Once again, I’ve gone much longer between blog posts than I was supposed to. The good news is that I actually waited until 2014 was finished to bring out the rest of the honorees for the year. That just seems more real than tossing out “best of” lists before the year is over, and it actually DID mean a change in the final list since I read one of these books in the last week of the year.
For those who missed the last post honoring the best films of 2014, a brief explanation. These awards are based on a strict set of rules and stringently applied selection methodology. Basically, it’s shit I liked that happened to come out last year. Each category gets three winners because selecting a single honoree inevitably results in comparing a lot of apples and oranges. This way I get to select an apple, an orange and a dragonfruit.
In 2014, I branched out with my reading quite a bit, as I read far more than I typically do. In addition to enjoying a lot of short stories and digging out some older novels from John D. MacDonald and Donald Westlake, I explored a whole heap of authors I hadn’t read before. Those newer ones, not surprisingly, were the ones that felt fresh and invigorated me the most. I read books by authors like Joe Hill, Charles Stross and Chuck Wendig, which I enjoyed immensely, but I haven’t yet read their latest releases so they didn’t qualify for the 2014 list.
With my newfound affinity for exploring fresh writing, expect to see more reviews of books here, with a focus on authors who may not be found on the New York Times Bestseller lists (yet). I’m not sure how well adding a lot of new authors will fit in with my completionist compulsion unless I begin reading as a full time job, but that’s an issue for another day.
And now, with the orchestra tuning up to play me off the stage, let’s jump into the:
Winners of the 2014 Flywheel Award for Best Novel
Tigerman by Nick Harkaway. As a hint to anyone out there who’s not sold on the value of social media, virtually all of the authors I discovered in 2014 were a direct result of Twitter. Retweets and conversations with people I was already following on Twitter got me interested in what the authors said, which led me to their novels. Nick Harkaway was the first example of this. Tigerman is mostly adventure thriller novel, with a tiny hint of science fiction. Sergeant Lester Ferris is assigned the task of keeping tabs on an island that’s a former British colony and future site of a disastrous (planned) end. As the island approaches its demise, it becomes a hub for a fair amount of criminal activity – some by the residents, but mostly by a collection of international agencies looking for somewhere to do bad things in a place no one pays attention to. Ferris befriends a young boy, seeking to help him escape the island, while seeking out his own sense of self-worth through the boy. His need to be a hero in the boy’s eyes push him out of his complacent monitoring of the island’s activities and into an active role to make the island’s final days a little less sordid. This is a wonderful book filled with action, but driven by its sharply written characters. Hardcover and e-book versions are out now, with paperback available in the UK and the U.S. paperback release still a few months away.
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. I also found Lauren Beukes through Twitter, although if I were still reading comics regularly, I would have read some of her prior work through the DC Comics Vertigo imprint. I loved the Hell out of this book. As a reader, my normal genres are Thriller and Horror. Beukes deftly dances between the two in Broken Monsters, which reads like one of the best police procedurals with the pursuit of a failed artist turned twisted serial killer. Several winding roads of beautifully written characters spiral together before spinning out of control in a truly creepy climactic showdown. The real attraction to this novel, though, was Beukes’s style and word-weaving. On more than one occasion, I had to pause, take a breath and think “wow, that is an amazing description” – but not in a way that took me out of the story. I’m looking forward to digging into her past novels this coming year.
Deadline by John Sandford. Despite my exploration of authors I hadn’t previously read, I still enjoyed a lot of novels from residents on the best seller lists. Sandford has been a long-time favorite of mine for his Prey series, featuring Lucas Davenport. His other popular creation, Virgil Flowers, has always been a fun read, but this is the first time I’d say I enjoyed a Flowers novel more than a Davenport novel. Virgil’s typical style is on display here – he goes in to investigate something fairly run-of-the-mill, kicks over a few rocks and finds something much bigger is at play. While the story here is fairly standard stuff for Virgil, what sets this one apart from his previous adventures is seeing a bit more of his personal relationships while he’s investigating. Old friends, a girlfriend who lasts from a previous novel for a change, and he even manages to pick up a dog along the way. Virgil also makes some pretty big and costly mistakes along the way in this one, which felt more real and raised the stakes more than most of his outings.