For all its supposed constraints, the crime fiction genre runs an impressive gamut from traditional to experimental, from dark to light, from character study to airtight plotting. It's no wonder the year's standouts are a mix of the expected and the eclectic.
David Peace's literary-minded "Tokyo Year Zero" (Knopf) is really a lengthy prose poem, its emotive power and accessibility stemming from repetition, evocative imagery and stacked one-line paragraphs that focus the eye on single words. Australian Peter Temple deservedly won Britain's most prestigious mystery award for "The Broken Shore" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), with its depiction of racial and class tensions in the Australian outback and ex-cop Joe Cashin's struggle to repair the fractures of his body and mind. "Origin" (W.W. Norton) by Diana Abu-Jaber is equal parts forensic science and literary meditation -- more concerned with the psychological underpinnings of the nature/nurture debate than gratuitous violence.
Speaking of science, Boris Starling's "Visibility" (Dutton) happens to be a crackling spy thriller set at the eve of Watson and Crick's discovery of the structure of DNA. The science is carefully layered into the prose, but it's the thick fog setting and the detective's labyrinthine investigation that elevate the book to standout status. "Ha'Penny" (Tor) by Jo Walton is also set in post-World War II Britain, but it's an alternative version that imagines a proto-fascist society after peace is brokered with Hitler. The result is an astounding blend of snobbery, class division and outright menace that makes her concocted world easily as horrific as one in which the dangers are more overt.