My Top Five Crime Reads of 2013

It’s that time again when we reflect on what we’ve read over the past year. I’ve been looking at some other bloggers’ lists and it’s impressive how much diversity there is in the recommendations. Crime fiction is clearly still a vibrant force with plenty for everyone.

That said, my overriding feeling is that, with a few notable exceptions, out of the 74 books that I reviewed on crime pieces, it wasn’t as successful a reading year as my previous one. There are a lot of good crime novels out there and these are a pleasure to read. But occasionally you want to read something that blows you away. It’s this feeling that makes us passionate about books and reading in general and we all need to be wowed sometimes. So, below are the exceptions. Five books that I would unhesitatingly recommend to anyone. If you didn’t like them then that’s fair enough. I loved them all.

5. Leif G W Persson – Linda, As in the Linda Murder

Linda

This is a book with a great title whose meaning only becomes clear on the final pages. I’d struggled through Persson’s previous book, Another Time, Another Life so I was surprised how much I loved this one. Part of the credit is due to Neil Smith’s excellent translation. I suspect you either love or hate the tone of this tongue-in-cheek look at a misogynist cop.

4. Mark Oldfield – The Sentinel

TSentinel

Another memorable protagonist has been created in the form of Commandante Guzman, an amoral and brutal member of Franco’s secret police. I preferred the 1950s narrative to the present day parallel story but the book was a memorable read for me and I’m already looking forward to the next installment.

3. Fred Vargas – The Ghost Riders of Ordebec

Ghost Riders

I’m huge Vargas fan and new translations of her books are a must-read for me. She’s another writer whose books divide readers; her slightly off-beat view of the world isn’t for everyone. But, in my opinion, her cast of characters are unrivalled in their eccentricities. The Ghost Riders.. is particularly good as it delves once more into France profonde.

2.  Terry Hayes – I Am Pilgrim

I am pilgrim

Anyone who read my review of this book can’t have helped noticing how enthusiastic I was about it. It helped that it was a spy novel: Le Carre is one of my favourite writers and this is one of the best modern spy stories that I’ve read. It’s a long book, around 700 pages, which may put some readers off which is a shame because once you get into the narrative it’s completely addictive.

1. Leif G W Persson – He Who Kills the Dragon

HWKtDragon

Ok, this is my second inclusion of a Backstrom book but I can’t help the fact that two great novels from the same author were published this year. This is as good a book as Linda…, and also funnier. I do look at other bloggers’ reviews of this book and I find Backstrom fans in the unlikeliest quarters.

So those are my top five recommendation of this year. What books were your outstanding reads?

Review: Mark Oldfield – The Sentinel

TSentinelThe Spanish Civil War and the subsequent thirty-six year rule of General Franco provides rich pickings for historical novelists. The turmoil of the times led to split allegiances across families and scope for advancement for those willing to undertake Franco’s dirty work. At first glance, Mark Oldfield’s debut novel might seem to be following a well trodden path but what distinguishes The Sentinel from other crime novels is the powerful central character. In Commandante Guzman, Oldfield has created a memorable anti-hero whose violent actions provide a disturbing metaphor for extreme violence that characterised the whole regime.

Dr Ana Maria Galindez is a forensic scientist employed by the guardia civil who is called to the site of a massacre in a disused mine. She discovers the role played Guzman in the killings and becomes drawn to his personality and his mysterious sudden disappearance at some point in the early 1950s. However, she and her lesbian partner come under the scrutiny of enemies who are obsessed by what the two women have uncovered. In 1953, we see Guzman head up Franco’s secret police and take sadistic delight in personally carrying out many of the punishments that he is ordered to supervise.

The book’s split narrative, oscillating mainly between 2009 and the early 1950s with some exceprts set in the 1930s, provides a tight structure for what is a pretty complex plot. By far the most interesting portions of the book are the sections set in the latter part of Franco’s government. Guzman dominates the narrative. Totally corrupt, he has little to redeem him for a reader. And yet he is a compelling read. Just when he is given some human qualities, such as his attraction to a young Republican widow, we find out he has a hand in her brutal humiliation at the hands of his guards. Part of the attraction is his enigmatic background that he spends most of the book trying to eradicate all traces of.

The modern day narrative is interesting and gives an insight into modern Spain’s attempts to document the atrocities of an earlier period, although I think more could have been made of this given recent court cases over the place of Franco in the country’s history. Nevertheless, it is a well plotted narrative with an surprising ending leaving the reader wanting more.

The Sentinel forms the first part of the Vengeance of Memory trilogy being written by Oldfield. Judging by the quality of writing in his debut novel, it promises to be a cracking series and, given the ending, it will be interesting to see how the other two books develop. We haven’t seen the back of Guzman, I’m sure.

Thanks to the author’s agent James Wills for sending me a copy of the book.