Saturday 31 December 2011

2011, a Review of the Year in Books and Comics, 3: the 10 Best Books I Read This Year

And so we reach the grand finale of my not-as-drawn-out-as-last-year's effort-but-still-quite-long-enough-thank-you end-of-year round-up – not to mention also, not entirely coincidentally, my final post for the year; hang out the bunting, begin the ticker-tape parade, etc., etc. And having presented a Bloody Great List of all the books I read in 2011, to round the year off I'm going to choose my ten favourite books from that list. I bet you literally cannot contain your excitement.

As I did last year, I've once again opted for a top ten this time out, rather than a top twenty, a decision which has necessitated some hard choices. I could have easily filled getting on for half of the top ten with Anthony Price novels alone, but for the sake of variety I've limited myself instead to just one appearance per author in the chart. Mind you, there were still a number of authors who didn't quite make the cut but whose work I enjoyed immensely in 2011, and therefore honourable mentions must go to Jeremy Duns (Free Agent), Adam Hall (The Berlin Memorandum), Graham Greene (The Quiet American), Michael Dibdin (Ratking), Donald Hamilton (Death of a Citizen) and Elmore Leonard (Pronto).

This being Existential Ennui and not, I dunno, Shots or The Rap Sheet or Books and Writers or something, it almost goes without saying that the majority of the books in the final ten are, by definition, "old", i.e. first published at least thirty years ago in most cases. But there are a couple of more recent novels in there too, and as I've stated more than once before, although the remainder may be getting on a bit, to me they're as fresh and exciting and surprising as anything published in 2011 – more so in most cases.

So which of the forty-eight books I read in 2011 made the top ten? Let's find out, shall we, by way of a visual guide, counting 'em down in reverse order, with links to whatever nonsense I wrote about each book (if indeed I have written anything yet). Drum roll, please!


SS-GB (1978) by Len Deighton


The Cut (2011) by George Pelecanos


When Will There be Good News? (2008) by Kate Atkinson


A Hive of Glass (1965) by P. M. Hubbard


The Fools in Town are on Our Side (1970) by Ross Thomas


Smiley's People (1979) by John le Carré


Butcher's Moon (1974) by Richard Stark


Undertow (1962) by Desmond Cory


The Alamut Ambush (1971) by Anthony Price


Operation Overkill (1962) by Dan J. Marlowe

Well, one or two surprises there, I feel, especially the books at numbers 3 and 1; suffice it to say that, although they haven't yet featured on Existential Ennui, Desmond Cory and Dan J. Marlowe will be making appearances on this blog very soon indeed. As for the rest, I don't have much to add to my original reviews, except in the cases of George Pelecanos's The Cut, where I haven't yet written a review – there'll be one in the new year – and Kate Atkinson's When Will There be Good News?, which I somehow neglected to review. So let me just quickly note that, while I love all four of Atkinson's Jackson Brodie novels, I think this one is my favourite, packing, as it does, a real emotional punch and featuring a completely unexpected central disaster. Utterly sublime.

And that's yer lot for 2011. Have a terrific New Year's Eve, and do join me again early in 2012, when I'll be posting a preview of forthcoming delights here on Existential Ennui...


  1. I did a similar review, except I chose a top 7 (I don't know why, but I have this thing about 7...) lol
    By the way, I found your link on BookBlogs and am now a follower! I hope you consider following my blog!

  2. Thanks, Jessica. I'm now following your blog too!

  3. I don't believe it, a Top Ten list and I've read them all! Well, to be honest, 9 out of 10. I have to admit to never having read a Dan J. Marlowe. Should I? Most of the 9are long-standing personal favourites (Price, Hubbard and Atkinson) and Len Deighton's "SS-GB" is a classic. For your 2012 list can I put in an early (and blatant) plug for Berkely Mather's "The Pass Beyond Kahsmir", a new edition of which I am editing for Top Notch Thrillers. Best wishes for the new year.

  4. I'd certainly read that particular Dan J. Marlowe novel, Mike (its original title was The Name of the Game is Death). It completely bowled me over – a cross between Jim Thompson and Richard Stark. I'll be reviewing it soon, and reading the second Earl Drake outing in short order.

    I actually have a first of Pass Beyond Kashmir waiting to be read, so I'll shuffle it closer to the top of the pile. When's the Top Notch edition out?

    By the way, I sent a print-out of your comment on my Anthony Price interview to Mr Price; he's not online, but I've been keeping him posted on the responses to the interview.

    And best wishes to you, too!

  5. "Pass Beyond Kashmir" is an old-fashioned 'ripping yarn' of a dangerous journey across India and Pakistan (just as the Chinese are invading Tibet in 1959/60) told with an obvious affection for the Indian sub-continent. The book was a big favourite of Ian Fleming's and Berkley Mather was recruited as a "script doctor" on the film version of Dr No. I am working on the new edition with Mather's son and I hope we will pubish around July.
    If you'll permit another blatant plug, the January edition of my Getting away With Murder gossip column is now posted on
    Here endeth the plugging - for now!

  6. Plug away, Mike! Long as you remember to return the favour sometime... Right then, I'll try and remember to time my Mather review to the Top Notch pub date.

  7. An interesting list - very refreshing after seeing the usual list of best-known authors.
    Good to see Desmond Cory's UNDERTOW highly ranked on your list. I enjoyed reading a number of his novels and this new publication in 2011 was a good one. I saw that he also has a decent website at
    Dan J. Marlowe is a new one on me, so I will give this one a read too.

  8. Desmond Cory's a new discovery for me, Edward, but I've fallen for his Johnny Fedora novels in a big way. Look out for much more on Cory and Fedora imminently – and indeed on Dan J. Marlowe.