Saturday, 18 December 2021

My favourite reads of 2021

At last I have finally managed to write up my favourite reads this year. If you have listened to any of the book events that I have taken part in this year or even vaguely paid attention to any of my tweets then you will of course not be surprised by the books on my list.

I have put them in alphabetical order but feel bound to say that for me the one book that I will quite easily say was my very favourite was of course S A Cosby's Razorblade Tears. I have been talking about it constantly throughout the year. 

Sunset Swing by Ray Celestin (Pan Macmillan). Los Angeles. Christmas, 1967. A city on fire as a killer strikes . . . A young nurse, Kerry Gaudet, travels to the City of Angels desperate to find her missing brother, fearing that something terrible has happened to him: a serial killer is terrorising the city, picking victims at random, and Kerry has precious few leads. Ida Young, recently retired Private Investigator, is dragged into helping the police when a young woman is discovered murdered in her motel room. Ida has never met the victim but her name has been found at the crime scene and the LAPD wants to know why . . . Meanwhile mob fixer Dante Sanfelippo has put his life savings into purchasing a winery in Napa Valley but first he must do one final favour for the Mob before leaving town: find a bail jumper before the bond money falls due, and time is fast running out. Ida's friend, Louis Armstrong, flies into the city just as her investigations uncover mysterious clues to the killer's identity. And Dante must tread a dangerous path to pay his dues, a path which will throw him headlong into a terrifying conspiracy and a secret that the conspirators will do anything to protect . . . Completing his American crime quartet, Ray Celestin's Sunset Swing is a stunning novel of conspiracy, murder and madness, an unforgettable portrait of a city on the edge.

Razorblade Tears by S A Cosby (Headline Publishing) A black father. A white father. Two Murdered sons. A quest for vengeance. Ike Randolph left jail fifteen years ago, with not so much as a speeding ticket since. But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid. Ike is devastated to learn his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah's white husband, Derek. Though he never fully accepted his son, Ike is broken by his death. Derek's father Buddy Lee was as ashamed of Derek being gay as Derek was of his father's criminal past. But Buddy Lee - with seedy contacts deep in the underworld - needs to know who killed his only child. Desperate to do better by them in death than they did in life, two hardened ex-cons must confront their own prejudices about their sons - and each other - as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys. A provocative revenge thriller and an achingly tender story of redemption, this novel is a ferocious portrait of grief; for those loved and lost, and for mistakes than can never truly be undone.

The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean (Hodder & Stoughton) He is her husband. She is his captive. Her husband calls her Jane. That is not her name. She lives in a small farm cottage, surrounded by vast, open fields. Everywhere she looks, there is space. But she is trapped. No one knows how she got to the UK: no one knows she is there. Visitors rarely come to the farm; if they do, she is never seen. Her husband records her every movement during the day. If he doesn't like what he sees, she is punished. For a long time, escape seemed impossible. But now, something has changed. She has a reason to live and a reason to fight. Now, she is watching him, and waiting ...

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka (trans. Sam Malissa) (Vintage Press). Five killers are on a bullet train from Tokyo competing for a suitcase full of money. Who will make it to the last station? An original and propulsive thriller from a Japanese bestseller. Satoshi looks like an innocent schoolboy but he is really a viciously cunning psychopath. Kimura's young son is in a coma thanks to him, and Kimura has tracked him onto the bullet train heading from Tokyo to Morioka to exact his revenge. But Kimura soon discovers that they are not the only dangerous passengers onboard. Nanao, the self-proclaimed 'unluckiest assassin in the world', and the deadly partnership of Tangerine and Lemon are also travelling to Morioka. A suitcase full of money leads others to show their hands. Why are they all on the same train, and who will get off alive at the last station?

True Crime Story by Joseph Knox (Transworld Publishers) What happens to those girls who go missing? What happens to the Zoe Nolans of the world? In the early hours of Saturday 17 December 2011, Zoe Nolan, a nineteen-year-old Manchester University student, walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months. She was never seen again. Seven years after her disappearance, struggling writer Evelyn Mitchell finds herself drawn into the mystery. Through interviews with Zoe's closest friends and family, she begins piecing together what really happened in 2011. But where some versions of events overlap, aligning perfectly with one another, others stand in stark contrast, giving rise to troubling inconsistencies. Shaken by revelations of Zoe's secret life, and stalked by a figure from the shadows, Evelyn turns to crime writer Joseph Knox to help make sense of a case where everyone has something to hide. Zoe Nolan may be missing presumed dead, but her story is only just beginning.

Dream Girl by Laura Lippman (Faber & Faber) How can a woman who never existed come back to haunt you? Gerry Anderson has been having trouble sleeping. He's unwell - bed-bound - and has only his night nurse and his personal assistant for company. But what's really troubling him are the phone calls. Phone calls from a woman claiming to be the 'real' Aubrey. But that can't be. Aubrey's just a character Gerry made up in a book, years ago. Can Gerry see past the ever-blurring lines of fact and fiction and figure out who is threatening him, or has his long-overdue moment of reckoning finally arrived?

Edge of the Grave by Robbie Morrison (Pan Macmillian) is a dark historical crime novel set in Glasgow, 1932. A city still recovering from the Great War; split by religious division and swarming with razor gangs. When Charles Geddes, son-in-law of one of the city's wealthiest shipbuilders, is found floating in the River Clyde with his throat cut, his beautiful widow Isla Lockhart asks for Inspector James Dreghorn to lead the murder case. Dreghorn has a troubled history with the powerful Lockhart family that stretches back to before the First World War and is reluctant to become involved. But facing pressure from his superiors, he has no choice in the matter. The investigation takes him and his partner 'Bonnie' Archie McDaid from the flying fists and flashing blades of the Glasgow underworld to the backstabbing upper echelons of government and big business in order to find out who wanted Charles Geddes dead and why. As the case deepens, the pair will put their lives on the line in the pursuit of a sadistic killer who is ready to strike again . . .

Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass (Profile Books) This is the confession of Laurence Jago. Clerk. Gentleman. Reluctant spy. July 1794, and the streets of London are filled with rumours of revolution. Political radical Thomas Hardy is to go on trial for treason, the war against the French is not going in Britain's favour, and negotiations with the independent American colonies are on a knife edge. Laurence Jago - clerk to the Foreign Office - is ever more reliant on the Black Drop to ease his nightmares. A highly sensitive letter has been leaked to the press, which may lead to the destruction of the British Army, and Laurence is a suspect. Then he discovers the body of a fellow clerk, supposedly a suicide. Blame for the leak is shifted to the dead man, but even as the body is taken to the anatomists, Laurence is certain both of his friend's innocence, and that he was murdered. But after years of hiding his own secrets from his powerful employers, and at a time when even the slightest hint of treason can lead to the gallows, how can Laurence find the true culprit without incriminating himself?

Turf Wars by Olivier Norek (Trans. Nick Caistor) (Quercus Publishing) The summary execution of three dealers - one murdered in full view of a police surveillance team - is the signal for hell to be unleashed in France's most notorious suburb. Now there's a new kingpin in charge, using his ruthless teenage enforcer to assert an iron grip on his territory. And the local mayor, no stranger to the criminal underworld, is willing to make a pact with the devil if it will secure her a third term. Enter Capitaine Coste and his team, ready to break the rules to prevent the drugs squad from throwing an elderly stash-minder to the lions as bait. But when the blue touchpaper is lit on the estates, it will be all they can do to save their own skins from the inferno.

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbil Weiden (Simon & Schuster) If you have a problem, if no one else can help, there's one person you can turn to. Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Native American Reservation in South Dakota. When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that's hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way onto the reservation and finds Virgil's nephew, his vigilantism suddenly becomes personal. He enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend and sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop. They follow a lead to Denver and find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity. He realises that being a Native American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost.

The incredibly worthy mentions that I also throughly enjoyed this year include The Nameless One by John Connolly, Daughters of the Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson, The Oxford Brotherhood by Guillermo Martinez, The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen, The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly The Royal Secret by Andrew Taylor, Dolphin Junction by Mick Herron, Rizzio by Denise Mina and Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead.

I also read some really good non-fictions books and I shall post them separately.



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