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: Erik Axl Sund – The Crow Girl

The-Crow-Girl-by-Erik-Axl-Sund-665x1024The Crow Girl is a book that I’ve been dying to read for the last few months. It’s been marketed as this year’s hottest Scandinavian thriller and I was intrigued to discover what makes it stand out amongst the other Nordic offerings. It’s also been translated by my favourite Scandi translator, Neil Smith. His translations are always a joy to read which is crucial for this book because, at 768 pages, the prose has to be compelling enough to keep the reader interested. I don’t mind reading a book this length, at least not once in a while, but it’s impossible to carry around the hardback in your bag which meant snatched chapters here and there when I sat down to read.

However, one sleepless night I got seriously into the book and read about half of it into the early hours. It’s the perfect time for a book where the violence is dark and shocking. Regular readers of this blog know that excessive descriptions of gore don’t do it for me and you should be warned that the threat of horrific death is there from the first chapter. However, like Pierre LeMaitre’s excellent, Alex, the violence is essential to the plot. For the crow girl of the title is the damaged Victoria Bergman whose abuse from an early age is explicitly detailed. This is more than a story of the abused becoming an abuser, however. The relationship between Victoria and her psychiatrist Sofia Zetterlund is complex and contains plenty of surprises as does Sofia’s romance with detective Jeanette Kohlberg.

Unusually I’m not going to precis the plot. It would be too easy to giveaway spoilers and one of the book’s strengths is the complexity of the narrative strands where nothing is as it seems.

So what keeps the interest going for such a lengthy book? Firstly the character of Victoria is fascinating in its complexity and the reader never feels comfortable in making any assumptions about her motives. Secondly the authors (Erik Axl Sund is a pseudonym for Jerker Ericsson and Hakan Axlander Sundquist) have cleverly constructed the plot so that reader is sent in all directions. The chapters are very short, sometimes you feel ahead of the police and others you’re left scratching your head as to what is going on.

Like all great crime novels, the resolution pulls all the narrative strands together  although I must admit there are a couple of points where I’m not sure I understand what happened. What I should do at this point is reread the book but I’ll have to leave that to a time in the future.  However, in my opinion The Crow Girl deserves the plaudits it has received and I was delighted to read a book where neither the length nor extremity of violence felt gratuitous.