So I’ve done my favorite comics and my favorite albums, so let’s take a look at my favorite novels. You know, those books without pictures? I read those too, on occasion.
I’m going to rank them 10-1, just because. Also, spoilers, just in case.
10) Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane: I know it got turned into a pretty shitty movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, but the book is pretty fantastic, and totally caught me with the twist at the end. Maybe I’m not as smart as I think, but I really didn’t see it coming. It’s funny, while I was reading it, I pictured the main character as Tom Hanks and his partner as Greg Kinnear. This was one of the first books I read where I could really, fully picture the main characters in my head. This one needs a re-read sometime soon.
9) Watchers by Dean Koontz: I’m not much of a fan of Koontz’s work, but I always loved Watchers. It didn’t have that creepy sexual undertone that most of Koontz’s books seem to have. I love the idea of the super-intelligent dog, and could have read about him just doing stuff for the whole book. The whole conflict with the Outsider seemed pretty ham-fisted (“I hate you because you’re special and I’m ugly”), but some of the stuff with the dog was pretty cool, like him using the Scrabble pieces to spell words.
8) Hell and Gone by Duane Swierczynski: this is the second part of a trilogy, and while the first part (Fun and Games) was pretty good, Hell and Gone totally steps it up. It reads like a cross between a crime novel and a comic book, what with the secret prison and the few specific prisoners, designated the most dangerous prisoners in the world. And the swerve that explains the prison itself it really kind of scary, because I can see how something like that would happen in real life. Looking forward to the third part of the trilogy, Point and Shoot.
7) The Hank Thompson trilogy by Charlie Huston: I’m cheating a bit by putting all three books in this slot, but it’s my list, so fuck off. I absolutely adore these books. Caught Stealing, Six Bad Things, and A Dangerous Man are brilliant crime books, and Huston writes in a very unique style that initially took some getting used to. I love the idea of a loser getting pulled into a bad deal with the Russian mob, getting plastic surgery forced on him, and being turned into a hardcore hitman. I was actually a little bummed out when I read the last line of the last book.
6) American Gods by Neil Gaiman: what can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? It’s so goddamn smart. I love how Gaiman mixes the old Norse gods with the new gods of technology, the god of the internet, etc. That’s a smart idea, and one I never would have thought of. The main character, Shadow, is a very interesting guy, he almost feels like a blank slate some of the time. My favorite part? The characters being able to step “back-stage” and out of reality. God, that’s brilliant.
5) The Dark Half by Stephen King: my second favorite King book. I love this book for many reasons: the little excerpts from the Alexis Machine novels, the distinction between writing with a typewriter (or computer) vs freehand with a pencil, the idea of the psychopomps. I’ve never wanted to write under a pen name, but the thought that there could be a second personality living inside me is kind of interesting…
4) Sacrifice by Andrew Vachss: I love Vachss’ series of Burke novels. I love Burke’s “family”, they’re some of the most interesting characters written in crime novels. My biggest pet peeve with Vachss is that, in a lot of his books, not much happens. Maybe that’s just me, but there’s very little action a lot of the time. Sacrifice is pretty non-stop in the action department, with the satanic cults, the congregation of assassins, Burke training the new kid in his survivalist lifestyle, and the brutal, balls-out massacre at the end. This is the book that made me want to write crime fiction. So now you know who to blame.
3) The Two-Bear Mambo by Joe R Lansdale: I love the Hap and Leonard novels, and I really don’t know for sure this is my favorite, but I think it is. Lansdale writes these two guys so realistically that they feel like old friends. There’s always some great, swift and brutal action, and man…the Hap and Leonard books are fucking funny. Every page has some new saying by one of them, or a new way of stating some obvious fact that would make me laugh. Even with the darker undertones of racism and violence against women, this remains an incredibly funny book. If I had to pick one other Hap and Leonard book that might come close, it would be Rumble Tumble.
2) Critical Space by Greg Rucka: I love the Atticus Kodiak series of books, but this book is by far my favorite, although without reading the books that lead up to it, it might seem like an odd choice. Atticus Kodiak started the series as a professional bodyguard, a guy with a serious set of morals and personal ethics. Through the first few books, he stands pretty strong on his convictions, but after the introduction of the international assassin called Drama, he starts to change. This book sees him get kidnapped by Drama, who wants him to protect her from a rival assassin, and starts to train Atticus to become an assassin himself. The parts that I love the most are the training parts, where Atticus goes through his training regimen and explains how and why he’s doing what he’s doing. “I don’t do pushups because I can’t see a tactical advantage in that position” (I’m paraphrasing). I loved the transition in Kodiak’s character from protector to hunter. I hope Rucka writes a few more Atticus Kodiak novels.
1) The Stand by Stephen King: by far my most favorite book of all time. The Stand has it all, interesting characters, a brilliant underlying concept (that was super original at the time it was written, nowadays I could see the inciting incident from this book happening for real). It’s a long novel, but it never feels like that. The characters are so well-rounded and real. The basic idea of good versus evil is set out so expertly. I re-read the Stand at least once a year, because it’s an investment, when you’re talking about a novel of 1000+ pages. There’s also an incredible feeling of hope that happens in this novel, and I realize how hokey that might sound, but it’s true, you can’t help but feel inspired when you read about the survivors banding together and trying to create a new community. And you can’t help but feel creeped out about Randall Flagg and his Vegas group setting up shop, and the first thing they want to do is find pilots for the leftover Air Force bombers…
That’s the list. It changes fairly often, with the exception of the top two. I don’t know that I’ll ever read something I enjoy more than The Stand.
Do yourself a favor today and listen to “When I Was Cruel” by Elvis Costello.