Sunday, 6 January 2013

My favourite books of 2012

I have been procrastinating about doing this for quite some time, but I have finally sat down and written up my favourite books of 2012. I have deliberately not numbered them but have to admit that the top five are in some sort of order with Slaughters Hound and The Cutting Season most certainly heading the list.

Slaughters Hound by Declan Burke
In Slaughter’s Hound Declan Burke has returned to an earlier character Harry Rigby whom we first met in Eight Ball Boogie back in 2003.  Do not mistake Slaughter’s Hound for being anything like his brilliant and outstanding Absolute Zero Cool they are nothing alike.  It is a wild read with black comedic asides and a darkness to it that will make lovers of noir drool with happiness.  

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
The Cutting Season comes across as a traditional country house murder mystery that is given a flavour of the Deep South set on a sugar plantation in Louisiana and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  The Cutting Season is beautifully written story that tugs at you and also makes you think deeply about the history of segregation, the rippling effect that it has had on American history and why it can never be brushed under the carpet. 

Books to Die For Edited by Declan Burke and John Connolly
If you have not heard of Books To Die For then I am not sure where you have been this year.  Books To Die For is not the type of book that can be read at one go.  It is a book that you have to savour and therefore dip in and out of at will.  Books To Die For is a book that any self-respecting aficionado of crime fiction should have on their bookshelf.  I mean, where else will you find over one hundred crime writers writing about their favourite crime novel?  With personal essays from such luminaries as Val McDermid, Michael Connelly, Mark Billingham, Lee Child, Marcia Muller, Denis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Laura Wilson and Andrew Taylor to name a few, what you have is in effect a history of crime fiction told from the point of view of a number of well-known crime writers.  Books ranging from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1841 Dupin Stories, Liam O’Flaherty’s 1928 The Assassin, Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel The Maltese Falcon, James Crumley’s 1978 The Last Good Kiss, A Dance at the Slaughterhouse by Lawrence Block (1991) and Dennis Lehane’s 2001 novel Mystic River and why they mean so much to the authors that chose them.  Books To Die For can also be seen as a reading guide to some of the best crime novels that have been published.  Not a book to be missed.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl is a psychological thriller that is layered and as you peel away each layer and read revelation after revelation, it becomes abundantly clear that the truth is something that both the two main protagonists have a huge problem with and as far as they are both concerned, it also does not exist from their point of view.  Whilst the story starts, slowly it does build up and nothing is, as it seems in this book.

What it was by George Pelecanos
This book reminds one of Blaxploitation, life in the seventies and Watergate.  One of the things that always draws me to the novels of George Pelecanos is the fact that his subject is how regular people, black and white, endure in a world of hardship, crime and violence.  For those of you (and that includes me) that care about the soul music, muscle cars and bizarre clothing of the early 1970s, Pelecanos evokes them in copious detail.  What is Was is of course and what we have come to expect from such a writer, Sharp, staccato storytelling, tightly plotted, packed with fascinating characters as well as being rich in atmosphere.

Tequila Sunset by Sam Hawken
In Tequila Sunset Sam Hawken has moved away from the rather harrowing and troubling but real life subject of the senseless killing of the women of Juarez to the equally disturbing and brutal gangs found on the US/Mexico border.  Lives are truly at stake in this violent novel where murder is a matter of course and here are no reservations about killing anyone who gets in their way.  Tequila Sunset is the type of novel that will I hope in due course become a classic.  It is brutal, it is bloody but it is also a really good read.

The Golden Scales by Parker Bilal
The Golden Scales is essentially about two abductions that take place.  Makana an ex-cop and a refugee from Sudan lives on a riverboat.  He cannot go back to Sudan, as this would bring about his death almost immediately.  He is forced to attend a meeting with Saad Hanafi, a man assumed to be one of the richest people in Egypt and the owner of the most popular football team.  But what does Saad Hanafi want with Makana?
The Golden Scales takes the reader into a side of Cairo that is not often seen or read about.  It is a powerful and touching story that is much more than just a mystery; it is also a social commentary that allows us to see the underbelly of Cairo.

The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S Winter.
 A debut novel told in three parts and each part told, set in a different decade and told in three different voices?  The voices being that of Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson.  Did it work?  I personally thought so.  Book 1, Malniveau Prison, sees Georges Simenon as Chief Inspector Pelleter as he attempts to understand how a murdered prisoner escaped the prison walls.  Book 2, The Falling Star, is the Chandleresque story of a private eye, Dennis Foster, who is engaged to mollify a distrustful movie star and maybe take the blame for a murder.  Whilst book 3 is Police at the Funeral, where Shem Rosenkrantz (A recurring character from the first two books) takes over the story with the voice of a failed Jim Thompson protagonist, and, as he comes undone, we see how the stories are put together.  Twenty-Year Death is a brave and amazingly accomplished novel but also a lot of fun to read.  Along the way, Winter succeeds in dispensing more than a few acknowledgments to the genre in general.  You are either going to love or hate this book.

The Double Game by Dan Fesperman
Dan Fesperman’s novel The Double Game is one of those books that you know that will never regret picking up and reading.  It is also a novel that fans of cold war thrillers will revel in.  In The Double Game, it is a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and spook-turned-novelist Edwin Lemaster has revealed to up-and-coming journalist Bill Cage that he had once considered spying for the enemy.  There are many things about The Double Game, which make it such an exciting read.  It is of course about spies and their secrets, fathers and sons, lovers and destiny, betrayal and allegiance.  What begins as a caper within a caper soon becomes much more.  With clues found in old spy novels that will themselves take you back to a period of double- dealing and more The Double Game is in fact  on the one hand a well written homage to classic espionage novels that has been turned on its head. 

The Dark Winter by David Mark
A series of suspicious deaths has rocked Hull, a port city in England as old and mysterious as its bordering sea.  In the middle of a Christmas service, a teenage girl adopted from Sierra Leone is chopped down with a machete in front of the entire congregation.  A retired trawler man is found dead at the scene of a tragedy he escaped, the only survivor, forty years ago.  An ugly fire rages in a working-class neighbourhood, and when the flames die away, a body is discovered, burned beyond recognition.  An assured well-written debut novel from an author who is bound to get better and better.

There are also a couple of other books that I feel bound to mention and these are Kings Of Cool by Don Winslow, The Cocktail Waitress by James M Cain, Dare Me by Megan Abbott, Live by Night by Dennis Lehane, Wrath of Angels by John Connolly, The Black Box by Michael Connelly and Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch.


Anonymous said...

This a great list and thanks for the timely reminder of 'The Twenty Year Death' which has been sat on my TBR pile for an age! I will also seek out the Sam Hawken as I loved 'The Dead Women of Juarez'. Worth the wait for your final choices!

Kelly Robinson said...

I didn't know about The Twenty Year Death. What a cool concept.