My Top Ten Crime Books of 2016

Top ten books of the year have been appearing since the beginning of December but I’ve held off posting mine just in case of a last minute brilliant read. However, I’ve spent most of the festive period reading classic crime, a review of which I’ll post later.

2016 has been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of reading. I have found the submissions for this year’s Petrona to be uneven. Some long running series are feeling a bit tired and Scandi tropes which once felt fresh are increasingly being recycled to the extent that I feel I’ve already read the book. Having said that, the Nordic Noir books that do make it onto the list were a joy to read.

So, here are my top ten books of 2016 in no particular order. If you want to know which one was my favourite, I’ll reveal all in my new year newsletter.

dying-detectiveLeif G W Persson – The Dying Detective (translated by Neil Smith)

Persson is a writer with a sure touch but in this standalone he excels in both plotting and characterisation. It’s a substantial read with plenty to think about and written with Persson’s sly humour.

27152-books-origjpgPD James – The Mistletoe Murder and other stories

There will be no more Dalgliesh novels from James but Faber have provided us fans of the erudite detective with two short stories in this collection. Although they have previously appeared in publications, every story was new to me and the sumptuous cover made the book a  delight to read.

51dWXz1LAoL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Fred Vargas – A Climate of Fear (translated by Sian Reynolds)

Another writer who delights in wry humour, this is Vargas back on form. Adamsberg is without doubt my favourite detective at the moment and the Icelandic setting for part of the story was an added bonus.

30840877-_uy200_David Mitchell – Slade House

I appear to have neglected to review this book. I think I was saving the post for a round-up of supernatural stories that I read over the year. It’s a great mix of crime and spooky events and I greatly enjoyed the way it unsettled the reader.

9781843446408Barry Forshaw – Brit Noir

This is a useful guide to British crime fiction divided by geographic region. The reviews of the merits of each writers books are perceptive and includes lesser known authors for aficionados to discover.

9781784292379Elly Griffiths – The Woman in Blue

One of my favourite crime series, I love the characters and the romantic tension between Nelson and Ruth. Here, the atmospheric setting of Walsingham provided the backdrop to a great plot.

 

9781910633359Agnes Ravatn – The Bird Tribunal (translated by Rosie Hedger)

Fans of Karin Fossum will love this story where the tension is slowly ratched up. It’s an example of how crime fiction can also be literary without the writing interfering with the story.

 

The-Crow-Girl-by-Erik-Axl-Sund-665x1024Erik Axl Sund – The Crow Girl

Violent and uncompromising, I loved how it pushes the reader to confront their prejudices in relation to perpetrators of brutality. It’s long but never dull.

 

A-Dying-Breed-lightPeter Hanington – A Dying Breed

A crime novel with a difference. The Afghanistan setting works equally as well as the world of news reporting in London. It gives an insight into the clashes between old and new style journalism. Peter Hannington is a writer to watch.

 

9781509809486chameleon-peopleHans Olav Lahlum – Chameleon People (translated by Kari Dickson)

The review for this excellent book will  be coming in my next Scandi round-up. It has all of Lahlum’s usual themes but his writing never tires. I found the character of the wheelchair-bound Patricia much more sympathetic in this book and there is clearly plenty of mileage left in the series.

So that’s my top ten. Next week I’ll be posting a list of books to watch for Spring 2017. I’ve already read some excellent novels and there’s plenty to look forward to.

Wishing all readers of Crimepieces a happy new year!

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Review: John Martin – Crime Scene Britain and Ireland

61h4ZMLMIDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_After recently reviewing Barry Forshaw’s Brit Noir, which celebrates contemporary British crime fiction, it came to my attention that another recently published book also looks at crime fiction in the context of setting. Whereas Forshaw’s work concentrates on living crime writers John Martin’s Crime Scene Britain and Ireland looks at both contemporary and historic authors who wrote with a strong sense of place. He focuses on authors who write about ‘real’ settings or when the fictional place is specifically located, for example, Eastvale, Stephen Booth’s Peak District town.

The writing is authoritative and engaging and it’s as enjoyable to read of new-to-me authors as to study Martin’s views on old favourites. There is some duplication in entries as Martin wisely tries to ensure that writers such as SJ Bolton are covered in the various regions they use as settings. I particularly enjoyed reading the Midlands chapter and I’ve been left with a long reading list of authors I want to discover. At the end of each chapter there is a ‘Ten Recommended Reads’ which allows readers less familiar with the genre to discover for themselves new authors.

Crime Scene Britain and Ireland sits nicely alongside Brit Noir and I’d recommend fans of the genre to read both. It’s testimony to the strength of British crime fiction that there are such interesting reference books to dip into and savour.

Review: Barry Forshaw – Brit Noir

9781843446408Barry Forshaw’s previous two books in this Pocket Essentials series published by Oldcastle, Nordic Noir and Euro Noir, have been excellent overviews of crime fiction coming from these regions. As a British reviewer, it was inevitable that he would turn his attention to the books coming out of this country but I can’t say I envied him the task. British crime writers are a diverse bunch and writing what is billed as a ‘definitive’ investigation was never going to be easy. Brit Noir, however, is an enjoyable and informative analysis of the genre with plenty of insightful comments on the authors included.

Forshaw divides Brit Noir into geographic regions. This not only mirrors the construction of his earlier books but also reinforces what he considers, in his introduction, to be one of the defining feature of the genre: vividly evoked locales. Splitting up authors like this will never please everyone and, as Forshaw acknowledges in his introduction, there are writers such as Ann Cleeves who set their books in more than one location. What was interesting was the chapter on British writers who choose to set their novels elsewhere: a substantial bunch some of whom reflect the British expat experience abroad in their books.

The other three key elements characterising British crime fiction identified are: strong plotting, literate, adroit writing and complex characterisation. It’ll be interesting to hear if readers agree with this conclusion. Forshaw rightly, in his introduction, mentions the legacy of the Golden Age writers. I was also conscious, while reading the book, of how the more recently deceased PD James and Ruth Rendell have influenced the writing of many of the authors included.

Forshaw gives both new and established authors a significant space in what, at 226 pages, is a short book and it’s an achievement to have included so many writers. Brit Noir is a book to dip into but also, as I did, to read from cover to cover. I’ve always considered Forshaw to be an honest reviewer and the book very much reflects his personality. It made the book a stimulating and, at times, amusing read.

I was delighted to included and am looking forward to other reviews which, I’m sure will generate much discussion.