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Andre: Top five books of 2013

Setting is hugely important to a crime story and my favourite novels took in Oslo, Cardiff, Istanbul, Baghdad, Edinburgh and Devon. Yet it’s an entirely Anglo-centric list of authors; where is the Scandinavian, French and Italian crime-writing contingent? I’ve always been a fan of translated fiction, so perhaps it was simply a very good year for UK and US crime authors. France’s Fred Vargas would likely have made my top five if I’d managed to read her latest novel. So my New Year’s Resolution is to start on The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, and read anything published by these five writers in 2014.

burning1005 – The Burning Air by Erin Kelly
Her previous novels were accomplished yet fairly typical examples of English psychological crime fiction. Guilty secrets, grand houses and a thoroughly middle class milieu. The Burning Air didn’t exactly change lanes, but Kelly’s third novel was noticeable for moving up a gear and dragging you along for the terrifying ride. A case of thwarted academic ambition for a bright child blows up into a decade of manipulation, violence and deception that culminates in a nightmarish Bonfire Night party in Devon. Revenge is always a powerful motive in crime fiction, and when Kelly marries that with the corrosive effects of the English class system she delivers a horribly gripping read. Read the review here.
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sutler4 – Sutler – The Kills Book 1) by Richard House
It took me a while to tackle this intimidating 1,000-page volume, but once I’d plunged in I didn’t want to get out. Sutler is the first book in the The Kills, a literary thriller that’s also an ambitious multimedia project. I have to confess I didn’t really engage with the moodily atmospheric short films that accompany the enhanced digital version of The Kills. The opening book’s story about a mysterious man, who is implicated in the loss of $53 million after going on the run from a Baghdad military base across the border to Turkey, was compelling enough. While the acronyms and plot were sometimes confusing, I loved feeling a little lost in this dizzying thriller. Read the review here.
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norwegianbynight3 – Norwegian by Night by Derek B Miller
US author Derek B Miller created one of the best characters of the year in this debut, a deserving winner of the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. Sheldon ‘Donny’ Horowitz is an 82-year-old ex-marine from New York who’s ended up living with his granddaughter in Oslo following the death of his wife. He’s angry, sharp-witted and attuned to injustice, which leads him to try and protect a neighbour from her violent partner. Donny ends up on the run in a strange land with the neighbour’s six-year-old son, stalked by the Kosovan militia and ghosts from the past. It’s a funny, affecting and perfectly formed thriller. Read the review here.
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Saints2 – Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin
Rebus made a fine comeback in 2012 with Standing in Another Man’s Grave and Rankin might even have bettered that book with this penetrating novel of police corruption and divided loyalties. The Edinburgh detective is out of retirement and as anachronistic as his beloved 70s rock bands. But his old fashioned style of policing, which involves chatting to villains in grotty pubs, can be useful when the younger cops are more reliant on social media. The Scottish referendum campaign becomes intertwined with the investigation into a band of dodgy ex-cops from the 80s – and Rebus could be implicated in their crimes. The 60-something detective may be living on borrowed time given his boozing and smoking, but he’s on great form here. Read the review here.
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bauer_rubbernecker1 – Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer
Rubbernecker is a standalone novel about an anatomy student with Asperger’s Syndrome who stumbles across a crime among the cadavers in his class in Cardiff. Patrick Fort has a death fixation and at first you wonder if he’s got criminal tendencies. When the narrative shifts to the perspective of a coma patient, we begin to learn more about the crimes that have occurred, though it’s still not exactly clear if this is cold blooded murder or something closer to euthanasia. Bauer’s writing is even more audacious than ever and her unlikely hero is a captivating character. Rubbernecker is an outstanding, highly original crime novel that was easily my favourite of the year. It’s a book I’ll be reading again in 2014. Read the review here.
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Discussion

4 Responses to “Andre: Top five books of 2013”

  1. Some great choices here and hope you enjoy the Vargas one! But I had the opposite experience: I think I’ve read more translated crime fiction this year (particularly French) than ever before – it’s on the rise, and not just Scandinavian.

    Posted by Marina Sofia | December 20, 2013, 11:53 am
    • Thanks Marina. I should have added that the CFL top fives are a great starting point for finding international authors. I’m itching to read Bernard Minier and Massimo Carlotto now. We need more translations from France and Italy. The second of the Three Evangelists series by Vargas is finally out next year as Dog Will Have His Day – eight years after UK publication of the first book!

      However, I think Scandinavian crime has reached saturation point in the UK. Some of these authors are clearly being translated because so-called Scandi-crime is still hot. It makes it harder to find the good stuff. So I was intrigued by Jeff Park’s picks of 2013 on Radio 4′s Front Row recently – a truly international line-up:

      Samurai Summer by Ake Edwardson (Sweden)
      The Ghost Riders Of Ordebec by Fred Vargas (France)
      Dead Lions by Mick Herron (UK)
      The Siege by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (Spain)
      The Enigma Of China by Qiu Xiaolong (China)
      The Square Of Revenge by Pieter Aspe (Belgium)

      Posted by Andre | December 20, 2013, 6:20 pm
  2. I think we have a Pieter Aspe book review coming up, actually.

    Posted by crimefictionlover | December 31, 2013, 11:28 am
  3. Good to see ‘Rubbernecker’ there – Belinda Bauer is my favourite crime writer at the moment :)

    Posted by Karen | January 6, 2014, 6:56 pm

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