Cameron Hughes’ 10 Best Novels of 2008

10. JOKER by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo — It’s a myth that murderous psychopaths are actually diabolical geniuses like Hannibal Lecter. They would be more like Ted Bundy or BTK: smart enough to blend and charming enough that you’d expect nothing. But in a comic book world, it is perfectly acceptable that The Joker could talk his way out of the Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane by convincing the doctors he was cured. It’s a neat idea and while I’m pretty sure it’s been done before, it’s never been done this well.

Joker is a hard villain to write. Use him too often, he loses menace (much like Anthony Hopkins isn’t quite as scary now that we know his origin, rather than just a man that came from nowhere without an explanation for his evil); write a bad story with him, and you wonder why he’s held up as the ultimate Batman villain. Brian Azzarello, creator of the brilliant neo-noir conspiracy comic 100 BULLETS, likely knew these facts about The Joker as well, and set out to make him a scary character again.

I knew it’d be a different kind of story when it starts — not with the Joker, but a low-level mobster sent to pick him up, who also serves as our narrator and guide through Joker’s triumphant return to Gotham City. The Joker’s plan is very simple: He will gather allies and promise them big things if they help him become the king of criminals again. Our narrator, Jonny Frost, is seduced by this idea. He’s a criminal, and all Joker wants to do is to be a powerful figure again. Jonny gets that; he wants that. He’s on the fast track to nowhere with his current crew and Joker promises big things.

We also should thank Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan for this revitalization of an old character. This could very easily be a sequel to THE DARK KNIGHT, and Azzarello’s Joker is clearly the same character, mouth scars and pancake makeup and old and ratty but weirdly formal clothing, too. This isn’t “I have an insane plan” Joker; this is a grounded Joker with very clear goals, although the flair of The Joker in BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES is obviously an influence for Azzarello as well.

Toward the middle of the book, Joker makes a threat to another character and then laughs, saying it’s just a joke, and wonders aloud, “Why is everyone so tense?” Azzarello is smart with his pacing here; you expect the Joker to snap and do something evil, but instead, his actions get gradually worse and worse, and in a stroke of genius, Azzarello has him snap at about the same time at the end as Batman shows up — another thing you expect to happen throughout the whole story.

Don’t let anyone spoil you on this book. Because at the same time Jonny realizes just how sick his new boss is, we’re sucker-punched by what Joker does (although, like much of the book, violence by The Joker is implied with violent imagery, but no actual shown violence).

I’d be a fool not to praise Bermejo’s art as well. It’s dark and moody with enough flair that it achieves a sort of hyper-reality, and his designs for characters like Killer Croc and The Riddler are the traditional looks of the characters while still real enough that you almost think they could very easily be real. I now know why Johnny Depp is considered the perfect choice for The Riddler; it’s such an obvious spin, that I can’t believe I ever doubted the idea of that casting for the villain.

Who knew that The Joker could star in his own story, let alone be really great? I certainly didn’t. Bravo.

9. THE BLACK DOVE by Steve Hockensmith — When I was a kid, I didn’t understand Westerns. I had yet to know who giants like Clint Eastwood and John Wayne were. The power of the DOLLARS trilogy. How important to modern directors movies like John Wayne’s THE SEARCHERS was or how many times the plot of Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH has been used in the modern crime novels. They were just the slow movies that my dad grew up with and loved.

For me, TOMBSTONE (still my favorite Western) was the gateway movie to the majesty of John Ford, the epic scale of Sergio Leone, the power and nobility of John Wayne to the grit and darkness of the Clint Eastwood cowboy. It took maturity to understand that these movies were important and showcased in many ways the birth of America, and how glorious and awful it was in its growing pains. Now I can see the fingerprints of the Western in damn near every work of crime fiction, even THE WIRE.

So it was pretty obvious I was going to be in love with Steve Hockensmith’s THE BLACK DOVE.

Set in San Francisco this time around, Big Red and Old Red (who is just a few years older and in his late 20s) are determined to become Pinkerton operatives, but the problem is that they’re a long way from being city folks and the detective of the duo (Old Red) is illiterate. You see, through the power of pulp magazines, Old Red worshipped the stories of Sherlock Holmes read to him by his younger brother, and he decides that he wants to be just like the sleuth. Anyway, they get the brush-off and while licking their wounds in the city, it’s not long before they learn that their old friend Dr. Chan is in trouble. When they go to investigate, Dr. Chan is dead in what everyone calls a suicide, but Old Red isn’t satisfied, calling it murder.

Taking a page from Holmes, Big Red plays the narrator and Watson to Old Red, chronicling the investigation and work of his brother. It’s a good move and plays to questions Hockensmith asks his reader through the brothers: Are you smart if you’re not intellectual? Are you tough if you are? The second question seems easy enough to answer, but the first one is far more interesting. Forced to raise his younger brother since their teens, Old Red never had the chance for an education. He had to earn the money to raise his brother to manhood. So to compensate, he constantly made reading and education a priority in Big Red’s life.

Because Big Red narrates, we never know what Old Red is thinking, but we see enough of what he does to know that he’s constantly thinking. He’s observing the little things that others miss. He’s a quiet fellow, given to short sentences, and couldn’t confidently charm a woman if his life depended on it, but those in the know constantly look to him for the answer. He’s the guy that puts the pieces together, that quietly connects the dots and studies the motivations of the people around him.

Big Red is the talker of the two. He’s well-read and charming. He has the ambition of becoming a writer, but the only life he knows is on the range. His biggest supporter being Old Red, who practically bullies him to submit his work to the same magazines that covered the adventures of Holmes.

I love Hockensmith’s use of history too. Like the best Westerns, his portrayal of a young America in the late 19th century, barely 40 years after the Civil War, is a beautiful one, but a beauty often infused with violence and brutality. He also understands the importance of San Francisco to the genre. As most know, Dashiell Hammett based most of his work on his time as a Pinkerton op, and it’s not long in the story before a MacGuffin called the Black Dove (I weep for you if you don’t get the joke) shows up, to which everything seems connected. I love his use of the Chinese as it was around this time that Chinese immigrants came to America, and San Francisco’s famous Chinatown was just being born. Hockensmith never shies away from how terribly we treated our immigrants, an attitude that has barely changed to this day. There’s a brain behind every part of this story.

But remember, I said it was funny. And it is. Big Red’s narration is often sarcastic and quick, and he talks in a lingo that seems cobbled together from years of traveling place to place as a cowboy. It’s not unlike the strangely dignified but odd way George Clooney spoke in O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? Or the brilliant use of language in BRICK. The brothers often bicker in ways real brothers do and they stand up for each other whenever one of them is wronged. This gives the novel a lot of its charm and humanity. A fine novel, it should find an audience.

8. SINS OF THE ASSASSIN by Robert Ferrigno — You know, once I realized this was a take on James Bond by way of Islam, Ferrigno’s satirical thriller really opened up for me.

It has all the trappings of a Bond story: Protagonist Rakim Epps is little more than a highly trained thug for his government, but Islamic instead of British. It has two colorful villains, The Colonel and his femme fatale lover named Baby. He’s a warlord of the Bible Belt, the only other superpower in the United States where Islamists had conquered dozens of years ago using a brilliantly executed attack with suitcase nukes. Even more colorful is radical Islamist The Ancient One, who lives on a large yacht filled with people who he can easily hide among because no one actually thinks he really exists This book even has a major doomsday weapon hidden in the mountains that everyone wants.

Sound familiar yet?

It’s the questions that Ferrigno asks in SINS that makes it an interesting read. Can a theocracy survive without eventually devouring itself as people with different levels of belief clash for power? Is it okay to be a killer in the name of patriotism? Do we really still need religion in a world that’s advancing in science at a quick rate, and many previously un-answerable questions about existence and life are being answered? Can you still be a good person without thinking you’ll go to paradise because of it?

They’re intriguing questions and I was thirsty to learn more about this world that Ferrigno had created. It’s pulpy in the best ways without feeling retro (most writers rarely get writing a pulpy story right) and insulting the reader’s intelligence. It’s the second book of a trilogy, but is also perfect as a stand-alone novel. It’s also a series that was written at just the right time after 9/11 where so many people were liberal or moderate on 9/10, scared out of their minds on 9/11 and right-wing conservatives on 9/12.

While SINS clearly has Bond influences, the action is all Jason Bourne. Political intrigue is deep and layered here, and the action is often quick and vicious, and left me breathless, with a climax that will leave you speechless. If this is modeled after an old Bond movie, Rakim is Daniel Craig’s James Bond: quiet and tortured. He has a soul; he just won’t let us see it for fear that he won’t be able to carry out his duties as a patriot for his government. This is a great and unique thriller. You’ll love it.

7. HIT AND RUN by Lawrence Block — Now, over the years, I’ve made it no secret that Lawrence Block is my favorite writer. I’m deeply in love with his Scudder novels, so smart and sad and rich with character and grit. I discovered 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE when I was 19, and it made me love the genre and take it very seriously. Block was my gateway drug to George Pelecanos, Richard Price and so many other great writers.

And, that creative bastard he is, he reinvents the hitman novel.

As much as I love Barry Eisler’s brilliant John Rain series about an assassin searching for his soul, afraid that he might not even have one, Block’s John Keller is more realistic and far scarier because of it. I keep going back to John Cusack’s line in GROSSE POINT BLANK where he says to a victim, “It’s not personal! Why does everyone always ask that?” That’s Keller in a nutshell.

He’s a regular guy: He watches baseball, collects stamps and is the quiet neighbor everyone likes because he never bothers them. Killing just happens to be his job. And unlike most fictional hitmen, he’ll kill a simple housewife just as easily he would a mobster. He’s good at it, too. Pure pro, always. He’ll get a call from his agent Dot, catch a plane to wherever the hit is, stays in a cheap motel fighting boredom, and then when done, he’ll go back home to his simple life until the next call comes.

Now he wants to retire. Not because he’s growing a conscience about all the people killed, but because he’s getting old and he thinks this one last hit will set him up financially for the rest of his life. Of course, and in Block’s one use of an old hitman story chestnut, his last hit goes wrong. While watching TV in his motel room, the news has a special alert that the governor of Ohio, a rising-star politician, is assassinated in the same city where Keller is for his hit. And then it gets really bad for Keller when a picture of the suspected assassin is shown on the news and it’s a picture of himself. Out of money because he had spent most of it for expensive stamps, Keller is forced to go on the run with very few resources.

But you don’t want to attack a savage beast without knowing what you’re going up against, do you? It’s not long before Keller stops running defense drills and takes the fight to them as he desperately tries to figure out who set him up and why. Keller is a man you do not want angry. Block uses third-person narration and it makes you feel immersed in the story, but with a curious detachment, like what Keller is like while on the job. It’s really subtle, but once you get it, the story becomes horrific. We’re cheering on a really bad guy who should probably be put down like a mad dog or imprisoned for the rest of his life.

This is why I idolize Block’s writing. What Keller does feel is often loneliness where what he craves most is to be able to talk with someone and be completely honest. Who doesn’t want that? I felt dirty after this novel, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

6. THE AUTOMATIC DETECTIVE by A. Lee Martinez — Imagine, if you will, Gort turning against Klaatu and deciding that he likes humanity after all and wants to be a part of it. That’s the hook of THE AUTOMATIC DETECTIVE. Mack Megaton is working off his sins for the right to be a full citizen. He helped capture his mad-scientist inventor and took a job on as a cabbie while undergoing court-ordered therapy with a psychologist who specializes in intelligent machines. It’s a pretty dull life for a creation meant for mass destruction, but it’s a living.

That all changes when his neighbors — the few people genuinely nice to him — disappear without a trace. No one seems concerned, so it’s up to him to find out where they are and why they were missing.

If you’re looking for a sci-fi noir like ALTERED CARBON — a future we could very likely be headed toward — Martinez depicts his world like a ’50s sci-fi movie with art deco buildings, mutated humans, super computers that fill an entire room and, of course, flying cars. Mack is a great protagonist; on one hand, he just wants full citizenship and a quiet life, but he has all this power and no way to use it. He faces dilemmas in his journey where he could just beat information out of people because it’s the most direct and rational way for him. He’s a machine; he has no feelings. It’s a great tug-of-war in himself. He wants to be liked and be a productive member of society, but he’s constantly frustrated that he can’t use the skills that are natural to him.

Mack’s investigation gets deeper and deeper, and before it ends, he’ll find that his city of Empire City was designed and built for a specific reason, children being a key part and, consequently, the world’s future. It’s a light read, but that’s okay when the ideas and thought behind the story are this good. He creates a world so fertile that it would be a shame for him not to revisit it. The first-person narration of Mack is dryly funny and somber at the same time, as he guides us through the alleys and back streets to high-end clubs and corporations of the city he calls home.

And hey, you can rarely go wrong with a book where a major player is a talking gorilla named Jung and the book ends with a giant monster attacking the city. I had such a great time with this one.

5. GO-GO GIRLS OF THE APOCALYPSE by Victor Gischler — This is the book that surprised me the most. It shouldn’t have been good. It sounded silly: a collapsed country where the most important thing in the world now is a string of strip clubs? You’d never expect it to be as smart as it is. I didn’t think it would be so vicious in its satire or so sad in parts.

Mortimer Tate was an insurance salesman with a failing marriage and when things started to go bad, he took a ton of supplies and moved into his cabin in the woods to ride out whatever was happening. Nine years later, he’s lonely but content, but then his little home is raided and he’s forced to kill the bandits, and it spurs him to come down from the mountain to see what’s going on in the world while he was gone.

He discovers a whole new world.

Now, when you think civilization, what images come to your mind? I would think places like Starbucks or Best Buy simply because corporations have gotten so big and powerful, so it made total sense for me that a string of strip clubs have become a place where everyone would flock to. It has the three basic things everyone wants: food, shelter and sex. Upon entering the first club he finds, he becomes an instant celebrity because he’s hauling so many valuable supplies like food and guns. He’s suddenly a VIP wherever he goes. To stay sane and to have a purpose to keep on going, he decides that his goal is to find his wife and see if she’s okay. It’s a simple plan, but in this world, nothing is easy.

The action is fast and furious, and Mortimer is almost always in danger because he has a large amount of money that can be used at the clubs. In less than the next 50 pages, he takes place in a shootout out on a moving train (powered by musclemen themselves powered by very potent steroids and speed) where bandits are trying to hijack it; gets kidnapped by what appears to be a tribe of women, but are really inmates of a female mental institution who intend to use him as a stud to rebuild society (and don’t stop for a breather after he escapes); and gets kidnapped by cannibals who, in a hilarious revelation, turn out to be white suburbanite yuppie soccer moms and dads. A lot happens in this fairly slim novel, and it all feels natural. This is a living, breathing world where the worst things you can imagine could happen, do.

The scariest part is how plausible it is. No one thing destroyed the world, but it was a mix of natural disasters and large wars. Of course, we’ve already had a mini-apocalypse in America when Katrina destroyed New Orleans, and it wasn’t long before it became like a third-world country.

Let me repeat that: A terrible natural disaster badly hurt New Orleans, but we let New Orleans, one of the most cultured cities in the country where you would find only certain things there, die. We betrayed the people there. Sure, we cared for a while. How could we not? It was on the news for weeks. But — and we should be so ashamed of this — we gradually stopped caring when the news started easing up on covering it. It wasn’t sexy anymore; we moved onto the next big thing. I’m not judging, by the way; I did this too. I’m just as much at fault. This is why GO-GO GIRLS is so plausible. We’ve already proved we’re capable of destroying ourselves.

Remember when I said it was sad? No one in this book is actually a really bad person — just fighting for his or her survival. This is a world where a young man dresses and acts like a cowboy because he desperately wants an identity instead of being just another refugee. In another heartbreaking scene, a teenage girl admires a kind of dress you wear to prom and is amazed that there was a time when people used clothing to look good, not just to keep you warm. There are a lot of little things like this. I daresay it’s even better than Cormac McCarthy’s slightly overrated THE ROAD, because its satire is a lot smarter. And because of how funny it is, the horror of the world’s situation is even more horrific.

I want more books in this world — not necessarily about these characters, but in other parts of the country or even overseas in places like Europe or even Asia. I can’t believe how great this book is. Go find out for yourself.

4. THE FINDER by Colin Harrison — Those who know me know that I think the best writer about New York is Lawrence Block. He should be; through his Matt Scudder novels, he’s chronicled the city’s growth and change from the dangerous jungle of the ’70s and ’80s to the confused but metropolitian ’90s and the clean and safe New York of the 21st century, where formerly dangerous areas are now tourist attractions.

But that’s the street level. Colin Harrison is interested in what makes it tick, the power players that control lives through money like a chess game. It’s the great contradiction: Power corrupts, but you can’t make change without power.

I was hooked right from the beginning as Harrison shows us a group of young women — three Mexicans and one Chinese girl — have a rare night off and are out on the town looking for adventure and excitement. While perfectly describing people of this age ready for fun, he also talks about illegal aliens, poor wages for immigrants and the constant struggle just to achieve the American dream. It’s not long, however, before their night gets horrific and the girls are attacked in a very unique way.

Don’t let anyone spoil this for you, but it’s a great scene, full of tension and excitement as we learn the Chinese girl, Jin Li, was the intended target because she was in possession of very delicate information stolen from a large corporation by way of a paper-shredding scam by her and her brother. She escapes and vanishes, leaving some very powerful people very angry.

Her former ex-boyfriend Ray Grant is caught up in the middle when her brother discovers he’s one of the few people that has a connection to her and coerces him into looking for her. Grant is a great character. He’s not a Rambo (movie Rambo, that is) type, so none of his abilities are unrealistic. But with his past as a firefighter and in the Army, he’s a fairly tough and capable guy. With the help of his dying father, a former NYPD detective, he has a good chance of untangling the web Li brought him into.

But really, it’s New York City that’s the star of this urban thriller. Every major city has a hidden soul, broke and blackened by the sins it has to let happen to survive, and since New York is arguably the most important city in America (if not the world), it stands to reason that it has more sins than other cities. Money fuels power, and power fuels corruption, so as Harrison ties together international corporations to the Italian mob and Chinese triads and city and state politicians, it’s never outlandish as a smart person knows that this is how the world works, and why we get the nice things we usually take granted for.

As important as the money men are, though, it’s the people that make a city great (whether in a good or bad way), and Harrison writes even the most minor character with loving care, as they’re all a part of the tapestry he weaves. This is also where the story gets much of its humor and David Lynch-like surrealism when he introduces characters like a wheelchair gigolo (a man who services only women in wheelchairs). It’s a great story — a complicated but important one. Harrison has been destined for the big time for years now, and THE FINDER deserves to be the book that gets him there.

3. IN THE LIGHT OF YOU by Nathan Singer — Jesus. I used to think AMERICAN HISTORY X was hardcore, that it pushed the envelope and was a really brave story about what hatred can do to you.

Then I read Singer’s masterpiece. Now AMERICAN HISTORY X is like a Disney flick to me.

Mikal Fanon is a 17-year-old kid in a nameless Ohio city. He has no identity and a very scary home life with distant and abusive parents. He craves an identity, the comfort of people like him. Now, most teenagers put on different identities like a snake sheds skin, but Mikal makes the very unfortunate decision to be friendly with the local skinhead, a charismatic young man named Richard Lovecraft (if the novel has one weakness, it’s the fact that the names Mikal and Lovecraft were distracting names).

Lovecraft is the leader of an up-and-coming skinhead gang called The Fifth Reich, and Singer doesn’t shy away from this subculture. Now, I have to go back to AMERICAN HISTORY X, because that’s what this story will most likely be compared to once it gets the attention it deserves. In that movie, they show us what the modern skinhead looks like, but we never live with them, feel their filth or understand why you would join them. Singer uses first-person narration in his novel so we’re with Mikal every step of the way. We understand why he joins: He wants badly just to be able to disappear and blend in. Too young and scared to join the Army, he chooses this army with its unique uniform and look, with Lovecraft as his seductive general.

Now, the biggest myth is that the leaders of modern neo-Nazi organizations are stupid. Wrong and ignorant and very often evil, but not stupid. We have people in American government to this day who have strong ties to these groups. To build their numbers, of course they have to be smart and charismatic. They have to sell their dream of racial pride and segregation (one of Lovecraft’s most repeated things is that he doesn’t want black people killed, just separated from the whites. In one very interesting scene, he calls a black preacher an intelligent man because he preaches about living away from white society). And sell Mikal Lovecraft does. He finds out the kid is interested in the environment and talks a very good game that Hitler was very concerned with preserving nature and that Earth’s health was very important to him. In a scene that’s so intimate that it approaches erotic, Lovecraft shaves Mikal’s head and gives him his uniform, promising that he’ll get tattoos that signify that he belongs to his new family.

I love that it takes place in the mid-’90s right around the time of the Rodney King riots, the Rampart scandals and O.J.’s trial that every American followed like it was the world’s longest Super Bowl. Now, X had some harsh scenes like the famous curb scene and when a group of skinheads trash a convenience store run by an immigrant, but in Singer’s coming-of-age epic, you are with Mikal every step of the way when he joins his army to beat up other people that offend their very evil morals, like a black man being intimate with a white woman. Can’t have that, so here comes the harsh beatings: him for stealing one of their women, and the woman for being a race traitor.

The most surprising thing is how funny it is. Mikal is like every other sarcastic teenager out there, angry and confused as he is. He’s an engaging protagonist and every time he goes deeper into this hell, you desperately want him to see the light and save himself. But the humor also makes the violence worse. How could such a funny kid take part in so many ugly things just because his leader says it’s the right thing to do? No studio would be brave enough to make this movie. I’m being very vague on what actually happens in the book, but you need to go in without knowing anything, like I did. This should be required reading for teenagers, but only if they can talk with their parents about it. It’d be educational for both sides. What a fantastic novel.

2. TRIGGER CITY by Sean Chercover — Ray Dudgeon is a broken man. His ex-girlfriend thinks he’s too over the edge. He’s still recovering from the warehouse torture he endured last year and narrowly beating getting charged with the murder (which he was totally guilty of doing) of an important man in the Chicago Outfit.

Now, I liked Chercover’s debut BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD a lot. I didn’t love it; some of the pacing is really weird and stilted, and it takes a while to find the right tone, but when it did, I understood why it won so many awards. Everything after the trip to L.A. is a ballsy and seriously dark novel where he hits on themes of the powerful getting away with heinous acts because they have the money and influence. I knew I was reading a different species of P.I. novel when killing isn’t taken lightly and you are very lucky if you walk away from it all. In a world where Spenser and Elvis Cole can blast away a ton of bad guys (seriously, these two guys have a higher body count than Jason Vorhees) and rarely get questioned about it, it’s a nice change of pace.

So imagine my shock when I started TRIGGER CITY and not only did Chercover fix the flaws of the first book, but he made the best parts better than before. It starts off simply enough: Retired Col. Isaac Richmond contacts Dudgeon and explains that his daughter Joan was killed by a co-worker who then killed himself, and he wants Dudgeon to look into it. Dudgeon explains that the case was very open-and-shut because the killer confessed in his suicide note, but Richmond doesn’t want him to look into the killing, but what kind of life his daughter had.

It’s a neat twist and endeared me to Chercover’s story almost immediately. However, it’s not long before Dudgeon discovers that she and her killer had connections to the local military contractor Fox River (think Blackwater). In most cases, “lone P.I. faces off against shadow government spooks” would be corny, but Chercover avoids this by focusing on themes of power corrupting you and the wealthy getting away with dirty deeds.

The real power of the book is the character of Dudgeon. He’s messed up. He drinks and smokes too much. He’s hired on a partner to apprentice under him and trains him by telling him to shadow his ex (although he doesn’t share this bit of information to him) and write full reports on what she’s doing. He even takes to sleeping in the apartment of the dead woman he’s investigating. This is dark territory, friends, and Chercover tells it differently. If THE DAWN PATROL is a pop song with hidden depths and darkness, TRIGGER CITY is akin to movies like TAXI DRIVER. A must-read.

1. THE DAWN PATROL by Don Winslow — What more could I possibly say about Don Winslow’s excellent P.I. novel? That it’s one of the best P.I. novels in years? That behind the great writing and wonderfully unique voice hides a very serious truth about the United States, and California in particular? I’ve read it twice now and enjoyed it even more the second time because I knew what to look for, but I could also fully immerse myself into Winslow’s world, told in a third-person narrative in a way that it feels like a story somebody at a bar is telling you.

Now, this dude, he’s a great storyteller. He’s excited about the tale he’s sharing, and he just can’t help himself in getting so excited that his grammar gets a little sloppy, that the storytelling isn’t conventional. This dude in the bar telling you the story wants you to know what makes the protagonist P.I. Boone Daniels and his surfer friends on The Dawn Patrol tick. He wants you to live in the city of San Diego in his story, to smell the salty air near the beach, that the beach communities in America’s finest city are unique worlds with their own personalities. That in the paradise that is called San Diego, it pays a very heavy price for that paradise, and it will, at all costs, prevent you from seeing the dark and tattered soul from the price. Man, this dude wants you there and nowhere else.

I love THE DAWN PATROL. I love that Winslow tells a P.I. novel and when he does use a cliché, like a powerful criminal trying to pay off the hero, it feels real — not just a device to advance the plot. It’s wonderfully refreshing to read a P.I. novel that feels like it belongs in the present, unlike so many writers in the past who think they need to emulate Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

By the time I was done, I knew these characters so well that I keep expecting to see them at the beach: Boone catching the big wave, High Tide chowing down on a fish taco (San Diegans take their fish tacos very seriously), Dave the Love God checking out the babes and Sunny Day walking into the water with her board, all eyes on her, men wanting her and women alternately wanting to be her while hating her for her confidence and beauty. THE DAWN PATROL is my favorite novel of the year. —Cameron Hughes

Buy them at Amazon.

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5 Comments »

Comment by Mel Odom
2008-12-29 11:28:29

Hey Cameron,

I’d have to say you’re right about THE DAWN PATROL. Best book I’ve read in a LONG time. I’ve read some of the others on your list, but there are a few I haven’t. I’m gonna go back and give them a looksee. Thanks for the list!

Mel

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Comment by GFS3
2008-12-29 12:21:28

Wow. I haven’t read any of these yet. Thanks for the great list of what I have to read in 2009 — so I can yet again get further behind in my reading!

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Comment by Cruikshank
2008-12-29 12:47:49

Amen on Go Go Girls of the Apocalypse. Hot damn, I loved every word of that book. I need to check out this Don Winslow guy. Sounds like he tells a great story.

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Comment by John A. Karr
2008-12-29 17:01:24

As a sucker for apocalyptic tales, I’ll need a copy of the Go Go …

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Comment by Eric
2008-12-29 17:03:24

Does anyone know if Martinez is planning a sequel to THE AUTOMATIC DETECTIVE? I’d love to see one pop up soon.

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