I read more than five books (not to mention several scripts) in August, but these were the best:
1. Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, THE STRAIN. First in a projected trilogy, this book sets the stage with a nice mix of vampire tradition (the box of earth, the human minion) and modern ultra-realism. Nothing romantic or glamorous about these vampires: they're carriers of an ancient virus that, once unleashed, threatens the entire human race. I found myself setting this book down at times because it made me too edgy, not in a "whee, thrill ride" way but in a grim, tense way that had me wondering where I keep my knives.
2. Spencer Quinn, THEREBY HANGS A TAIL. This book won't be out until early next year; it's the sequel to the enchanting DOG ON IT, which introduced canine detective Chet and his partner, human PI Bernie Little. This time out, Chet and Bernie search for a champion show dog and her mistress, who have been kidnapped. The story takes a dark turn and has moments of real suspense, but once again Chet is the smartest and most lovable dog in crime fiction.
3. Shane Dunphy, WEDNESDAY'S CHILD. I ordered this book on the recommendation of a friend the author and I have in common -- it has not yet been published in the US. I picked it up from the post office, opened the book to the first page, started reading, and could not stop until the book was finished. It's been a long time since I was so completely swept into the world of a book, and this one is nonfiction, a narrative of three cases in Dunphy's early career as a child protection officer in Ireland. Horrifying, heartbreaking, inspiring in equal measure.
4. Rex Stout, SOME BURIED CAESAR. This is the "one book" being read for this year's Bouchercon, and happened to be one I hadn't read before. Nero Wolfe leaves the comfort of his New York apartment to show his orchids at an agricultural exhibition, and is drawn into a feud over a prize bull that ends in murder. This is also the book that introduces Lily Rowan, Archie Goodwin's love interest. Smart, funny, and a good choice -- a rare book with something to offer fans of every crime subgenre.
5. Theresa Schwegel, LAST KNOWN ADDRESS. Chicago sex crimes detective Sloane Pearson hunts a sexual predator in another fine cop story from Theresa Schwegel (who is a friend and has been a client). I admire the way Theresa keeps pushing herself as an author, even when it's not entirely successful. This book uses shifting points of view and present-tense narration to keep the reader off-balance and on edge -- which it does, but also kept me from engaging as completely with Sloane as I wanted to. The self-destructive protagonist is a convention of the genre, but Sloane's self-destructive tendencies are very different from the average; she's a fascinating character, and one I'd like to see in another book.