John Dwaine McKenna’s
2017 Best Books of the Year
It’s the holiday season and Christmas is just two weeks away . . . which means . . . It’s time for the MBRs Best Books of the Year List. The emphasis this year is on debut novels by exceptional talents. They’re presented here in no specific order, the list is not weighted, which means that number ten is equally as significant as number one. So, Merry Christmas to all, we hope you get to read some, or all, of these awesome novels and receive plenty of others under your tree as gifts!
Best Books of the Year 2017
Art-theft, art forgery, a meth addicted looser, a drug lord collector with a taste for the best, a disgraced professor, his daring daughter and a stone-cold hit man are just a few of the elements in this impressive debut which features the folk art mask carvers of Mexico. They’re all competing for a priceless antique mask that’s been looted from Montezuma’s tomb. It’s the most powerful of all the festival masks; El Jagurao, the Tiger, who holds the power of life and death over everyone. Lili Wright’s first novel is a literary masterpiece.
A gritty crime debut set in the stark Texas borderlands where an unearthed skeleton throws a small town into violent turmoil. Could it be the remains of Caleb Ross’s mother, who disappeared without a trace, more than a year ago? Does Caleb’s father, the vicious sheriff of Murfee, TX have anything to do with it? An unforgettable border noir from a first-time author we’ll be hearing a lot more from.
Try to imagine what your life would be like if you were one of the first two black policemen on the 1948 Atlanta, Georgia police department, and your wildest guess won’t even come close to what Tommy Smith and Lucas Beebee routinely put up with every day in one of the most talked about novels of the year, from the author of The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers. An awesome read that has action on every page.
Another impressive first novel which takes place in the south Los Angeles ghetto. That’s where Isaiah Quintabe, known simply as IQ, uses the techniques of Sherlock Holmes to solve crimes the Los Angeles Police Department simply won’t spend any time on. IQ is an entertaining, infectious and endearing character who gets under your skin right away, and one you won’t soon forget. And, hey! Stay tuned, his second novel, Rightous, will soon to be reviewed in the MBR .
This meticulously plotted and intricate novel takes place at three different times, from three different points of view. The first is Stan Walczak, a Philadelphia cop who’s gunned down in a bar in 1965; second is his son Jim Walczak, who follows his father into the Philly Police Department in 1995; and lastly, in 2015 Audrey, Jim’s daughter, who’s studying for her Master’s Degree in forensic science. This is one of the most intriguing and complex reads of the year and one of the most enjoyable.
A first time author with a mind-bending novel that has folks all around the world taking notice. If you like intense, complex and convoluted plots, this one’s for you. In Tokyo, Japan we find police inspector Kosuke Iwata . . . a man with a boatload of personal grief. After an unexplained and long leave of absence, he’s transferred into Division 1, the Tokyo Homicide Department. He’s given a female partner who has a shakey, unreliable history with the TPD, and tasked with solving a serial murder case that’s so disturbing, the first detective who caught the case committed suicide. It involves the ritualistic slaying of an entire family. This one will keep you up all night.
The fourth, and most electrifying, of his highly-acclaimed international thrillers. Jim Brodie, a San Francisco art dealer, martial-arts master, fluent Japanese speaker and principal of Brodie Investigative Services in Tokyo, is in Washington D.C. attending a Kabuki play at the Kennedy Center, when two murders occur right in front of his eyes. One is his old college roommate and the other is a Japanese designer and longtime friend named Sharon Tanaka. They’re killed by a Spanish speaking professional killer who escapes, unknown, undetected and unharmed, leaving Brodie devastated. Shortly afterward he’s summoned to the White House and given a directive that puts him in the crosshairs of the most deadly spy in China, as Brodie tries to rescue a hostage whose mind contains NSA coding secrets. Her name is Anna and she’s Sharon Tanaka’s daughter. The action, tension and mystery begins with the first sentence and expands throughout every chapter thereafter.
One of the finest noir yarns we’ve read in years. It opens at warp speed and never slows down, and begins when a young man named Steven gets attacked in a small northern California town. He is beaten senseless and robbed of his backpack, which contains everything he owns. Everything he owns includes a brick of high grade marijuana he got on credit and planned on selling in San Francisco. But his real trouble begins when he’s befriended by a man named Quinn. Apparently a savior, but really the devil in disguise, Quinn is leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake. This one is what noir is all about: unceasing action, a blood-soaked trail and a breathtaking denouement. One of the best noir yarns ever, according to the MBR.
The Force has drawn rave reviews from everyone who’s seen it, including the MBR, because it could become the defining work of its genre. Danny Malone, NYPD Detective Sergeant, is a highly respected and decorated cop who works a drug, gang and murder infested part of the city as the leader of Da-Force. It’s an elite unit with unlimited authority to go after gang-bangers, drug-slingers, and gun-runners in Manhattan North. They’re the bravest of the brave with more busts, citations and gun fights than any other unit in the NYPD. They’re respected and feared wherever they go throughout the city . . . and they’re dirty. It’s heartbreaking, full of drama and pathos—and it’s unforgettable because—all Danny Malone ever wanted to be was a good cop. If you only ever read one cop novel in your life, this should be it.
A man and his eleven year old daughter are on the run. An awesome first novel combining humor, discovery and loss, as well as brute force, gangsters and gunfights aplenty . . . all of which is overlaid with a growing awareness of the power of love. Nate McClosky has been green-lighted for death by a prison gang known as Aryan Steel. He ran afoul of the president and shot-caller while still incarcerated at the Susanville State Penitentiary, and now his whole family, including his ex-wife and daughter, is under a shoot on sight order. Too late to save his ex-wife, Nate is determined to save his daughter Polly at all costs. He picks her up from school in a stolen car and spirits her away in this dynamic and propulsive chase novel.
One of last year’s brightest and best literate crime novels, it was first published in May 2016. It’s the story of a small southern town full of lies, secrets, betrayal, and unbearable tension, but it’s also filled with such drama, suspense and understanding of human shortcomings that every page groans with the weight of it all. It begins when an ex-cop named Adrian Wall is released from prison after serving 13 years for homicide and returns to his small town home, where a thirteen year-old boy named Gideon waits with a gun to kill him for murdering his mother. And that’s just the first chapter of this dynamic thriller. It’s a novel you’ll think about long after you’ve read it.
One of the most exciting debut novels the MBR seen this year. It introduces a character named Clyde Barr who’s part mountain man, part mercenary, and part American hero. After a short jolt in a Mexican prison, Clyde returns to Colorado and is decompressing in the wilderness out by the Colorado-Utah border. He’s enjoying a grilled venison steak when he gets a panicked call from his sister Jen, begging him for help. The last thing she says is, they’re going to kill me, and then the phone goes dead. So begins the first chapter of a desperate and driving search in which Nothing Short of Dying will prevent him from rescuing his sister . . .but first he has to find her. The non-stop action begins on page one and carries through to the stunning conclusion of this electrifying novel. Clyde Barr is a character all crime fiction enthusiasts will want to be in touch with.
That’s it. That’s our list of Best Books for the year 2017. We hope you get a chance to read some, or all of them, and look forward to 2018, when we’ve got a whole new and exciting list of crime fiction, thrillers, spy yarns and whodunnits to explore together. Until then Merry Christmas, Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all.
John Dwaine McKenna