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Craig's Book Club Picks the Best Books of 2006

To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.

These are my favorites of the books I read in 2006 that saw their first publication that year. I'm always behind in my reading, so only 40 of the books I read in 2006 (126 at this writing) were first published in 2006.

The Ten Best 2006 Novels and Novellas, Alphabetically by Author:
(Links go to more detailed reviews.)

Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, Bust (Hard Case Crime) — Bruen and Jason Starr fit together like a married couple with complementary flaws -- all the pieces making a perfect jigsaw relationship, while still retaining those aspects that draw each author's particular cadre of followers. This makes for an absolutely pitch-black novel that ranks with the best of their peers.

Max Allan Collins, The Last Quarry (Hard Case Crime) — Hired killer Quarry's return (after a 20-year absence) results in some of the best and tightest fiction Collins has ever written — the same way that his character doesn't waste time, words, or bullets — filling barely 200 pages with the same amount of story that a less careful author would stretch to twice that length.

David Dodge, The Last Match (Hard Case Crime) — Originally written in 1974, but undiscovered until recently, David Dodge's take on the long-con story displays the easy flow of a writer who is very comfortable behind the typewriter. You don't attempt to chronicle a long, detailed period in the life of a character unless you are confident in your ability to improvise at the keys.

Pearce Hansen, Street Raised (PointBlank Press) — Hansen grew up on the streets and that experience feeds his debut novel. He tells the aftermath of one man's release from prison with unflinching, often disturbing prose that brings a much-needed dose of grit, rawness, and humanity to a genre that has gotten far too glossy, resulting in the most affecting crime novel of the year.

Adrienne Jones, The Hoax (Mundania Press) — Jones's first novel is a hugely pleasant surprise. The mythical (but astonishingly believable) plot is grounded by realistic characters (you'll think you've met them) and her own fearless delivery (she hops across genres as it fits her story), culminating in a novel for everyone from mystery and horror fans to fantasy and literary aficionados.

Evan Kuhlman (illustrated by Brendon and Brian Fraim), Wolf Boy (Shaye Areheart Books) — In a blazingly original burst of creative brilliance, first-time novelist Evan Kuhlman combines the family-grief story with the superhero comic. Panels of The Adventures of Wolf Boy (illustrated by the identical Fraim twins) are scattered throughout the text, taking this literary debut to another level that should garner Kuhlman praise and readers.

Ronald Damien Malfi, The Nature of Monsters (5 Story Walkup) — Malfi is the author of the modern gothic The Fall of Never, but this is a step in a completely different direction. His first step into literary fiction, with a portrait of a young man's attempt to rekindle a childhood friendship, recalls classic Fitzgerald while remaining firmly in the present, with a surprising finish that recasts all that came before.

Norman Partridge, Dark Harvest (Cemetery Dance Publications) — Partridge's first book for Cemetery Dance since his debut is such a huge improvement over the early fiction published in last year's Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales that it's hard to believe they were written by the same person. This is a pure Halloween story, by turns frightening and sad, scary and tragic, twisting the nostalgia of classic Bradbury with truly dark suspense.

Tom Piccirilli, Headstone City (Bantam) — Piccirilli stretches his favored "homecoming" theme to include gangsters, ghosts, and Hamlet with room left for dreams and alternate realities — there are enough layers to satisfy the most jaded reader. It's the most purely enjoyable of his novels, and a textbook example of how to use bits and pieces of old stories and still produce something fiercely original.

Matthew Warner, Eyes Everywhere (Raw Dog Screaming Press) — In only his second novel, Warner tackles the psychological downward spiral of his protagonist Charlie Fields. He tells the story from a distance, but allows the readers to make our own conclusions as to Charlie's sanity, making for an interactive read not unlike the classic Polanski films Repulsion and The Tenant.

The Five Best 2006 Anthologies and Collections, Alphabetically by Author or Editor:
(Links go to more detailed reviews.)

T.E.D. Klein, Reassuring Tales (Subterranean Press) — Never prolific, by any stretch of the imagination, Klein fills his latest (very slim) collection with his uncollected recent stories and the classic novella "The Events at Poroth Farm." He finds the strange in everyday situations and sneaks it up on you, his stories revealing new aspects of themselves as they go along.

Douglas Lain, Last Week's Apocalypse (Night Shade Books) — While I am almost surely not the target audience for this wide-ranging collection of intellectual science-fiction, I still enjoyed it a lot, mostly because Lain focuses on characters instead of ideas. Lain often portrays a character's descent into madness, but it's just as often that the world has gone mad and the protagonist just thinks he is the only one.

Joe R. Lansdale (editor), Retro Pulp Tales (Subterranean Press) — A dozen authors attempt to replicate the style of the plot-driven "pulps," with great success. The stories by F. Paul Wilson and Kim Newman are the best, but every entry (but one) shines, proving that Lansdale not only writes a good pulp-styled tale, but he also knows how to pick 'em.

David J. Schow, Havoc Swims Jaded (Subterranean Press) — Schow is a writer very comfortable in his voice who is afraid of getting too comfortable in his voice, so he continually challenges himself with little "experiments." Not all of them are successful, but his talent and skill make them entertaining, and, most importantly, since Schow doesn't want to write the same kind of story over and over, you don't have to read the same kind of story over and over.

George Zebrowski, Black Pockets and Other Dark Thoughts (Golden Gryphon) — Zebrowski's first collection of darker stories showcases a different kind of horror. Some offer fright, but more disturb. These are the real horrors that come from within, and I'm not sure the average horror fan will be grabbed by these stories. It took me some time to get attuned to the author, but those willing to experiment will be highly rewarded by his peculiar vision.

The Ten Best 2006 Novels and Novellas

The Five Best 2006 Anthologies and Collections