DE NUESTROS SOCIOS: ROBERTO AMPUERO
Tom Nolan's Favorites
The Neruda Case
By Roberto Ampuero (Riverhead)
By Benjamin Black (Henry Holt)
The Black Box
By Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
By Gillian Flynn (Crown)
By Nick Harkaway (Knopf)
By Fuminori Nakamura (Soho)
Ministers of Fire
By Mark Harril Saunders (Ohio)
By Ferdinand von Schirach (Knopf)
By Olen Steinhauer (St. Martin's)
The Twenty-Year Death
By Ariel S. Winter (Titan)
The Best of the Year in Books
Things are done more by the book in "The Black Box," Michael Connelly's latest police-procedural featuring LAPD detective Harry Bosch—not that Bosch doesn't bend the rules in pursuit of justice. In 2012, he is given the chance to reopen a case unsolved for 20 years: the killing of a female Danish photo-journalist during the 1992 L.A. riots. Bosch himself was at the scene that fatal, chaotic night and feels guilty about his failure to track down the killer. In "The Black Box" he is after justice for the victim and redemption for himself.
The defense attorney narrating the stories in "Guilt," by German author Ferdinand von Schirach, might wish to enlarge the category of "victims" to include "perpetrators." The stories are written in spare sentences (translated by Carol Brown Janeway) and packed with awful detail ("he'd heard the blows interspersed with the screams, a dull, wet sound like you hear at the butcher's"). Bleak, horrific, poignant, even (sometimes) comic—there is no predicting what turn a tale may take.
"The Thief," by the Japanese author Fuminori Nakamura, brings to mind Highsmith, Mishima and Dostoevsky. The unnamed narrator is a Tokyo pickpocket who approaches his craft in an almost abstract manner—except for the excitement he feels. Life becomes more menacing when he is drawn into the crew of an evil boss. As translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates, Mr. Nakamura's narrative is, in its minimalist way, tense and chilling.
Being in charge of one's fate is a driving concern in Gillian Flynn's tricky, twist-filled "Gone Girl," told by the alternating voices of Nick and Amy Dunne, a Missouri couple each with a convincing way of conveying alleged truth. Amy disappears the day of the Dunnes' fifth wedding anniversary, leaving evidence of her demise at the hands of Nick. As he struggles to prove his innocence, he gains painful insights about himself and his vanished spouse. The dueling protagonists in "Gone Girl" raise the unreliable-narrator bar Everest-high.
There is uncertainty as well in Olen Steinhauer's brain-teasing "An American Spy," which ends (for now) a globe-spanning saga begun in the author's previous two best sellers. Retired CIA man Alan Drummond, agonizing over the assassination by Chinese counterparts of several U.S. agents, plans a rogue retaliatory mission. It's not long before trouble comes calling in the form of a shrewd Chinese spymaster. The action spins from Manhattan to London to China, and the mysteries multiply—most of them cleverly solved by book's end.
In Mark Harril Saunders's gripping first novel, "Ministers of Fire," tensions and ambiguities induce moral guilt and mortal dread. Ex-CIA station chief Lucius Burling, trying to live down a disastrous Afghanistan venture, is forced once more to become a man of action when word leaks of a dissident Chinese scientist eager to make friends with the West. Is the approach genuine or a fake? Mr. Saunders makes his large cast of international characters come to life with quick strokes. "Ministers of Fire" deserves a place next to the works of such masters as Charles McCarry and Robert Stone.
Global peril is put to a more rococo purpose in Nick Harkaway's "Angelmaker," a head-spinning cliffhanger that reads a bit like a "Harry Potter" book for grown-ups. Joe Spork, an antique-clock repairman in modern London, is the son of a gangster and the grandson of legendary inventors of world-class, world-shaping gizmos. Events conspire to make Joe aware of a threat to the planet's existence, as well as a slim chance for survival. The latter depends on Spork leading a coalition of secretive aesthetes, covert shape-shifters, underground criminals and humanist robot-bees in battle. It would be a shame if no movie were made from this glorious piece of kaleidoscope-fiction.