall under the spell of the guru is driven to investigate what exactly happened in the meadow to his friends.

A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files (Chizine Publications) is the debut novel (and first of a trilogy) by the very talented Canadian short story writer. Soon after the US Civil War a former reverend, now hexslinger (witch), and his outof-control lover and their outlaw gang are about to bring death and destruction on a monumental scale with the “help” of ancient gods. The two main characters are monsters in their disregard for human life and, initially, I found that plus their satyrism off-putting. The latter I gradually came to accept as part of the sex-magic engine of the plot.

Kraken: An Anatomy by China Miéville (Ballantine Books) is charming, funny, disgusting, inventive, and just plain entertaining. A young man working in the British Museum becomes enmeshed in a cult that worships a giant squid and someone’s plan to end the world in a final conflagration. This London is a living, breathing city with every part of it, from the sea to its masonry, taking part in the final battle. A few too many characters and extrusions off the main plot, but still satisfying.

Horns by Joe Hill (William Morrow) is the author’s masterful second novel in which a young man awakens after a drunken night, with horns growing out of his forehead and a strange power of persuasion and the ability to perceive the deepest desires of those around him. From there the book moves back in time, portraying the character’s happy youth up to the murder that ruins his life, and then back to the present as he tries to discover why he’s suddenly developed his weird powers. There’s a sense of wonder, humor, and horror that runs throughout this fine novel.

Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey (Eos) is the excellent sequel to Sandman Slim, and is about the continuing adventures of James Stark (aka Sandman Slim), a former denizen of Hell who is hired as Lucifer’s bodyguard while the Prince of Darkness is in Hollywood overseeing a movie of his life. I’ve heard some call it “pulp” but it’s way too well-written to describe it that way. It’s fun, bloody, and fast moving.

The Millennium Trilogy [The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Vintage), The Girl Who Played with Fire (Vintage), and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Knopf)] by Stieg Larsson creates one of the most memorable heroes of modern fiction: Lisbeth Salander, a young woman systematically abused by the Swedish social system from childhood, who has, despite this, grown into a brilliant computer hacker (although she’s lacking “people” skills). The three books make up a fascinating fictional study of government-wide corruption and truly live up to the first book’s original title Men Who Hate Women. The books are dark, violent, sexy and riveting.

The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster) is, as are all the Dave Robichaux novels, concerned with corruption, the arrogance of the remains of the aristocracy of Louisiana, and evil. I always enjoy this series, primarily because Burke has created such a wonderful set of characters. This time around his daughter is under threat as she becomes involved with an older man who has taken up with some exceedingly bad influences.

The Whisperers by John Connolly (Atria) is the Irish author’s ninth novel featuring former policeman Charlie Parker, a man both haunted and driven by the murders of his wife and child. This novel begins in war-torn Iraq, where a team of American soldiers returns home with a plan initially intended to aid their wounded brethren. Unfortunately, they’ve also brought back a supernatural relic that proves to be their undoing, as one by one they succumb to its violent suggestions. In addition, the seductive “Pandora’s box” attracts all sorts of unsavory attention, including from someone linked to Parker’s past.

So Cold the River by Michael Koryta (Little, Brown and Company) is an absorbing modern gothic about Eric Shaw, a failed moviemaker who gets a second chance when he’s hired by Alyssa Bradford to make a documentary about her husband’s father. Journeying to the Indiana spa town of West Baden Springs, Shaw is caught up in a clash of past and present as a result of the strange visions imparted to him by the mineral waters running beneath the town.

It Came from Del Rio: Part One of the Bunnyhead Chronicles by Stephen Graham Jones (Trapdoor Books) is a marvelous hard-edged, sometimes bloody, modern western about a widowed drug smuggler forced to abandon his young daughter when he’s tripped up by something really bad that he’s pressured into carrying across the Mexican-US border. Dodd Raine’s voice and plight engaged this reader totally. How can you not pick up a novel in which the legendary chupacabra is crucial to the plot?


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