With my now usual lack of time and organisation, output on the blog this year has been, well, quite frankly, pathetic. Having the double whammy of that flu thing the beginning of the year and now having had my first dance with Covid, it’s all been a bit grim. Although I’ve kept ahead of my reading, reviewing has rather fallen by the wayside. So in the interests of keeping you all with a modicum of interest in my blog, I give you… drumroll… a round up! It is as you suspect, a little round up of some of my 2023 reading highlights to date…
Callum McSorley- Squeaky Clean set around the nefarious goings on in a Glasgow car wash was an absolute blast, and only strengthens the Scottish reputation for producing exceedingly good crime thrillers, tinged with laconic wit, and dark, dark, humour. There’s gangsters, a maverick female detective, the wonderfully named Alison McCoist, and a gritty, pull-no-punches storyline that had me laughing and gripped in equal measure. It reads like a brilliant mash up of Irvine Welsh and Alan Parks, and if you love your Scottish crime edgy, viciously funny and completely engaging, I can’t recommend this one highly enough.
Likewise, Elliot F. Sweeney- The Next To Die absolutely blew me away. With a writing style reminiscent of Jake Arnott, and Mark Timlin this London set thriller featuring a damaged ex-police officer, was incredibly dark, featuring themes of suicide, homophobia and psychological trauma, but compounded by such strength of characterisation that you become quickly and utterly invested in these characters and the darkness that surrounds them. It’s highly emotive, despairing and relentlessly bleak, but after the rain comes the rainbow, and there are moments of clarity and resolution for the central protagonist in particular that sparks a certain hope in the course of the seemingly impenetrable darkness of their lives. A definite contender in my books of the year.
Another book that I can’t praise highly enough is, Clemence Michallon- The Quiet Tenant and it is without question, one of the best debuts I have ever read. We follow the story of Rachel, who is kept against her will, in the home of a seemingly upstanding widower, Aidan Thomas and father of one, but who is in actuality a prolific serial killer. This plot synopsis does little to actually encompass the scope and power of this book, as we bear witness to the stories of Rachel, Aidan’s daughter, Cecilia and Emily, a local woman who becomes increasingly pulled under Aidan’s spell, with no comprehension of what lies behind the facade of this man who presents two very different faces to the world. The writing is hypnotic, emotive and utterly mesmerising, as Michallon explores the nature of free will, suppression, love and betrayal through this incredibly powerful group of characters. She chooses to not completely demonise Aidan in the reader’s eyes, but achieves a remarkable balance in our perception of this man, and the power he wields over these three different female characters. I love fiction that challenges my comprehension of the world, and this book does just that, as we see this dark and dangerous man move amongst the community without compunction or discovery, and the contrasting experiences of, and feelings for this man displayed by Rachel, Cecilia and Emily. It’s clever, thought-provoking, and a book that will challenge and immerse you completely. Highly recommended.
Next up is Katy Brent- How To Kill Men and Get Away With It which is an absolute hoot. If you loved Sweetpea by C.J. Skuse or My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, there is much to enjoy here, balancing its humour and slight sense of shallow tosh, with a serious message about the vilification of, and violence towards women in society that we navigate every day. A social media influencer finds herself unwittingly, and then rather more deliciously wittingly, meting out violent justice on a string of handsy, obnoxious and dangerous men, with predictably bloody results, that for all their cartoonish departures, reinforces Brent’s central message. Kitty is a wonderfully no-nonsense character, and you will be rooting for her throughout. Guaranteed. Frank, funny and self deprecating, this is a very enjoyable romp indeed.
Another book attracting a huge amount of positive praise is Jo Callaghan- In The Blink Of An Eye an interesting concept novel looking at how AI (an Artificially Intelligent Detective Entity) can work in tandem with modern police detection to achieve greater results, and allocate precious time and resources back to the police force. DCS Kat Frank is seconded to work with Lock, the AI entity, which leads to an interesting dynamic, of how human and machine can comfortably work together, share resources, and more importantly exhibit differing, but by no means non-compatible, emotional and mental responses to evidence and potential suspects. I found this absolutely fascinating, as Frank and Lock navigate the complexities of a highly emotive case, and how one another learns to be a little more machine or a little more human. I thought the depiction of Frank’s grief as a recent widow was incredibly moving, and captured perfectly the sudden waves of grief and emotion that circle around and then invade the consciousness of the bereaved, be it weeks, months or years on. I was a little disappointed that the story took a really obvious turn as it progressed that I thought could have been avoided, but an impressive and refreshing debut overall.
There seems to be a bit of a fashion now for female serial killers that don’t feel a sliver of remorse (just read Blood Sugar and also How to Kill Your Family recently). It can start feeling a bit repetitive. Interesting that you enjoyed The Quiet Tenant so much – I heard it highly recommended by Victoria Selman as well, so I got it – and could not finish it. Maybe I need to give it another go – but 1/3 of the way in, I hated it.
Hi Marina! Luckily I’ve not read too many of the female revenge books as yet, but you’re quite right, because there seem to be quite a slew at the moment. It’s good to agree to disagree on The Quiet Tenant as I appreciate it’s not for everyone. A difficult subject sensitively handled I thought. Hope you pick it up again at some point xx
My wishlist just grew by 4 – I’ve already got How To Kill Men…
That’s so good to hear Claire- thank you! My work here is done 😂