As seems to be almost mandatory among book bloggers I’m wrapping up last year’s reading by reflecting on what the year threw at me, book wise. I should tell you this list is a bit haphazard because my memory for some of this year’s reading is a little fuzzy and some of my notes are indecipherable. There is, for example, a post-it stuck neatly to page 37 of DUCK SEASON DEATH that reads muffin? clock make. Or something like that. Whatever profound thought I was trying to convey there is lost forever. With that proviso, here’s my year’s reading in summary.
Most favouritist book of all: Yes I know that’s not a word. Sue me. I feel guilty because I didn’t even repay Sulari Gentill for writing my most loved book of the year by scribbling a review of GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE. Sorry Sulari. But I really am very, very grateful. It’s not just that I adore Rowland Sinclair and his three chums Edna, Milt and Clyde and the way they stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves and never let their friends down, even when it really costs them. Or that Gentill has become a true master of weaving fact and fiction together in the way that only great historical fiction writers can do. Or that this is a terrific, exciting adventure featuring old-school motor racing, a dabbling of the occult and a smattering of Errol Flynn. Or that it gently reminds us all of the dangers that can lurk behind extremism – in this case the right-wing, Nazi-admiring New Guard that existed in Australia in the 1930’s. It’s all of that plus the fact that I felt better after reading the book than before I started. That’s magic that is.
Best depiction of society in crisis: Jorn Lier Horst’s THE HUNTING DOGS has stuck in my mind for months due to its depiction of how even an ethical policeman can be pressured – by superiors, media and the public – into poor choices and decision making. The book makes you realise that we all play a part in the societal corruption we love to tweet our outrage about.
Book that wore its melancholia with most pride: Philippe Georget’s AUTUMN ALL THE CATS RETURN depicts a current spate of murders in southern France that hark back to the Algerian war of Independence – the languid pace of the story and mild sadness of its hero draw the reader in.
Book that best hid its powerful political message inside a ripper yarn: Malla Nunn’s fourth novel PRESENT DARKNESS is the best of a great series of novels. The way it allows the reader to see into a world in which skin colour is the only thing that matters is both brilliant and frightening.
An honourable mention here must go to Ausma Zehanat Khan’s THE UNQUIET DEAD which in is a fitting tribute to the senselessly lost souls of the tragedy that was the 1990’s Bosnian war.
Book that best confound my expectations: J.M. Peace’s A TIME TO RUN the publicity material screamed serial killer and made references to Wolf Creek which all turned me off. But this isn’t one of those inside the mind of a killer stories that seems to celebrate psychopathy. The focus here is on his victims, the people trying to catch him and the telling of a ripper yarn.
And because to every yang there must be a yin
Book that failed most to live up to my expectations: Bernard Keane’s SURVEILLANCE A brilliant idea from one of my favourite political thinkers was lost in
soft porn endless bonking.
Best discovery of a body by a dog walker: K.T. Medina’s THE WHITE CROCODILE‘s atmospheric novel set mostly in Cambodia contains this passage of dialogue between DI Andy Wessex and DS Harriet Viles regarding the body of an at that time unidentified Asian girl lying on an English beach
‘Who found her?’
‘Ah. Who’d be a dog walker? As I’ve always said, cats are the way forward.’
I must give a nod here to the Puzzle Doctor over at The Search for a Classic Mystery whose yearly wrap ups inspired me to keep note of some of the more esoteric features of my reading. For the record only 2 other books I read this year featured the much maligned dog-walker-finds-body trope (DEATH OF A NIGHTINGALE and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN). Are less fictional dogs being walked these days or what?
Best book exploring the theme of domestic and family violence: Filed under better late than never is the fact that this theme is finally starting to get the attention it so desperately needs from governments, serious media and the wider community. Popular fiction plays a role too in shining a light on our most hideous secrets and I read at least a half-dozen books this year that delved into this issue in some way. The one that has lingered with me most strongly is Cath Staincliff’s LETTERS TO MY DAUGHTER’S KILLER which really gets inside the head of a mother left shattered by the unthinkable.
Best book with an over 60’s hero: NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT by Derek B Miller. Older people as heroes and heroines are something of a favourite with me and this book’s 82 year old grandfather is a good example of the reason why.
An honourable mention in this category goes to Patricia Carlon’s 1969 offering THE WHISPERING WALL in which a 61 year old paralysed woman proves to be more dynamic and engaging than any of the much younger women featured in the year’s most hyped nonsense (see below).
Book that best reminded me why I hate (and should avoid) publishing industry hype: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins is a story of whiny narcissists and first world problems and dishonest, amoral people and the only mystery is why I bothered reading to the end. This experience has however inspired a new bookish goal for 2016 (stay tuned).
Hope you had some great reads during 2015 and that 2016 brings many more.