My favourite books of 2015 are a varied bunch. They are as follows in no particular order and mainly as I have remembered them.
Pleasantville by Attica Locke (Serpent's Tail)
It's 1996, Bill Clinton has just been re-elected and in Houston a mayoral election is looming. As usual the campaign focuses on Pleasantville -- the African-American neighbourhood of the city that has swung almost every race since it was founded to house a growing black middle class in 1949. Axel Hathorne, former chief of police and the son of Pleasantville's founding father Sam Hathorne, was the clear favourite, all set to become Houston's first black mayor. But his lead is slipping thanks to a late entrant into the race -- Sandy Wolcott, a defence attorney riding high on the success of a high-profile murder trial. And then, just as the competition intensifies, a girl goes missing, apparently while canvassing for Axel. And when her body is found, Axel's nephew is charged with her murder. Sam is determined that Jay Porter defends his grandson. And even though Jay is tired of wading through other people's problems, he suddenly finds himself trying his first murder case, a trial that threatens to blow the entire community wide open, and reveal the lengths that those with power are willing to go to hold onto it. A highly accomplished political thriller about an incident in African American election history. Pleasantville depicts the beginnings of the present implacable ideological standoff in US politics. Well written, fresh and with an oppressively edgy ambiance. Attica Locke channels bitter political memories into a taut and fascinating novel.
The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango (Simon and Schuster)
From the outside, Henry Hayden has a perfect life: he's a famous novelist with more money than he can spend, a grand house in the country, a loyal, clever wife. But Henry has a dark side. If only the readers and critics who worship his every word knew that his success depends on a carefully maintained lie. One he will stop at nothing to protect. His luck must surely run out, and he simply can't allow that to happen. In thrall to paranoia and self-interest, Henry makes a fatal error that could cause the whole dream to unravel and, despite his Machiavellian efforts, events swiftly spin out of control as lie is heaped upon lie, menace upon menace. And it turns out that those around him have their secrets too ... With a fine line between truth and fiction, The Truth and Other Lies introduces readers to an anti-hero who could easily be Tom Ripley’s double. An intriguing read with a twisty plot, this novel is full of irony, misdirection and black humour. The sheer audacity leaves you gasping for breath.
The Killing Kind by Chris Holm (Mulholland Books)
Michael Hendricks is not a good man. He doesn't deserve a good life. But he is very good at his job. He's the killing kind. He doesn't accept contract kills. He doesn't work for any criminal organisation. And he never kills civilians. He only hits hitters. He's not the kind of guy you call if you want to pop somebody who's pissed you off or done you wrong. He's not a guy you call at all - he calls you. And when he does, you'd be advised to take his call. Because it means that someone wants you dead, and time is running out to save your life. It's not a bad way to make a living, but it's a great way to make enemies. And now both the FBI and the mafia have Hendricks in their sights, he's about to learn just how good he really is... A hitman killer with a difference? A hitman who only kills other hitmen. A hit man with a guilty conscience. Spare, ruthless and enthralling we have Hendricks who has his own moral code. With a lot of energy and told from several view points, The Killing Kind is a well-constructed hardboiled thriller easily read in one sitting.
A Song of Shadows by John Connolly (Hodder and Stoughton)
Grievously wounded private detective Charlie Parker investigates a case that has its originsin a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War. Recovering from a near-fatal shooting and tormented by memories of a world beyond this one, Parker has retreated to the small Maine town of Boreas to recover. There he befriends a widow named Ruth Winter and her young daughter, Amanda. But Ruth has her secrets. She is hiding from the past, and the forces that threaten her have their origins in the Second World War, in a town called Lubko and a concentration camp unlike any other. Old atrocities are about to be unearthed, and old sinners will kill to hide their sins. Now Parker is about to risk his life to defend a woman he barely knows, one who fears him almost as much as she fears those who are coming for her. His enemies believe him to be vulnerable. Fearful. Solitary. But they are wrong. Parker is far from afraid, and far from alone. For something is emerging from the shadows ... There is not much that one can say about John Connolly’s writing that has not been said. There is many a dark pleasure along with twists and turns in A Song of Shadows and Charlie Parker is my idea of an avenging angel. The prose is haunting, crisp, elegant and evocative. Whilst the ending is shocking I know that every time I pick up a book by John Connolly I am going to be reading a thoroughly well-written book with exciting characters. Charlie Parker is a classic.
The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell. (Quercus)
Head of Hamburg's Murder Commission, Jan Fabel is used to the dead, but when a routineenquiry spirals out of control he finds himself on much closer terms with death - his own. As he struggles to process this experience, his first case comes back to haunt him: Monika Krone's body is found at last, fifteen years after she disappeared. Monika - beautiful, intelligent, cruel - was the centre of a group obsessed with the gothic. When men who knew Monika start turning up dead, the crime scenes full of gothic symbolism, Fabel realizes he is looking for a killer with both a hunger for vengeance and a terrifying taste for the macabre. A true gothic demon is stalking the streets of Hamburg ... It is a brave author that makes his readers believe that he has killed off his main protagonist at the start of the book. In this case Craig Russell has managed to pull off a fantastic manoeuvre that reverberates throughout the novel. This is no run of the mill serial killer novel. There are elements of the gothic in play and The Ghosts of Altona. An upsetting and chilling crime novel it subverts the reader’s expectations with at the same time as being cleverly constructed. Unsurprisingly it won Bloody Scotland crime novel of the year.
Silver Bullets by Elmer Mendoza (Maclehose Press)
For Detective Edgar "Lefty" Mendieta, tormented by past heartbreak and dismayed by all-pervasive corruption, the murder of lawyer Bruno Canizales represents just another day at the office in Culiacan, Mexico's capital of narco-crime. There is no shortage of suspects in a city where it's hard to tell the gangsters from the politicians. Canizales was the son of a former government minister and the lover of a drug lord's daughter, and he nurtured a penchant for cross-dressing and edgy sex. But why did the assassin use a silver bullet? And why, six days later, did he apparently strike again? Mendieta's hunt for the killer takes him from mansions to low-life bars, from gumshoe reporters to glamorous transsexuals. Unearthing the truth can be as dangerous as any drug. Silver Bullets is Élmer Mendoza’s seminal founding text of Latin America’s ‘narco-lit’ wave. A noir novel with a difference it tears the scab off Latin American drug trafficking and corruption. A truly grimly black comedic violent novel Silver Bullets is thrilling and sweltering in violence and has a battered detective as an revenging angel. Whilst Mexico is presented in a very unflattering light warts it is a deeply satisfying read.
Arab Jazz by Karim Miské (Quercus)
Arab Jazz. Kosher sushi, kebabs, a second-hand bookshop and a bar: the 19th arrondissement in Paris is a cosmopolitan district where multicultural citizens live, love and worship alongside one another. This peace is shattered when Ahmed Taroudant's melancholy daydreams are interrupted by the blood dripping from his upstairs neighbour's brutally mutilated corpse. The violent murder of Laura Vignole, and the pork joint placed next to her, set imaginations ablaze across the neighbourhood, and Ahmed finds himself the prime suspect. But detectives Rachel Kupferstein and Jean Hamelot are not short of other leads. What is the connection between a disbanded hip-hop group and the fiery extremist preachers that jostle for attention in the streets? And what is the mysterious blue pill that is taking the district by storm? Reading a crime novel that is full of literary references makes for a fascinating read. In this case it is the debut novel In Arab Jazz Karim Miské gives the reader an evocative sense of place seen through the streets of Paris and the synagogues of New York coupled with a sharp eye for character. Evocative, topical and grim and to top it all there is a brilliant playlist as well.
Stealing People by Robert Wilson (Orion)
London, January 2014. In the space of 32 hours, in a well-planned and highly organised operation, six billionaires' children are taken off the streets of London in a series of slickly well-executed kidnaps. The gang demands £25 million per hostage for 'expenses' - not ransom. And when your child goes missing, you need Charles Boxer: a man with little left to lose who'll stop at nothing to save families suffering what he has. The wealthy parents of the missing children know that Boxer will do more than police can - but that doesn't mean the law will leave it to him. Intelligence agencies are all interested in the kidnaps because in each case the parents are related to people in power in the various countries involved. Soon the investigation goes beyond the corridors of power and the boardrooms of big corporations - and to far darker corners. Even more worryingly for Boxer, and his ex-wife Mercy, it threatens to lead back to their own lives, too. But still nobody knows what this mysterious kidnap gang ultimately want and, if they have a cause, what the hell is it? Robert Wilson always writes books that are thrilling and haunting with mesmerising characters. In this case he has created a wonderful character in Charles Boxer. Stealing People is the third book in the series. Exciting and unpredictable you will hope that you will never get kidnapped. If you do then hopefully someone akin to Charles Boxer will come and rescue you.
Malice by Keigo Higashino (Little Brown)
Acclaimed bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is brutally murdered in his home on the night before he's planning to leave Japan and relocate to Vancouver. His body is found in his office, in a locked room, within his locked house, by his wife and his best friend, both of whom have rock solid alibis. Or so it seems. Police Detective Kyochiro Kaga recognizes Hidaka's best friend from years ago when they were both teachers. Kaga went on to join the police force while Nonoguchi became a full-time writer, though with not nearly the success of his friend Hidaka. When Kaga suspects something is a little bit off with Nonoguchi's statement, he investigates further, ultimately executing a search warrant on Nonoguchi's apartment. There he finds evidence that shows that the two writers' relationship was very different than they claimed... Malice is a tale of cat and mouse, the truth, the past and how a murder took place. Intricate and at times upsetting Malice is also very reminiscent in its own way of a classic detective novel. It is more of a “whydunnit” than a “whodunit” but no less satisfying.
The Body Snatcher by Patrica Melo (Bitter Lemon Press)
The novel is set in the Pantanal, the vast untamed Brazilian lowlands bordering Bolivia. One bright Sunday, alone on the banks of the Paraguay River, the narrator witnesses the fatal crash of a small 'plane. He finds a kilo of cocaine in the dead pilot's backpack. After but a moment's hesitation he pockets the coke and the pilot's expensive watch. Thus begins the protagonist's long slide into corruption. When the crash site is located several days later, the pilot's body is missing and remains unfound for months despite a large-scale police search. Our hero gets involved in a busted cocaine deal and ends up owing a Bolivian drug gang so much money that blackmailing the wealthy family of the dead pilot seems to be the only way out. The family secretly agrees to pay serious money to recover the body of their son. Our hero doesn't have the pilot's body so someone else's will do. Or so he thinks. Told in first person this is a brilliant Brazilian corruption crime caper. There is mis-adventure after misadventure in The Body Snatcher, which is fast-paced and intricately plotted. With a wry vein of humour throughout the novel you are unsure as to whether or not you should be laughing or crying at times.
Every Night I dream of Hell by Malcolm Mckay (Pan MacMillan)
Nate Colgan: a violent man; 'smart muscle' for the Jamieson organization. Someone to be afraid of. But now, with its most powerful individuals either dead or behind bars, things within the Jamieson organization are beginning to shift. When Nate, long working on the fringes of the business, is reluctantly appointed its new 'security consultant', he can little imagine how things are about to unravel . . . It begins with an execution, a message; and soon the various factions within the organization are sent into chaos. But out of the confusion comes one clear fact: a new group has arrived in Glasgow, and in their quest for power they are prepared to ignite a war. But who is behind the group? And why has the calculating Zara Cope - the mother of Nate's child - suddenly appeared back in town? Meanwhile DI Fisher, buoyed by his recent successes in finally jailing some of the city's most notorious criminals, is prowling on the edges of these latest battles, looking for his chance to strike before all hell breaks loose . . . Welcome to a world of violence, fear and double-crossing. A superb page-turner. Sparse but sharp dialogue and meticulous plotting makes Every Night I dream of Hell a book that stays with you for a long time.
Canary by Duane Swiercznsky (Mulholland Books)
Every student needs a part-time job. Hers is hunting criminals. Sarie Holland is a good kid. An Honor student. She doesn't even drink. So when a narcotics cop busts her while she's doing a favour for a friend, she has a lot to lose. Desperate to avoid destroying her future, Sarie agrees to become a CI - a confidential informant. Armed only with a notebook, she turns out to be as good at catching criminals as she is at passing tests. But it's going to take more than one nineteen-year-old to clean up Philadelphia. Soon Sarie is caught in the middle of a power struggle between corrupt cops and warring gangs, with nothing on her side but stubbornness and smarts. Which is bad news for both the police and the underworld. Because when it comes to payback, CI #137 turns out to be a very fast learner... Cool, with wry humour and told from multiple view points Canary features a spirited heroine that finds herself mixed up in drugs and corruption. Words are not wasted and there is a sense of place that makes you think you are right in the middle of what is happening. Canary is a contemporary neo crime thriller that will no doubt become a classic.
Worthy mentions also go to Hush, Hush by Laura Lippman (Faber & Faber), The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler (Transworld) The Defence by Steve Cavanagh (Orion) The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel (Penguin), The Crossing by Michael Connelly (Orion) and The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood (Little Brown)