Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Best of 2013

Yes, it's that festive round-up, look-back-at-the-books-of-the-year time again, folks. And Pulp Pusher has rolled out the big guns for their expert opinions. There's Matt Hilton and Doug Johnstone from the UK and Dave Zeltserman teams up with Pusher-fav Barry Graham from the US, just to keep both camps happy. Some of their picks - and a few more from their peers - won't be a surprise but one or two might make their way onto next year's must-read lists. So, enjoy, you're in safe hands with this lot ...

Matt Hilton.

Matt Hilton

Being an author, I’m also an avid reader, and I tend to read the kind of books that I also like to write. So it probably comes as no surprise to learn that a few of my favourite reads of 2013 have been in the crime thriller genre.

I’ve enjoyed a number of good books this year, some of them from some of my must-read authors, like Simon Kernick, John Connolly, Robert Crais, Tom Wood and J A Kerley, but I have also discovered three notable writers worthy of mention that you might not have tried yet.

Sean Lynch, an ex soldier and ex police detective in the San Francisco Bay Area, served up his debut novel ‘Wounded Prey’ (Exhibit A Books) and it satisfied my needs for a great read on many levels. So much so that I offered the following endorsement: “With Wounded Prey, Sean Lynch delivers a hell for leather, wild ride of a debut with the “been there done that” authenticity that lifts it above other thrillers. I just added Farrell and Kearns to my short-list of favourite characters, and Vernon Slocum to my worst nightmares! Think First Blood meets No Country For Old Men.”

I have come late to my second pick of the year, and the name James Lee Burke probably requires little introduction to crime fiction readers. His Dave Robicheaux books are well known and well respected, but to my shame I must admit to never having read one until this year. Because I’m a bit finicky when it comes to reading books, I prefer to read a series in order, so started with ‘The Neon Rain’. Though the book feels a little dated these days (it was first published a number of years ago), it is beautifully written, poetic in paces, evocative, and stuffed with the kind of gritty realism I enjoy.

Lastly, and I’m cheating slightly here because the book has not yet been released, but I had the pleasure of reading an uncorrected proof of the book, there’s Mason Cross.  Cross is the pen name of an author based in Glasgow, Scotland. His book ‘The Killing Season’ featuring Carter Blake, will be released on 24th April, 2014, so it’s one to watch out for this coming spring. When Caleb Wardell, the infamous 'Chicago Sniper', escapes from death row two weeks before his execution, the FBI calls on the services of Carter Blake, a man with certain specialised talents whose skills lie in finding those who don't want to be found. It’s a fast-paced, thoughtful novel that is at once a manhunt and a terrific introduction to a brand new series.

Barry Graham

Barry Graham.
Unsurprisingly (since everybody else seems to share this opinion), your novel His Father's Son is one of the best I read this year. Since it's your first non-genre novel, I'm glad people weren't put off, because it not only isn't a departure from your crime novels, but a deepening of their themes and concerns. That said, anybody who worries that you might be turning into a law-abiding citizen will be reassured by your newest one, The Ringer.

The least-known author I read this year is also one of the best. Bart Lessard is the pen-name of an American writer who does nothing to promote himself or his books, which makes me think his modesty exists in proportion to his talent. His first novel, The Danse Joyeuse at Murderer's Corner, is a historical crime story about Shanghaiing that shocked me with its brilliance. His second novel, Rakehell, was published this year and might be even better. There's no one better than Lessard at combining a gripping story with convincing historical detail in elegant prose.

Gerard Brennan's latest, The Point, isn't as good as Wee Rockets or Fireproof, but it's still terrific.

Daniel Woodrell's The Maid's Version is probably his weakest novel - but Woodrell at his weakest ranks with most others at their strongest, and, though I didn't love this book, I liked a lot.

Larry Fondation has never written a book that wasn't great, and his latest, the short story collection Martyrs and Holymen, is magnificent.

Greg Rucka's graphic novel Lazarus Vol. 1 is as good as it gets, perhaps equalled only by his Stumptown Vol. 2.

Dave Zeltserman.
Dave Zeltserman

Best ebook: Sacrifices by Roger Smith
Best print novel: Swallowing a Donkey's Eye by Paul Tremblay
Best classic crime novel: The Screaming Mimi by Fredric Brown

Nick Quantrill

My reading this year was bookended by two great crime novels. I started the year with RATLINES (Stuart Neville), a dense and morally ambiguous look at the harbouring of Nazis in 1960s Ireland. I finished the year with HOW A GUNMAN SAYS GOODBYE (Malcolm Mackay). On the face of it, the Glasgow trilogy is yet another exploration of gangland, but Mackay offers a nuanced take of human behaviour. Away from crime, TUNE IN (Mark Lewisohn) functions as a social history as well as a rock biography when looking at The Beatles pre-fame. Think you know their story? Think again.

Paul D. Brazill.
 Paul D. Brazill

The Street Martyr by T. Fox Durnham

Over the years, America has given us an abundance of great urban poets, such as Johnny Thunders, Chester Himes, Tom Waits, George V. Higgins, Bruce Springsteen, Nelson Algren, Martin Scorsese and John Cassavetes. Poets that simultaneously eulogise, celebrate and chastise the neon soaked and blood stained streets of America’s cities. Poets that embrace the highways and the alleyways. The bodies and the bullets. The sirens and the screams. The saints and the sinners. The lost and the lonely. The dispossessed. People like The Street Martyr’s Vincent – a battered and bruised small time criminal with a tarnished heart of gold.

With The Street Martyr, T. Fox Durnham has created visceral, vivid, lyrical, and heart wrenching tale of lost souls living life on a razor’s edge. A powerful and gripping tale which will haunt your dreams.

Blood Red Turns Dollar Green – Paul O’Brien.

Epic and intimate. Intense and involving. Paul O’Brien’s follow up to Blood Red Turns Dollar Green is even more streamlined and even faster moving than its cracking predecessor. Loose ends from the first book are tied up and new ones opened up. This is a major piece of crime fiction storytelling that breathlessly moves from character to character and backwards and forwards in time. It really would make a great TV series along the lines of Boardwalk Empire or The Sopranos and I can’t wait for part three.

Doug Johnstone.

Doug Johnstone

James Sallis, 'Others of My Kind'
Helen FitzGerald, 'The Cry'
Sara Gran, 'Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway'
Alissa Nutting, 'Tampa'

Douglas Jackson

A Delicate Truth - John Le Carre. The master right back to form in a bleak, frightening and uncomfortably realistic spotlight on our times.

The Twelfth Department - William Ryan. Moscow militia detective Koralov swept along by the tide and trying to stay afloat in Stalin's Russia.
I appear to also have reread Patrick O'Brian's entire Aubrey-Maturin series, which is right up there at the pinnacle of historical fiction.

Howard Linskey
Howard Linskey.

I read a lot of good stuff in 2013 but I am going to single out two books; the first is from an established writer and the second a debut novel. Megan Abbott’s ‘Dare Me’ focuses on a high school where a driven and glamorous new teacher takes over the cheerleading team, alienating its formidable captain in the process. Their feud escalates following a murder, with the narrator of this intriguing tale caught between her best friend, the vindictive team captain, and the inspiring teacher with a dark secret. I got an early look at Evan Dolan’s assured debut ‘Long Way Home’, which has a gritty and realistic UK backdrop, involving gang masters and exploited immigrant workers. It also features highly believable lead characters and is very well written. I have no doubt this one will do very well in 2014.

Helen FitzGerald

Doug Johnstone for writing a believable, well-rounded and modern male character in Gone Again (and not for saying nice things about my book, honest). 

Lisa O’Donnell, for being the standiest-outiest voice I’ve read in years. Closed Doors is very different from her first (The Life of Bees) and I think it’s even better. 

And Alissa Nutting’s Tampa, the bravest and most challenging book I read this year.

Gerard Brennan.
Gerard Brennan

The Lost, Claire McGowan
This novel, set in Ballyterrin (a fictional border town in Northern Ireland rather similar to Newry), introduces us to Paula Maguire. A young girl has gone missing and Paula's supervisors hope that she'll have an insight into the case having attended the same school and grown up in the same town. Unfortunately, Paula would prefer to stay in London rather than face her own past demons. McGowan is an excellent writer with a knack for fully-formed, believable characters. I'm impatiently waiting on the second instalment.

The Twelfth Department, William Ryan
Set in 1930s Russia, this is the third novel to feature Captain Korolev of the Moscow Militia. The Twelfth Department delivers a satisfying mystery that will appeal to all crime fiction fans. It is also a fascinating lesson in the history and politics of Russia during Stalin's reign. I loved everything about this book, not least the understated wry humour that Ryan employs. He has written this historical novel with a contemporary audience firmly in mind, and that makes all the difference.

A Dark Redemption, Stav Sherez
My first Sherez read, but it will not be my last. In fact, Eleven Days, the second Carrigan and Miller mystery, is currently nearing the top of my teetering 'to be read' pile. The duo investigate the rape and murder of a Ugandan student in London. They traverse immigrant communities and uncover dark secrets that have far-reaching consequences. And Carrigan has secrets of his own that Miller isn't privy to. His inability to face his past could destroy them both.

Ratlines, Stuart Neville
Stuart Neville takes a break from his Belfast-set series of thrillers to turn his hand to historical crime fiction set in Dublin in 1963. Lieutenant Albert Ryan is called in to investigate a number of murders. What links the victims is the fact that they are former Nazis granted asylum by the Irish government. With a terrific representation of Charles Haughey at the height of his colourful career, this book will appeal to crime fans and history buffs alike.

Safe House, Chris Ewan
Set on the Isle of Man, this novel boasts a wonderfully intriguing premise. Rob Hale, island native and TT racer, meets a mysterious woman with a strange accent. Lena asks him for a spin on his motorcycle. Unfortunately, despite Rob's proficiency on a bike, the pair take a tumble. Rob comes to in hospital and when he asks about Lena he's told the girl wasn't at the site of the crash and is likely a figment of his imagination. Rob refuses to believe this and teams up with a PI to track down the mystery woman. Ewan's writing style is as strong as his plot. He had me gripped from start to finish.

5 anticipated reads for 2014

In the Morning I'll Be Gone, Adrian McKinty
The third in the Sean Duffy series of mysteries. McKinty is one of the greats and I'll always look forward to his latest releases.

Hurt, Brian McGilloway
The second Lucy Black novel. Little Girl Lost was the first book in this series and a departure from his Donegal-set Inspector Devlin series. Lucy Black is a member of the PSNI and a Derry native, as is her creator.

All the Things You Are, Declan Hughes
Declan Hughes is best known within crime fiction circles for his Ed Loy novels. Set in America, as opposed to Loy's Dublin, this seems to be a major change in direction for Hughes, and I'm chomping at the bit to see where he's ended up.

Long Way Home, Eva Dolan
To date, I've only read some short fiction from Dolan, but I'm also a fan of her blog, Loitering With Intent. Judging by her reviews, she has incredibly good taste. A crime fiction connoisseur. I expect great things.

The Norfolk Mystery, Ian Sansom
Cosy or not, Sansom is a genius. End of.

Because I like the idea of a list containing 13 entries, here are 3 old skool reads, new to me in 2013, that I highly recommend. I read other classic titles, but these stood out in my memory.

Joe Gores, Interface
The Heat is On, Chester Himes
The Prone Gunman, Manchette

I'm not going to write entries for each of these. Instead, I urge you to google/bing/whatever the authors and learn a little more about them. All three taught me a lot this year.

Here's to more reading in 2014.