This is my end of the year post covering both my writing and my reading for 2004. It was a pretty good year for both.
Since 1980, I’ve been keeping a list of all the books I read, which makes it fairly easy to go back at the end of the year and pick out my favorites. Some people were posting Best of the Year lists a week or more ago, but I waited until the last minute in case something really good slipped in at the end. This Top Ten isn’t necessarily a “Best” list, although I think all of these are very fine books. They’re just the ones that I enjoyed reading the most, arranged alphabetically by author:
ASTRO CITY: LIFE IN THE BIG CITY, Kurt Busiek – The trade paperback collection of the first story arc from one of the best comic book series of the Nineties, by the best writer currently in comics.
BLOOD KIN, Henry Chappell – An excellent historical novel about the Texas Revolution and the decade or so afterward. I had a quibble or two about the ending, but the rest of the book makes up for it.
THE BLACK ECHO, Michael Connolly – The first Harry Bosch novel, featuring an intricate, fascinating plot, great characters, and fine writing. Any of the four Connolly novels I read this year could have made this list, but I held it to one.
THE KEEPER’S SON, Homer Hickam – Wonderful old-fashioned storytelling in a World War II novel that features compelling characters, plenty of action, and poignant scenes that stick in the memory.
PALE HORSE COMING, Stephen Hunter – The second Earl Swagger novel, also with an intricate plot and great action scenes. Hunter is probably the best pure thriller writer in the business right now, although the third book in this series, HAVANA, was a bit of a disappointment to me. Still not bad, though.
SCARLET RIDERS, Don Hutchison, editor – This collection of Mountie stories from the pulps is just pure fun, and a lot of it. It’s even prompted me to start checking eBay for issues of NORTH-WEST ROMANCES.
ANGRY MOON, Terrill Lankford – A funny, brutal, cross-genre, crime/horror novel that reads like one of the best B-movies you ever saw, with as emotionally satisfying an ending as you’re likely to find.
EARTHQUAKE WEATHER, Terrill Lankford – Dark and hilarious and complex, this has the pace of ANGRY MOON with even more fascinating characters. One of the best looks inside the movie business that I’ve ever read.
DOUBLE PLAY, Robert B. Parker – Baseball, gangsters, a World War II vet who’s wounded both physically and emotionally, and a vividly drawn Forties setting, along with some of Parker’s best writing in recent years. It’s nice to see him turn out something this good again.
FADE TO BLONDE, Max Phillips – One of the first books from the new Hardcase Crime line, and about as close to a pitch-perfect re-imagining of a Fifties Gold Medal novel as anybody could write.
My preliminary list was twice as long, and it wasn’t easy to trim it down to ten titles. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of these books. As for my total, I read 137 books in 2004, which is about average for me. I haven’t been below a hundred in any year since I started keeping lists, and my high is 183 books. What can I say? I like to read.
On the writing front, I produced 4567 pages of fiction this year, which breaks down into twelve and a half books. Some of them were pretty long, too. If I’d been writing only series Western novels, that would translate into nineteen-plus books. I think this was probably my most productive year ever, although I came pretty close to those totals early on in my career, when I was young and full of energy. It’s a little harder when you’re an old guy.
When I started this blog, I worried a little about the time it would take. So far, the investment has been well worth it. I’ve made some new friends, such as Aldo and Terrill, and it’s also helped me keep in touch with old friends. It’s pretty cheap therapy, too. Thanks to all of you for reading these ramblings, and I hope all of us have a wonderful, healthy New Year.
"Manhunter" by Arnold Hano (1957)
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