I loved a lot of books this year, and for a change, at least half of them were actually released this year.
At the top of my list is THE LOCKPICKER by Leonard Chang. I’m one of those readers who loves the quiet moments in crime stories — the planning, the putting together of things, the mechanics of professional malevolence; stopwatches, grappling hooks, black turtlenecks; abandoned warehouses. One of the reasons I love the TV show BETTER CALL SAUL is because it’s never more fascinating (to me, anyway) than when Mike Ehrmantraut is bent over his solitary kitchen table, soldering together some sinister piece of spy equipment for minutes on end.
THE LOCKPICKER is full of Mike Ehrmantraut moments. Chang, a writer for the F/X series SNOWFALL, has an understated command over infusing quiet moments with unbearable tension — and unimpeachable authority. I learned a lot about how lock picks work, for pages at a time, feeling as though a slasher-movie cello note was humming in the deep background. I learned about stolen jewelry is fenced, in stunning detail. I learned about how you track down somebody who doesn’t want to be found and your skills in this regard are less high-tech than low-compunction.
I don’t know how Leonard Chang knows these things, but I’m glad he does, and I bet his backstory is interesting as hell, and I’m glad he’s sharing what he knows with with the world. The story, of a Seattle jewelry thief who double-crosses his double-crossing partner and flees to his brother’s home in San Francisco, where he falls for his brother’s wife, is almost incidental to the quiet pleasures of this first-rate novel. How THE LOCKPICKER was passed over by the major presses and slid through the buzz cracks is at least as great a mystery as the resolution of this incredibly gripping, immaculately polished story.
Other released-in-2017 crime novels I loved:
THE SMACK, Richard Lange.
SHE RIDES SHOTGUN, Jordan Harper.
EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE, Mindy Mejia.
A WELCOME MURDER, Robin Yocum.
PARADISE VALLEY and A VICIOUS CIRCLE, C.J. Box.
THE WEIGHT OF THIS WORLD, David Joy.
HOMESICK BLUES and SIDE EYE, Steve Brewer.
DEEP FREEZE, John Sandford.
NOT A SOUND, Heather Gudenkauf.
THE RIVER AT NIGHT, Erica Ferencik.
FOLLOW ME DOWN, Sherri Smith.
COLD WAR CANOE CLUB, Jeffery Hess.
Older books I read and loved in 2017:
PECKERWOOD, Jedidiah Ayres.
A MAN’S GAME and CUTTER AND BONE, Newton Thornburg (who died in a nursing home less than a mile from where I was living in 2011; I will never forgive myself for not knowing this before it was too late).
Pretty much everything by Charles Williams, but especially AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA.
BEACHHEAD, Jeffery Hess.
THE PASSENGER, Lisa Lutz.
SAVE YOURSELF, Kelly Braffet.
THE COLD SPOT, Tom Piccirilli.
IS FAT BOB DEAD YET?, Stephen Dobyns.
I didn’t see many TV shows or movies in 2017, but I liked OZARK (especially Jason Bateman’s surprising display of convincing dramatic depth; and Laura Linney is my favorite actress ever) and loved BETTER CALL SAUL, Season 3. BOSCH and FARGO continue to hold my interest, and BLOODLINE, which I loved in Season 1, died a deserved death with its tepid Season 3.
My favorite new movie (of the few I saw) was WIND RIVER (Elizabeth Olsen continues to surprise, not just as a screen presence but as a curator of projects), and I moderately enjoyed LOGAN LUCKY (especially for Daniel Craig, who, as a hillbilly safecracker, seemed to be enjoying the hell out of not being James Bond). I hated BABY DRIVER for many reasons, but mostly because in my view, Anson Elgart is a giant black hole in the center of the picture, with zero presence or charisma.
Music? I admit that in my AARP-eligible dotage, I’ve increasingly lost interest in anything made after 1988. That, and I may never get over the death of Tom Petty, who passed less than six weeks after I saw him onstage in Seattle. That, and I’m the weird guy who doesn’t like The National (but loves its side project, El Vy), and I guess, as middle-age-dmale-sad-sacky as I am, I’ll never be middle-aged-male-sad-sacky enough to fully appreciate Jason Isbell.