Tuesday, 27 December 2011

My Favourite "Crime" Reads of 2011

In no particular order, here are some my outstanding reads of the year. Well, everybody else is doing it ...

Megan Abbott – The End of Everything
Just WHO can you trust? Friends, family? Can you even trust yourself?
This is a book about sisters, fathers and daughters, family and friendships, truths dripping reluctantly from the owner, but more than that, it’s a book about two young girls on the verge of discovering the confusing and heady power of their gender. It’s “noir” fiction, but not as we know it.

R J Ellory – Bad Signs
Two brothers on a road trip to hell. A fascinating take on the nature/ nurture debate from one of my favourites, and one of the most consistently excellent writers in the field today.
Maybe I’m becoming a wimp as I grow older, but there were several times during the race to the end of this book that the tension became too much for me and I had to set it aside for a few minutes. Now, that is good writing!

Tony Black – Truth Lies Bleeding
Our Tone gives Gus Drury a well-deserved rest and turns his eagle-eye on the police procedural.
In my Crimesquad review in April I said, “Another area where Tony Black excels is in his depictions of those living on the edge of the law. There is no soft edge to these people. Every flaw is stripped of shadow and every bad deed gets punished. Truth Lies Bleeding is fast, sharp and brilliantly plotted. It’s only just turned spring but if I read a better example of the police procedural this year I will be amazed.”  
Nothing came across my desk to allow me to review that opinion. ‘Nuff said.

Tom Franklin - Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
An old crime returns to haunt the town’s loner, allowing us, the reader to examine our judgement of others and ultimately, our own conscience. The writing is delicious, the pace sure and steady and the sense of place offers an atmosphere that is impossible not to be seduced by. There is much to admire about this novel and a whole lot more to love and if there is any justice in the world this will become a huge bestseller.

Sam Hawken – The Dead Women of Juarez
This has to me my favourite debut read of the year. Visceral and haunting. The real-life victims of the crimes that pervade this city are in the background, their tragedy highlighted by the simple but effective ploy of showing the effect that their deaths have had on the people left behind. Time and again we see them draped in black, crushed under the weight of their grief: a much more effective device than a passage of torture. REALLY looking forward to seeing what Sam comes up with next.

Declan Burke – Absolute Zero Cool
Trying to describe this book adequately is like trying to grab a bar of soap in the bath. Just believe me when I say it is frickin’ brilliant. I'm totally in awe of Burke’s ability to craft a sentence and to unleash the bon mot. This a brave book, both in context and content. It has brains, wit and heart and the ending was pitch-perfect. Gave me a wee lump in my throat. This has got cult classic written all over it. Just off now to re-read. It’s that good!

Bill Kirton – The Sparrow Conundrum
Ahh, Bill. The man. In the interests of full disclosure I have to say that Bill is a friend (as are a few others on this list – but I knew Bill before I knew his writing) nonetheless, he has fully earned his place here. Besides, my list: my rules.

The characters that Bill Kirton serves up in award-winning, The Sparrow Conundrum are a continuous delight. My favourites were the sociopathic detective, Lodgedale and the crime boss, Eagle who surely had his head turned by a gang of bullies at a private school. Kirton is a master of the comic. If you like a change from the normal mystery/ thriller fare and you don't take your crime fiction too seriously you owe it to yourself to get a copy of The Sparrow Conundrum.

James Lee Burke – Feast Day of Fools
We’re in the Texan landscape with Hack Holland and we’re hunting a psycho. Which is nice.
Flippancy aside, JLB is one man who deserves that much used word – “awesome” in respect of his work. There is richness to this man’s writing that cannot fail to delight. He specialises in imbuing his characters with certainty of action, even while their motives are conflicted. Burke is the master of an oblique dialogue that in the hands of someone less skilled would serve only to confuse, but with him it never fails to enlighten and engage. Biblical. Epic. Awesome.

Adrian McKinty – Falling Glass
This is an archetypal tale of a man who is sent to find a woman he then falls for. What keeps the story fresh and fascinating is the quick-fire pace, the insight into his characters and the quality of the prose. Adrian McKinty is a fine stylist who says much with a few carefully chosen words and he rounds this off with touches of mythology and whispers of the arcane. A writer who deserves to be more widely read.

Nick Stone – Voodoo Eyes
As a fan of Nick’s work, Voodoo Eyes was a book that was well overdue. This is Nick Stone’s first outing since King of Swords in 2007 and boy was it worth the wait. His private detective, Max Mingus is older, not necessarily wiser but still determined to bring down the bad guy. And they really don’t come much badder than Solomon Boukman. Max is a wonderful literary creation. He is washed thin by personal tragedy, partly because he feels he deserves most of it, but still he keeps on coming. The sympathetic but honest eye that Nick Stone used to chronicle the past of Haiti in his earlier work is now used to good effect on the neighbouring island of Cuba.  Stone observes with the skill of a journalist and paints a word picture as effectively as any poet. The sense of place in this piece is so vivid you leave the books pages feeling as if you had just spent a few hours on the island itself.

Amanda Kyle Williams – The Stranger You Seek
Serial killers are (to borrow the cliché) ten-a-penny in crime fiction and it takes something a little bit special to grab and hold my attention. The Stranger You Seek has got “special” in bucketloads. Keye Street is my new favourite character and it’s her voice that takes us through this cracking read.  She is spunky, sparky (he feverishly seeks another word beginning with “sp”) and (goes for) sassy. (I didn’t get the “p” in there. So sue me.)

Aspiring writers who are struggling with the concept of “voice” should read this book and they’ll receive the message loud and clear. The author uses this to great effect not only giving the reader everything they would be looking for in such a novel, but with added warmth and wit. And this (despite the tension and body count) makes The Stranger You Seek such a joy to read.

Can’t wait to see what 2012 has in store!


  1. What the hell is Bill Kirton doing in a list which carries such true worthies? R J Ellory? Declan Burke? James Lee Burke? Oh, all of them. But thanks, Michael, it's an honour to be among them.

  2. Just don't be resting on your laurels, Kirton, you need to come up with something equally as good in 2012.

  3. Hang on a minute, didn't you forget someone? I'm off to cry in my cup of Christmas cheer.

  4. They all sound cool, been meaning to read Ellory for ages.

  5. Ricky, treat yourself - and it doesn't matter which one you go for, they are all quality.

  6. as you know, Michael, I don't do crime (At least when the reading is in questin LOL) but I'm happy that the new year will make you a published crime writer :)
    Happy New Year to Scotland and all the Scottish brothers and sisters!