Best Reads for 2013

This post is a little late – I intended to write a round up of best reads for the end of the financial year, but better late than never.

It has been a fantastic year of book reading and reviewing and I expect there to be many more books to add to this list as the year progresses. The books on this list vary in style, genre, attitudes and themes and what they had to offer to me a a reader but the one think they have in common is they are great reads and I highly recommend them to you.

So lets start – in no particular order or preference they are all great in their own way :

A  Bitch Called Hope, Lily Gardner

A Bitch Called Hope – Lily Gardner

Fractured, Dawn Barker

Fractured – Dawn Barker

Bone Ash Sky, Katerina Cosgrove

Bone Ash Sky – Katrina Cosgrove

Questions of Travel, Michelle De Kretser

Questions of  Travel -Michelle de Krester

I am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes

I am Pilgrim  – Terry Hayes

My Notorious Life by Madame X, Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Madame X – Kate Manning

The Guilty, Sean Slater

The Guilty  – Sean Slater

Unseen, Karin Slaughter

Unseen – Karin Slaughter

False Witness, Dorothy Uhnak

False Witness – Dorothy Uhnak

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing, P. D. Viner

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing – PD Viner

Post Script – City of the Dead – Herbert Lieberman

City of the Dead

Herbert Lieberman

Open Road Integrated Media

Open Road Media

ISBN: 9781480432628

 

Description:

Winner of the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière: As chief medical examiner of New York City, Paul Konig has one of the world’s most difficult jobs—and when his daughter goes missing, he must take on his most wrenching case yet.

New York City in the 1970s is a dark, dangerous, and threatening place. One of the bright spots in this decaying metropolis is Paul Konig. As the city’s chief medical examiner, he has developed an impressive reputation for his skills in forensic pathology—skills that will be put to the ultimate test when a dangerous psychopath kidnaps Konig’s daughter.

Herbert Lieberman takes his readers on a gruesome journey through the ten most difficult days in the life of a man at the very end of his rope. In addition to being awoken to phone calls featuring his daughter’s desperate screams each night, Konig’s professional life is in danger. Between the case of a serial killer who leaves a trail of severed body parts in his wake; the investigation of questionable forensic work on an alleged prison suicide under Konig’s watch; and the naked ambitions of a deputy medical examiner, it will take every ounce of Konig’s strength to save his own life—as well as his family’s.

My View:

Gruesome murders, political pressure, back stabbing and character assassination in the office, corruption in high places and the Chief  Medical Examiner is on knife’s edge, (and we won’t mention that his daughter has been kidnapped and tortured, he is keeping that to himself), the tension is imploding! This is a gripping yet somewhat grey and gritty picture of life in New York in the 70’s; the decay, the despair, the crime that is relentless and ever more sinister and sickening.  Lieberman’s Paul Konig serves as the template for the modern day forensic heroes that we are all so familiar with – he is professional, he is determined to find the truth for the deceased and their families and to find those responsible for  committing these crimes. Konig is driven, passionate and intelligent and…rather sad. He is human and shows his frailties.

Not only does the reader get a compelling murder/mystery but a portrait of a man under immense pressure overwhelmed by his situation;  regretting past misdemeanours in his personal life, berating himself for choices he made, for the things he didn’t do, slipping in and out of conversations with his past, spiralling into despair and darkness. This is a dark yet compelling work of crime fiction.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read. It is a brilliant forensic procedural – the detail and the technical masterfulness of the author are show cased in the minutia of the operations of the morgue, of the autopsies, of the piecing of the lives of the dead back together again is amazing. Yet this is not just a narrative defined by its plot, it is also a rich picture of so many lives; the criminals, the politicians, the victims, the police working on the cases, the pathologists and the Chief Medical Examiner and his relationship with all in this web of life and death. Brilliant!

Post Script: The Last Winter of Dani Lancing – P D Viner

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing

A Novel

P. D. Viner

Crown Publishing

Crown

Pub Date   Oct 8 2013

ISBN: 9780804136822

 

Description:

P.D. Viner bursts on to the scene with a gritty and powerful crime thriller that explores the dark, dangerous line that separates grief, violence, loss, and revenge.

Twenty years ago, college student Dani Lancing was kidnapped and brutally murdered. The killer was never found; the case has long-gone cold.

Her parents, Patty and Jim, were utterly devastated, their marriage destroyed. Patty threw away her successful journalism career and developed a violent obsession with the unsolved crime.  She is utterly consumed with every lead and possible suspect no matter how far-fetched.  Jim, however, is now a shell of his former self, broken down and haunted—sometimes literally—by the loss of his daughter.  Tom Bevans, Dani’s childhood sweetheart, has become a detective intent on solving murders of other young women.  He was so scarred by Dani’s death that his colleagues have nicknamed him “The Sad Man.” After twenty years of grief, all of three of them are burnt-out and hopeless.

But when Tom finds an opening on the case, everything changes.  Patty’s obsessions are lit up once again and she will do anything for revenge—even if it means dragging her whole family back into the nightmare, as lies and secrets are unearthed and the truth finally revealed.

Told in fractured time, with a breathless pace and masterful plotting, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is a superb thriller: swift, edgy, gripping, and unforgettable.

 

My View:

 

A must read mystery/crime novel.

 

This book was by far one of the best mystery/crime novels I have read this year. There were many twists and turns that kept me guessing right up to the last pages. The characters were well drawn, sad, empathetic, desperate and credible. P D Viner is a fantastic story teller, his settings are realistic and he writes with cinematic prowess – I could see the story play out in the big screen of my mind and do not doubt it will be very long before the feature films rights to this story are snapped up! I wish I had the money to produce this novel as a film – it would work so well.

I loved that the reader was able to form a picture of Dani through the recollections and opinions of other characters in the book – she was a daughter, a friend, a sports star, a popular student; slowly the bigger picture emerges, warts and all. It is interesting to see how we mean different things to different people and this book demonstrates that aspect of life and friend/kinship very well.

The plot is complex and full of twists and turns and the narrative highlights that life can be wearisome, sometimes depressing and that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary and sometimes brutal things. No one is quite how they first appear – there are sinister undertones waiting to be revealed.  Perhaps it was the character of Tom Bevans, nicknamed “The Sad Man” that surprised me most of all – his resourcefulness, his ability to react without fear for his own position  in society and his physical wellbeing in order to protect Dani and his powerful devotion to her was incredible. No matter what Dani and her destructive lifestyle threw at him he remained devoted and obsessed, obsessed with the image he had constructed and determined to protect that image.

The bigger picture story looks at love, grief and loss and revenge. It speaks about actions, reactions and the unforeseen consequences of those actions. Despite the sadness and the violence in this story there is a modicum of hope, love and optimism sprinkled throughout the novel that lifts this book above the bleakness of such horrific tragedy; and tragic it was.

I loved the characters; I loved their imperfections (mostly), their guilt and suffering, though intense and often paralysing, was credible and moving. This is a very well written story of modern life that demonstrates how quickly one mistake in judgment can effect so many.

The ending does reconcile some of the issues but leaves so much unsaid, so much to the reader’s imagination. A fantastic read!

Post Script: Bad Blood – Arne Dahl

Bad Blood

Arne Dahl

Random House UK, Vintage Publishing

Harvill Secker

ISBN: 9781448137541

Description

Set to be the new Scandinavian crime sensation from BBC Four: in Bad Blood, Detective Paul Hjelm and his team are called in to try and catch an American serial killer on the loose in Sweden.

Detective Paul Hjelm and his team receive an urgent call from the FBI. A murderer whose methods bear a frightening resemblance to a serial killer they believed long dead is on his way to Sweden.

For years the FBI hunted the so-called ‘Kentucky Killer’, their agents haunted by the terrible injuries he inflicted on his victims through his signature device: a weapon that squeezed the vocal chords shut. Has he somehow returned from beyond the grave to torture a new generation, or do they have a copy-cat on their hands? And what do they want in Sweden?

If they are to capture the killer, the team must collaborate with their colleagues in the FBI on a desperate hunt that will take them from rainswept city streets to deserted Kentucky farmhouses, and will push them to the limits of their endurance.

 

My View:

I thought that the first eighty odd pages of history and establishing of the unsympathetic characters was far too long and tedious, the story took a long time to develop and gain momentum but once it did it was riveting.  Being a police procedural in style I can easily see how this story could translate successfully to the small screen (BBC4 has picked this title and series up and I believe it has already screened).

I like hearing the behind the scenes banter and theorising; the blackboard of what ifs and whys and the progress the team made. The plot was complex and the crimes horrific but perhaps more grotesques were the discussion about manipulation and abuse of power that this story evokes. Manipulation – of facts, of representations, of stereotypes, of events, of abuse of power (both political and personal) are the issues that are like a scab on the knee that we cannot leave alone, that is slowly picked away at and exposed.

 

 

Post Script: The Square of Revenge – Pieter Apse

The Square of Revenge, Pieter Aspe

The Square of Revenge

Pieter Aspe

Open Road Integrated Media

Open Road Media

ISBN: 9781453239742

Description

The heart-pounding English-language debut by European crime sensation Pieter Aspe!

The beautiful medieval architecture of Bruges belies the dark longings of her residents. When the wealthy and powerful Ludovic Degroof’s jewellery store is robbed, nothing is stolen, but the jewels have been dissolved in jars of aqua regia, an acid so strong that it can melt even gold. In the empty safe is a scrap of paper on which a strange square has been drawn.

At first, Inspector Van In pays little attention to the paper, focusing on the bizarre nature of the burglary. But when Degroof’s children begin to receive letters with this same enigmatic square, Van In and the beautiful new District Attorney, Hannelore Martens, find themselves engaged in solving the mystery of a complex web of Latin phrases, a baroness’ fallen family, and Degroof’s unsettling relationship with a hostage grandchild, who is being ransomed for a priceless collection of art.

My View:

Refreshing!

A refreshingly good crime/ mystery novel by an author held in esteem in his own country (Brussels).  I am so glad to have discovered this series and cannot wait for the others to be translated and available as ebooks.

Aspe writes a story with unconventional characters, that have no need for massive amounts of special effects/high voltage drama/ or in depth forensic analysis and commentary for attention – instead he relies on well drawn characters and an elaborate narrative to hold your imagination and interest – this is so refreshing!  I really enjoyed this book- it presented me with a landscape that was unfamiliar yet beautiful and interesting. It was not bleak or boring or predicable.  Intelligent and at times humorous, Inspector Van In is an anti hero by European standards – he is not dashingly/ruggedly good looking or attractive – he is ordinary, with a history of a failed marriage, a house and crippling mortgage and common sense.  He works in the real world – a world of politics and manipulations, of bureaucracy and subvertise office behaviour.

Aspe understands that “a professionally spread rumour usually does more damage than a court case.” (p.120I see so many connections to the way politics operates in Australia and to the recent change of Prime Minister…rumours, unsupportive behaviour… the niggling back biting that cannot be challenged because it is not spoken openly… This story is so relevant to contemporary mores and politics – personal and public spheres.  I liked how Aspe acknowledges the existence and relevance of such behaviour in this novel.

All in all a refreshingly good narrative – emphasis on the narrative. I look forward to reading more of the Inspector Van In series.

Meet Pieter Aspe on this youtube video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcFUvIRgP1k

 

Post Script: Cold Cold Heart – Karin Slaughter

Cold Cold Heart

Karin Slaughter

Random House UK, Cornerstone

ISBN: 9781448149179

Description:

A chilling Valentine digital short story from the No.1 bestselling author of the Will Trent series.

Pam is a fifty-two-year-old teacher who has let herself go for the first time in her life. It’s two years since her husband – ex husband – John died and she’s heading from Georgia to California for the third and – she hopes – final time. But just what lies in store for her there…?

Previously in a collection edited by No. 1 bestseller Lee Child, First Thrills, and now available on its own.

My View:

This was a very short short story  – a story that highlights the feminist ideals that permeate Karin Slaughter’s writing. This is a relatively light story from this accomplished author of dark crime. I love the playfulness of the title – the full ironic  meaning revealed as the story progresses.   Revenge is best served- cold!

Post Script: Waiting for Wednesday – Nicci French

Waiting for Wednesday

Nicci French

Penguin Books Australia

Michael Joseph

ISBN: 9780718156978

Pub Date   Jun 26 2013

Description:

Ruth Lennox, beloved mother of three, is found by her daughter in a pool of
her own blood. Who would want to murder an ordinary housewife? And why?

Psychotherapist Frieda Klein finds she has an unusually personal connection
with DCI Karlsson’s latest case. She is no longer working with him in an
official capacity, but when her niece befriends Ruth Lennox’s son, Ted, she
finds herself in the awkward position of confidante to both Karlsson and
Ted.

When it emerges that Ruth was leading a secret life, her family closes ranks
and Karlsson finds he needs Frieda’s help more than ever before.

But Frieda is distracted. Having survived an attack on her life, she is
struggling to stay in control and when a patient’s chance remark rings an alarm
bell, she finds herself chasing down a path that seems to lead to a serial
killer who has long escaped detection. Or is it merely a symptom of her own
increasingly fragile mind?

Because, as Frieda knows, every step closer to a killer is one more step into
a darkness from which there may be no return . . .

My View:

 

Some truths are best not learned.

 

I haven’t read any of the previous books in this story – and as such this book can be satisfactorily read as a standalone but I think the reading experience would be enriched with the background the previous novels provide. Having said that, I very much enjoyed this read – full of plot twists and turns, mysteries and crimes that are satisfactorily resolved in the end but more interestingly I enjoyed the character of  psychotherapist and protagonist, Frieda Klein- such a sympathetic character, somewhat tired and world weary, enigmatic, empathetic, a touch eccentric, and thoroughly likeable.  She provides emotional sustenance to others but her stocks are running low and she too is in need of kindness and chicken soup as the murders continue to amass.

I was surprised to learn that Nicci French is actually the pseudonym of writers and the married couple Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. I am amazed that two people can write one novel and write it so convincingly and so well!

Back to the story – a story where all is not what it appears…of families, of lies and the disaster that happens when the truth is leaked, discovered and revealed. Some truths are best not learned. The writing team Nicci French successfully combine two unrelated crimes in one narrative and they do this well. The first murder of housewife and social worker Ruth Lennox introduces as to the investigating team, to Frieda, to Karlsson and to the families on the periphery of the action – who are all affected to some degree by the murder of one seemingly ordinary woman. It is very interesting to see how the complexities and minutiae of modern life weave the threads of the two stories together. The web of deceit and the motivations of greed, ego and self intersect often… it is ego that drives Frieda’s replacement on the investigative team to try and humiliate and discredit her, and ultimately motivates her to seek for truth and for the resolution/investigation of the other murders. The search for meaning in life is also obvious as it relates to the investigative journalist and in a broader sense to all the characters in the book…I love the way human frailties and motivations are explored in this book.

Add to the two separate investigations is the hint of something even more sinister lurking in the background – Frieda’s stalker…the writers’ have primed us for their next offering where hopefully this thread will also be unwound and the culprit revealed. Nicci French I had added you to my MUST READ list.