Sunday, January 2, 2011

365 books in a year?

In terms of New Years resolutions, aiming to read one novel-sized book a day for an entire year would be quite a big one, I guess. And in all honesty, it's not one of mine for 2011.

However, due to circumstances here in Hanoi (poor weather, having done plenty of sightseeing already, a need for some relaxation after lots of running around SE Asia for three weeks), I've actually managed to read two whole books during the first two days of the year (both courtesy of the Bookworm store, which I mentioned last year, ie a couple of days ago): LAST CAR TO ELYSIAN FIELDS by James Lee Burke and IN PLAIN SIGHT by CJ Box.

Quality-wise, that's a pretty good way to start the year too, with a couple of top-notch Edgar winning crime writers. I had the privilege of interviewing James Lee Burke last year (one of my crime fiction highlights of a terrific 2010), and am hoping to perhaps interview CJ Box in 2011.

LAST CAR TO ELYSIAN FIELDS is part of Burke's sublime and terrific Dave Robicheaux series of Louisiana-set crime novels. In this one, former NOPD detective Robicheaux is working for the Iberia Sheriff, his old partner Helen Soileau. His longtime buddy and hulking sidekick Clete Purcel is working as a PI, and Robicheaux is still on the wagon, just, after the all-too-recent death of his wife Bootsie. Here's the blurb:

"It is a rainy late-summer's night in New Orleans. Detective Dave Robicheaux is about to confront the man who may have savagely assaulted his friend, Father Jimmie Dolan, a Catholic priest who's always at the centre of controversy. But things are never as they seem and soon Robicheaux is back in New Iberia, probing a car crash that killed three teenage girls. A grief-crazed father and a maniacal, complex assassin are just a few of the characters Robicheaux meets as he is drawn deeper into a web of sordid secrets and escalating violence. A masterful exploration of the troubled side of human nature and the dark corners of the heart, peopled by familiar characters such as P.I. Clete Purcel and Robicheaux's old flame Theodosia LeJeune, LAST CAR TO ELYSIAN FIELDS is vintage Burke - moody, hard-hitting, with his trademark blend of human drama and relentless noir suspense."

I will write a full review later (either here on Crime Watch, or elsewhere and linked here), but for now I'll just say that this is another outstanding book in one of the best crime fiction series of recent decades. Poetic, layered, philosophical, elegant, lyrical, and yet brutal at the same time. Vintage Burke.

My second book (started on the night of 1 January, finished on 2nd January) was IN PLAIN SIGHT by CJ Box. CJ Box was one of those authors I'd heard of, but never read, until recently. In late 2010 I read BLUE HEAVEN, the first of Box's books to be widely available in bookstores downunder. It was excellent, a top read mixing crime fiction with an almost Western atmosphere, tone, and pace. While BLUE HEAVEN (which won the 2009 Edgar Award) was a standalone novel, IN PLAIN SIGHT is one of Box's 'Joe Pickett' novels - part of his acclaimed series featuring a Wyoming Fish and Game Warden.

Here's the blurb for IN PLAIN SIGHT, the sixth book in the Joe Pickett series: "J. W. Keeley is a man with a score to settle. He blames one man for the death of his brother: Joe Pickett. And now J. W. is going to make him suffer. Spring has finally come to Saddlestring, Wyoming, and game warden Joe Pickett is relieved the long, harsh winter is finally over. However, a cloud of trouble threatens to spoil the milder weather-local ranch owner and matriarch Opal Scarlett has vanished under suspicious circumstances. Two of her sons, Hank and Arlen, are battling for control of their mother's multi-million-dollar empire, and their bitter fight threatens to tear the whole town apart.

Everyone is so caught up in the brothers' battle that they seem to have forgotten that Opal is still missing. Joe is convinced, though, that one of the brothers killed their mother. Determined to uncover the truth, he is attacked and nearly beaten to death by Hank Scarlett's new right-hand man on the ranch-a recently arrived stranger who looks eerily familiar. A series of threatening messages and attempts to sabotage Joe's career follow. At first, he thinks the attacks are connected with his investigation of Opal's disappearance, but he soon learns that someone else is after him-someone with a very personal grudge who wants to make Joe pay . . . and pay dearly. Compelling and suspenseful, In Plain Sight is a crackling novel from one of today's best mystery writers."

Although if I'm putting my reviewers hat on, I didn't think IN PLAIN SIGHT quite reached the heights of BLUE HEAVEN (it seemed just a touch more cliched/melodramatic at times; a little bit on the nose, tell not show), it was a very good crime novel, I enjoyed the read, and I will definitely read more of the Joe Pickett series. I especially enjoyed Box's descriptions of the outdoors setting, and the character of Joe.

So, two days down, two very good to great crime novels down. Not a bad start to 2011.

What is/has been your first crime fiction read of 2011?


  1. Craig - Thanks for these reviews. I happen to like C.J. Box quite a lot, too, so I'm glad you enjoyedIn Plain Sight.

  2. Gawd, I thought reading a book a week was being ambitious!

    My first crime read of 2011 has been an oldie but a goodie - Ngaio Marsh's A Surfeit of Lampreys.

    Next in line is finally going to be Paul Cleave's Blood Men - it's been on my TBR pile far too long!

  3. Craig,

    Like you, I've managed to finish two books this year already, but I doubt I will be able to keep it up.

    Ingrid Black: fourth book featuring her ex-FBI profiler, Saxon,-- _Circle of the Dead_, set in Dublin.

    Karin Fossum: _Calling Out For You_ (aka _The Indian Bride_)fifth book in her Insptr. Sejer series (but the first book in the series hasn't been translated into English yet), set in Norway.

    I highly recommend both of these writers.

  4. Just arrived back in New Zealand. It's the fourth here, and I'm onto my fifth book of the year now - though there is no way this pace will continue. Also read THE EXECUTIONER by Edgar Award-winning author Jay Bennett (teen suspense, found in Hanoi), and PROMISED LAND by David Hewson. Now onto THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN by James Lee Burke