Crimeficreader: Top Picks in 2011, excellent books for your Christmas crime list

Aiming to suit just about everyone, here’s my top ten full of reading enjoyment from 2011.  Click on the pic for a non-affiliated link to Amazon.

A Lily of the Field – John Lawton (Grove Press, Atlantic Books)

The Daily Telegraph recently made this their number one for thrillers in 2011 and I am pleased to join them.  This is the seventh in a series focusing on the wealthy, Russian immigrant Troy family and Freddie Troy – a London copper – in particular.  Lily is the most ambitious novel in the series to date taking in murder, espionage, the creation and movement of the dispossessed during WWII, political and scientific development during that time.  So many individual scenes draw on the heartstrings with their bare realism and raw emotion.  Lily is a thriller at the literary end of the market, not to be compared with James Patterson et al.  The beautiful hardback of Lily makes a lovely present and it’s also available as an ebook right now.  The paperback follows in 2012 along with the reissue of the backlist in both paperback and ebook.  The series is a sumptuous and rich read; an investment in hours of enjoyment.  Do not miss this author and this series.

Kiss Me Quick – Danny Miller (Robinson)

Highly commended for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in 2011, this is a novel of broad appeal and not to be overlooked.  Set in 1960s Brighton, Miller conjures up a story and setting true to its time, and, fabulously, before the author’s time.  Detective Vince Treadwell is ‘on leave’ from his Soho, London police home and sent to Brighton to solve a murder and catch the elusive gangster Jack Regent.  The fact that Vince falls for Jack’s girlfriend, Bobby LaVita is only a minor complication in what proves to be a massive and potentially suffocating case.  Forget the Mods and Rockers, this turns into something much bigger and nastier, with focus.  Miller’s criminals are so true to the period it’s frightening reading.  And Miller is not afraid to say it like it was.  All that you’d expect for a 1960s crime novel and more.

Cold Rain – Craig Smith (Myrmidon)

Shortlisted for the 2011 CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, Cold Rain is a thriller that offers up something different.  David Albo, an associate professor of English at a mid-western university has a life that looks idyllic to the outsider, but Albo wrestles with a problem with alcohol.  As the novel opens he’s about to return to work after a sabbatical, having managed to stay off the demon liquor for two years.  He finds his return soon descends into a version of hell, starting with allegations of sexual harassment.  An unusual strand to this novel comes in the form of Albo’s childhood memories and how his late father’s second hand car salesman philosophies and principles shaped him.  Albo has wrestled with alcohol, but how does he wrestle with pure evil?

White Heat – M J McGrath (Mantle)

Who wants to find a strong woman in their novels?  Hands up now!  Not only is Edie Kiglatuk a strong female protagonist, she’s also living in one of the world’s hardest terrains: Arctic Canada.  And while the setting is cold, Edie is a character to warm to.  White Heat captures that terrain with terrific accuracy due to the author’s previous research for a non-fiction book.  Edie’s working life as a guide thrusts her into experiencing more than one death and one of them is so close to home it hurts immeasurably.  The parties involved in the expeditions are suspect based on history, and Edie’s loyalties lead her to investigation for justice as well as dealing with the local insular politics.  But this is one woman for whom the tourist trade income will not overcome family responsibilities.  Conspiracy abounds and engulfs.

Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes (Myriad)

If you’re a bookworm on twitter you may have noticed the buzz for this novel.  It quite accelerated recently when Haynes was picked as Amazon’s 2011 winner for Rising Stars.  This is an author we will see more of, without doubt.  Why the buzz?  It’s all in the story.  Haynes is simply a good storyteller who knows how to grab you and build tension.  The two timelines initially create a reading challenge, but practically everybody gets over this and enthuses about the novel.  Catherine has had a tough few years after a bad selection of relationship and is living with OCD as a result.  She hopes to have escaped her past until a phone call confirms otherwise.  Women – especially – love this novel, so you know who to buy it for…

The Garden of Betrayal – Lee Vance (Corvus)

It is very hard to pull off a thriller that involves the world of finance but Vance does it with finesse.  The Garden of Betrayal is very topical with a plot involving global terrorism, the world’s oil supply and the politics around that, and conspiracy.  But at its heart is a family full of loss and hurt, having suffered the disappearance of their young son some seven years previously.  How those extremely disparate strands meet makes for an excellent plot and Vance avoids a happy, clichéd route throwing in a shocker.  Not to be missed, even if you hate bankers.

Hunted – Emlyn Rees (Corsair)

The thriller-loving men who seek a novel under the tree will be drawn to this, as well as women who love a hero family man (and/or a more unusual shopping trip in Knightsbridge, London).  Anyone who wants a concentrated, focused diversion from the constant beeps of electronic games, potential domestic arguments and crap TV programmes will find heart beat-raising succour here.  It’s simply hard to put down Hunted.  Danny Shanklin is a former CIA operative, now private sector ‘protection’ worker who finds himself chased across London and beyond in a case that goes wrong.  Unpleasant Russians permeate proceedings.  All of London’s best forces fall in to catch him.  And, in addition to his liberty, Shanklin also has an estranged daughter to protect…

Death on the Marais – Adrian Magson (Allison & Busby)

Who else is doing 1960s France with their crime novel settings?  Death on the Marais is the introduction to a series featuring Inspector Lucas Rocco.  Relocated from Paris, he finds the countryside is not as quiet as imagined.  In addition to some nasty people and goings on, we have some delicious humour and a perfectly evoked period.  Rocco is also a major attraction for the ladies.  This is the start of an original series with great promise.  For moments of splendour and post-cheese board.

Blood Falls – Tom Bale (Preface)

Here’s another thriller that sticks like flexible Velcro to the fingers and defies that ‘putting down’ possibility.  It’s the second in a series, but the first need not be read before Blood Falls.  A former undercover officer, Joe Clayton’s life is now self-sufficiently undercover after a case went wrong and new identities were issued for protection.  Clayton is estranged from his wife and daughters and living life on his own to protect them.  He’s earning some cash painting a property in Bristol when his past catches up with him.  Clayton evades his imminent downfall only for things to go really ugly in Cornwall.  Bale specialises in gritty, real, contemporary middle-class criminals.  It’s Doc Martin without the humour and extreme eccentrics, but all the nightmares you could imagine in this one.

The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen – Lindsay Ashford (Honno)

Everyone is aware of P D James’s Pemberley novel, yes?  Well, it’s not the only Austen-inspired crime novel out there at the moment.  Where PDJ may have taken fiction and produced fiction, Ashford focuses on the life of Austen and her research discoveries in particular.  Ashford’s time at Chawton Library led her to the fact that Austen’s hair had been tested for arsenic and proved positive for a fatal amount.  Ashford’s imagination then led her to this story of the life and demise of Jane Austen as seen through the eyes of her friend, and some time governess to the Austen family, Anne Sharp.  Accurately in tune with the period in prose, alarm bells ring from all corners.  But can devoted Austenites accept the assertion Ashford presents?  Not to be missed for an Austen devotee.

5 thoughts on “Crimeficreader: Top Picks in 2011, excellent books for your Christmas crime list

  1. Ken Mahieu

    Thanks for the list. I have read two and both are on my own top ten for the year. So I am anxious to research the others here and add to my 2012 reading list.

    Ken in McLean, VA.

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