GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn. A hugely audacious thriller which takes us into the dark and twisted heart of modern marriage.
RATLINES by Stuart Neville. I was lucky enough to get a proof of this and was thoroughly engrossed by this brilliant thriller, taking as its backdrop a little known and hugely shocking period in Irish history. Neville just gets better and better.
MORANTHOLGY by Caitlin Moran. Hands down the nest non-fiction book I've read all year. In turns laugh-out-loud hilarious, righteously furious and deeply moving, a collection of Times columns that proves beyond any doubt that Moran is the best columnist we have.
Ian Ayris brilliant debut novel is set against the backdrop of two classic West Ham cup finals. ‘Abide With Me’ is a marvellously well written story involving crime, football, unemployment, prison and the bonds that tie families and friends together. It’s a nostalgic and compelling read that will keep you hooked till the end.
CEMETERY LAKE by Paul Cleave
Theodore Tate is a Christchurch PI on a downward spiral who gets embroiled in an investigation that centres around Cemetery Lake, a forbidding place that gradually yields up bodies as well as secrets. This is a really well-written crime novel that should be up there with the best. Paul Cleave is a terrific writer who deserves to be bigger in the UK and will no doubt soon be discovered by legions of crime fiction fans over here.
WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel
I have to include this, as it was a wonderfully written novel. It focuses on Thomas Cromwell and his crucial role at the centre of Henry the Eighth’s court, during one of the bloodiest and most fascinating periods of English history. Hilary Mantel’s portrayal of this complex man was justifiably awarded the Booker prize and I am looking forward to the follow-up, ‘Bring up the Bodies’, which also won the Booker. That will be my Xmas read, so I can escape to a far more interesting world while the relatives are watching ‘Strictly or ‘EastbloodyEnders’.
Bloody hell, it was a difficult choice this year. Lots and lots of good stuff. Although there was never any question about Abbott being top. Even though this list is in no particular order.
DARE ME by Megan Abbott:
What can I say? Again. Abbott tops my shortlist with a fantastic novel that I would never have read if I hadn’t known how good her previous books were. After all, the world of cheerleading isn’t one I’d automatically want to read about. But in Abbott’s hand, the squad becomes a microcosm world with its own rules and politics and transgressions. A fantastic, thrilling and ultimately terrifying read, this confirms Abbott as one of the most talented novelists working today in any genre.
THE TWENTY YEAR DEATH by Ariel S Winter:
A fantastic achievement – three novels in one, each written in the distinct style of a classic crime writer, each adding to a bigger picture that tells one story over the span of, well, twenty years. Winter manages to evoke the styles of George Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson without falling into the trap of pastiche. A rare achievement, especially with the Chandler. Add to that the beautiful packaging by Hard Case Crime and you have a book that is worth shelling out for a physical copy.
THE WRATH OF ANGELS by John Connolly
Connolly’s gift for prose remains evident even this far into his career, and his ability to marry high concept with genuine emotion continues to impress. Again, back to the mix of horror and crime that sees Connolly at his blistering best. Wrath of Angels is one of the most chilling Charlie Parker books yet. There’s a beauty here amongst the horror, and a sense that Connolly isn’t just going for cheap shocks but is trying to get under your skin, leaving you with a sense of unease and even more a sense that horror is as much about the evil of human beings as it is the machinations of larger, more uncertain forces. Absolutely incredible, as I’ve come to expect from Connolly.
SAVAGES by Don Winslow was amazing and has a great two word opening chapter. After a lot of nagging from various agents and publicists I finally broke down and read Don Winslow and I am so happy I did. Like a kid in a sweetie shop where the owner has just keeled over and the ambulance isn't there yet, I binged on his books for a few months.
GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn was another terrific book. I won't spoil the ending but it was really interesting from a writer's perspective. It was a writer's ending. In other words, it probably felt emotionally correct but it earned Gillian a fair bit of backlash from readers. My take was that whether you liked it or not, she had done such a wonderful job with the book that she was entitled to end it how she liked. What a talent.
TRIAL JUNKIES by Robert Gregory Browne was another great book by another great writer and a fascinating case study in the new world of author publishing. It sold really, really well but would it have done as well with a publisher? Probably not. Not because of any quality issue but because publishers pick their winners and I suspect it would have been seen as too niche. If you haven't read Rob, go read him.
Plug: My new Ryan Lock short story, Lock & Load, will be available in mid-December in e-book and print. Can't promise it's anywhere as good as those three books, but if you like the Lock series, or want a quick introduction to the characters and writing, then check it out.
Elmore Leonard is my favorite English-language writer, and at the age of 87 he still has no peers. His novel RAYLAN shows him on top form - funny, honest, brutal and compassionate, with a mesmerizing story packaged in the tightest, most elegant prose anyone can write.
Daniel Woodrell's tales of hillbilly thug life are beautiful, painful and brilliant. All of his out-of-print titles were reissued this year (because of the success of the film of Winter's Bone), and he also published a new one, a collection of stories called THE OUTLAW ALBUM. His novels show him to superior to Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy, and now his stories show him to be superior to Faulkner.
And, while I'm making useless comparison between writers, I'll say that Jim Thompson has come back to life, and his new name is Jake Hinkson. If that sounds like hyperbole, read Hinkson's first novel, HELL ON CHURCH STREET, and then you can apologize for ever doubting my word. It's a tale of pure evil, and an instant noir classic.
THE COLD COLD GROUND by Adrian McKinty
A stunning example of all that’s good about crime fiction. Set in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s, it’s a novel with something important to say and it certainly does so with some force, evoking its own chilling atmosphere, but it never forgets about entertainment in a compellingly told story.
PIG IRON by Ben Myers
John John is a loner. He’s also a traveller who has never travelled. Fresh out of prison, he’s a young man searching for an identity. “Pig Iron” is a beautifully judged tale of searching for redemption in contemporary Britain. It’ll also tear your heart out.
WEIRDO by Cathi Unsworth
As good as her previous work has been, “Weirdo”, takes Unsworth to a whole new level. Dark, disturbing and unsettling, it’s part coming of age story, part mystery. As well as the inspired use of a dying seaside town as the backdrop, the stench of corruption that pervades retired DI Len Revett gives us one of this year’s finest characters.
I love a screwed-up woman, and no-one does them better than Sophie Hannah. Kind of Cruel is twisted, funny and intriguing… another triumph.
I’d never read THE GREAT GATSBY, perhaps because we FitzGeralds with a capital "G" despise those without, but my daughter’s doing it at school, so I thought I’d give it a go. I think it’s exquisite: every sentence fills me with bitter jealousy. It’s making me consider going lower-case.
Yet again, Emily Sy John Mandel floated my boat with her 4th novel THE LOLA QUARTET, which on the surface is about unreliable journalists, what happened to a high school jazz quartet and the vagaries of Florida real estate, but below the surface is about so much more.
Then again I must add my name to the long list of the many who have been singing the praises of Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL which stormed the bestseller lists and is red-hot portrait of a marriage gone wrong, but also the best suspenser of the year with twists to spare and venom to boot.
I'll cheat with my third choice and select a series that now runs to 4 titles already (and with one more to come): Vina Jackson's EIGHTY DAYS (YELLOW, BLUE, RED & AMBER), erotica with a sucker punch and so much more in touch with reality and the real darkness of BDSM, emotions and twisted relationships than the notorious FIFTY SHADES series its publishers have been comparing it too; this is the REAL STUFF, and reading the amazon reviews shows that 50 Shades fans hate it with a vengeance but enough people love it for it to have conquered the bestseller charts in several countries, and deservedly at that....