I haven’t kept this kind of record since I was a teenager, but over the next three posts I’ll be listing – in chronological order – all the books I’ve read during 2015. There are 30 in all, slightly more than one a fortnight – not a bad average for someone with a full-full-time job and two small kids running about the place. I started doing it largely as a reminder to myself, but there’s a tiny risk someone else may find it interesting as well. So without further throat-clearing, let’s kick the first ten books off with the master himself, Big Ray…
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye – This is Chandler’s longest novel and is (by many) rated his best. Parts of it are extraordinary (there’s a description of a visit to a drying-out clinic which feels as if it was drawn from life), and Chandler is always worth reading, especially when describing Los Angeles, his ‘big, angry city… never for very long completely silent.’ His characterisation is as complex as his plotting, although I’d argue that the former is where his strengths really lie. A little long for my taste, but still required reading for anyone even vaguely interested in American crime fiction.
Friedrich Durrenmatt, The Judge and His Hangman and Suspicion – Whilst not as earth-shattering (for me) as The Pledge, these two short novellas still test the boundaries of crime fiction and what it means to be a policeman. Read the first one if you have to choose between them; it’s also got the better title (his hangman? Terrific) and takes on additional layers of meaning as the story unfurls towards its inevitable climax.
J. W. Adams, Dust and Patience – Written by a friend of mine, this is a very pleasant stroll through the culture shock encountered by a student on a visit to the Middle East. The strongest sections were those which described the culture and surroundings she encounters, which Adams clearly knows very well indeed. I look forward to reading whatever he does next.
Adrian Raine, The Anatomy of Violence – a rare foray into non-fiction for me, and utterly fascinating. How does biology affect an individual’s propensity for violence? Raine looks at brain chemistry and function in all its complexity, as well as the societal and environmental factors which must surely have an impact. Reading it made me think about crime fiction (and its possibilities) in a whole new way.
Ed McBain, Killer’s Wedge – Book 8 in the 87th Precinct series, and McBain gives us a pleasingly tricky (and infuriating, once you know the solution) locked room mystery. Or rather, two of them – whilst Carella is trying to figure out how the killer got in, the rest of the eight-seven battle to escape the station and the clutches of a nitro-glycerine wielding maniac.
William McIlvanney, Laidlaw – I was sad to hear of McIlvanney’s recent death, but this most poetic of crime novels stands as a real testament to his talent. Laidlaw is that most humane of policemen, steadfast in his pursuit of justice but also willing to acknowledge that the root causes of these crimes are much more complex. McIlvanney’s writing is also ridiculously quotable; one old man struggling with a door opens it ‘with all the ease of the Venus de Milo cracking a safe.’
Judy Melinek & T. J. Mitchell, Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner – I’d been itching to read this for ages, and was pleased to find that it didn’t disappoint. Melinek’s account of her time as an M.E. in New York – a period which included the events of 9/11 – is gruesome, often darkly hilarious and incredibly humane. You’ll finish it with nothing but admiration for anyone able to do this remarkable job. Plus you’ll add ‘clusterfuck’ to your vocabulary, a word that I’ve found enormously useful.
Danny Rhodes, Fan – Dense, brooding and deeply personal, this account of a football fan’s homecoming is like little else I’ve read this year. There’s a claustrophobic quality to the writing which is entirely apt, given that one thing that drives the narrative is the main character’s guilt at having witnessed – and survived – the Hillsborough tragedy. It would be to easy to exploit such a terrible day and turn it into something banal, but Rhodes does neither. Instead, he shows us the very human cost of what happened at that football stadium on 15 April 1989, as well as its traumatic aftermath.
Belinda Bauer, The Shut Eye – Bauer never disappoints, and this book was one of the year’s highlights, stuffed full of good things: a seedy psychic, a missing child and a detective named John Marvel. Not only that, but Bauer ties up the plot in a satisfying and fair way, one that – in characteristic fashion – takes you all along the emotional spectrum and back again.
Joseph Wambaugh, The Blooding – I read this off the back of the enjoyable (but slightly thin) TV drama Code of a Killer, which described the first time DNA evidence was used to find and convict a murderer. Wambaugh has a good ear for how police talk, and the summary of the case and its conclusion is efficient and neat. Less so was the original controversy around how the victims’ families were portrayed; this gave me plenty of food for thought about the whole ‘true crime’ genre.
That’s your lot for now. Tune in next week for numbers 11 to 20 in my Lit Parade, featuring entries from Christa Faust, Roald Dahl, Richard Flanagan and Pascal Garnier, amongst others. Stay tuned, WAYReFistas!