I didn't review a lot of crime fiction for the blog this year so I figure I'll use what I did review as a top whatever-the-amount for 2011. It was a funny year for reading. I took on the entire Booker shortlist for an event at Derry Library and critiqued a lot of unpublished fiction from classmates on the creative writing MA at Queens. Oh, and there were five novels on the essential reading list for one of the modules. But here's the skinny on a bunch of cracking crime fiction:
The Burning Soul by John Connolly - This is an outstanding novel. It’s chockfull of dense and powerful prose that isn’t intimidating but, in fact, is addictively consumable. The portrayal of a violent and unpredictable Boston Irish mob (post-Bulger) in constant crisis is chilling. And the supernatural twist? Cross your heart and bless your burning soul. This one’s coming to get you.
Truth Lies Bleeding by Tony Black - Truth Lies Bleeding is a brutal read; dark as the author's name, some of the characters will haunt your thoughts for a very long time after turning the last page. Gritty, urban and heart-wrenching, Black has discovered a darker shade of noir.
Collusion by Stuart Neville - Neville proves yet again that he is a writer to be reckoned with. His writing style pulls no punches and he is a master of creating tension. This Belfast thriller will take hold of you like a fire ravaging a stately home. Brutal, ruthless, breathtaking... Collusion is a blistering read.
Bloodland by Alan Glynn - Bloodland follows the trend set by Glynn’s previous novel, Winterland. It explores the far-reaching ramifications of corruption in politics and global business right down to the frontline casualties. Shit runs downhill. Glynn’s writing is engaging and urgent. Each line counts as he expertly develops his characters and plot without sacrificing his wonderful skill for evocative prose. Bloodland will enrage that sleeping anarchist within. More of the same, please, Mister Glynn.
Little Girl Lost by Brian McGilloway - Little Girl Lost is quite a different book from anything McGilloway has written in the Devlin series. From the protagonist to the writing style, McGilloway has made a lot of changes, and all for the better. It should come with a warning, though. This one tugs, pulls and gnaws at your heart strings. Prepare to invest a lot of emotion into this read and don't expect to be paid back with the perfect Hollywood ending. McGilloway has gone all out. Little Girl Lost is darker than a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Word on the street is that this is the start of a new series (though we can expect a new Devlin book in the coming year) and this book proves that DS Black will be a welcome addition to the Northern Irish crime scene.
The Back of Beyond by CJ Box - Back of Beyond is an expertly plotted and paced wilderness thriller; a great example of Box’s literary forte. He brings Yellowstone National Park to life and impresses upon the reader the awesome power of nature with his skill for descriptive prose. But he is equally adept at exploring the darker side of humanity. He constantly juxtaposes the beauty of nature with the brutality of mankind and vice verse. Tense, tumultuous and ever-twisting. Back of Beyond proves yet again how C.J. Box is worthy of the prestigious crime fiction awards he’s collected over the course of his career.
I also reviewed a couple of books for Culture NI this year:
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (technically science fiction but there's a tonne of crime and a boy detective in there) - McDonald serves up a master class in writing that would give the literary elite the sweats. The novel doesn't rely on high concepts or geeky gimmicks to sell itself (although the ‘cepteps’ the characters wear are an enviable projection of smart-phone techno-joy). McDonald is, above all, a wordsmith. Interestingly, since his novels rarely stray too far ahead of the present day, we’ve already caught up with his early novels. Sacrifice of Fools portrays a pretty bang-on version of Northern Ireland in the early 2000s (sans the aliens) and yet it was written in 1996. If McDonald's observations and predictions about trends in technology, politics and sports in The Dervish House have even a grain of truth to them there are exciting times ahead. If you read one science fiction book this year, pick this one. McDonalds fans already have.
Falling Glass by Adrian McKinty - McKinty takes advantage of this being the most contemporary setting of his canon to dabble in social commentary; in particular the global economic recession, how it affected Northern Ireland’s property crash, and the place of Irish Travellers in contemporary Irish society. He provides a measured and intelligent account of Irish Traveller life, which might go some way to debunking the lazy, sensationalist drivel churned out by that awful reality TV show that shall not be named. Falling Glass cuts deep and leaves its mark. If you haven’t discovered McKinty yet, brace yourself and pick this one up.