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Best novels of 2008

The Monitor’s annual gift guide to the best fiction books of 2008.

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A Most Wanted Man
By John Le Carré (Scribner, 322 pp., $28)
Spies, the “war on terror,” and personal failings converge in John le Carré’s latest thriller set in Hamburg and starring a Chechen refugee smuggled into town in strikingly murky circumstances. (10/4/08)

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Exit Music
By Ian Rankin (Little, Brown & Co., 432 pp., $24.99)
After 21 years, Edgar Award-winning author Ian Rankin wraps up his popular series featuring cranky Scottish inspector John Rebus in a story that finds Rebus with another dead body on his hands – a Russian dissident – and only 10 days to solve the case before mandatory retirement. Rankin offers his hero a jazz riff of a swan song, with his excellent character studies and ambling, knotted plots balanced by a certain wistfulness. (10/10/08)

Driftless
By David Rhodes (Milkweed, 429 pp., $24)
After three decades of silence, David Rhodes pulled off one of the biggest publishing surprises of the year by resurfacing with this rewarding, patient, surely written portrait of life in rural Wisconsin. “Driftless” follows the stories of about a half-dozen residents of the tiny town of Words, Wis., “a place so rural God left his shoes there.” (10/20/08)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
By Muriel Barbery (Europa, 325 pp., $15)
A young girl and a concierge find an unlikely kinship in this novel about the wealthy residents of a Parisian apartment building. Originally published in France last year, this book was a phenomenon in France, winning the 2007 French Booksellers Prize. (10/20/08)

Sea of Poppies
By Amitav Ghosh (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 515 pp., $26)
Bestselling author Amitav Ghosh delights with an absorbing tale, rich in detail, of the motley international crew assembled aboard a 19th-century British trading ship. (10/28/08)

A Mercy
By Toni Morrison
(Knopf, 176 pp., $23.95)
Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison’s new novel uses the stories of four early American women to examine the foundations of slavery and the legacy of abandonment. (11/4/08)

Serena
By Ron Rash (Ecco Press, 384 pp., $24.95)
Lady Macbeth has nothing on Serena, the ruthless protagonist of this Depression-
era story set in the Smoky Mountains. (11/12/08)

I See You Everywhere
By Julia Glass (Pantheon, 304 pp., $24.95)
National Book Award-winner Julia Glass’s elegant new novel examines the complex, competitive love between sisters. (11/18/08)

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