Books for Christmas 2010 – Chris Nickson and Bill Kitson pick…

Bks4Xmas2010 New on the block, but with firm foundations for the future, making them both crime fiction authors you’d be sore to miss, in the UK Bill Kitson debuted with Depth of Despair (Robert Hale) in 2009 and Chris Nickson has debuted with The Broken Token (Crème de la Crime) in 2010.  These are the books they’d like to see in your stockings this Christmas, with a [fantastically worthy – my opinion] pre-order required on times.  Over to Chris and Bill:

Chris Nickson

Susan Hill’s The Shadows in the Street is the fourth of her Simon Serrailler mysteries. The first three had been superb, not just as mysteries, but as novels, with full rich lives. The fourth, though, lacked something; rather than the smoothness that had gone before, it felt jumpy and jerky. This, however, is a superb return to the form that made the series so excellent. She’s a touching, evocative writer, and the fact that I sprang for it in hardback (which as a Yorkshire man, I’m loath to do) pretty much sums it up.

I’ve been a big fan of Christopher Brookmyre since I discovered his work several years ago. With the exception of his book set in the US he’s always been an uproarious thriller writer, quite possibly the only left-wing thriller writer around, and to my mind the funniest. In Pandaemonium he subverts the entire horror genre splendidly, also managing to skewer the military and organised religion for good measure. A warning, though – his work is addictive.

Although I haven’t had chance to read it yet (as it hasn’t been published in the UK to date) I’m eagerly awaiting John Lawton’s A Lily of the Field. He’s one of the best novelists about the middle part of the 20th century, interweaving fictional and real life characters with virtuosic brilliance and more than a touch of cynicism. Evidently Fred Troy does feature in this, at least in part, but one thing that’s guaranteed is a brilliant read that will leave you (and me) wanting more.

Finally, not a 2010 book, but one that deserves recognition, is Christian Jungersen’s The Exception. The perspective shifts between four Danish women who work together, and apart from being one of the most convincing male writer’s about females, he messes with your head as small revelations emerge, so you switch loyalties. Everything Stieg Larsson could have been.

Bill Kitson

Bad Boy by Peter Robinson

The advantages of writing a series featuring the same team of detectives working the same area are that the readers become familiar with the characters and their surroundings. Those vivid mental images are carried from book to book and are difficult to replicate elsewhere. More of that later.

The difficulty for the writer is to avoid those characters becoming two-dimensional. Unless the author is both careful and skilful their creations end up as mere caricatures.

Bad Boy is Peter Robinson’s nineteenth thriller featuring Alan Banks and Annie Cabot. The artful way he entwines the police investigation with the team members’ personal lives shows there is little danger of the protagonists becoming stereotypes.

I have to admit I was disappointed with the ITV adaptation of Banks. It was a grim tale, which cried out for some light relief to leaven it from time to time. This was missing, and what appeared on our screens was humourless, dead-pan and failed to do justice to the original.

What concerns me is that viewers unfamiliar with Robinson’s work might be put off by what they saw, which would be a shame. Regular readers will NOT be disappointed by Bad Boy. Newcomers should ignore the TV show and try this. I think they will find it entertaining enough to go raiding bookshops and libraries for more of the same.

Shutter Island by Denis Lehane

In a sense, I’m cheating, as Shutter Island wasn’t originally published in 2010. However the paperback edition was re-issued to coincide with the movie, which is my get out.

It was the film trailer that attracted me to Shutter Island. It was only when I obtained a copy that I realised Lehane also wrote Mystic River – turned into a movie by Clint Eastwood. That set me wondering what Lehane’s magic formula was.

The answer, in Shutter Island, is a tale of increasing and frightening tension and perplexity, interlaced with confused reality and the possibility of hideous, Frankenstein style experimentation, all set in a mental asylum during the 1950s.

As the plot unfolds, the reader is left increasingly uncertain which of the protagonists to believe in, which of them is a villain, and which is on the side of the angels. So much so that I wondered how Lehane was going to end the book convincingly, without leaving me with a sense of anticlimax.

The solution, when it came, was stunningly simple, quite logical and staggeringly credible. If you haven’t seen the film, I recommend reading the book first. I feel sure you won’t be disappointed.