Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Comparing the Best Books lists

By Sandra Parshall

Best Books of 2013 lists are popping up everywhere this month, in print and on the internet, and as usual they’re intriguing in both their similarities and differences. In the crime fiction genre, few books show up on every list, and a lot of choices may leave avid mystery and thriller readers bemused.

A chorus of groans from Facebook members greeted the news that Inferno by Dan Brown topped the Goodreads Choice Awards, with 29,132 votes from avid readers. Number 2 was The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling), a novel many people enjoyed but believe would have sunk out of sight, barely noticed, if the author’s true identity hadn’t been revealed. 

Others on the Goodreads list are mostly bestsellers from familiar authors, although a couple of lesser known writers made the cut. In order, from number 3, they are:  Joyland by Stephen King, How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny, Calculated in Death by J.D. Robb, Night Film by Marisha Pessl, Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley, Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight, Police by Jo Nesbo, Six Years by Harlan Coben, Unseen by Karin Slaughter, Touch and Go by Karin Slaughter, Convicted by Aleatha Romig, Suspect by Robert Crais, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, Threat Vector by Tom Clancy, W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton, Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, Never Go Back by Lee Child, and The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison. (The Child book received only 717 votes and the Harrison book 690.)

Instead of publishing a Best of the Year list, National Public Radio, which carries weight with serious readers, asked staff and reviewers to name the 2013 books they loved most. The results – more than 200 titles in all genres -- appear on a new site called the NPR Book Concierge.  Their top 10 books among mysteries/thrillers include some I haven’t seen widely discussed among fans online and some that might be placed in other genres: The Circle by Dave Eggers, Submergence by J.M. Ledgard, Countdown City by Ben H. Winters, Nexus by Ramez Naam, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny, Brilliance by Marcus Sakey, Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Dream Eyes by Jayne Ann Krentz. Some novels from the Goodreads list appear farther down on the NPR list: Dr. Sleep, Night Film, Speaking From Among the Bones. Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinan, a favorite among DorothyL readers, also appears on the extended NPR list.

Kirkus, the industry review periodical whose judgments are coveted and feared by authors, produced a list of 20 top crime novels that mixes in a few lesser known titles but is made up mostly of bestsellers. Their top 10 are: Lexicon by Max Barry, Breaking Point by C.J. Box, Light of the World by James Lee Burke, Never Go Back by Lee Child, The October List by Jeffery Deaver, Ghosts of Bungo Suido, Midnight by Kevin Egan, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, The Shadow Tracer by Meg Gardiner, and The Crocodile by Maurizio de Giovanni. Bestsellers by Stephen King, Craig John, John Sandford, and Martin Cruz Smith appear lower on the list. One outstanding small press novel, Hidden Heritage by Charlotte Hinger, is at number 11.

Few American writers found favor with Publishers Weekly. Its list of the top 11 is made up mostly of mysteries and thrillers set in foreign countries and written by non-American authors: Hour of the Red God by Richard Compton, The Crimson Fog by Paul Halter (first published in France in 1988), The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison, Death of a Nightingale by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, The Other Child by Charlotte Link, Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews, Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina, Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell, Red Moon by Benjamin Percy, Enigma of China: An Inspector Chen Novel by Qiu Xiaolong, and Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola Upson.

Britain’s The Guardian cites these outstanding debut novels: Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller, The Honey Guide by Richard Crompton, City of Blood by M.D. Villier, The Missing File by D.A. Mishani, The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

BookPage’s 10 Best list includes some novels that aren’t showing up else. The complete list: Ghost Man by Roger Hobbs, Perfect Hatred by Leighton Gage, The Golden Egg by Donna Leon, Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell, A Delicate Truth by John leCarre, The Abomination by Jonathan Holt, Mystery Girl by David Gordon, How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny, Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith, Death of a Nightingale by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis.

Lesa Holstine of Lesa’s Book Critiques asked Laura Lippman to name a few novels in the genre that found outstanding, and the resulting list includes traditional mysteries as well as suspense: Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson, Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd, The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie, Riptide Ultra Glide by Tim Dorsey, The Carrion Birds by Urban Waite, There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron, The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon, The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne.

What’s on your best of the year list? Which books do you believe are worthy of crime fiction awards?


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

The Cuckoo's Calling is high on my list. It would have sunk without trace not because it wasn't worthy but because there's no midlist any more. I just finished Julia Spencer-Fleming's latest, Through the Evil Days, which I loved and haven't seen anyone mention even on DorothyL. Deborah Crombie's The Sound of Broken Glass also makes my list. So does The Return by Michael Gruber, a top-notch writer to whom the mystery community doesn't pay the attention he deserves. Of William Kent Krueger's two 2013 novels, I liked Tamarack County, the latest Cork O'Connor book, better than the standalone Ordinary Grace, in spite of the rave reviews it got.

Steven M. Moore said...

Hi Sandra,
I admire your motivation and energy needed to go through all these lists. A great job....
Because you didn't mention the list in the NY Times Book Review, I will, only because it's probably derived differently than most others.
In any case, I must be doing something wrong. I generally read one or two books per week and review at least one book per month for Bookpleasures (and sometimes others on my own), but I'll have to admit that I haven't read ANY book on these lists. Of course, I don't just read crime, mystery, suspense, and thrillers and do both fiction and non-fiction.
Some lists are popularity contests, others are related to sales figures, and still others are determined by "literary experts" that often remind me of art critics who applaud the trash one often finds in the MoMA and other galleries of modern art. All lists have their subjective elements and I just don't play the game well.

Kristopher said...

I always find Best Of lists interesting. They are really just snapshots into the mind of the person creating them. After all, no one has read everything, so can they really be called the Best?

On my blog, I call it a Top Reads list, since I am only choosing from the books I have read. But again, they are subjective choices based on my own interests. But I do think value can be found in looking at these lists, especially if you find a reviewer who shares your opinion about titles. A good way to discover new books.

Sandra Parshall said...

I included only lists of outstanding crime novels. I haven't seen such a list in the NY Times, but I may have missed it. I've only seen their list of the 10 best books of the year -- 5 novels (none of them mysteries or thrillers) and 5 nonfiction -- and their 100 notable books list, which included only 2 novels that could be considered crime fiction: The Dinner and Doctor Sleep.

The "best of" lists put out by newspapers and magazines are usually made up of titles submitted by editors and reviewers, so they're not the opinions of individuals but of groups. When only one opinion was involved, as in the case of Laura Lippman's personal list,I pointed that out.

Steven M. Moore said...

Hi Sandra and Kristopher,
@Sandra: Saw your FB comment. I didn't mean to imply there or here that the NY Times list was a list of crime books, but rather that I still hadn't read any of the books listed there. Considering that I read outside the crime genre, that's just as surprising to me.
@Kristopher: My way of discovering new books is to review books outside my comfort zone. I recently reviewed a collection of philosophical articles, for example. Every book listed in the "Stealth Reads" section of my webpage "Steve's Bookshelf" was discovered that way. Broadens my horizons....

Sandra de Helen said...

I wrote a list of five best mysteries on my own blogsite, but not the top ones from this year. The only author to appear here and on my own list is Denise Mina. I don't read a lot of the best-selling authors, but do read Val McDermid, Denise Mina, Chelsea Cain for all their latest. I also read a lot of authors I met on listserves like Sisters in Crime, and les-fic.

Anonymous said...

The Accounting by William Lashner would definitely go on my list. Each time I had to put it down, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Thanks to your post, I have some new books to read. Not that I ever have trouble finding a book to read.