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Final word on the year’s best reading

Okinawan music rhapsodized, bloody battles retold, thrilling tales unleashed and Japan's gloom exposed — our favorite books of 2010

by Mark Schreiber

Over the past 12 months I’ve been refamiliarizing myself with Swedish mystery fiction.

THE MAN FROM BEIJING, by Henning Mankell. Knopf, 384 pp., $25.95 (hardcover)

Since the early 1970s, I’d been a big fan of the husband-wife team of Maj Sjowall and Per Walloo, whose “The Laughing Policeman” won an Edgar Award for best mystery in 1971.

In “The Man from Beijing,” Henning Mankell contrasts the liberal socialism of Sweden with the legalistic variety in China. The narrative swings from the obsession of a Chinese man for vengeance against the 19th- century tormenter of his ancestor to competition for the Third World’s resources.

The book’s portrayal of a megalomaniac member of the Chinese Politburo smacks just a bit too much of Yellow Peril; overall, the book was a disappointment.

THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson. Knopf, 576 pp., $27.95 (hardcover)

On the other hand, the late Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, beginning with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was riveting, prompting me to order the film version on DVD. Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative reporter headed for prison after being judged guilty of libel, finds an unlikely rescuer in Lisbeth Salander, a pierced and tattooed Goth with a brilliant mind.

Salander all but declares war on the establishment, and by the third book, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” even Sweden’s government must confront a major scandal.

9 GOLD BULLETS, by Christopher G. Moore. Heaven Lake Press, 365 pp. (paper)

Next comes Thailand, where crime fiction continues to enjoy a tremendous boom. In addition to Christopher G. Moore’s newest, “9 Gold Bullets,” a short story anthology titled “Bangkok Noir” will be published early next year.

Finally, Simon & Schuster is about to release “Dead Zero,” the latest work by Stephen Hunter, creator of the popular series about former U.S. Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger.

The story involves intrigues between rogue civilian contractors (read mercenaries) and the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and for sheer thrills runs rings around Tom Clancy’s books.

Mark Schreiber is a passionate reader and collector of mystery and thriller fiction set in Asia.