Raven’s Yearly Round-Up and Top 5 Crime Reads 2015

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)As the end of 2015 approaches, it is time to look back in awe and wonder at some of the books that have thrilled and entertained the Raven over the last twelve months. With approximately 125 crime books read, and not far off 100 reviews posted, this year has heralded a bumper crop of exciting crime reads, A slew of brilliant debuts including Oscar de Muriel- The Strings of Murder, Tom Callaghan’s The Killing Winter, Ragnar Jonasson’s Snowblind and David Young’s Stasi Child, and great new offerings from established names such as Mari Hannah, Steve Mosby, William Shaw, Simon Toyne and Malcolm Mackay have been a joy to read.  So here are the highlights and lowlights of the year… 

THE 40-PAGE RULE

With the constant influx of books I receive as a blogger, full time bookseller, and my day off job as a volunteer in a charity book shop, there is never a shortage of reading material accumulated in the teetering to be read mountain! Hence the need for the 40-page rule. If a book has failed to ignite my interest within this page count, I’m afraid it is discarded, passed on to others, or fulfils it’s charitable duty as a donation to the shop mentioned above. The parameters for a book’s untimely fate vary- clichéd, overwritten, one-dimensional characters, too much similarity to another book, obvious plot turns or killers, and if anyone mentions someone opening a door in their underwear, all hope is lost. I usually manage to read nearer 200 books in a year so a fairly hefty count of 42 non-starters have impeded my reading. Unusually for someone known for their bluntness, in the good spirit of Christmas I’m naming no names, but rest assured your books have found a good home elsewhere…

THE MOST HYPED CRIME GENRE OF THE YEAR

the-girl-on-the-train-uk-e1420761445402It seems that only by dwelling at the outer reaches of the Arctic Circle could you escape the hype surrounding The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. And yet the Raven was unmoved by the sheer intensity of the praise heaped upon this book on its release, and the ensuing avalanche of ‘domestic noir’ thrillers that it helped spawn. There again I didn’t like Gone Girl either. I am the domestic noir Grinch. Enough already.

WORDS FAILED ME (BUT IN A GOOD WAY)

litten2As a non-professional reviewer and a casual blogger, sometimes a book utterly defeats any talent for reviewing that you believe you possess! One such book this year was Russ Litten’s Kingdom. Having waxed lyrical about Litten’s previous book Swear Down which was terrific, I was incredibly excited to receive Kingdom to review. I was totally in its thrall from start to finish, but when it came to the depth of this reading experience, the majesty of the language, the emotional intensity, and sheer cleverness of the whole affair, words defeated me. Completely. Too marvellous for words.

TURNING MY BACK ON CRIME (OCCASIONALLY)

It may be hard to believe, but yes, I do quite often read books that are not crime. Yes really. So three stand-out fiction reads for me this year would be Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone, where the voice of the late lamented John Lennon sang from every page, The Reader On The 6.47 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, a beautiful French novel with echoes of Patrick Modiano, and Glenn Taylor’s A Hanging At Cinder Bottom, an American writer who never disappoints in his characterisation and crackling dialogue.

And so to the awards ceremony….cue fanfare….and in a break from tradition not all of these were nominated as books of the month at the time, but have stayed in my head, popping up in unguarded moments…

RAVEN’S TOP 5 BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Click on the book jackets to read the reviews.

5. KARIM MISKE-ARAB JAZZ

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4. DOUG JOHNSTONE-THE JUMP

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3. MATTHEW FRANK-IF I SHOULD DIE

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2. ANTTI TUOMAINEN- DARK AS MY HEART

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1. JAX MILLER- FREEDOM’S CHILD

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In a strange instance of premonition, I ended my review of Freedom’s Child saying that it would possibly be my book of the year. Lean prose, a laconic and rhythmical style and an utterly compelling central character in the shape of the emotionally damaged Freedom. A brilliant and unforgettable debut.

 

 

Blog Tour- Paula Hawkins- The Girl On The Train-Extract

 

GOTT blog tourCiting Zoe Heller’s Notes On A Scandal and Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series as influences on her own writing, Paula Hawkin’s debut psychological thriller, justifies a place besides both. It is an intelligent and unnerving story that cleverly manipulates our feeling towards the central narrator, Rachel who, struggling with her own mental and emotional turmoil, finds herself embroiled in a murder. As the story progresses and other connections with Rachel are made in the course of the investigation, Hawkins delights in wrong-footing the reader, with a slow and effective build-up of tension. As Hawkins says, the book is “about what happens when you peel back the veneer of everyday life and discover something dark and sinister underneath,” and The Girl On The Train delivers this on every level. An excellent addition to the British psychological crime stable, and the current trend for domestic noir. A welcome distraction from that dreary commute and here’s an extract to tempt you further…

RACHEL

Friday, 5 July 2013

Morning

THERE IS A PILE OF clothing on the side of the train tracks. Light-blue

cloth – a shirt, perhaps – jumbled up with something dirty white.

It’s probably rubbish, part of a load fly-tipped into the scrubby

little wood up the bank. It could have been left behind by the

engineers who work this part of the track, they’re here often

enough. Or it could be something else. My mother used to tell me

that I had an overactive imagination; Tom said that too. I can’t

help it, I catch sight of these discarded scraps, a dirty T-shirt or a

lonesome shoe, and all I can think of is the other shoe, and the

feet that fitted into them.

The train jolts and scrapes and screeches back into motion, the

little pile of clothes disappears from view and we trundle on towards

London, moving at a brisk jogger’s pace. Someone in the seat behind

me gives a sigh of helpless irritation; the 8.04 slow train from

Ashbury to Euston can test the patience of the most seasoned

commuter. The journey is supposed to take fifty-four minutes, but it

rarely does: this section of the track is ancient, decrepit, beset with

signalling problems and never-ending engineering works.

The train crawls along; it judders past warehouses and water

towers, bridges and sheds, past modest Victorian houses, their

backs turned squarely to the track.

CHAPTER

11

My head leaning against the carriage window, I watch these

houses roll past me like a tracking shot in a film. I see them as

others do not; even their owners probably don’t see them from

this perspective. Twice a day, I am offered a view into other lives,

just for a moment. There’s something comforting about the sight

of strangers safe at home.

Someone’s phone is ringing, an incongruously joyful and

upbeat song. They’re slow to answer, it jingles on and on around

me. I can feel my fellow commuters shift in their seats, rustle their

newspapers, tap at their computers. The train lurches and sways

around the bend, slowing as it approaches a red signal. I try not to

look up, I try to read the free newspaper I was handed on my way

into the station, but the words blur in front of my eyes, nothing

holds my interest. In my head I can still see that little pile of

clothes lying at the edge of the track, abandoned.

Evening

The pre-mixed gin and tonic fizzes up over the lip of the can as I

bring it to my mouth and sip. Tangy and cold, the taste of my first

ever holiday with Tom, a fishing village on the Basque coast in

2005. In the mornings we’d swim the half-mile to the little island

in the bay, make love on secret hidden beaches; in the afternoons

we’d sit at a bar drinking strong, bitter gin and tonics, watching

swarms of beach footballers playing chaotic 25-a-side games on

the low-tide sands.

I take another sip, and another; the can’s already half empty but

it’s OK, I have three more in the plastic bag at my feet. It’s Friday,

so I don’t have to feel guilty about drinking on the train. TGIF. The

fun starts here.

It’s going to be a lovely weekend, that’s what they’re telling us.

Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies. In the old days we might have

driven to Corly Wood with a picnic and the papers, spent all

afternoon lying on a blanket in dappled sunlight, drinking wine…