Monday, 20 December 2010

Crime/ Thriller picks of 2010 (part deux)

And to carry on from my blog of the other day, here’s some more books that lit up my year.

This first book is not one that was new, but one that was new to me in 2010.

This is my blog, so I get to make the rules. It’s Eightball Boogie by Declan Burke.

Declan writes regularly over at Crime Always Pays and is one of the smartest writers out there. You want a book with heart and brains then look no further.

The main character, Harry Rigby, is a private eye and a reporter. As a reporter, he loiters around the edges of a crime scene: a woman has been stabbed to death in her home, and the killing has been poorly disguised as a suicide. The woman’s husband was a corrupt politician, and police will say little about the death, even about how the body was discovered. A client then hires Rigby  the P.I. to prove that his wife is having an affair. Rigby the detective finds the wife. Rigby the reporter finds another reporter who was working on a profile of the murder victim at the time she was killed. Drugs are involved as are shady property deals.

And then there’s Harry's girlfriend – who he hasn’t slept with for 14 months and their son, Ben that Harry loves to distraction. And THEN there’s Gonzo, his psycho brother. Give all of that a good stir, add writing that’s so sharp you could shave by it and the scene is set for a fantastic read.

I am quite frankly in awe of Declan Burke’s ability with a sentence. His writing is at turns lyrical and succinct; his dialogue snaps in your ear and his characters are so real they stay in your head long after you’ve turned the last page.

Search out ANYTHING he’s written, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, I'll refund your money if you don't. (Good luck with that. Poorer than the poorest of church mice, me.)

Walter Mosley one of those writers I look for when latest releases is being mentioned. He’s a living legend and he released Known to Evil in 2010.

The book blurb ran as follows...
Leonid McGill, P.I. is struggling to stick to his reformed ways while the people around him pull him in every direction. He has split up with the only woman he has ever loved, Aura, because his conscience won't let him leave his wife. Meanwhile, one of his sons seems to have found true love - but the girl has dangerous men in her past who are now threatening the whole McGill family. And his other son, the charming rogue Twilliam, is doing nothing but facilitating the crisis.

Most worryingly of all, Alfonse Rinaldo, the mysterious power behind the throne at City Hall, the fixer who seems to control every little thing that happens in New York City, has a problem that even he can't fix - and he's come to Leonid for help. It seems a young woman has disappeared, leaving murder in her wake, and it means everything to Rinaldo to track her down.

My review ran thusly...Leonid McGill is an anti-hero, a fallen man who is working to redeem himself, but is constantly held back by the murk of his past. This is a device that has been worked well in the past by other writers and this does nothing to detract from Walter Mosley’s achievement with Known to Evil.

Following on from the much loved Easy Rawlins (and if you haven’t read any of those books, boy are you in for a treat) Walter Mosley has created another serial character of complexity that, I’m certain, continued to breathe out of sight whenever I closed the book. Which I did often as I was keen to savour every sentence. For many writers I greedily consume their words as I anxiously race to the end, but with Mosley I find that I consciously slow down so that every insight, each description, every word is rubbed against the microscope of my thoughts.

I love it when I come across a new (to me) writer with a backlist of books to go at and one such introduction (to me) during 2010 was S J Rozan and “Trail of Blood”

Synopsis: Estranged for months from fellow P.I. Bill Smith, Chinese-American private investigator Lydia Chin is brought in by colleague and former mentor Joel Pilarsky to help with a case that crosses continents, cultures, and decades.

In Shanghai, excavation has unearthed a cache of European jewellery dating back to World War II, when Shanghai was an open city providing safe haven for thousands of Jewish refugees. The jewellery, identified as having belonged to one such refugee - Rosalie Gilder - was immediately stolen by a Chinese official who fled to New York City. Hired by a lawyer specializing in the recovery of Holocaust assets, Chin and Pilarsky are to find any and all leads to the missing jewels.

My review began as follows...
Published as The Shanghai Moon in the US, Trail of Blood is one of those books. You know, the kind that demands your attention and refuses to allow you to do anything else – other than drink coffee and visit the bathroom – until it is finished.

There is so much to enjoy and admire about this novel, great characters, neat prose and a writer who plots expansively and ambitiously. SJ Rozan offers up a rich tapestry of historical mystery stitched in to contemporary suspense. Using letters and journal entries from the 1930s and 1940s, Rozan illustrates a little known facet of the war: the Jewish ghetto in Shanghai, setting the stage beautifully for a modern quest for missing valuables stolen during the Holocaust. The plot dips, weaves and turns to the very last page offering a tantalising clue here and a fascinating insight there.

Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer is the second book from South Africa to make my faves for the year.

Synopsis: Some say Detective Benny Griessel is a legend. Others say he is nothing but a drunk.
Either way, he has stepped on too many toes over the years ever to reach the top of the promotion ladder. However, as Thirteen Hours opens he is working at staying sober in order to win back his estranged wife and kids, while mentoring the new generation of crime fighters - mixed race, Xhosa and Zulu.

Two crimes demand his attention; a prominent figure in the fledgling South African music industry is murdered and a young American backpacker disappears in Cape Town. The politicians panic. North America is a huge tourist market for the country and this is a situation they do not want to grow into an international news event.
 Benny has just thirteen hours to save the girl, save his career, and uncover a conspiracy, which threatens the financial stability of the whole country.

Review: “Thirteen Hours” opens with a young American girl running away from a group of men with guns. We soon find out that she witnessed the death of her best friend at the hands of these men and she knows if she doesn’t get to safety she will be next.  From this rip-roaring start the action never lets up.

Meyer is genius at maintaining the pace at a breakneck speed while inserting just enough information about his characters and their world to make the action relevant and the characters believable.
The flavour running through the very human stories at the heart of this fine novel is unmistakably African. Meyer demonstrates his affection for his country while highlighting some of the issues that affect it as it works towards re-building post-apartheid.

Thirteen Hours is a fascinating read that offers pulsing action, a beautiful setting and a very real set of characters. It’s one of those books you finish with regret and then immediately begin searching for more of the author’s work.

Another author who never fails to deliver is Robert Crais and with “The First Rule” he stuck to his unfailingly high standards.

Synopsis: The team thought that Frank Meyer had got out of the 'life' safely. For the love of a good woman, he had put an end to his days as a mercenary and settled down to a normal life with a “proper” job and 2.4 children. It had been a decision he laboured over, but encouraged by his boss and friend Joe Pike; he committed to it and walked away from the only life he had ever known.

Ten years later, a group of vicious killers charge into his Los Angeles home and brutally gun him and his family down. The local cops are convinced that Frank never entirely left his former life and their cursory investigation convinces them that Frank was involved with some unsavoury characters, and that the deal backfired big time.
Pike knows better. He starts his own investigation and it doesn't matter that, as he delves deeper into the events of that traumatic evening, he discovers that this group of criminals are bigger and more well-organised than he ever could have imagined - part of sprawling gang of east European mafia. None of that concerns him. One of his team has been killed and everybody involved will pay the ultimate price.

Here’s an excerpt from my review of this one: Fans of Robert Crais will be well aware of his work with Elvis Cole and his side-kick, the enigmatic Joe Pike. Most of the previous works are fronted by Elvis, but in The First Rule, Joe gets the nod.

Joe Pike is my favourite “bad”, good guy out there. Crais has created a wonderful character that embodies everything you want from an action hero. An expert fighter, with or without weapons, dependable to the last, and with an unwavering belief in his own set of ideals. He will act as judge, jury and executioner and once set on that path he will do so without question.

This is heroic fiction with high voltage action scenes as carefully choreographed as anything on the Broadway stage. Once again Robert Crais delivers. What can I say? I’m a fan.

So booklovers, I've bored you with my choices - what got your literary juices flowing this year?


  1. AAARGH - having horrible problems with my font. Excuse my technical shortcomings, please.

  2. Known To Evil sounds good. I've never read Mosley but saw a well above average tv movie of Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned.

  3. Ricky, you've got to read Mosley. Everybody's got to read Mosley. He's The Man.

  4. You know, usually I read more Crime Fiction, which only means there will be more new to me next year. But in my TBR pile are Play Dead, The First Rule, True Blue, Hell's Corner, New Tricks, Coben, Crais, Baldacci, and Rosenfelt. I've gotten to where I just copy your reviews to a TBR file.

  5. That's quite a compliment, Marley. Let me know if you agree with my choices, wontcha?