Stand by for part 2 of my list of everything (well, nearly everything) I’ve read over the last 12 months. Here come books 11 to 20:
Pascal Garnier, The Islanders – Garnier is a rare talent, but not suitable for everyone. His books have a queasy inevitability about them, and none more so than this short tale which describes a Christmas from hell. You’ll finish it in less time than it would take you to eat your turkey and sprouts; I dare you to read it over the holidays.
Paul Kingsnorth, The Wake – an extraordinary re-telling of the 11th century Norman invasion of England, one that imbues the event with a modern-day urgency. The fear that the rebellious Brits feel as they watch the Normans construct massive stone castles is like something out of science fiction. Terrific.
Roald Dahl, The Witches – I read this on holiday with my kids and loved every word of it. It’s one of Dahl’s best – scary and disgusting and full of moments of genuine peril. It also provides the willing reader with ample opportunity for silly voices – I’m not sure who enjoyed them most, my two girls or me.
Christa Faust, Choke Hold – second book in Faust’s Angel Dare series, and whilst it’s not as punchy as the first one I still whipped through it in a day and a half. Dare is an engaging protagonist, an ex-porn star on the run from the very bad men she took down in the previous instalment. This is pulp with a real punch, the perfect accompaniment to a comfortable chair and a stiff drink.
Ken Bruen, The Magdalen Martyrs -this is another series I’m picking my way through. I’m taking it slowly partly because I want to savour it, but also because time in Jack Taylor’s company is rarely spent comfortably. After each book I need a chance to catch my breath. This third book examines one of Ireland’s most shameful secrets, and as usual Taylor is right in the thick of it, armed with a vengeance which he cannot help but deliver.
Pascal Garnier, The Front Seat Passenger – second book from Garnier on my list, and whilst less memorable than the first it still has the power to make the reader feel nauseous and uncertain. Events have their own velocity and quickly spiral out of control; and the violence (when it comes, as it most certainly must) is as brutal as it is shocking.
Ed McBain, Til Death – More from the boys of the Eight-Seven, and proof that beleaguered detective Steve Carella can never take a day off. He spends his sister’s wedding day hunting a killer who is targetting the groom. In my review I was enough of a pseud to compare it to Greek comedy, but it does have a lighter touch than many of McBain’s other books. It’s also all the better for it.
Doug Johnstone, The Jump – Johnstone was one of my finds of last year, a writer capable of writing snappy thrillers such as Hit and Run and its semi-sequel The Dead Beat; but also more measured, emotional books such as The Jump. What’s most impressive about it is just how well Johnstone handles a difficult subject – teenage suicide. He shows us the consequences of such an irrevocable act without ever trying to explain it away. What it does become is the jumping off point for a chance at redemption, and the narrative whips along to a satisfying and ultimately hopeful conclusion.
Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North – first of the two Booker Prize winners on my list, I picked this up after seeing a terrific documentary about Flanagan. He came across as humane, serious and genuinely good company; and this novel about the life of a surgeon who serves in World War Two and ends up in a Japanese prison camp is as full of life as its author. Multi-faceted, it contains scenes which will make your heart sing, and others which will make you wince. Look out for the surgery scene towards the end, which I found unforgettable. You’ll know it when you read it. Boy will you.
Rod Reynolds, The Dark Inside – a pleasing noir based on a real-life murder case, and featuring a narrator who’s not easy to love. It’s a credit to Reynolds’ skill as a writer that we understand the prickly journalist Charlie Yates much better at the end of the book than at the beginning, and I’d be interested to see if he features in Reynolds’ next book. There’s plenty more mystery around him to sustain it.
New Year’s Day sees the conclusion of my list, and books 21 to 30 on the Lit Parade. Who’d want to miss that?