A reminder of what we asked:
Auntie Marjorie has form on Christmas Day. As soon as lunch is over and the Queen’s speech comes on the telly she likes to disappear into her boudoir with a good crime novel. She doesn’t emerge until Boxing night. You know she’s depending on you to satisfy her eclectic tastes, so what will you place under the tree for her this year?
Here, 5 authors put their parcels under the tree and Auntie Marjorie says her thank yous…
[Click on the pics to go through to non-affiliated Amazon pages.]
To be fair, I’m late in coming to this (in the wake of the excellent movie), but Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell is simply one of the best books I’ve read. There’s a mystery of sorts, but what resonates – and stays in the mind long, long after – is the place and the characters like Ree Dolly and Uncle Teardrop, as well as the constant undercurrent of simmering violence among the hill people in the Ozarks; it’s like Deliverance come to life but way, way scarier. Woodrell has developed into a masterful writer. He’s the equal of Cormac McCarthy.
Auntie Marjorie’s a big woman, but she’s in bad shape. With me, reading’s a full time job so I’ve told her to behave herself. I’ve read a lot of new stuff this year but the book that stayed in my head was one I re-read after a long gap, Ted Lewis’s Jack’s Return Home, best known as the basis for the film, Get Carter. It’s better and more coherent than the film, as bleak a slice of 1970s British noir as you’ll find. The perfect complement to sweet sherry and liqueur chocolates.
As someone who, apparently, writes crime novels, it is shameful how few crime novels I tend read. C.J.Sansom’s Shardlake series, however, has become my holiday reading of choice – and the latest in the series, HEARTSTONE, is at least as good as the four novels that have come before it. Matthew Shardlake isn’t exactly the type of bloke you would want to share glass of Christmas bubbly with (he’d almost certainly put a damper on things) but he’s a terrific guide to the seedy politics of the sixteenth century. And, more importantly, he’d keep Auntie Marjorie entertained – and out of the way – well into Boxing Day evening and beyond.
Aunt Marjorie, who’s known to keep a fully charged decanter of claret beside her four-poster for what she describes as her “festive crime novel flirtation”, needs a book that is clever, well-written and, above all, entertaining. As she likes historical fiction, provided it is considerably more historical than she is, I’ve purchased Jason Goodwin’s An Evil Eye for her this Christmas. Yashim the Eunuch, a detective who plies his trade in 19th century Istanbul, will provide that touch of exoticism that Aunt M so enjoys – and the harem scenes will remind her of that youthful adventure in Morocco which she so vividly recounts in her memoirs. The fact that there are three other Yashim novels, all equally as good, may even keep Marjorie reading into the New Year.
Whilst waiting for my granddaughter to go through seemingly interminable university interviews, I was lucky I’d had the foresight to put Peter James’s Dead Man’s Grip in the car with me, and I think it might appeal to Aunt Marjorie for her Christmas read.
If an author put out a synopsis that included a convict on release, a solicitor driving under the influence of drink, a trucker from Aberdeen, a Godfather and a Mafia hitman and set the story in Brighton, many would dismiss it as lacking credibility. However, Peter does it – and what’s more, does it effortlessly, and without putting the slightest strain on the reader’s belief.
At the heart of the credibility of the plot is that it doesn’t end neatly. By that, I mean that all the loose ends aren’t secured. And, contrary to the vast majority of crime thrillers, this reflects real life, where all crimes aren’t solved, all perpetrators do not get the punishment they deserve, and innocent victims are left unavenged.
I think Aunt Marjorie could do a lot worse. Mind you, I think she should keep it to herself. If news got out that she’d spent her Christmas alone in her bedroom with Peter James, there could be a long queue of women waiting to scratch her eyes out.