Right, we’ve looked at my favourite fantasy and sci-fi books of the year, so it’s time to investigate the murky world of crime & thrillers. Hopefully something here will pique your interest!
I love a good crime book, and Brothers In Blood is a cut above. What really lifts it is the dynamic between Zaq and his mate Jags – these two just bounce off the page with their easy friendship, not afraid to take the piss out of each other for any and everything. It’s this lightness sprinkled through the book that gives a sharp contrast to the dark underbelly of the story. Absolute cracker of a book.
Ah, Rob Parker. I’ve listened to a lot of his excellent Blood Brothers podcast and his love of the genre is just infectious. I realised that I’d not read any of his books, so quickly rectified that with A Wanted Man, the first in his Ben Bracken series. The book kicks off with a bang, and doesn’t let go until the very end. Parker’s writing is sharp and snappy, his plot taut as a wire and it’s just a great read. Proper page turner.
Another CWA Debut Dagger winner, Trevor Wood’s The Man On The Street (and the follow-up One Way Street) are just brilliant. Set in my home town of Newcastle, they follow the escapades and investigations of homeless veteran Jimmy and his mates Deano and Gadge. I love a book with a great sense of place, and this has it in spades. Cracking books, the pair of them.
Oh my, what to say about this book? One of the most original, dark, disturbing and downright weird (but in a good way) books that I’ve read in years. Told from the point of view of Evil itself, and what a fascinating perspective that is.
You see, it takes just a small nudge to this person here, a gentle prod to that person there and before you know it, chaos ensues. And boy, does chaos ensue. Easy read it might not be, but an utterly compelling delve into the human condition it is.
The Big Chill follows on from the wonderful A Dark Matter in which we met the Skelf clan – Dorothy, her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah, proprietors of a funeral home and also private investigators on the side. It’s an absolute pleasure to be back in the company of the Skelfs again. Johnstone’s writing is, as ever, a joy to read and the intricate, interwoven plots a delight to untangle. It’s a real character piece in which our trio bounce to life off the page, full of life, death, regrets, issues, love and loss. Oh, and embalming fluid. I love the way we see the story (or rather stories) from the viewpoints of the three women and watch them play out alongside each other.
Bit festive, this one. A serial killer is leaving bits of their victims all over Cumbria, at Christmas. Poe and Tilly investigate. Craven clearly loves these characters (as do we) and a large proportion of the fun is watching them bounce off each other as they work towards solving whatever crime they happen to be investigating. I’m going to sneak in a recommendation for Cut Short, a selection of Poe & Tilly short stories too.
Craven is also a deft hand at a devious plot, with plenty of twists and turns along the way, red herrings strewn across our path like some kind of biblical plague. You’ll think you’ve got it sussed, only for something to pop up, whallop you across the chops with a large fish (like that Monty Python sketch) and run off, leaving you confused but still determined to work out what’s going on.
Regular readers will be aware that Stuart Turton’s debut, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is one of my all-time favourite books. So it was with some trepidation that I ventured into his second book. Reader, I need not have worried. Turton has delivered yet another fantastic mystery which kept me guessing the whole way through. I enjoyed that the story’s ‘great detective’ is locked up, forcing his ever-loyal assistant Hayes to take up the mystery solving. And what a mystery! The cast of suspects is splendidly broad and everyone has a secret to hide, as you’d expect. Murder, superstition, storms, ghost ships, this book has it all!
Utterly absorbing, utterly terrifying, and one you will be utterly unable to put down. Three Hours is beautifully written, nail-bitingly tense and at times, heartbreaking. A school under siege from a gunman, the story plays out over the three hours of the title. It’s nerve-wracking from the off, and not an easy read. But one which is so very well done. Phenomenal.
Tuva Moodyson is back for a third mystery in Will Dean’s superb Black River. While Dark Pines was firmly rooted in the creepy Utgard forest, with its host of slightly odd inhabitants, and Red Snow took place in and around the equally odd Grimberg Liquorice factory, Black River sees the action move out of Gavrik to Snake River. And yes, the inhabitants there are just as strange…
The story fair rattles along, intense and scary at times, and there’s a real sense of panic in the air. You hope that all will turn out well in the end, but you can never tell until you turn the final page…
I Am Dust is a story of love and loss, of murder and mystery, of the glam and glitz of showbusiness in a small theatre, haunted by the spectre of its greatest success, the musical extravaganza that is Dust. The book is just a lovely, lovely thing. Fiercely funny, heartbreaking and just beautifully written. Louise Beech is one of my favourite authors, and this is my favourite of her books. So far…
Another Orenda Books offering, Blood Red City sees Rod Reynolds swap the small-town 1940s Americana of his first three books for present day London and a prescient thriller. It’s gritty and brutal and falls firmly into the ‘just another chapter’ which you just know will mean a few too many very late nights! Reynolds is one of those authors where I’ll read anything he does, because he does it so very well.
Speaking of authors who do things so very well, we’re here with my book of the year. And it was the very first book I read of 2020, finishing in the early hours of January 1st. Given I’d started it on December 31st 2019, it has the added bonus of not only book of 2020, but also book of 2019. I’ve banged on about this book to anyone who’d listen (and to a fair few who wouldn’t). It’s just so, so good. Whitaker’s skill at evoking small town Americana, polished and honed over the course of the first two books, absolutely shines here.
Don’t tell him I said so, but Whitaker is a phenomenal writing talent.
I’d give this six stars if I could, and it would deserve every one of them and more.
When I Was Ten – Fiona Cummins
A little sneak peek into 2021 here – I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of Fiona Cummins’ When I Was Ten earlier this year and absolutely loved it. Alas what with *waves hands* everything going on, it’s been pushed back to 2021. Get it on your lists now. It’s bloody brilliant. And while you wait, go read Cummins’ other books.