I think 2013 was a cracking year for crime fiction… either that or I was very lucky with my discoveries!
Whether you like to stick to a tried and trusted police procedural or seek out something which pushes the boundaries, there seems to have been something for everyone in 2013.
So with that in mind my wish for 2014 is… well, more of the same please. More gripping investigations, intriguing characters and tales of the unexpected.
More please from those established authors we all know and love, those who are now making their mark and, just as important for our reading future, from the fresh and emerging talent which has made 2013 such an interesting year.
I’ve picked out 5 ‘Stella Reads’ for 2013. If I can find 5 books as good as these in 2014, from a similar wide range of writers, then I’ll be a very happy reader indeed!
All of these books made a particular and lasting impression on me. Here’s why…
Rubbernecker – Belinda Bauer
Intriguing from first page to last. One of those books that you can’t quite compare to anything else, from a writer who is adept at finding new ways to make crime fiction enjoyable.
Here, parallel stories are expertly woven. The protagonist, as such, is a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome who is allowed to drive the plot forward in his own inimitable way. Together with the nurse’s story and the patient’s this makes for a very rewarding read. I really enjoyed being transported into the worlds of these three characters and Bauer has that knack of making them engaging. An unusual plot, which like others in my favourite 5 reads, isn’t afraid of breaking new ground. The test of a really good read comes at that moment when you’ve just read the last chapter. If you’re like me, and it’s a belter, then you’ll have the urge to tell someone else to read it immediately. My friends will testify to that!
Police – Jo Nesbo
Harry Hole is back for, I think, his eighth outing in the series. When it’s done well series sleuths can build a certain intrigue of their own, whatever the plot. When it’s done badly the flaws can get unscrupulously exposed. At times I’ve given up on a series for simply cutting and pasting characters from past endeavours and adding them to rehashed plots. Here though is a classic example of how to do it well. To keep up this level of consistency in writing excellence shows what a master of the art Jo Nesbo has become. You could easily read this as a standalone and enjoy it, but in the event that you haven’t read any of his books before do take the time over the coming months to immerse yourself in Harry’s world. Another outstanding effort from Nesbo.
Monument to Murder – Mari Hannah
Bamburgh Castle may have featured in films as diverse as Polanski’s Macbeth and the Python’s Holy Grail, but here Mari Hannah uses it as the setting for a murder mystery, when a female skeleton is found in the windswept sands which surround it. This is the fourth book in the DCI Kate Daniels series and I think the best so far. Here is a writer well into the process of making her mark. I do hope she continues to surprise and engage like this. I’ve cited Nesbo as a classic example and if Mari Hannah continues along these lines she’ll prove to be a writer worth following. She writes police procedurals with a gritty edge featuring characters who often intrigue as much as her plots. Another one like this would be most welcome.
The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter – Malcolm Mackay
There’s no doubt that this one has that ‘that something a little different’. This time it’s style, yet despite the terse prose it loses nothing of its substance.
Mackay tells a gripping yarn in a cold, no-nonsense and direct manner. He paces his story well, making the most of the Glasgow underworld and building effortlessly towards a powerful denouement. The icy, almost psychopathic lack of empathy could be a distraction to some, but it made the book for me. Maybe it works so well in this instance due to the subject matter of contract killings? I’m not sure, and his next novel might be the acid test, but to pull this off with your first offering is quite something.
Defending Elton – TJ Cooke
This was another debut. A refreshing and original slant on crime fiction, one I hadn’t come across before. Sprinkle a touch of Highsmith and Haddon on a layer of Grisham and you’re somewhere near. It works as a suspenseful legal thriller but is so much more. There’s a lightness of touch throughout yet Cooke still manages to expose some serious vulnerabilities in both our criminal justice system and in our care for those with mental health issues. I also found the concept of the character of Sarena quite fascinating… a ‘victim’ who remains an enigma throughout. Narrator and protagonist Jim struggles to portray her objectively, and in the book’s surprising end we realise it’s not just because he’s been obsessed. This novel is certainly worthy of a wider audience. It’s by an ‘Indie’ author and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him getting picked up in 2014.