It’s been a difficult year and written book reviews on here are way behind. I hope to at least pick up the momentum again in 2013; at best, I might even catch up with my outstanding thoughts for the list that sits on a spreadsheet. But if you have 12 days of Christmas and want to make it a book a day, here some suggestions from my 2012 reading to keep you engrossed in the written page. They are listed in random order. It’s good to see Wales featuring as a setting and quite a few strong female protagonists around.
Links will take you through to Amazon UK. Part 2 will follow tomorrow.
1. James Runcie – The Grantchester Mysteries: Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death
This is a breath of fresh air in a world of increasing gore on the crime scene. It’s light and some may find it a little too light for their taste; it’s a sort of James Herriot meets Father Brown merger. We are promised a series of six novels starting in 1953, the year of the Queen’s Coronation, and closing in 1981, the year of the wedding of Charles and Diana. The Shadow of Death introduces us to the young, post-war Sidney newly installed as a Canon in Grantchester, a Canon for whom crime is never far away. In hardback it’s also a fabulously beautiful book.
2. Alex Marwood – The Wicked Girls
Where crime fiction is said to reflect society, this one is spot on and brave. Right now, we are still coming to terms with understanding the issues surrounding children killing children and it’s not a pretty sight. Just look at the reactions you see in the media and the comments left there. Can we hope for and believe in rehabilitation? Marwood takes just that issue as her theme in The Wicked Girls. Journalist Kirsty Lindsay and cleaner Amber Gordon are thrown together by force of circumstance, but they have a past and they shouldn’t even be talking to one another. The mystery of the ‘circumstance’ is but a sideline here; the expertly delivered tension comes from the women’s forced relationship and how they deal with it. Hugely entertaining as a story, this is also a book to make you reflect and think.
3. Stav Sherez – A Dark Redemption
Back in March I wrote that I thought this was Sherez’s breakthrough novel. Later in the year I wondered why on earth it was not on the CWA’s Gold Dagger shortlist. Considering the author has been inured in the sights, sounds and smells of London since birth, he pulls off a remarkable fresh eye over the city.
The start of a new series introducing Detective Inspector Carrigan and Detective Sergeant Miller, A Dark Redemption focuses on the immigrant community, the workings of Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and how its history impacts on London’s communities today. This is a superb novel, heartbreaking in places. It leaves you wanting much more of Carrigan and Miller who are skilfully introduced by Sherez.
4. Ferdinand von Schirach – The Collini Case
Quality is a more discerning attribute than length and this novella is marked out for its cleverness. A legal thriller, The Collini Case will also make you think. It’s both an emotive and an emotional book and it concludes in a shattering dénouement. If you want to read of the impact of crime, this is the one to pick up.
5. Ewart Hutton – Good People
On an entirely personal note, this is the shortlisted Creasey novel I enjoyed reading the most. Set in Wales, even the Detective Sergeant’s name is perfect for a Welsh copper: Glyn Capaldi. Focusing on small town and rural communities with their accompanying small-mindedness and hypocrisy, Hutton’s pen is a scalpel constantly scratching the surface and exposing the reality beneath. Capaldi may be a maverick, but he’s a fresh maverick. Exiled to rural mid-Wales, he takes an interest in the activities surrounding a minibus. Six men and a young woman disappear into the night but they don’t all reappear. Those who do are ‘good people’ with a decent enough explanation. Capaldi suspects otherwise. Wry, dry and with some delicious humour, Good People puts crime in rural Wales on the map.
6. Harry Bingham – Talking to the Dead
Sticking with Wales, Talking to the Dead says hello to Cardiff and introduces Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths. The beauty of this one is in meeting Griffiths, who is a bit of a mystery herself. Bingham’s also very clever here because as we unwrap the parcel that is Griffiths we discover that she’s doing the same too. The opening in south east Wales is established in gritty and unpleasant realism, with a truly awful murder. The dénouement gets a little surreal over in west Wales; but then things can happen like that when you head west – in this reader’s experience. Like Sherez, Bingham’s also very skilful in kicking off a series to leave you wanting more, embedding the characters straight into your memory bank.