Holiday Reading

Reviews

I was hoping to publish this post in time for the 6th January, marking Epiphany by summarising four books I read over the holiday period. These are in addition to the Scandi novels which were the topic of my previous post. However life intervened so, a day late, here are some of my recommendations if you’re looking for a good read.

The Birdwatcher was rightly acclaimed on its publication in 2016 and I’m sorry it took me so long to read it (the curse of the TBR pile). Sergeant William South is a birdwatcher and policeman who avoids murder cases. However, when a fellow bird enthusiast is killed, his attempts to assist in the investigation reveal murderous secrets in the Kent landscape. I loved the mix of strong setting and unusual plot. No-one  is quite who they seem and South’s back story adds poignancy to the plot. It has an interesting ending (no spoilers) and the lead detective DS Alexandra Cupidi has her own series in Salt Lane coming this year. I also read this over Christmas and it’s a little early to review yet, but I promise you it’s a good one. For those who hadn’t read William Shaw before, he really is an excellent writer.

Readers of this blog will know that Fred Vargas is one of my favourite writers but I’ve been a little disappointed in her most recent books. The Accordionist features her three evangelist characters who play less of a role than in previous books in this series. At the centre is an accordionist, Clement, sought by police for a number of murders. Ex-special investigator, Louis Kehlweiler is asked to help prove Clement’s innocence but isn’t helped by the accused’s learning disabilities and dark secrets in his past. It was an easy story written in Vargas’s trademark style and full of Parisian menace.

Fatal Evidence is a biography of Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor, a surgeon and chemist at Guy’s Hospital who was a pioneer of forensic techniques in the nineteenth century. The book describes many of fascinating cases that Taylor investigated and the level of detail that Barrell gives us never threatens to overwhelm the portrayal of a complex individual. It’s a fascinating period. Poison was easily accessible and, until Taylor’s forensic work, its presence difficult to prove post-mortem. Poison is unfairly considered a woman’s weapon. As Fatal Evidence shows, all sections of society were using it: fathers, lovers, spouses, children, professionals. Barrell also describes the influence of Taylor on a succession of crime writers, from Dickens to Sayers. It’s  fascinating read and, if you read one non-fiction book this year, Fatal Evidence should be it.

That’s it. Happy new year agin to everyone and look out for some posts on more of my nordic noir reading and also books I’ve been devouring in advance of Granite Noir, Aberdeen’s festive of crime fiction coming in February,

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My Top Ten Crime Books of 2016

Reviews

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!