Well, well, well, the less said about this past year that isn’t book related the better I think. Without dwelling on what has undoubtedly been one of the most emotional, upsetting and generally bizarre years we have all ever experienced, I hope that this round up finds you safe and well, and that you are not in too dark a place mentally and emotionally after the loss and stress that you may have experienced. My thoughts are with you…
And so to the books. And what a life saver they have been of late. At this point I would also say a big thank you to all the organizations, and authors who have made time to host online events, interviews, panels and so on throughout the year. I would say this is not only for crime fiction, but across all genres, with these once again providing moments of escape and hilarity. I would say special thanks to Bloody Scotland, Harrogate Festivals, Two Crime Writers (Steve Cavanagh, Luca Veste) and indie bookshops not only here in the UK, but across the globe, and many others, who have worked so hard to get these events online. I’ve watched writers across the world, nature specialists, illustrators, and so much more by the power of the internet and it’s been great, although inevitably missing catching up with people in the flesh at events. Thankfully, despite the weirdness around us my fellow Petrona Award judges and I chose Antti Tuomainnen’s Little Siberia (tr. David Hackston & published by Orenda Books) as the Winner of the 2020 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year being a little slice of eccentric brilliance that reflected current times so well! Thanks as always to Kat, Karen and guest judge Jake.
Although I, like many of you, have had my ups and downs with reading and blogging this year, with quite frankly at times, the concentration level of an amoeba, there have been some absolute gems this year. So much so that I have been ruminating on my Top 10 for some time now, and working out how to crowbar all the great books I’ve read into this list! So, I’m going to be sneaky. My blog- my rules. But a small diversion first. Before I get to the crime I just wanted to highlight some other books I have read and enjoyed this year, starting with The Cat and The City, by Nick Bradley and The Company Of Strangers by Awais Khan which I read as part of my really quite rubbish attempt at #20BooksofSummer this year. I also absolutely loved Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, Mitchell S. Jackson The Residue Years, Kelli Jo Ford Crooked Hallelujah, Melissa Harrison The Stubborn Light of Things, Helen MacDonald Vesper Flights ,Regina Porter The Travelers, Ayad Akhtar Homeland Elegies, Ian McGuire The Abstainer, and a host of fiction in translation- slim, well written and with satisfyingly darker undertones. I’ve pivoted a lot between crime fiction, fiction, and non fiction this year as the mood took me, and it was fun to shift the balance of my reading. Something I’m aiming to keep doing.
The Ones That Got Away…
Despite my best intentions to keep up with my blogging this year, I just wanted to draw your attention to three books that I read, I loved and then failed to actually review. First up was the first book an excellent new series by Vaseem Khan, Midnight at Malabar House featuring Persis Wadia, India’s first female detective. With Khan’s normal deft touch of weaving history with social issues, whilst never losing sight of the need for brilliant characterisation, this proved to be an incredibly punchy and intelligent opener to what will hopefully be a long running series. Likewise I loved Olivier Norek’s The Lost and the Damned, the first of a French crime series which in the spirit of brevity I would describe as like Pierre Lemaitre on speed! Gruesome killings, a breakneck pace and some interesting characters. I’m not generally a big fan of biographies but I loved Heather Martin’s biography of Lee Child The Reacher Guy ,not only because of the self deprecating and generous spirit of Child himself, but also the way that Martin so assuredly puts us into each time period and makes interesting comparisons with the life of not only her central subject, but also by using a whole host of other recognisable references. Clever and very readable…
The Top 10
(Click on the book jackets to read the whole review)
“Not only did To Cook A Bear read as a compelling tale of jealousy and murder, with its nods to early forensic techniques, but it expanded out to envelop a host of larger themes based on religion, morality, art and at its heart an enduring interconnectedness with the landscape and the changing of the seasons.”
“All manner of human life is contained within it, with people behaving badly, bravely, stupidly or nobly. You will gasp, you will laugh, you will quizzically wrinkle your brow, you will ponder the dark inner workings of Carver’s brain, but I defy you not to be swept along by this twisty, intelligent, compelling and completely weird book.”
“Sometimes I will admit, reading predominantly crime fiction can become a bit of a chore, but this book hooked me from the start with its taut prose, an impending feel of dread and unease from the outset, and a nicely inventive killing to kick things off. Then it just got even better. And darker. And more inventively murderous.”
“I thought that some of the more extended naturalistic writing was beautiful in its delivery, and afforded some time for the reader to have the grip of dark deeds loosened from time to time. When taken in unison with the sophisticated plotting, and more existential musing on truth and memory, this endeared me to this book even more, as I am always intrigued to how the crime genre can be stretched and manipulated to broaden its horizons.”
“The portrayal of Zaq’s community, and Zaq himself, with his ties of friendship and family, and the little bursts of humour that arise from this are a sheer delight, in what is overall an extremely well-plotted and meticulously planned thriller, that gathers a head of steam and ingenuity that’ll fair blow your socks off. I loved this book. Really loved it.”
“It’s a rare thing indeed for a male author to so capture the real essence of what it is to be female, how we navigate life and relationships and the particular bonds that we form be it with those closest to us, and those that we encounter in other spheres of our lives.”
(I would also include the follow up- The Big Chill, in this position, which was equally as good!)
“With its grim, unflinching plot, punctuated by moments of humour, and the acceptance of both the good and the bad, both in his characters, the period, the cultural references and the location itself, I would totally and completely recommend this, and the entire series to you all. Gritty, witty and an absolute must read.”
“Heart -pounding and heart-wrenching this book totally deserves the huge amount of praise thrust upon it so far. S. A. Cosby, on the strength of this book, and his previous work which I have also gobbled up, is destined to be a standout name in American crime fiction for some time to come, and amen to that. A damn perfect read, and very highly recommended.”
“Suffice to say as you sail along on a story that keeps you utterly gripped, there is an absolutely bobbydazzler of a reveal at the latter end of the book; unexpected, dark and beautifully done. Taking this in conjunction with the characterisation, location, and the wonderful fluidity of Wood’s writing, The Man On The Street is genuinely one of the most unusual and affecting books I have read for some time.”
Raven’s Book Of The Year : JOHN VERCHER- THREE-FIFTHS
“The reader is taken on a poignant and disturbing ride through the ills of urban America and the racial tension that has always blighted America and led to continuing division and disparity…Few books move me to tears, but there was a definite’ oh there’s something in my eye’ moment at the close of this. Three-Fifths is astonishing, important, hugely poignant and very highly recommended.”
Like other bloggers, I’m sure it’s always tricky to narrow down your Top 10 of the Year to a Top 10, so would like to include these as books that oh so nearly made the list, and definitely ones that you should seek out. So in no particular order they are… Amy Engel- The Familiar Dark, Russell Day- King Of The Crows, Iain Maitland- The Scribbler, Gabriel Bergmoser- The Hunted, Lesley Kelly- The Health Of Strangers,Rod Reynolds- Blood Red City Enjoy!
I hope you’ve also discovered some amazing books, from debut authors, established authors or just something different that has challenged, moved or entertained you. See you on the other side everyone, and fingers crossed that next year gives itself a good shake and is a better one for us all!