My Top Ten Favorite Novels of 2022



These are my favorite novels published in 2022. I make no effort to read a bunch of books I SHOULD read or which would make anyone else's top ten. Also, there are no non-fiction or story collections.


The Lioness 

by Chris Bohjalian

Tanzania, 1964. When Katie Barstow, A-list actress, and her new husband, David Hill, decide to bring their Hollywood friends to the Serengeti for their honeymoon, they envision giraffes gently eating leaves from the tall acacia trees, great swarms of wildebeests crossing the Mara River, and herds of zebra storming the sandy plains. Their glamorous guests—including Katie’s best friend, Carmen Tedesco, and Terrance Dutton, the celebrated Black actor who stars alongside Katie in the highly controversial film “Tender Madness”—will spend their days taking photos, and their evenings drinking gin and tonics back at camp, as the local Tanzanian guides warm water for their baths. The wealthy Americans expect civilized adventure: Fresh ice from the kerosene-powered ice maker, dinners of cooked gazelle meat, and plenty of stories to tell over lunch back on Rodeo Drive.

"God they’d christened themselves the lions of Hollywood at the wedding, and raised champagne to the idea. The seven of them, minus Katie and David, who were already in Paris, had greeted each other that way, half kidding but also a little smug, when they’d rendezvoused at the airport in L.A. a week later. The movie mags even called them that when they wrote about the safari: the lions of Hollywood."

What Katie and her glittering entourage do not expect is this: A kidnapping gone wrong, their guides bleeding out in the dirt, and a team of Russian mercenaries herding them into Land Rovers, guns to their heads. As the powerful sun gives way to night, the gunmen shove them into abandoned huts and Katie Barstow, Hollywood royalty, prays for a simple thing: To see the sun rise one more time.
The best thing about this novel is the development of the relationships between the characters, both before and after the attack.
I have learned to give Chris Bohjalian a chance even when the subject and synopsis don't always intrigue me. I am rarely disappointed.


Dream Team 

by David Baldacci

1953 LA. Private investigator and World War II veteran Aloysius Archer intends to ring in the New Year with an old friend, aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb interrupts to hire Archer. After mysterious phone calls, the same car outside her house, and a bloody knife in her sink, Eleanor fears for her life. A dead body turns up inside of Eleanor’s home, then Eleanor disappears. To find both the murderer and Eleanor, Archer asks for help from Liberty and from his partner Willie Dash. The investigation takes him from mob-ridden Las Vegas to glamorous Hollywood to the darkest corners of Los Angeles, a city where beautiful faces can belong to cutthroat schemers and cops can be more corrupt than criminals, and powerful people who might have kidnapped his client may kill Archer if he stays on their trail. .
This novel is the third in the Archer series by Baldacci who has several different series including the King & Maxwell series, and series featuring John Puller, a military investigator; Will Robie, a government assassin; Amos Decker, a former NFL player hired by the FBI, who obtained photographic memory and synethesia from a blow to the head; and Atlee Pine, a female FBI agent in search of her sister kidnapped when both were children.
Those other series are all set primarily in the present. Aloysius Archer is a WWII vet and former inmate of a California state prison. I sense Baldacci enjoys the shift to a more historical setting where noir sensibilities are more naturally invoked. Archer himself is a fascinating study of a flawed man with a checkered past but a strong sense of moral responsibility.


One Step Too Far 

by Lisa Gardner

Frankie Elkin, finder of lost souls, most often children, and most often in urban environments, is sent linto the woods in search of a young man lost in National forest--and the shocking truth about why he went missing in the first place. Law enforcement has abandoned the search, but a crew of people led by the young man's father are still looking. Sensing a father's desperation, Frankie agrees to help, but soon sees that a missing person isn't all that's wrong here. And when more people start to vanish, Frankie realizes she's up against something very dark--and she's running out of time.
Gardner, a bit like Baldacci has several varied protagonists who carry her mutliple series, many often crossover. Quincy & Rainey, FBI profilers; Detective D.D. Warren; and State Trooper Tessa Leoni are all tied to their official duties. Frankie Elkin is a more self-reliant character with her own code of conduct guided more by her concern for those suffering the loss than any rules or procedures. She also prides herself on her candid assessments for success so they know she may not be bringing back a live body.

Gilded Mountain

by Kate Manning

In the early 1900s, Sylvie Pelletier, a young teen, recounts leaving her family’s snowbound mountain cabin to work in a manor house for the Padgetts, owners of the marble-mining company that employs her father and dominates the town of Moonstone, Colorado. Sharp-eyed Sylvie is awed by the luxury around her; fascinated by her employer, the charming “Countess” Inge, and confused by the erratic affections of Jasper, the bookish heir to the family fortune. Her fairy-tale ideas take a dark turn when she realizes the Padgetts’ lofty philosophical talk is at odds with the unfair labor practices that have enriched them. Their servants, the Gradys, formerly enslaved people, have long known this to be true and are making plans to form a utopian community on the Colorado prairie.

Outside the manor walls, the town is roiling with discontent. A handsome union organizer, who also shows an interest in Sylvie, enlists the help of labor leader Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, in trying to stir the quarry workers to action. The editor of the local newspaper—a bold woman who takes Sylvie on as an apprentice—is publishing the truth about the Padgett Company. Sylvie navigates the different worlds and struggles to find her way amid conflicting loyalties. When the harsh winter brings tragedy, Sylvie decides to act.
The labor movement, especially in the rural industries of farming, mining, amd millwork, is often purposely ignored in history course in the United States. Here, Manning does a fantastic job of relating the era and conditions through the fascinating story of a young woman coming into her own learning harsh lessons of life, love, and survival.


The Runaway 

by Nick Petrie

Former Marine Peter Ash spent eight years in Iran and Afghanistan searching buildings for insurgents and now, is fighting a condition where he has trouble staying indoors without feeling a "white static", a panic and claustrophobia which is almost crippling. While driving through northern Nebraska he encounters a young pregnant woman alone on a gravel road, next to a dead car. He offers her a lift, but what begins as an act of kindness turns into a deadly cat-and-mouse chase across lonely highways with the woman’s vicious ex-cop husband hot on their trail. The pregnant woman has seen something she was never meant to see, but protecting her might prove to be more than Peter can handle.

To save the woman and himself, Peter must use everything he has learned during his time as a Marine, including his knowledge of human nature, to escape a ruthless killer with instincts and skills to match—and perhaps exceed—Peter’s own.
Nick Petrie's Ash character seems like a familiar character readers have encountered in many other intrepid loner stories, but he is much more nuanced than a stereotypical replica. He is a bit more damaged, less directed and more in search of a normal life. He has combat experience and has been schooled in self-defense, but is far from invincible and at times, is not even more formidible than his adversaries. I admire his efforts to overcome and also admire Petrie's craft in bringing such a complex and compelling character to life.

The Wheel of Doll 

by Jonathan Ames

Although badly scarred and down to his last kidney after the previous caper, Hank Doll, no longer a licensed P.I., now going by his given name "Happy" is back in business. When a beguiling young woman turns up at his door, it’s Doll’s past that comes knocking. Mary DeAngelo is searching for her estranged mother, Ines Candle, a troubled woman, ten years his senior, Doll once loved. The last he’d seen her she’d been a near suicide, arms slit like envelopes. Although she survived, she vanished shortly thereafter. Now, Mary claims Ines is alive and has recently made contact, messaging her on Facebook and calling her from a burner phone, only to disappear once again. Although he and his psychoanalyst think it may be a bad idea, Doll takes the case, wanting to see Ines again. But as the investigation deepens, there are questions he can’t shake. What’s led the flighty Ines to reappear? Is Mary only relaying half the truth? And who is Mary’s strange and mysterious husband?
This is worthy follow-up to Ames' previous Doll book, but Doll is a bit different in this one, less flippant and attempting to bvecome more grounded. He is still dedicated to his beloved half-Chihuahua half-Terrier, George. Although Doll is trying to settle down a bit, this episode in his life still packs a wallop.


Sierra Six 

by Mark Greaney

Before he was the Gray Man, Court Gentry was Sierra Six, the junior member of a CIA action team. In their first mission they took out a terrorist leader, but at a terrible price, a woman Court cared for. Years have passed and now The Gray Man is on a supposedly routine mission when he sees a ghost: the long-dead terrorist, remarkably energetic for a dead man. A decade may have gone by but the Gray Man hasn't changed. He isn't going to leave a job unfinished or a blood debt unpaid.
As a religious reader of the Gray Man novels, I found this one a welcome diversion as Greaney tells the story jumping backwards and forwards in time to show how a certain episode in Court Gentry's past played such crucial role in this current adventure. This one filled a bit more of the Gray Man's backstory while keeping his present in perpetual tension.

Hidden Pictures 

by Jason Rekulak

Mallory Quinn, a former track star with a scholarship who is sidetracked by injury and addiction, is fresh out of rehab when she takes a job as a babysitter for Ted and Caroline Maxwell looking after five-year-old son, Teddy. She is surprised how much she loves the job. She has her own guest house, goes out for nightly runs, and has the stability she craves. And she bonds with Teddy, a sweet, shy boy who is never without his sketchbook and pencil. His drawings are the usual fare: trees, rabbits, balloons. But one day, he draws something different: a man in a forest, dragging a woman’s lifeless body. Teddy’s artwork becomes increasingly sinister, his stick figures evolve into sketches well beyond the ability of any five-year-old., and he draws them with his door closed when he should be napping. Mallory begins to wonder if these are glimpses of a long-unsolved murder on the property and if paranormal may be at work.
This was a fascinating, original story that kept me second-guessing the seemingly supernatural elements with enough possible explanations to keep up both the wonder and the intrigue. I always enjoy a wrap-up where the explanations are important to finishing a   well-plotted story. In my opnion, Rekulak was successful in pulling this one off.


Blown by the Same Wind 

by John Straley

Things in the sleepy fishing town of Cold Storage, Alaska, are changing. It’s the summer of 1968; the men are wearing their hair long, the Vietnam War is at its height, and multiple assassinations have gripped the country. But some things remain the same. Ellie’s bar is still the place to catch up on the town gossip, and there’s a lot to talk about, from the boys who have returned from the war (and the ones who haven’t), to the robberies that are plaguing the locals, to the new guy in a famous monk from Kentucky.Ellie, herself a fugitive of sorts, is curious about this “Brother Louis,” and worries about his motives, but he seems harmless enough. However, when a handful of other outsiders arrive to town and start poking around the bar and asking questions, Ellie begins to have reservations. Have they followed this mysterious monk, rumored to be the famous author Thomas Merton, to Cold Storage? And what is it that they want, particularly the inept FBI agent with the strange Boston Corbett? Inspired by assassination conspiracy theories, the life of Thomas Merton, and the changing tide of the ’60s, this novel is a coming-of-age story for a major character and the town of Cold Storage itself.
I am a fan of Straley's Cecil Younger series and an even bigger fan of the Cold Storage, Alaska series which all tend to be a little cock-eyed and somewhat surreal. I would highly recommend reading them in order. They is a significant amount of time between each and having some familiarity with the characters and the place might add some nuance. However, I read them in a willy-nilly fashion and it worked out okay for me, but then I tend to like how off-beat the stories and characters were. Straley's style is to hold quite bit under wraps and letting exposition out a little at a time as needed.


Sleepwalk 

by Dan Chaon

Will Bear, is a man with so many aliases that he simply thinks of himself as the Barely Blur. At fifty years old, he’s been living off the grid for over half his life. He’s never had a real job, never paid taxes, never been in a committed relationship. A good-natured henchman with a complicated and lonely past and an LSD microdosing problem, he spends his time hopscotching across state lines in his beloved camper van, running sometimes shady, often dangerous errands for a powerful and ruthless operation he’s never troubled himself to learn too much about. He has lots of connections, but no true ties. His longest relationships are with an old rescue dog with posttraumatic stress, and a childhood friend as deeply entrenched in the underworld as he is, who, lately, he’s less and less sure he can trust. living and operating out of his camper, the Guiding Star. His one companion is his dog, Flip.

Out of the blue, one of his many burner phones heralds a call from a twenty-year-old woman claiming to be his biological daughter, Cammie. She says she’s the product of one of his long-ago sperm donations; he’s half certain she’s AI. She needs his help. She’s entrenched in a widespread and nefarious plot involving Will’s employers, and continuing to have any contact with her increasingly fuzzes the line between the people Will is working for and the people he’s running from. Cammie tells Blur she suspects his father is a cult leader named Harland Jengling, who has fathered many and had embryos frozen. She explains there is a cult whose agenda is to create a race of docile, strong humans – in the mold of Blur – to function as a labor force in the future, when there will be a superior race of disembodied humans who exist solely as minds.
If an author can make me care about a character, even a little, I am often willing to go on a journey with that character even if both I and that character appear to have not much idea where it is we are going.  That was surely the case for me when I joined Will on his road trip through a worn and damaged America which is most likely not too far in the future from our current present.  Although upon finishing the novel, I found the finale to be a less than satisfying.  On further thought, I have gone along with it the same way I went along on the ride.

Honorable Mention:

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Racing the Light by Robert Crais

Every Cloak Rolled in Blood by James Lee Burke

Don't Know Tough by Eli Cranor