Top Ten Books of 2008

With the year coming to a close (thank goodness!), I thought I’d take the chance to look back on my year’s reading and pick my ten favorite books.  These are not all books that came out this year.  They are, however, books that I read the first time in 2008. 

1. American Skin – Ken Bruen.  I read a few Bruen books this year, and this was by far my favorite.  This tale of violent people doing violent things in Ireland, New York, and the American desert is spellbinding.  Bruen’s prose crackles as it grabs you by the throat and shakes you.  An incredible story, one of the best I’ve read in years.

2. Caught Stealing – Charlie Huston.  Maybe Huston is the heir apparent ot Leonard and Hitchcock; I don’t know.  After reading his debut novel, however, I am positive that he’s one of the best thriller writers working today.  A recovering drunk agrees to watch his neighbors cat.  Within a few days he’s graduated to murder, car chases, and lugging around sackfuls of cash.  A tight, gripping suspense yarn that must be read to be believed.

3. 20th Century Ghosts – Joe Hill. This collection of short stories was my first exposure to Joe Hill.  Luckily, it’s one of the best fiction collections to come down the pike in several years.  Stories such as “Best New Horror,” “My Father’s Mask,” and “Voluntary Commital” run the gamut from pulse-pounding to quietly chilling.  Hill shows himself to be a confident writer of great ability, and I hope he releases another collection sooner rather than later.

4. The Shallow End of the Pool – Adam-Troy Castro.  Parents can do terrible things to their children, and Adam-Troy Castro knows this.  In this novella, he paints a harrowing, heartbreaking portrait of two siblings who have never met and are forced to battle to the death in order to settle a grudge between their estranged parents.  Castro writes wonderfully, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

5. The Imago Sequence – Laird Barron.  Every now and then I read a book that really makes me want to be a better writer, a book that makes me realize how much room for improvement really exists.  Laird Barron’s collection of weird, chilling tales is a book just like that.  I won’t call these stories Cthulhu-esque, because that really sells Laird short.  Barron has created a whole new universe of terrible things lurking just inside the shadows, and the characters he uses to navigate these tales (a weathered CIA spook, a grizzled pinkerton, and several others) are masterpieces of characterization.

6. Scalped, Indian Country – Jason Aaron.  Aaron impressed me with his Vietnam series The Other Side, but he really took me by surprise with this noir set on a reservation.  He hits all the right, gritty notes, and he brings enough twists to keep you guessing well after you think you can’t be surprised anymore.  Two more collections are available, and both are just as excellent as the first.

7. The Dust of Wonderland – Lee Thomas.  This was one of the first books I read this year, and the fact that it still found a place on this list is a testament to Lee’s skill as a writer.  Thomas crafts a story about New Orleans, lost love, finding yourself, and terrible evil in the form of a man named Travis Brugier and his brothel, Wonderland.  The prose is masterful, and the characters and horrors will leave you uniquely satsified.

8. The Fever Kill – Tom Piccirilli.  Over the past year, Tom Piccirilli has morphed from one of the most original voices in horror to one of the most confident voices in crime and noir.  The Fever Kill, his tale of vengeance, justice, and all the terrible things our pasts can heap on us, is possibly the best example of this.

9. Severence Package – Duane Swierczynski.  When I was in middle school, I used to write stories about vicious battles breaking out among the student body, terribly violent and action packed things that would probably get a kid arrested today.  Anyway, transplant that sort of tale into a corporate office, and you have Severence Package.  Swierczynski is another writer I discovered this year, and I’m happy to report he’s one of the best. 

10. The Bleeding Season – Greg Gifune. What if you thought you knew somebody, only to learn it all might be a lie?  This novel by Greg Gifune addresses that question when a group of friends discover their recently-deceased partner in crime may have been a serial killer.  Gifune brings the chills, and his characters have a depth and realism I’ve seldom seen in genre fiction.