FictionFan Awards 2018 – Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

Drum roll please…

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2018.

For the benefit of new readers, and as a reminder for anyone who was around last year, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…

THE CRITERIA

All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2017 and October 2018 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.

THE CATEGORIES

The categories tend to change slightly each year to better reflect what I’ve been reading during the year.

This year, there will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories:

Vintage Crime Fiction

Genre Fiction

Factual

Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

Literary Fiction

…and…

Book of the Year 2018

THE PRIZES

For the winners!

I guarantee to read the author’s next book even if I have to buy it myself!

(NB If an author is unlikely to publish another book due to being dead, I will read a book from his/her back catalogue…)

For the runners-up!

Nothing!

THE JUDGES

Me!

* * * * * * * * *

So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in

MODERN CRIME FICTION/THRILLER

I’m still struggling with the obsession with identikit so-called psychological thrillers that is dominating modern crime fiction at the moment, so have read fewer books in this category this year than every before in my adult life, I think. I can’t help thinking that the astonishing rise in popularity of vintage crime over the last few years suggests I’m not alone in this. However, happily I’ve still managed to find a few great reads, none of which have the ubiquitous and terminally unoriginal woman in red/yellow coat on the cover, you’ll note…

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

Hal (Harriet) Westaway is struggling to keep her head above water. The bills keep pouring in and in these winter months she doesn’t get enough custom at her kiosk on Brighton’s West Pier to pay them all. Things are reaching a crisis. So when she receives a letter from a solicitor informing her that she has been left a legacy by her grandmother it seems like the answer to a prayer. There’s only one problem – Hal knows there’s been a mistake. Her real grandmother died years ago… 

All I ask for in crime fiction is a good story well told; some characters I can like, hate, worry about, mistrust; enough uncertainty about how it will play out to keep me turning pages; a minimum of unnecessary padding; and told in the past tense, preferably third person. And that’s exactly what Ruth Ware has given me in this hugely enjoyable thriller. Add in a dark and dusty old house full of attics and cellars and narrow little staircases, the shade of a wicked old woman who tyrannised over her family, a bunch of squabbling siblings, and a scary old housekeeper who knows more than she’s telling, and I’m pretty much in modern-Gothic heaven!

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

Broken Ground by Val McDermid

DCI Karen Pirie of Police Scotland’s Historic Cases Unit is in the middle of re-investigating a series of rapes when she is diverted to a crime scene in the Highlands. A woman and her husband are on a kind of treasure hunt, looking for something that the woman’s grandfather buried in a peat bog long ago. They find the spot, but when they dig down into the peat, they are shocked to discover not only the looted items but the body of a man, almost perfectly preserved…

Now that a national police force has taken the place of the old regional forces in Scotland in real life, it gives fiction writers the ability to have their detectives travel all over the country, and McDermid is as comfortable writing about the Highlands as she is her hometown of Edinburgh. She gives an amazingly good sense of place and a wholly authentic feel to contemporary Scottish life and to a professional police force where dysfunctional drunken mavericks wouldn’t be tolerated. The fifth book in the Karen Pirie series and an excellent addition.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

Sweet William by Iain Maitland

A man escapes from a secure psychiatric hospital to find his little son, sweet William, and run off to a new life, just the two of them, in the south of France. This is the story of the next forty-eight hours…

And what a story! A complete roller-coaster during most of which we’re stuck inside the head of Orrey, the father, whose frequent assertions that he’s not mad somehow fail to convince us! Dark and disturbing doesn’t even begin to describe it. By all rights, I should have hated it – I’ve bored on often enough about my dislike of using children to up the tension in crime fiction. But it’s a tour de force piece of writing with one of the most brilliantly drawn disturbed central characters I’ve read in a long time – think Mr Heming or The Dinner or Zoran Drvenkar. Then add in relentless pacing that drives the book forward at a speed to leave you gasping – the definitive page-turner! 

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee

Roused from a drug-addled stupor in an opium den in the backstreets of Calcutta, Sam Wyndham, Captain in the Calcutta police, discovers the place is being raided. Discovery of his addiction will finish his career so he flees, only to stumble across the body of a horribly mutilated Chinaman. Or did he? Next day, when no report of the murder comes in, Sam is left wondering if he hallucinated the whole thing. That is, until he is called out to another murder, where the body has been mutilated in exactly the same way…

This series goes from strength to strength with each new instalment – this is the third. Set in the early 1920s, the dying days of the Raj when the Indian Independence movement was well under way, Mukherjee always manages to work the political situation into his stories without allowing it to overwhelm them or feeling like a history lesson. As always, though, the plot is founded much more on human nature than on politics. I feel this is his strongest plot so far, which takes us into some dark episodes in the dealings between the Raj and their subjects. There’s a good deal of moral ambiguity in there, and some excellently complex characterisation to carry it off. And it all builds to a first-rate, entirely credible thriller finale that I found fully satisfying.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2018

for

MODERN CRIME FICTION/THRILLER

The Accident on the A35 by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Since I couldn’t find a single thing to criticise about this book, it was the only possible choice to be this year’s winner.

When Bertrand Barthelme runs his car off the A35 into a tree one evening and dies, Inspector Georges Gorski has no reason to think it was anything other than an unfortunate accident. But Barthelme’s widow thinks there’s something odd about her husband having been at that spot at that time and asks Gorski to look into it a bit more. Mme Barthelme is an attractive 40-something with more than a touch of the femme fatale in this first meeting, so Gorski finds himself agreeing. Meantime, Barthelme’s 17-year-old son Raymond starts a kind of investigation of his own, in an attempt to learn more about the father with whom he had always had a rather cold, distant relationship. Both investigations will head off in unexpected directions.

This is on the face of it a crime novel, but the quality of the writing, the depth of the characterisation, the creation of place and time and the intelligence of the game the author plays with the reader all raise it so that it sits easily into the literary fiction category, in my opinion at the highest level. The setting – the small town of Saint-Louis, in the corner of France that borders Germany and Switzerland, some time in the 1970s – is brilliantly drawn, but it’s the human characters who make it such an absorbing story.  Not a word is wasted – with the briefest of descriptions, Burnet can create a person who feels real, solid, entire, as if they might be a neighbour we’ve known all our life. I loved every lean and beautifully placed word of this slim book, and was wholly absorbed from beginning to end. Superb!

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

Next Week: Literary Fiction

…and…

Book of the Year 2018

38 thoughts on “FictionFan Awards 2018 – Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

  1. I’ve been wanting to read the Burnet since you reviewed it, FictionFan. I’m glad you thought it was the winner this year, although there really was good competition, as I know you liked the Mukherjeee very much. The others are great, too. This is one of those situations, I’ll admit, where I’m sort of bonking myself on the head in frustration at not following up on those titles (yet). I’ll get there…

    • Hahaha – don’t bonk too hard! I have at least as many of your recommendations languishing on my TBR and wishlist! But the Burnet really is worth making time for – says the woman who still hasn’t got around to reading his other one… 😉

  2. Oh, I love this particular category, and I want to read every single book on your list, especially your winner. They all sound so good. Also can’t wait for next week’s selections for literary fiction! Wonderful post, FF!

    • Burnet is a great writer, so if you do get time to read it, I hope you enjoy it! Next week’s has been a very hard choice, and I’ve changed my mind about the winner three times so far… 😀

  3. I just put The Accident on the A35 on hold with my local library. There is one copy in the system and no one else has it on hold, so I should get it in a few days. It sounds very interesting. I also put a hold on Broken Ground but there are a few people in front of me on that one.
    Good job this year!

    • Oh, good – I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! I definitely think it’s as much literary fiction as crime, and the setting is as important as the plot – he’s a great writer! I’m loving this new series of Val McDermid too – more traditional police procedural than she’s done recently, and I love that she’s set it in her home country. 😀

  4. Sounds like this was a tough decision. Congrats to Burnet for pulling off a win! And yes, I’m glad to see book covers without the usual tropes! 😁 I remember years ago in young adult fiction just about every book cover featured a girl in a prom dress. Most of the time that image had nothing to do with the plot.

    • These awards are always hard – you have no idea how often I change my mind between starting to draft the posts and publishing them… 😉 I’m afraid I’ve begun to laugh at all these “cover reveal” posts that happen as part of blog tours, when every cover is almost identical to the one before… 😀

    • Ruth Ware was new to me so that one was a pleasant surprise, whereas Val McDermid and I go waaaaaay back! I’m so pleased to see her return to a more traditional style of police procedural though. The Accident on the A35 is very different – very much “literary” crime, but so well written – if you do get time for it, I hope you enjoy it! 😀

  5. I also hate when children are used to amp up the tension, but I guess I’m thinking more of the the books in which children are dead. There’s been such a long line of people who just want to start out with a murdered/mutilated child, and then let’s solve that mystery! As long as a little kid’s alive and not being tortured or anything like that, I’m okay with it. I mean, maybe that kid thought he was going on an adventure?

    • Yes, I hate that too. Poor little William doesn’t have a good time in this one, but I think the reason I was OK with it is that his father does what he does because he loves his son – he may be the worst father in the world who shouldn’t be allowed near his kid without supervision, but his heart’s in the right place…

    • Thank you – glad you enjoy them! 😀 Burnet really is a wonderful writer, so if you do get a chance to read The Accident on the A35, I hope you enjoy it – I think you will!

  6. The Accident on the A35 has been on my list since your first review and since I read The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau. I see there’s an available copy at the library down the road, it obviously has my name on it!

  7. Mrs. Westaway is going on my TBR — thanks, FF! No, seriously, it sounds like something I’d enjoy reading, despite my best intentions at paring down the TBR. Oh, well!!

  8. I added The Accident on the A35 to my list when you reviewed it but haven’t found it yet and now want to read it more than ever. Your comment about women in red or yellow coats used on the cover art made me smile 🙂

    • The Ruth Ware was great – I must read more of her book sometime! And I do hope you enjoy The Accident on the A35 – much more literary than most crime, and wonderfully written… 😀

  9. Several of these books sounds fantastic, especially Smoke and Ashes and The Accident of the A35. Would you say that you have to start at the beginning with the Mukherjee books or is it possible to jump around?

    • Two great choices! I think each of the Mukherjee books stands on its own, with a separate plot and no major running story arc over the books. But I do think reading them in order lets you understand the characters better – why Sam takes opium, for example. So if you can get hold of A Rising Man, I’d start there… 😀

    • Haha – sorry! Because of my boredom with the psychological thrillers, I seem to have been reading more of what could probably be classed as literary crime at the moment… and there are some great ones ought there!

    • Oh, I do hope you enjoy it! I must say I was very tempted to include it in the Literary section rather than Crime – it works equally well in either category, I think. So well written… 😀

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