A quick note before we get into the books - again, none of them actually have to be written in 2012.
What it Was by George Pelecanos - The master of DC Noir has been very absent from my reading lists simply because his latest have been, in a word, terrible. Pelecanos, like many great crime writers (Paging Dennis Lehane!), got away from what made his books so great in the first place: the western-style, urban showdown. In his latest - a furiously written return to one of his greatest creations, Derek Strange, he shies away from nothing. Pelecanos has always been at his best when he is letting his characters tell the story of his hometown (in this case the 70's) and his villian in this book is a fantastic brute. This novel was actually hewn from his masterpiece The Night Gardener when one character spun the legend of Red Fury. Pelecanos never lets up in this book and it shows in the tense, taut thriller that I devoured in a day. Welcome back George, lets see if we can keep it up.
The Ghost by Robert Harris - Harris, who also wrote the fantastic Fatherland takes on the twisty world of a ghostwriter tasked with setting down a former Prime Minister's memoirs (think Tony Blair). The result in a gut wrenching thriller that slowly winds towards it stunning and heart breaking conclusion. Giving away any of the plot would be a crime, but the style also bears mentioning: many writers tend to overwrite everything. Harris's novel is, if anything, is underwritten perfectly and he ratchets the tension so expertly the reader can barely stand to put the book down. Brilliant.
Don't Fear the Reaper by Josh Bazell - Imagine Chuck Pahalniuk writing the Sopranos...set inside ER. Strange combo that Bazell just manages to pull off perfectly. His main character is a former mob hitman hiding out as a med student in New York. When he gets recognized by one of his patients chaos ensues. The novel is hilarious and completely deadpan, while taking the reader deep inside the medical world (the footnotes are incredibly helpful). Looking forward to the sequel, set to be released in March.
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby - A delirious look inside the world of English Football ("Soccer" for the undereducated) Hornby is an Arsenal Super Fan. He describes his life through the prism of his fandom and the result is a hilarious spin through decades of obsession. His prose is brilliant and at times utterly devestating. He never shies away or hides from his complete insanity, and in embracing it sports fans get to see a little piece of themselves. Take the following passage:
"I was unable to defend my team’s inadequacies to my father – I could see them for myself, and I hated them – and after each feeble attempt at goal and every misplaced pass I would brace myself for the sighs and groans from the seat next to me. I was chained to Arsenal and my dad was chained to me, and there was no way out for either of us.”