Not too long ago I decided to make a list of my top 10 favorite books of the decade, from 2000-2009. I easily knocked out a list with a couple of dozen titles then decided that a decade was a long enough period of time to warrant a list of 50. I pretty quickly got to 49 then realized that two of the books on the list had hardback releases in 1999 so they got cut. I added to the list and had almost 60 books. 50 is a nice round number so I cut, cut, cut and brought it down to 50.
This is by no means a list of the best books of the decade. This isn’t a record of the most influential, those that had the most impact or even the most popular. Just my favorites. I would gladly grab any one of these books today and read it again. And in some cases I have.
A couple of things worth mentioning about this list:
-The books I haven’t read yet are not included. This is obvious, sure, but worth mentioning. Because of the amount of unread books on my shelves from the last few years, I imagine that this list could probably look very different if unreads were included.
-Even though I mainly review mystery & crime fiction, like most people I read other things, too.
-I’ve used Library Thing since 2005. Being able to see the books that I read for each year helped out immensely. This alone explains why the list as a whole is on the light side from 2000 through 2004. I’m sure I read many a great book in those years…but I can’t remember.
-I omitted short story collections. Yeah, I know. Maybe as an addendum I’ll do a top 10 for collections and anthologies.
-If I live with you then I didn’t include any of your books even though I really liked them (my apologies to the authors of What Burns Within and The Color Killers).
I do wonder what does this list say about me and is it an accurate reflection of my reading habits.
Are there any others willing to accept the challenge and come up with their own list? Make it 10 if you want.
Without further adieu…These books, for various reasons, melted my brain, blew my hair back and stuck with me. And I can’t wait to read them again.
Declare by Tim Powers – Powers’ unique blend of alternate/occult history is on full display here. It takes a little bit to wind up, but once it does there is one hell of an interesting cold war story here. As usual Powers makes you doubt your knowledge of world events and historical figures.
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane – A uniquely American tragedy that quietly broke the rules and launched Lehane into the stratosphere.
Never Count Out the Dead by Boston Teran – While it does back off just a bit from the high intensity levels of God is a Bullet, Teran’s follow up is every bit as good. When Teran is on, Teran is among the best.
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville – Ground zero for modern fantasy and one of the most important. A clear line of demarcation, there’s the stuff that came before and the stuff that came after.
Senseless by Stona Fitch – One of the most brutal novels of the decade. I’ve never looked at a spoon or a cheese grater the same way again.
The Devil’s Redhead by David Corbett – A tragic crime story built on the relationships between broken people.
The God File by Frank Turner Hollon – Hollon starts with a convict’s quest to prove the existence of God then breaks open the crime novel and reassembles the pieces into something new. The result is a stunning work of fiction that is possibly the most original crime novel of the decade.
Impossible Bird by Patrick O’Leary – Patrick O’Leary’s writing are that rare thing in fiction, true originals. His work as a whole contains savage acts of imagination and bolded, underlined, and emphasized transmissions from the heart, and this novel is no different. At its best his work has beauty, elegance, grace and maybe a touch of the divine. He’s one of those writers that you wish was more prolific but you’re glad he’s not because it might dilute what he’s doing.
White Apples by Jonathan Carroll – The zoo scene is tragically and heroically unforgettable. Just a brilliant and adult fantasy novel.
Come Closer by Sara Gran – Gran SOOO delivers with this book. It’s scary the transformation the main character goes through.
Cypress Grove by James Sallis – The first book of the John Turner trilogy. James Sallis is the high water mark of the genre.
The Guards by Ken Bruen – This was the gateway book for most fans of Bruen’s work and introduced us to this original voice, great character and unique stylist.
Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff – With this book Ruff brought his strengths into a sharper focus (especially his ability to masterfully handle a large cast of characters) and completely drop his weaknesses. Ruff did something great with this one. He set himself up for a high-wire act, then delivered. Also one of the great reveals of all time.
Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston – One of the most intensely action packed crime novels of recent memory.
Tijuana Straits by Kem Nunn – Nunn’s labyrinthine writing style runs contra to the crime genre’s leanings and flies in the face of Leonard’s rules. The ending just fizzles and peters out but overall this is a strong book with great characters.
Already Dead by Charlie Huston – For as much as I really liked Huston after reading Caught Stealing, it was this book that made me love Huston.
Cast of Shadows by Kevin Guilfoile – Few books haunt me the way that the ending of this one does.
Drive by James Sallis – It’s like James Sallis said “Fine, you want an external, action-oriented and more plot-driven novel? Here, fuck you.” And blew them all to hell and back. Believe the hype.
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy – I’m not too sure that I can explain how brilliant I think this book is. One of the rare books that really unsettles the reader on many levels.
The People of Paper by Salvador Placencia – The structure of this book looks scary, but I’m not too sure I’ve ever encountered an “experimental” novel that was so easily accessible. But beyond intellectual structural games, this book has warmth to it and a tragic beating human heart that is just so sad.
Veniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer – Until Finch this was my most favorite of all of VanderMeer’s works. An awesomely imaginative story told with an economy of pages that challenge the worst excesses of the fantasy genre. (read an interview of Jeff VanderMeer).
The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski – Along with Huston’s books, this is one of the most action-packed crime novels. Just a furious pace that practically assaults the reader.
The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby – Mosby is one of the best crime writers that people aren’t reading…but should be.
American Skin by Ken Bruen – American Skin is Bruen’s masterpiece.
The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno – This melancholy book affected me like few others have. I. Love. This. Book. Is that clear enough for you? When Jay Russel wrote Brown Harvest,he came up with a brilliant concept, that of the child detective who has grown up. It’s a concept that has been pushed and pulled and expanded in various ways, and Meno’s take is that his earlier exploits were his peak and everything else that comes after is on the downhill slide.
The Cleanup by Sean Doolittle – The strongest of Doolittle’s books so far. Damn near flawlessly executed.
Dark Harvest by Norm Partridge – We need more Norman Partridge stories right now, dammit.
Four Kinds of Rain by Robert Ward – Decades later Ward gives us the flip side of Red Baker before devolving (in a good way) into a surreal nightmare.
Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand – A haunting and original novel that defies your attempts to pin it down easily to any category other than brilliant.
Saturday’s Child by Ray Banks – The concurrently running and dueling first-person narratives are a virtuosic performance.
Head Games by Craig McDonald – This first book of what may be the most ambitious currently running series that threatens to rewrite the 20th century and challenge the notion of what makes a character.
The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall – A weird thriller with a shark made out of words. Awesome.
Scalped by Jason Aaron – This comic is one of the best crime fiction stories being told right now.
Snitch Jacket by Christopher Goffard – An insane book that leaves you wanting more, then sad because it’s a debut and you have to wait.
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon – Believe it, this is a magnificent book.
The Fever Kill by Tom Piccirilli – Pic has a fierce imagination and the game to back it up. And now that he’s writing crime, he’s bringing a lot of his previously explored themes into greater focus that heightens their impact.
2666 by Roberto Bolano – Someone somewhere (wish I could remember) said that if you only read one 900+ page book this year make it this one. This really is a tour de force book.
Songs for the Missing by Stuart O’Nan – O’Nan explores his characters in ways that other writers wished they could. This is a book that aches.
The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford – Ford’s mastery knows no bounds. Despite a third-quarter lag, this book tells a compelling and magical story.
City of Thieves by David Benioff – Put down the haterade and go read this brilliant book. Simple concepts give great writers breathing room to create great characters and a great story. That’s what happens here.
The Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio by Amara Lakhous – This is the true Rashomon of the crime fiction genre.
Go With Me by Castle Freeman Jr. – This unlikely crime fiction story comes out on top as one of the best. It sneaks up on you with a shotgun, then blows you away.
The Open Curtain by Brian Evenson – This is the book Jim Thompson would want to write if he were still alive.
Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty – This book, along with Safer by Sean Doolittle, represents what commercial, popular fiction SHOULD be.
Dope Thief by Dennis Tafoya – A crime novel that defies easy categorization and becomes in part sublime and purposeful.
Finch by Jeff VanderMeer – This book reclaims with brute force the sub-genre urban fantasy and strafes an entire genre in the process. If there were ever a fantasy novel version of the line said by Omar in The Wire “let’s bang out,” then this is it.
The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville – Simply put, this is a great novel that will change you.
I-5 by Summer Brenner – Let my lone voice be heard in the wild–Summer Brenner is the true queen of noir.
Last Days by Brian Evenson – This novel about an ex-cop who cuts off his hand in an undercover operation; who goes into an amputee fetish camp to investigate the possible murder of one of their leaders; and then starts a kind of crazed holy war is unbelievable. Brian Evenson is quite possibly the most original writer we have today.
The Nobody by Tom Piccirilli – Pic’s “noirellas” are some of the best crime fiction being written right now, and all of them should be read. He excels within the form.
She unfortunately got cut when I dropped the story collections (see my self appointed rules/filters in the intro).
I actually felt bad about cutting the collections and anthologies so I may do a top 10 list on my blog or somewhere.
He clearly indicated that no collections were considered for this piece.
No Kelly Link?
You’re right I cut through to the names too soon.
No, the Cold Spot, boss?
No Once were Cops?
No Small Crimes?
I’m in full agreement with you on 2666, Dope Thief, Fifty Grand and Ghosts of Belfast.
And no THE SONG IS YOU by Megan Abbott!
While obviously there are a number that I haven’t read, it would be hard for me to make such a list without Danielewski’s ‘House of Leaves’ and Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ (though obviously, I don’t know if you’ve read them).
Saramago would be enticing to.
Always interesting to see reader’s favorites regarding Powers and Carroll.
I have to do a new one soon.
You pick DRIVE and THE WHEELMAN, both excellent. Do you secretly want to be a getaway driver?
@Keith – Cold Spot – I’m withholding judgment. When I read The Cold Spot I was blown away because on it’s own it was brilliant. Then that feeling was diluted some with the second one because if my guess is right and this winds up being a trilogy then I want to see the whole arc come to a close before I fully render a decision.
Once Were Cops – Whatever strengths OWC may exhibit it just doesn’t top American Skin.
Small Crimes – I’m not the Zeltserman fan that others are. Small Crimes was Jim Thompson lite at best and hinged on coincidence.
Great stuff. Thanks for the shopping list.
@Ron – Maybe I should have added The Getaway Man by Andrew Vachss (2003) and The Cold Spot (2008) to the mix.
Hear, hear on the Huston (I love me some Joe Pitt), Powers, and Neville. And there’s some stuff on this list I definitely need to check out (not to mention, a few that just jumped to the top of my TBR pile).
Thanks for the nod towards my work, Brian. Glad you connected with it to such an extent. Much appreciated.
Couple of other things:
Love that People of Paper is mentioned. Everybody should read that book..
Regarding Huston (specifically Pitt), I feel like that is a book (and series) that I feel odd taking to the battle, but Iike the end I’d be glad that I did. Kind of throw-back when ‘page-turner’ was indicative of a successful book. I love me some Joe Pitt!
@ Jay – Honestly I think that Never Let Me Go is just one of those ones that I forgot about. It is a hell of a book though. House of Leaves was one of the last ones to get cut and I can’t really say why. If I had posted the list 15 mins. earlier or later then it might have made it and something else might have been cut.
Well Powers only had two qualifying novels and since I’d like to get another read of Three Days to Never in Declare made the cut. But my favorite by him? That’s Last Call which was a 90’s book.
@Keith – Honestly, Megan Abbott is another one that I’ve never really connected with.
Brian you star
Thank you double
And one hell of a list
And you’ve added a few to my tbr pile
Right off the top of me head, I’d add a certain Sandra R. to the list
And not just because I blurbed it
I’d blurb it all over again
Thank you for making me whole week
One more big glaring omission from 2001: The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell. Damn fine novel. And no Guthrie, Smith, or Gischler?
Man, I’ve been thinking about this list a little too much today.
This is a great list, but the male to female ratio is staggeringly lop-sided. Of course, no one can argue with someone’s personal taste and I respect your opinion. But let me recommend Lippman, Mina, French, Ruttan, McDermid, Spencer-Fleming, Gardiner, Burke, Scoppettone, Flynn, Harris, Winspear, Parrish, Penny, Faust, Ure, Atkinson, Read, Abbott, Rozan, Vargas, and Gran’s other book Dope. Also Woodrell, Guthrie, Smith, Gischler.
But it’s mostly about how sad I am to see the absence of women. Please don’t take this as personal because it’s not. I’m just depressed.
@Patti – Yeah I noticed that too, I mean hell I live with a female author :). I tried really hard to avoid the word ‘best’ because there’s no way I could have covered everything honestly.
There were a number of books that were in the liked them a lot category or just missed out on that final round of cuts. And I know this year my readings so far have been like 15% female authors, which isn’t terribly high.
@Keith- Sounds like someone needs to find some time to pick up the gauntlet and write their own list.
Also if someone isn’t here doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t like their work (though it can).
I like Gischler’s and Smith’s work but of the OG’s it’s Doolittle’s work that I like the best.
How about this for honesty. I’ve never read any books by Val McDermid. It’s any one of a number of glaring holes in my reading.
I have a number of them here and I actually want to read her stuff because I think I’ll really like it. But I just haven’t got there yet. I have watched the DVD’s though.
Thanks for being honest and open-minded to other people sticking their nose in. That’s what makes it fun though. Again, great list.
The only one I’ve read is Saturday Boy which is really great but Beast Of Burden is better.
I’ve never heard of lots of them so I’ll have a gander. Didn’t like the film of Mystic River much so have given Lehane a miss.
I’d give a thumbs up to Small Crimes too. It’s one of the few american novels that’s really impressed me in recent times.
Savage Night, Slammer and Paying For It are some of the books that I think ‘kicked bottom’, as they say. And Charlie Williams Deadfolk made me laugh out loud many times, which is rare these days.
Brian:Thanks for mentioning “Four Kinds of Rain”. It took eight years total to write “Red Baker” and “Four Kinds of Rain”. I’m glad you think it was time well spent.
Thanks for the good word, Brian…and there’s more coming. Stay tuned…
Thanks for including Dope Thief, Brian – I’m blown away to be in this company.
Oh so happy to see Dark Harvest mentioned. Norm Partridge kicked some serious small town ass with that one.
who stole my bookshelf? fuckers.
Having just finished “The Shadow of the Wind” and having only read a handful of those you mentioned, it is certainly on my list; and judging by your reactions to some of the other works I do think you would like it.
“no country for old men” but no “The Road”?
I don’t read much but I couldn’t put “The Road” down.
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