Drum roll please…
…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2022.
For the benefit of new readers, and as a reminder for anyone who was around in previous years, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…
All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2021 and October 2022 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.
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:
Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller
Modern Literary Fiction
Book of the Year 2022
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!
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So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in
MODERN CRIME FICTION/THRILLER
For the purpose of the Awards, “Modern” means anything first published after 1971. I’m reading far fewer contemporary crime novels and thrillers these days for reasons I’ve bored on about often so won’t reprise. However this means I’m being choosier about which ones I do read and still always manage to find some gems among the dross! Some of the nominated authors make regular appearances in my Awards shortlists, but a couple are new entrants…
Still Life by Val McDermid
DCI Karen Pirie is busy on a case involving a skeleton which has been found in a camper van when a fresh body turns up in the waters of the Forth. As the head of Police Scotland’s Historic Cases Unit Karen wouldn’t usually be involved in a current investigation, but the corpse in question is James Auld, a man who had disappeared ten years before, suspected of murdering his brother Iain, and Karen had reviewed that case just a couple of years earlier. So Karen finds herself juggling both cases, with the assistance of her regular DC, Jason Murray, and DS Daisy Mortimer, seconded to the unit to help with the Auld case.
It’s still my opinion that the Karen Pirie series, of which this is the sixth, is the best work McDermid has done in years. In this one she tackles the issues of cross-border policing between Scotland and Ireland in the new post-Brexit world, and handles it very well. Daisy Mortimer is a new addition to the team, and a good one who I hope will become a recurring regular. I continue to look forward to seeing where this series goes next!
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The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley
Jess has left her job in England rather suddenly, and in a way that means it’s advisable that she make herself scarce for a while. So she tells her brother Ben that she is coming to visit him in Paris. However, when she arrives Ben is not there, and no one in the opulent apartment building where he’s been living seems able to tell Jess where he might be. All alone in a foreign country, the language of which she doesn’t speak, Jess sets out to find out what can have happened to Ben…
This is a fast-paced page-turner which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite it not being my kind of thing! There are no great descriptions or evocations of Paris, but for me that suited the style of story and kept the story rocketing along. The apartment building itself is very well depicted and has some lovely Gothic touches which help to ramp up the tension. I liked Jess as a character. She’s a bit out of her depth in this city where she knows no one and doesn’t know whom she can trust, but her love for her brother gives her the courage she needs to keep searching even when things get scary. The story touches on some serious topics, but lightly – this is an entertainment rather than a preachy “issues” book (hurrah!).
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Killing Rock by Robert Daws
Detective Sergeant Tamara Sullivan has decided to make her temporary transfer from London’s Met to the Royal Gibraltar Police permanent, but bureaucracy means that she must have a month’s break between the two jobs. She opts to spend the time looking after a friend’s small ranch across the border in Spain. The friend’s daughter is an Inspector with the Spanish police and the two young women immediately hit it off. So when cases arise in both Gibraltar and Spain, each of which seems to have a cross-border element, Tamara and Consuela find themselves putting their talents together. Meantime, Gus Broderick finds he might be connected to the victim in the Gibraltar case, so for much of the time he has to take a back seat and trust that Tamara will be able to clear his name.
This has a hugely complicated plot, but it all comes together very satisfactorily in the end. Sullivan is a likeable detective who plays by the rules, is intelligent, occasionally a little reckless but not too much so, and has a healthy social life and good working relationships with her colleagues. She’s developing into one of my favourite contemporary detectives. Broderick too is a professional, and he has the family life that Sullivan hasn’t yet, so between them they give a nicely rounded picture of normal life, and isn’t that refreshing in modern crime fiction! And the Gibraltar setting is great, and in this one we get to see some of the tensions between Gibraltar and Spain, and also how local people work well together across the border, leaving the politicians to do the squabbling.
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The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths
When Peggy Smith dies in her flat, nothing could seem more natural, since Peggy was a 90-year-old woman with a heart condition. But something doesn’t feel right to her young Ukrainian carer. Natalka had visited her earlier in the day and she had seemed in good health and spirits. However, the official verdict is natural causes and although Natalka and two other friends of Peggy express their doubts to the police, Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur sees no reason to think otherwise. Until, that is, the appearance of a mysterious man with a gun, who breaks into Peggy’s flat and steals a book…
In this second book in the Harbinder Kaur series, Griffiths is riffing on the mysteries of the Golden Age. It has a proper mystery with clues, a group of suspects, a trio of likeable amateur ‘tecs, and a touch or two of romance. Partly set in Shoreham, a small seaside town on the South coast of England, and with a fun road trip culminating in a visit to a book festival in Aberdeen, the tone is light, with lots of humour and plenty of warmth. There’s lots of hat-tipping to the Golden Agers, and indeed it is a Golden Age novel that is stolen from Peggy’s flat. An excellent entry in what is proving to be yet another hugely enjoyable series from Griffiths’ ultra-prolific pen.
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FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2022
BEST MODERN CRIME FICTION/THRILLER
by Sharon Bolton
When a baby is snatched from its mother and thrown into the Thames aboard an inflatable unicorn, off-duty police officer Lacey Flint gives chase in her kayak. It soon becomes clear this terrifying incident is to be the first of many. DCI Mark Joesbury has been following the trail of a group of women-haters who have been communicating through the dark web, and had known that something was about to happen. Now he and his team know that the men involved are planning a campaign of terror, directed at women. And by getting involved in this first incident, Lacey has made herself a target…
The storyline is based on the idea of incels, which has become one of those words that gets bandied around these days, usually as an insult. However Bolton shows them not as a trivial group of disgruntled men who can’t get girlfriends, but as the basis of a seriously misogynistic movement with the aim of removing the hard won rights of women and returning them to a position of subservience within a new patriarchy. She does an amazing and terrifying job of showing how feasible such an organisation would be. Bolton also uses the idea of the dark web to great effect, showing it as a place where all kinds of organisations can group and recruit members, spread information and disinformation, and conspire to commit all kinds of criminal acts under the noses of the authorities but with them unable to identify the names or locations of the people involved.
However, Bolton knows how to get the balance right between this all too believable background and the main thriller elements that keep the pace hurtling along. When she’s on top form, there is no one to beat her, and she is most certainly on her top form in this one! Great book, great series!
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