Thursday, 22 December 2016

My Favourite Reads of 2016

Finally, I have got round to doing this. My favourite reads for this year have been quite eclectic to say the least with a number of debut novels making the cut as well as a number of books that are either a continuation of a series or the start of ones. They are in no particular order.

Coyote by Colin Winnette. (No Exit Press)
A daughter disappears in the middle of the night. What happens in the aftermath of this tragedy-after the search is abandoned, after the TV crews move on to cover the latest horrific incident-is the story of Coyote. There is a marriage and a detective. There is a storm, a talk show host, and a roasted boar. People are murdered and things are hidden. Coyotes skulk in the woods, a man stands by the fence, and a tale emerges within this familiar landscape of the violent unknown.  Coyote is sparse, harrowing and for me a terrific read. It is one of those books that will fall into one of two camps for those who read it.  You will either like it or loathe it. No need to guess what camp I am in.
Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman (Faber & Faber) 
I will freely admit that I am a big Laura Lippman fan. I love her Tess Monaghan series but
her standalone novels always pack a wallop and are always worth more than one read.  In this case Wilde Lake is intelligent, emotional and a thoroughly satisfying read. If you have never read any of her books, then you are selling yourself short!  Luisa Lu Brant is the newly elected states attorney representing suburban Maryland including the famous planned community of Columbia, created to be a utopia of racial and economic equality. Prosecuting a controversial case involving a disturbed drifter accused of beating a woman to death, the fiercely ambitious Lu is determined to avoid the traps that have destroyed other competitive, successful women. She’s going to play it smart to win this case and win big cementing her political future.  But her intensive preparation for trial unexpectedly dredges up painful recollections of another crime the night when her brother, AJ, saved his best friend at the cost of another man’s life. Only eighteen, AJ was cleared by a grand jury. Justice was done. Or was it? Did the events of 1980 happen as she remembers them? She was only a child then. What details didn’t she know?  As she plunges deeper into the past, Lu is forced to face a troubling reality. The legal system, the bedrock of her entire life, does not have all the answers. But what happens when she realizes that, for the first time, she doesn’t want to know the whole truth?  Two stories (childhood and present day) told in alternative chapters come to a big collision at the end. Sheer brilliance.

Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey (Simon & Schuster)
Clyde Barr has been on the run for sixteen years. Now he’s back in the Colorado wilderness, hoping for some peace and quiet.  Then Clyde receives a frantic phone call for help from his sister Jen. But the line goes dead. She’s been taken.  Clyde doesn’t know where Jen is. He doesn’t know who has her. He doesn’t know how much time he has. All he knows is that nothing short of dying will stop him from saving her…  A wonderful debut novel with an anti-hero that will no doubt garner fans galore. Harsh, gripping and a great joy to read.
Made to Kill by Adam Christopher (Titan)
Raymond Electromatic is good at his job, as good as he ever was at being a true Private Investigator, the lone employee of the Electromatic Detective Agency--except for Ada, office gal and super-computer, the constant voice in Ray's inner ear. Ray might have taken up a new line of work, but money is money, after all, and he was programmed to make a profit. Besides, with his twenty-four-hour memory-tape limits, he sure can keep a secret.  When a familiar-looking woman arrives at the agency wanting to hire Ray to find a missing movie star, he's inclined to tell her to take a hike. But she had the cold hard cash, a demand for total anonymity, and tendency to vanish on her own.  Plunged into a glittering world of fame, fortune, and secrecy, Ray uncovers a sinister plot that goes much deeper than the silver screen--and this robot is at the wrong place, at the wrong time. A cross-genre noir novel that plays in my opinion homage to both Raymond Chandler and Ron Goulart. 

Dodgers by Bill Beverley (No Exit Press)
It is not surprising that Dodgers won two prestigious crime writing awards (CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger and the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award).  Dodgers is an amazingly dark, edgy and compelling debut novel that has a deep sense of social injustice and is told with a unique narrative voice. When East, a low-level lookout for a Los Angeles drug organisation, loses his watch house in a police raid, his boss recruits him for a very different job: a road trip - straight down the middle of white, rural America - to assassinate a judge in Wisconsin.  Having no choice, East and a crew of untested boys - including his trigger-happy younger brother, Ty - leave the only home they've ever known in a nondescript blue van, with a roll of cash, a map and a gun they shouldn't have.  Along the way, the country surprises East. The blood on his hands isn't the blood he expects. And he reaches places where only he can decide which way to go - or which person to become. On the one hand very funny but on the other hand Dodgers is equally nasty, foul-mouthed and revealing!

Epiphany Jones by Michael Grothaus (Orenda Books)
Jerry has a traumatic past that leaves him subject to psychotic hallucinations and depressive episodes. When he stands accused of stealing a priceless Van Gogh painting, he goes underground, where he develops an unwilling relationship with a woman who believes that the voices she hears are from God. Involuntarily entangled in the illicit world of sex-trafficking amongst the Hollywood elite, and on a mission to find redemption for a haunting series of events from the past, Jerry is thrust into a genuinely shocking and outrageously funny quest to uncover the truth and atone for historical sins.  What can one say about Epiphany Jones?  This is not a comfortable book to read despite the fact that it is at times funny, sinister and a dark tale.  This insanely quirky story is one of the best debut novels that I have read in ages.
Darktown by Thomas Mullen (Little Brown)
Atlanta, 1948. In this city, all crime is black and white.  On one side of the tracks are the rich, white neighbourhoods; on the other, Darktown, the African-American area guarded by the city's first black police force of only eight men. These cops are kept near-powerless by the authorities: they can't arrest white suspects; they can't drive a squad car; they must operate out of a dingy basement.  When a poor black woman is killed in Darktown having been last seen in a car with a rich white man, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust of their community and even their own lives to investigate her death.  Their efforts bring them up against a brutal old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run Darktown as his own turf - but Dunlow's idealistic young partner, Rakestraw, is a young progressive who may be willing to make allies across colour lines . . .   Darktown works well as both an historical novel and a thriller. There is an incredible sense of place and a fascinating story of deep-rooted and vicious racism, political dishonesty and intrigue.  Very topical and unsettling. Darktown perfectly brings the pre-civil rights South back to life and to the fore.

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz. (Penguin)
I have always been a fan of Gregg Hurwitz’s writing for a number of reasons.  Mainly because
he has always been incredibly good at pulling you into a story.  In this case, with Orphan X he has in my opinion upped his game to another level. 'Do you need my help?' It was the first question he asked. They called him when they had nowhere else to turn.  As a boy Evan Smoak was taken from an orphanage.  Raised and trained in a top secret programme, he was sent to bad places to do things the government denied ever happened.  Then he broke with the programme, using what he'd learned to vanish. Now he helps the desperate and deserving.  But someone's on his trail. Someone who knows his past and believes that the boy once known as Orphan X must die.  Orphan X fulfils everything that I as a reader love and want in a thriller.  Stylish, smart and tight with great plot and characterisation alongside a protagonist who is set to join the best anti-heroes out there.

Moskva by Jack Grimwood (Michael Joseph)
'A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma . . .' January, 1986. A week after disgraced Intelligence Officer Tom Fox is stationed to Moscow the British Ambassador's fifteen-year-old daughter goes missing. Fox is ordered to find her, and fast. But the last thing the Soviets want is a foreign agent snooping about on their turf. Not when a killer they can't even acknowledge let alone catch is preparing to kill again . . . Cold war thrillers have never really gone away.  What has happened however is that they have become even more mesmerising, superbly written and compulsive reading.  This is certainly the case with Moskva with a background stemming from World War 2.  Stylishly written, taut and filled with verve there is a sense of place that keeps you coming back for more.  Russia has never been so austere and immoral.

 A Time of Torment by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton)
Jerome Burnel was once a hero. He intervened to prevent multiple killings and in doing so damned himself. His life was torn apart. He was imprisoned, brutalized.  But in his final days, with the hunters circling, he tells his story to private detective Charlie Parker. He speaks of the girl who was marked for death but was saved, of the ones who tormented him, and an entity that hides in a ruined stockade.  Parker is not like other men. He died, and was reborn. He is ready to wage war.  Now he will descend upon a strange, isolated community called the Cut, and face down a force of men who rule by terror, intimidation, and murder.  All in the name of the being they serve.  All in the name of the Dead King.  If you have been reading John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series then you will never fail to be impressed not only with his style, the story and the fact that by some miracle Charlie Parker is still alive. I certainly am.  In A Time of Torment, we are drawn into an enthralling and unsettling story that is as horrific as it is mesmerising. As can be expected A Time of Torment is scarily good and as dark as one expects it to be.

Red Right Hand by Chris Holm (Mulholland)
When viral video footage from a terrorist attack in San Francisco reveals that a mob informant thought dead is still alive, FBI Special Agent Charlie Thompson knows just who to contact to save her witness from certain death: Michael Hendricks. He may be a hitman, but he's not a bad guy.  Teaming up with a green but determined tech whiz, Cameron, on the condition she leave him alone after the case, Hendricks reluctantly takes the job.  Of course, finding a man desperate to stay hidden is challenging enough without deadly competition, let alone when that competition's shadowy corporate backer is tangled in the terrorist conspiracy playing out around them...  A much welcome return of Chris Holm’s ultimate tough guy Michael Hendricks who finds himself heavily involved in carnage, duplicity and destruction.  If you read The Killing Hand then you will welcome with open arms Red Right Hand.  I certainly did.  Lots of action, sense of foreboding and jaw dropping moments. I have found a new series to drool over.

I really could not make up my mind for my twelfth book as anyone of my honorary mentions could have made the cut.  Honorary mentions go to Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me, Val McDermid’s Out of Bounds, The Plea by Steve Cavanagh, A Fever of Blood by Oscar de Muriel, Far from True by Linwood Barclay, The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid by Craig Russell and The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood.

I also read some really good non-fiction titles as well.

Parker: A Miscellany by John Connolly
A non-fiction companion to the Charlie Parker novels, using music as a starting point. With introductions to the first 13 Charlie Parker novels, an essay about John’s love of music and revised versions of three essays and an essay for every single CD compilation done for the Parker novels.  A must for any dedicated follower of Charlie Parker.

Brit Noir : The Pocket Essential Guide to British Crime Fiction, Film & TV by Barry Forshaw (Pocket Essentials)


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