My Top Five Reads of 2014

It’s been a strange reading year for me. I read less than I have done in a long while, mainly as I was concentrating on my own writing. It’s actually very hard to do both. I use Goodreads to log my reads and I know I finished 56 books this year which is around one a week.

There were, however, some gems amongst the books. What has surprised me is how much I’ve enjoyed novels written in the English language. You’ll see translated fiction in my list, of course, but I’ve discovered some amazing home-grown writers too.

It was hard to whittle the list down to my traditional five. I apologise for the male bias but that’s the way my reading went this year. I did think about having a top 10 instead. It would have been around a fifty-fifty male-female split. But it has been a ‘top five’ since Crimepieces started. And what’s Christmas without tradition?

1. Thomas Mogford – Hollow Mountain

TM

I’ve come to this series in the third book and I’d love to go back and read the earlier ones. Mogford is an excellent writer. The books are thrillers set in Gibraltar with a hard edge and excellent characterisation. The place comes alive in Mogford’s hands and I wish I’d discovered this author sooner.

 

2. Parker Bilal – The Ghost Runner

Parker Bilal

Another writer that I wish I’d read earlier. The Ghost Runner is set in the Egyptian desert and has the feel of a place existing on the margins of society. The protagonist is a stranger in a foreign country and there’s a feeling of isolation and otherness that make this book a special read.

 

3. K T Medina – White Crocodile

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A debut novel set partly in Cambodia. The writing is excellent and a sense of menace dominates the narrative set amongst landmine clearance. I can’t wait to see what comes next from this talented writer.

 

4. Hans Olav Lahlum – The Human Flies

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Delightfully retro and with a tightly contained plot, Lahlum’s book was the star translation for me this year. Another writer that I can’t wait to read again.

 

5. Barry Forshaw – Euro Noir 

Euro noir

 

Not a crime novel but an essential guide to what’s available in translation from Europe. There are some excellent recommendations, particularly from countries largely undiscovered such as Greece and Romania. And I love the retro cover.

So a slightly different list than I expected at the start of the year. But that’s the joy of reading. The discovery of new books and writers. Do you agree with my choices? I’d love to hear.

 

Review: K T Medina – White Crocodile

White-Crocodile-cover1For a debut novel to stand out, it has to offer something special to the reader. I’ve read few crime books set in Cambodia and it’s not a country that has ever tempted me to visit. However, in the tradition of the best reading, I was completely pulled into the world created by K T Medina. White Crocodile is a story of violence and revenge against the backdrop of mine clearance in a country still recovering from conflict.

The white crocodile of the title refers to the symbol of fear and death according to a Cambodian myth. Its legend is evoked by locals in response to a series of fatalities in an area which is being cleared of mines by a humanitarian charity. Tess Hardy has taken a job with the organisation in order to investigate the death of her ex-husband, Luke. Although her marriage was characterised by violence, in her last conversation with her ex she could hear fear in his voice. When she arrives in Cambodia, she discovers that teenage mothers are disappearing from local villages and are later found mutilated and killed.

White Crocodile has a compelling narrative that grabs you right from the start of the book. At the outset there is a suspicious explosion that maims one of the other mine clearers and it’s not clear if Johnny is a victim or implicated in the conspiracy that surrounds all the killings. As the plot develops, Tess’s personal history, the killing of the outcast women and a murder investigation in Manchester are interweaved into a compelling narrative.

Medina cleverly makes sure that Tess Hardy is on equal footing with the other protagonists. She is a mine clearer in her own right and saves the life of Johnny using a mix of bravery and knowledge of  land mines. This means that in a setting of vulnerable women, despite Tess’s abusive past, she seems an intrepid and determined seeker of truth.

White Crocodile is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Thanks to Faber for my review copy.