Friday, 17 December 2010

My Crime/Thriller Picks of 2010 (part one)

Everybody and their granny is getting in on the act, so I thought, why not, Michael me lad? Anywho, for what it’s worth, here are some of my favourites of the last year.

In no particular order...

Don Winslow – Savages

It’s fair to say that Everybody and Their Granny have included this book in their top ten and no wonder, it’s the dawg’s bollocks.

The story: Part-time environmentalist and philanthropist Ben and his ex-mercenary buddy Chon run a Laguna Beach-based marijuana operation, reaping huge profits from their loyal clientele. In the past when their turf was challenged, Chon happily eliminated the threat. But now they may have come up against something that they can't handle - the Mexican Baja Cartel wants in, sending them the message that a 'no' is unacceptable. 

When they refuse to back down, the cartel escalates its threat, kidnapping Ophelia, the boys' playmate and confidante. Ophelia's abduction sets off a dizzying array of ingenious negotiations and gripping plot twists.

The verdict: As I said over at – “The book is laced with dark humour, the action is tight, controlled and utterly believable and the dialogue is so hip it feels that Winslow is setting the trend. We need to get the word out there; Winslow deserves to be one of the genre’s favourite sons. Buy a copy and demand all your friends do so as well.

Footnote – my new favourite author, Mr Winslow, is going Trevanian (and if you don’t know who Trevanian was, do yourself a favour and look him up) on us next year. Look out for SATORI. Fantastic stuff.

R.J. Ellory – Saints of New York.

Regulars of this blog will know I hold Roger’s work in high esteem. This is what I said over at
Dark and intense, Saints of New York opens, quite literally with a blood bath and from there you are in the master’s hands and he’s not letting go until that last satisfying page is turned. Saints of New York is a novel of corruption and salvation, of the unshakable persistence needed to uncover the truth and of one man's pursuit for meaning hidden among the phantoms of his psyche.”

Eeesh, I’m coming over all hyperbolic at the end there. Had to go and lie down in a dark room after writing that review.

Roger Smith – Wake up Dead

The synopsis: It’s a hot, dry night in Cape Town when gun-runner Joe Palmer and his ex-model, American wife Roxy are car-jacked, leaving Joe lying in a pool of blood. As the thieves, meths addict Disco and his sidekick Godwyn, make their getaway, Roxy makes a split-second decision that changes her life forever.

This decision brings her on a collision course with Billy Afrika, a mercenary to whom Joe owes money, Disco's prison-loving gangster “husband” Piper, a would-be African insurgent leader, and a dirty cop determined to use Roxy to escape his dangerous Cape Flats beat. 

The review: It simply doesn’t get more “noir” than this. This is easily the most violent book I’ve read this year, with a degree of carnage that could almost push this book into the horror genre. However, it is a violence that is germane to the characters and springs from the author’s understanding of the people he is writing about, rather than violence just for the sake of it. 

With his neat prose and breakneck pace, Roger Smith has conjured an excellent read. I’m guessing that this is not a book that the South African tourist board will be touting; it is undoubtedly a book that will place this country’s thriller writers in the forefront of a world readership.

John Connolly – The Whisperers

Our John (I’ve met him once, so I feel a degree of familiarity is not stretching things. Hi, John – remember Glasgow. A bar full of booksellers? No. Oh well *hangs head*  never mind.) Where was I? Yes. Our John is one of those writers whose careers I’ve followed from day one.

Synopsis: The border between Maine, USA and Canada is leaky. Almost anything can be smuggled across it: drugs, cash, weapons, people...

Now a group of disgruntled former soldiers has begun its own smuggling operation, and what is being moved is infinitely stranger and more terrifying than anyone can imagine. Anyone, that is, except private detective Charlie Parker, who has his own intimate knowledge of the shadows that reside in men's hearts.

My Review: John Connolly is quite simply one of the best thriller writers around. He’s the kind of writer who not only opens the door to his imagination, he pulls up a chair and plumps up the cushions first. The Whisperers is quite simply an excellent addition to the man’s oeuvre.  As always the prose manages to be both muscular and lyrical, the plot deals with the macabre and the emotional and the characters are as finely drawn as any you’ll come across in literature. My only complaint was that at times in the beginning of the book there was a wee bit too much exposition - you know the bits you skim over - but this could have been sorted with some judicious editing. In any case JC can get away with this sort of thing, where lesser writers might not, because everything else is just SO on the mark. This is me counting the days till the next one.

Cross Country Murder Song by Philip Wilding

Synopsis: On a journey from the Jersey Shore to the Pacific Ocean, the driver makes his way across an America distorted beyond all recognition, as if in a fevered dream. He is accompanied by ghosts of his traumatic past and pursued the police, who have discovered the alarming secret in his basement.

Speeding past and stopping off along the way, the driver meddles, mixes and murders, heading towards the edge of the New World and to his own sick realisation of the American Dream.

An excerpt from my review read thusly: Philip Wilding has created a uniquely disturbing and visceral novel that will haunt you for days after you have finished the last page.

This is not a book you can carelessly skim; every word demands your attention as Wilding creates a patchwork quilt of experience moving from the past to the future to the present with a searing detail that burns into your conscience.
The main character is someone we come to know only as “the driver” and as he moves from one dreadful act to the next you feel yourself hoping he evades capture to find out what else he will get up to.

Even the secondary characters, each deep in a well of their own unhappiness are prone to act in ways that surprise and shock. This work is almost certainly destined to become a cult classic and if you are ever stuck as to how to offer the definition of “noir” I suggest you point to this book.

The writing is hypnotic and carries the lyricism and precision of a poet.  “Cross Country Modern Song” is a 21st-century road trip that will grip you in the heart of its darkness forcing you to think about our world and it’s excess.

Old Dogs by Donna Moore
Our Donna (again with the familiarity, sheesh) is a pal and this is not the reason why I’m giving her a mention. The reason is because she’s damn good!!! End of!!! (So deserving of 3 exclamation marks)

Synopsis: OLD DOGS is a crime caper set in Glasgow. It features an elderly Italian Countess and her sister who are actually ex-hookers turned con artists, who decide to steal a pair of golden, jewel-encrusted Shih Tzu dogs from a museum. Unfortunately, there is something of a queue of undesirables after the same loot – including the elderly ladies’ dodgy chauffeur who is desperate to get in on the action, a pair of Glasgow neds who dream of buying their own pub, an out of work insomniac bent on revenge, and an innocent young Scottish islander who wants the dogs returned to the Buddhist monastery they came from.

My review: With care and precision Donna introduces her main players and their foibles and then very cleverly drops them in and out of the action to maximum effect.  How she orchestrates her comic set-pieces is nothing short of genius and designed to eke out every last piece of humour.

If Alexander Pope was here to turn his attention to crime writing rather than philosophy he might have said, to laugh is human; to make other people laugh is divine. Donna Moore shine your halo

I kind of ran out of energy there, people - besides you can only deal with so much awesomeness at the one time. So come back another day and I'll give you the rest of my faves.



  1. Awwwwwww - thank you, our Michael. I'm all chuffed now :o) And I need to get hold of that Don Winslow. I love his stuff but haven't read that one.

  2. totally deserved, Donna. Anyone who makes me laugh that much deserves lots of plaudits