My Top Ten Books of 2011

OK, so I’ve read shitloads of books this year. Here are my favourites. In order. A couple of things I noticed on compiling this list:

– Only 3 or 4 would be considered ‘literary’ fiction, the rest are crime, mostly noir. Even the ‘literary’ ones are very noirish. Make of that what you will.

– Only 1 or 2 (depending how you count – Hi, Helen!) are British. In fact Scottish, there are no English writers here. The rest are American except for Tsiolkas who’s Aussie. Make of that what you will.

Anyway, I’d love to know what your own favourites are, and what you make of this list. Sorry for not writing longer reviews, but I review for a living (and probably reviewed most if not all of these elsewhere during the year, sure you could google ’em), so I’m kinda wiped out on the reviewing front for now.


1. Matthew F Jones, A Single Shot (Mulholland)

This is a fantastic piece of American country noir, with this first UK edition foreworded by Daniel Woodrell. A poacher accidentally kills a teenage girl then finds a bag of money. Shit ensues. Very bad shit. Terse, tense, and scary as fuck, basically.

2. James Sallis, Drive (No Exit Press)

Prose doesn’t come much leaner than this. Hollywood stunt driver by day, getaway driver by night – what a fucking great idea. Hardbitten, existential noir at its most stripped back and brutal.

3. Megan Abbott, The End of Everything (Picador)

Strange, otherworldly feel to this tale of a suburban teenage girl going missing. There is a real creepiness and unsettling nature to this exploration of teenage sexuality that is highly disturbing. Great, in other words.

4. David Vann, Caribou Island (Penguin)

Vann’s Alaska is a treacherous place. When an elderly couple decide to build a cabin on a remote island, it goes so badly wrong as to be barely readable. The end is darkest blackness.

5. George Pelecanos, The Cut (Orion)

Great return to novel writing after a spell at The Wire, this is the start of a new series, apparently, as an Iraq veteran gets sucked into bad shit back home in Washington DC.

6. Sara Gran, City of the Dead (Faber)

I’m not much into detective fiction normally, but this is fantastic. Sassy, funny and profound, it sees private investigator Claire deWitt negotiating the badlands of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with only an old French guide to detecting and her considerable wits as company. Full of character.

7. Ray Banks, Dead Money (Blasted Heath)

Best British noir writer at the moment. This is a nasty story about a couple of double glazing salesmen in Manchester who get into all sorts of shit. Funny at times, but also genuinely disturbing, Banks takes you to places you don’t want to go, but you feel compelled to follow him.

8. Helen FitzGerald, The Donor (Faber)

Dilemma fiction, apparently. Whatever you call it, it’s brilliant, as a dad finds out both his teenage daughters have a potentially fatal kidney disease. What to do? FitzGerald is a master at characterisation and backstory, so you’re rooting for her characters no matter how fucked up they are.

9. Christa Faust, Choke Hold (Hard Case)

Wow, noir doesn’t come much more breakneck than this. Fantastic, rattling adrenaline ride as protagonist Angel gets sucked into a world of dodgy wrestling, drug dealing and shitloads more.

10. Christos Tsiolkas, Loaded (Vintage)

Author of The Slap’s first novel, published for the first time in the UK, this is a masterclass in equal-opportunities misanthropy, as the teenage Greek-Aussie gay narrator bounces around the shittier parts of Melbourne despising everything and everyone with such energy as to be utterly compelling.

About Doug Johnstone

I write things
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2 Responses to My Top Ten Books of 2011

  1. nigel bird says:

    A really great list by the looks of it. Those I’ve not been to, I’m going to make sure I make the effort. Thanks and Happy Christmas.

  2. I really should set you up with my other half…

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