You are in for a treat in 2012. I can say this with a fair amount of accuracy since I have three great books that don’t come out until then and you will want to know about them. Why don’t I tell you about them right now? Great idea!
Let’s start with Abide With Me by Ian Ayris. Ayris is British as you will know on page one of this slim novel by his use of terms like bleedin’ and me Mum and Gives me a wink, he does. Only marginally a crime novel, Abide With Me is a dark coming of age tale with an astounding sense of place and a voice completely unique to me, but I suspect one that is incredibly familiar to residents of London’s East End, where the book takes place.
It is that voice I have admired about Aryis for a while now through his short fiction. Working class, dripping with slang and the f-word, the voice of John, the narrator, is like a one-way ticket on the Concorde to England. There is something so immersive and hypnotic about the relentless first-person writing that made the streets and the people in them both totally familiar and yet foreign and strange. I’ll skip the plot, that’s what book jackets and Amazon summaries are for.
It isn’t until the back third of the book that the gangsters and tough guys enter the picture, but from the jump you know this is not going to go well for John and the weird kid who moved in across the street, Kenny.
Coming out in March this one is for you if you want to be taken away to a land of football (the real football) petty crimes, loyalties, family struggles and one of the most bizarre yet affecting friendships I’ve ever read about.
Also out in March is The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen. This is a blistering read, custom made for the thriller market and it delivers. Skipping between a crew of kidnappers who get by more on luck than skill (the title The Professionals is a bit tongue-in-cheek) and the cops on their heels and the people trying to extract revenge for kidnapping the wrong guy, the pace is lightning fast.
The thing that works best about Laukkanen’s work is that the characters are fully realized. We get a 360° view of a crime spiraling out of control. It is more than a cat and mouse story, it’s cats with fangs chasing mice with their tails caught in a trap and rabid dogs charging them down a dirty alley.
The idea of a semi-pro kidnapping squad is a refreshing jumping off point for the mayhem. I’m always drawn to criminals who are ordinary and kind of loser-ish, rather than unstoppable elite forces. The decisions they make seem rational, up to a point when the whole case turns irrational and everyone involved knows it. But that’s the thing about crime that starts slow, you always think you’ll get away with it, even though nothing that came before has worked out worth a damn.
I can absolutely see this one being a best seller. It fits all the book-jacket clichés: high octane, white knuckle, non-stop. The Professionals weaves a lot of threads and none of them are ever loose.
Luckiest of all for you is that my favorite book of the 2012 crop comes out in January. Hell on Church Street by Jake Hinkson is a modern Noir for the ages. At first it seems like the whole book should be a well-worn highway, but Hinkson manages to put a refreshing spin on old tropes while keeping one foot in classic Cain and Woolrich territory.
Framed with a unique device that launches us into an extended monologue from a guy with an extremely questionable moral center, Hell on Church Street veers off in the most wonderful and unexpected ways. From a pit of quicksand of his own making, Brother Webb, new youth minister for a Baptist church down south, makes the fatal mistake of falling in love with a girl. It’s where it all starts, isn’t it? But Webb makes that most fateful of Noir tragic hero declarations:
So, you see, starting out I had good intentions.
You just know anyone who makes a fool statement like that is in for a hell of a ride down the slide. And what a ride it is. Noir to the core, deep with character and existential angst and shot through with shocking violence, Hell on Church Street was one of those books that seemed hand written just for me. It fit so squarely in my wheelhouse I polished it off in a day – almost unheard of for me.
This is one of those books I can recommend to anyone. It is dark enough to please those who like it tough, has real and three-dimensional characters if that’s your thing. It gives a strong sense of place. It has accelerating action that starts off just under the speed limit but by the end is pushing the revs into the red.
Hinkson, again, is a writer I knew from his short work and this is a great harbinger of his novels to come. The man knows his way inside a story and this one plays like the screenplay to a movie that couldn’t get made past the Hayes code in the 1940s.
So, three great choices to start off your 2012 reading. I dare you to start with Hell on Church Street and not take my advice for The Professionals and Abide With Me. Anyone who doesn’t like any of these books will get a free copy of one of mine. I’m that confident.
ERIC BEETNER is an award-winning short story and screenwriter and co-author (with JB Kohl) of the novels One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. He wrote the novellas, Dig Two Graves and Split Decision and his short stories have appeared in the anthologies Pulp Ink, Discount Noir, D*cked, Grimm Tales, Murder In The Wind, Off The Record and the upcoming Million Writers Awards: Best New Online Voices. For more info and links to stories visit ericbeetner.blogspot.com