…for everyone on your gift list, that is.
You’ve obviously come to this column because it’s nearing the end of November and you need to find gifts for your friends, family, co-workers, and mailman (give your mailman a gift, you jerk). I’m here to help.
My cohort David Stewart offered sage advice on this matter, imploring you to consider the recipient’s tastes. That’s absurd, Stewart. Gift-giving is all about showing off how smart and cool you are.
So I went through the books I read this year and picked out four that stuck with me. This isn’t a “best of” list — I always disagree with those lists and end up bitterly hating their authors — but rather four books I enjoyed a lot.
My choices are all thrillers, but they exist in that hazy state between literary and genre that snooty people insist on, so you can comfortably mention these titles at lofty parties, and your friends will admire your impeccable taste and say kind things about your fashion (I don’t know what happens at lofty parties).
I do need to add one note. Some of the writers on this list are friends of mine. Generally, if I read a book and like it, I’ll reach out to the writer and let them know. And, because it’s the law, we’ll connect via Facebook. In most of the cases below, I enjoyed these books and “friended” the writer afterward. That said, I would like to mention that I am susceptible to bribes, even small ones. Especially if the bribe is food-related.
So here are four thrillers published in 2014 that I liked a whole lot:
Stay God, Sweet Angel (Perfect Edge) by Nik Korpon
First Line: “Someone stabbed the sun.”
Look at that first line! LOOK AT IT! Right away, you know this book isn’t playing around. The noir-iest book on this list by one of today’s noir-iest writers is actually a novel and a novella, detailing a small-time Baltimore drug dealer, Damon, whose past is catching up to him. It’s a dark and engrossing read, one of those books where every word has been considered. The tension doesn’t let up, and Damon’s demons reveal themselves gradually, gracefully as the story comes to a trippy close.
Hunted (Harlequin MIRA) by Elizabeth Heiter
First Line: “He should have killed the old man.”
Serial killers and FBI agents aren’t new material and, if you’re going to write about them, you have to do it well to stand out. Elizabeth Heiter’s Hunted does just that. Brimming with meticulous research that only serves to accelerate the story, Evelyn Baine, a criminal profiler with the Bureau, is called in to a small Virginia town (shout-out to Virginia!) to investigate a serial killer who murders women and leaves their bodies half-buried in the woods (never mind that last shout-out). Heiter plays with the ebb and flow of a traditional suspense thriller, and the result is an unexpected, engrossing read. The sequel, Vanished, comes out in December and has already earned praise from R.L. Stine and Tess Gerritsen.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow (Putnam Adult) by Thomas Sweterlitsch
First Line: “Her body’s down in Nine Mile Run, half buried in river mud.”
I was excited to read this book because it deals with a futuristic America that has experienced the destruction of Pittsburgh. I hate the Steelers, so that was nice. But the novel is about more than the deserved annihilation of a football team. John Dominic Blaxton, whose wife and child were killed in the explosion, has a job investigating deaths through the Archives, a virtual database of memories. But Blaxton’s life is interrupted when he finds a victim whose death hasn’t been recorded and is drawn deeply into her investigation…at the risk of losing something of unimaginable value (I won’t reveal too much here). Tomorrow and Tomorrow is more science fiction than thriller, but it really fits into both camps — Chandler’s gritty influence is unmistakable.
The Fever (Little, Brown and Company) by Megan Abbott
First Line: “At first, Lise’s desk chair just seemed to be rocking.”
My God, I LOVE Meg Abbott’s writing. She started out writing dark noir novels with strong female leads, and has slowly moved to books that appeal to a larger audience, but without sacrificing her style. In fact, Abbott seems to realize that there is a noir element in most people that can be brought out depending on the situation. Her last book, Dare Me, involved cheerleaders, and her new novel, The Fever, is about the effects of a potential epidemic on a small town — in particular, a father and his two children. Check out the cover! Holy crap, that’s chilling, and it doesn’t come close to the emotionally raw (and timely) story inside.
As I said, this isn’t an encompassing list, just four of my favorites. What about you? Read any 2014 thrillers you’d recommend? Let me know, or judge me for my choices, in the comments section below.
E.A. Aymar’s debut thriller, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, was published by Black Opal Books in November 2013. His column, “Decisions & Revisions,” appears monthly in the Independent.