There are plenty of 'best books of the year' lists flying about at the moment, and it's great to see good and great crime novels being highlighted.
I've contributed to some such lists, for a couple of different publications (you can see my picks for the New Zealand Book Council here), but for my own personal list here on Crime Watch, I'm taking a Christmas approach, and a different angle. (You can see my Gr8ful Eight list from 2015 here)
So over the next 12 days, I'll be updating this post by revealing one terrific book a day until I complete my best reads of the year, my 12 Books of Xmas. I'm tempted to include some fantastic kids books, since I've been reading a lot of them to my daughter this year, but will stick with crime. I'll update the image above as each present is opened each day too.
It's been a great year of reading - I'm approaching 170 books read, including several dozen crime novels. There are plenty of cracking books I haven't got to yet, some of which may have elbowed their way onto this list if I had. So with apologies to those who haven't made it, and without further ado, let's dive right into the 12 Books of Xmas.
REDEMPTION ROAD by John Hart (Thomas Dunne Books)
I had sky-high expectations going into this - John Hart was a double-Edgar winner who'd seemed to me a potential heir apparent to James Lee Burke for the title of 'greatest living crime writer'. Hart's earlier tale, THE LAST CHILD, is on my short-shortlist of the best crime novels of the past decade.
After a five-year hiatus, Hart didn't disappoint. REDEMPTION ROAD is a powerful, intoxicating tale that manages to be both skin-crawlingly disturbing and achingly beautiful at the same time. Elizabeth Black is a hero-cop to some, psycho-cop to others after unloading 18 shots into two black suspects while rescuing a young girl. Former cop Adrian Wall has a body and mind full of scars after 13 years in prison for a killing he says he didn't commit. A young boy burns for revenge, a young abductee tries to recover, and an even greater darkness stalks the county.
Filled with a vivid cast of chasm-deep characters, REDEMPTION ROAD is a tour de force of Southern Gothic storytelling, a potent concoction of tense thriller, atmospheric evocation of the rural Carolinas, and literary mastery. It's elegant, lyrical, and absorbing. Deeply satisfying as a crime novel and a very fine piece of literature. This book just got under my skin, becoming a stay-up-all-night page-turner even though Hart doesn't resort to staccato chapters, ticking clocks, or other gimmicks.
Smooth and full of depth, this is a well-aged, handcrafted, small-batch bourbon of a crime novel.
AFTER YOU DIE by Eva Dolan (Vintage)
I'd heard very good things from fellow reviewers about Dolan's crime writing, so was excited to finally dive into one of her Zigic and Ferreira tales this year.
AFTER YOU DIE, the third in Dolan's series starring the Hate Crimes detective duo, is a superlative example of modern British crime writing. Dolan combines gripping plotting with intriguing characters and extremely topical, if harrowing, social issues. Ferreira is back at work after being severely injured on duty, and she and Zigic investigate the brutal murder of a woman who'd made several complaints about harassment of her disabled daughter in the past. While the mother lay dead downstairs, the daughter was left to starve.
Dolan isn't afraid of delving into some dark areas of modern society, and tackling tough, controversial issues head on. The quality of her writing means doing so doesn't feel schlock, or for mere effect, but instead organic and a natural part of the unfolding story. AFTER YOU DIE is beautifully written, and for me, it cements Dolan as an extraordinary voice in British crime, and a must-read for crime fans.
On the third day of Christmas, Santa gave to me:
To be revealed Thursday 15 December
On the fourth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me:
To be revealed Friday 16 December
On the fifth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me:
To be revealed Saturday 17 December
On the sixth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me:
To be revealed Sunday 18 December
On the seventh day of Christmas, Santa gave to me:
To be revealed Monday 19 December
On the eighth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me:
To be revealed Tuesday 20 December
On the ninth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me:
To be revealed Wednesday 21 December
On the tenth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me:
To be revealed Thursday 22 December
On the eleventh day of Christmas, Santa gave to me:
To be revealed Friday 23 December
On the twelfth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me:
To be revealed Saturday 24 December
Have a very merry Christmas everyone! I hope your holidays are filled with good times, good food, great people, and maybe a good book or two. Best wishes to all.