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BEST BOOKS OF 2011

Crime, war, and laughs unintended

by Mark Schreiber

Bill James, a well-known baseball authority, deviates from sport coverage to introduce some of America’s most celebrated true crime cases in “Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence.

Many of the cases — which include Lizzie Borden, O.J. Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey — were long ago and no longer part of the collective public memory, so the book is an important omnibus of how sensational stories have evolved in terms of media coverage and public interest.

The sole flaw is the author’s suggested solution to the 1963 Kennedy assassination, an unnecessary digression that fails to convince.

Now, suppose Tom Clancy were to situate his next novel on the India-Pakistan frontier, and you’ll get an idea of what is set to transpire in 2012. In “Line of Control: A Thriller on the Coming War in Asia,” Mainak Dhar serves up acts of terrorism, sectarian violence, international intrigues, espionage, steamy romance, tank battles, aerial dogfights over Kashmir and naval engagements in the Indian Ocean.

At just $2.99 via Amazon Kindle, this has got to be one of the best value reads of the year.

John F. Dobbyn’s “Neon Dragon” manages to be quite funny — but not always intentionally.

In it, Michael Knight, a young attorney of mixed WASP-Hispanic heritage, is retained to defend the son of an African-American judge against a charge of homicide, and soon finds himself taking on an organized crime syndicate in Boston’s Chinatown.

The murder appears to have links to a 10-year-old arson case that involved jury tampering, going all the way up to the vested interests of Boston oligarchs and Massachusetts politicians.

Dobbyn literally throws in everything but the kitchen sink, shoehorning his Harvard-educated protagonist into a role normally performed by a hard-boiled private eye.