Books of the past, present and future. My top reads of 2020 (and early 2021).

As we gladly say goodbye to 2020, the good news is that we should be able to meet up in more normal circumstances at some point in 2021. My reading this year has been a little different as I’ve relied on well-loved authors such as PD James and Josephine Tey and also read widely outside the crime genre. However, I’ve also enjoyed some outstanding crime novels which were published in 2020 and have discovered four exceptional reads for 2021.

First up my top five crime reads of 2020 (in alphabetical order).

 

1. The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves: Vera, snow and family secrets. What more could you want from a crime novel?

2.  The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths The welcome return of Ruth Galloway to Norfolk and a genuinely creepy tale.

3. The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel Not a traditional crime novel but a powerful story of a Bernie Madoff style figure and the impact of his crimes on family and victims.

4. The Wayward Girls by Amanda Mason Reminiscent of the Essex poltergeist hauntings, I loved the strong characterisation and atmospheric setting.

5. Sorry for the Dead by Nicola Upson The combination of Josephine Tey and Charleston makes for a rich narrative and there’s an intriguing historic murder to solve.

And what are the books you really want to read for 2021?

First up is the fabulous Body of Stars by Laura Maylene Walter. Set in a world where women’s skin is mapped with markings which predict their future, Celeste reaches the age where her markings change from temporary to permanent. She finds her changing body an object of fascination and she, along with other changelings, becomes an abduction target. The story is both compelling and menacing and bursts with originality.

Body of Stars is out on the 18th March

If you love alternative realities, another book I’ve read which pulled me into its worlds was The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley. Joe Tournier receives a postcard with an etching of a lighthouse on the front. It has been in the sorting office for 91 years but Joe discovers the lighthouse has only recently been built. Joe is a British slave in the French Empire. It’s a world where the French won the Napoleonic Wars. Or is it? Joe can remember a world where English is spoken and in his quest to discover if his memory losses are down to epilepsy or a more shadowy truth, he travels to Scotland to visit the lighthouse in the postcard. Brilliantly inventive with a plot designed to enthral, I didn’t want to leave the world Pulley created.

The Kingdoms is out on 27th May

The Last House on Needless Street is an atmospheric, creepy thriller reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Lulu disappeared aged six, the supposed victim of a predator. Dee, her sister, is haunted by the disappearance and rents a house near one of the suspects at the time. Ted lives with his daughter Lauren and cat, Olivia.  A loner who takes trips only to visit a dubious therapist,  is Ted responsible for Lulu’s disappearance? Unusual, sad and ultimately redemptive, it’s a book to surprise and delight.

The Last House on Needless Street is out on 18th March.

Finally, The Drowned City is the first in a series by K J Maitland. Set in the year following the Gunpowder Plot, a conspirator, Daniel Pursglove, is set free in exchange for entering Bristol and spying on the Catholic conspirators there. The city is recovering from a drenching by a River Severn wave which killed thousands. In the middle of mayhem, Daniel finds himself hunting for a killer. Beautifully written with a dark heart, Maitland knows how to pull you deep into the early Jacobean period.

The Drowned City is out on the 1st April.

So, some great books to look forward to. What were your outstanding reads for 2020?

 

New Crime . . .

In the middle of the second lockdown in England, I’m reading more than ever. It’s such a shame that bookshops have had to close their doors but good news we can still order online. I’ve read some great new crime books recently and my reading pile is tottering with novels for the coming weeks.

As soon as No Exit Press sent an email saying they had review copies of Angel‘s Inferno by William Hjortsberg, I couldn’t wait to read the book. It’s the follow up to Falling Angel which was made into the successful film, Angel Heart. I reread the original book for a workshop I was giving on novels which successfully mix crime and the supernatural and Hjortsberg is a master of this. Angel’s Inferno follows the investigation of Harry Angel who now knows of his role in the disappearance of Johnny Favourite. He’s determined to track down Louis Cyphre and his journey takes him to the Paris underworld in the hunt for the magician who goes by numerous devilish names. It’s written in Hjortsberg’s trademark noir style and the darkness at its heart holds the reader’s attention until the end. A very accomplished follow-up that will delight Hjortsberg’s readers.

I’m a huge fan of Ann Cleeve’s writing and her latest Vera book, The Darkest Evening, is a delight. It has many of the Golden Age tropes that I love: a country house, a family with thrilling secrets and the possibility of a disputed inheritance. It is also packed full of atmosphere.

The body of Lorna Falstone is found on a snowy evening after she abandoned her child in a neighbours car. Vera, finding the child, takes it to the nearest house belonging to her estranged relatives. Lorna’s story enfolds, a child of loving but overprotective parents, she’s spent time in a clinic for her anorexia and has refused to name the father of her child. Vera must put old family hurts aside to discover Lorna’s murderer. In this book, we see more of Vera’s frailty but she’s as redoubtable as ever.

Margot Kinberg is an old friend to Crimepieces. Way back in 2011 when I first started blogging, she was a supportive commenter and promoter of this blog which has continued to this day. Margot is a talented crime writer and I reviewed her novel, Publish or Perish back in 2012. A Matter of Motive is her latest novel. Newbie detective Patricia Stanley has her first murder case. Ron Clemons is found dead in his car. At first, it appears he’s a victim of a heart attack but suspicions are raised by medics and, as Patricia digs beneath his apparent faultless life, professional and personal tensions become apparent. A Matter of Motive is written in Kinberg’s witty prose and there’s a lovely classic crime feel to the plot. I loved it.