FictionFan Awards 2019 – Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

A round of applause…

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2019.

For the benefit of new readers, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…

THE CRITERIA

All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2018 and October 2019 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

Factual

Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

Literary Fiction

…and…

Book of the Year 2019

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!

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

MODERN CRIME FICTION/ THRILLER

This has been my worst year for modern crime fiction ever. I’m simply out of tune with what’s being produced now and I’ve pretty much given up the attempt to find the occasional one I enjoy. I suspect this may be the last time it appears as an award category unless something changes dramatically in the genre, and I’m seeing no signs that it will. In total, I only gave four books the full five stars, while in comparison I abandoned eleven, including several by authors I’ve previously enjoyed. So a very short and rather uninspired shortlist this time, I’m afraid…

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Clare Cassidy is writing a biography of the writer RM Holland, who was best known for his terrifying ghost story, The Stranger. So she’s happy to be teaching at Talgarth Academy, a school in Sussex which was once Holland’s home and where his study is still intact, giving Clare access to his papers. Clare uses The Stranger as part of her lessons, both for her school pupils and for the adults who attend her creative writing classes in school holidays. But when one of her colleagues is brutally murdered, Clare is shocked to learn that a piece of paper was found by her body containing a line from Holland’s story. And soon, as the plot thickens, it becomes clear that somehow the story holds the clue to the case…

I loved the way Griffiths gradually fed us the story of The Stranger, which in itself is a pretty good pastiche of a real Victorian ghost story. But the spookiness doesn’t stop with it – the main story has some seriously goose-pimply moments, and at least two where I gasped out loud! Lovely Gothic stuff, with the old house and all the diary-writing and mysterious messages and other things I’ll leave you to discover for yourself. Even the investigation has a rather old-fashioned feel to it, with the emphasis on suspects, motives and clues rather than on forensics.

Click to see the full review

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The Man with No Face by Peter May

When a new editor takes over at The Edinburgh Post and begins to dumb it down in an attempt to increase circulation, top investigative journalist Neil Bannerman makes his feelings only too clear. So he is swiftly banished to Brussels, to the headquarters of the EEC (as the EU was called back then), tasked with digging up some stories in the run-up to the forthcoming British Parliamentary elections. No-one is expecting quite such a big story though. Bannerman’s fellow journalist, Tim Slater, is murdered along with a rising man in British politics, Robert Gryffe. When the story is quickly hushed up on orders from on high, Bannerman’s journalist interest is only more heightened, and he sets out to discover who carried out the killings and, perhaps more importantly, why.

This is actually a re-issue of a book first published in 1981, so only barely counts as “modern”. I wouldn’t describe the book as full-on noir, but there’s certainly a noirish feel to it with lots of damaged characters and corrupt politicians. But May doesn’t overplay his hand, and allows at least some of his characters some hope of redemption, all of which prevents the tone from becoming too bleak. A very good thriller and the EEC setting gives it an added layer of interest.

Click to see the full review

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Cruel Acts by Jane Casey

Leo Stone was convicted of killing two women and sentenced to life imprisonment. But now one of the jurors has revealed that the jury broke the rules and as a result his conviction is certain to be overturned when it comes before the Appeals Court. There will be a retrial, but Superintendent Godley wants to make certain that he’s convicted again, so Detective Sergeant Maeve Kerrigan and Detective Inspector Josh Derwent are assigned to reinvestigate the case and to find more evidence if they can. In the midst of the investigation, after Stone has been released, another woman goes missing…

The eighth in the Maeve Kerrigan series, one of very few contemporary series I’m still following. In general, I’m not wild about serial killer stories and helpless females being tortured and killed, but Casey handles it with her usual sensitivity and good taste. While Maeve’s personal life might be a bit complicated, she’s no angst-ridden maverick. The same goes for her colleagues, in fact – they’re probably the most realistic police team I can think of, and while there are petty jealousies and squabbles, they behave overall like the kind of professional force I’d like to think we actually have.

Click to see the full review

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FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2019

for

BEST MODERN CRIME FICTION/THRILLER

Deadland by William Shaw

When a severed limb turns up inside an urn on loan to the local art gallery, DS Alex Cupidi and the team have a real mystery on their hands. First they have to try to work out to whom it belonged and if the owner is dead, and why it was left in a place where it was bound to be discovered, all before they can even begin to investigate who put it there. At the same time, two local lads, Sloth and Tap, are starting out on a life of petty crime. They decide to steal a mobile phone, but unfortunately for them they pick the wrong victim, and soon find themselves being hunted by someone who seems willing to go to any lengths to recover his property, so they run off into hiding. While Alex is tied up in the possible murder investigation, she can’t help being worried for the safety of the boys – criminals they may be, but they’re also victims, of difficult homes, of substandard schools, of a society that doesn’t seem to care. And they’re the same age as Alex’ own daughter, Zoe…

This is part police procedural, part fast-paced thriller. Alex is another detective who avoids being angst-ridden and her relationship with her daughter is very credible. The two boys, Tap and Sloth, are great characters – Shaw makes us care so deeply about them that the tension level ramps ever higher as the story unfolds, with some real heart-thumping moments along the way. And there’s no cosiness about it, so that there’s a real feeling of fear that one or both of them may pay the ultimate price for their stupid crime. But equally their story is not too grim or gritty to be enjoyable.

Click to see the full review

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Next week: Best Literary Fiction

Deadland (DS Alex Cupidi 2) by William Shaw

Ramping up the tension…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When a severed limb turns up inside an urn on loan to the local art gallery, DS Alex Cupidi and the team have a real mystery on their hands. First they have to try to work out to whom it belonged and if the owner is dead, and why it was left in a place where it was bound to be discovered, all before they can even begin to investigate who put it there. At the same time, two local lads, Sloth and Tap, are starting out on a life of petty crime. They decide to steal a mobile phone, but unfortunately for them they pick the wrong victim, and soon find themselves being hunted by someone who seems willing to go to any lengths to recover his property, so they run off into hiding. While Alex is tied up in the possible murder investigation, she can’t help being worried for the safety of the boys – criminals they may be, but they’re also victims, of difficult homes, of substandard schools, of a society that doesn’t seem to care. And they’re the same age as Alex’ own daughter, Zoe…

Alex Cupidi is a great detective. She isn’t an angst-ridden maverick, but there are enough complications in her personal life to make her interesting, and her relationship with her daughter is entirely credible. Zoe is seventeen, mostly adult but still part child, and Alex is finding it difficult to get the balance right between protecting her and letting her find her own way in life. The situation is complicated by Zoe’s zealous championing of causes which sometimes bring her into confrontation with the forces of law and order. Shaw handles this excellently, never taking it too far, and there’s plenty of love in the relationship to help smooth over any areas of conflict.

The police procedural aspect is just as good. Shaw lets us know about the painstaking detail that goes into an investigation without allowing the story to get bogged down in it. Alex’ colleague and friend, Jill, has got herself into a tricky personal situation, and this lets us see another side of Alex, trying to juggle loyalty to her friend with the professional demands of the job.

One thing I particularly loved was that Shaw includes people of different ethnicities and sexual orientations without making a big deal of it. I’m so tired of authors feeling they have to write “about” diversity – until we start treating diversity as normal, it never will be. So hurrah for an author who makes it unremarkable…

(This is the second time I’ve made a comment like this recently, the other being in relation to the entirely believable, positive background portrayal of racially diverse Birmingham in Lucie Whitehouse’s Critical Incidents. A new trend, perhaps? If so, a very welcome one.)

The plotting is great – complex and fast-paced, but never to a degree where the reader feels lost. It takes Alex and Jill into the rich and shady world of art-trading, where vast amounts of money changing hands provides opportunities for all kinds of dodgy dealing, and the wealthy shelter behind their security fences and sense of entitlement. But through Tap and Sloth we also see the other end of the social spectrum, where a meal in a burger bar can seem like a feast. There’s no faux “that day” suspense in this one. Instead, Shaw makes us care so deeply about the two boys that the tension level ramps ever higher as the story unfolds, with some real heart-thumping moments along the way. And there’s no cosiness about it, so that there’s a real feeling of fear that one or both of them may pay the ultimate price for their stupid crime. But equally their story is not too grim or gritty to be enjoyable. There’s a lot of warmth and humour in their friendship – two misfits who’ve each found someone they can rely on, even love.

Shaw makes excellent use of his Kent setting, both in town and out on the wild and forbidding marshland landscape of Dungeness. He lets us see all the contrasts in wealth in this area, the secluded and luxurious homes of the rich, while the old seaside hotels and boarding houses along the Kent coast are now hostels housing many of the refugees and migrants recently arrived on our shores.

William Shaw

This is one of those rare masterclasses in crime writing that should be made compulsory reading for all aspiring authors. I loved everything about it, especially the sections of the boys on the run, and raced through it because I needed to know whether they would make it. Did I come out of it smiling or sobbing though? I’m afraid you’ll have to read it for yourself to find the answer to that question. One thing I will tell you – I’ll be backtracking to read Shaw’s earlier books, and adding him to my read-on-publication-day list for future ones…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, riverrun at Quercus.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 197…

Episode 197

Goodness! The TBR is down another 3 this week to 222! At this rate, two things will happen: 1) I will run out of books and 2) several of you (you know who you are!) will turn purple with rage, green with envy and yellow with terror that the same thing might happen to you. Which will officially qualify you to join Clan Abercrombie…

Here are a few more that will be taking the high road soon. No heavy fiction since I’ll be starting Middlemarch soon and that might take me two or three decades to read, so it’s another Crime Week…

Crime

Courtesy of riverrun at Quercus. I saw several glowing reviews of the first book in this series, so when I was offered this second one, I grabbed it, especially since the publisher says each book works as a stand-alone. I realised recently that I’m not following very many current series since some have come to an end (or I’ve grown tired of them), so I’m on the lookout for a couple of new ones. Could this be one?

The Blurb says: The two boys never fitted in. Seventeen, the worst age, nothing to do but smoke weed; at least they have each other. The day they speed off on a moped with a stolen mobile, they’re ready to celebrate their luck at last. Until their victim comes looking for what’s his – and ready to kill for it.

On the other side of Kent’s wealth divide, DS Alexandra Cupidi faces the strangest murder investigation of her career. A severed limb, hidden inside a modern sculpture in Margate’s Turner Contemporary. No one takes it seriously – not even the artwork’s owners, celebrity dealers who act like they’re above the law.

But as Cupidi’s case becomes ever more sinister, as she wrangles with police politics and personal dilemmas, she can’t help worrying about those runaway boys. Seventeen, the same age as her own headstrong daughter. Alone, on the marshes, they’re pawns in someone else’s game. Two worlds are about to collide.

Kent and its social divisions are brilliantly captured in Deadland, a crime thriller that’s as ingeniously unguessable as it is moving and powerful.

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Crime

I’m slowly re-reading my favourite crime series of all time, Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. This is number 5, and I remember when I first read it being utterly shocked at the idea of snuff movies. (In case you haven’t come across the term before, snuff movies are a variation of porn films where the violence against women portrayed onscreen is not acting, but real, up to and including the victim’s death.) I’d never heard of them and wondered if Hill had invented the idea, but apparently they actually exist or are at least rumoured to. The world is a sick, sick place…

The Blurb says: Love, or at least pornography, are for sale at the arty Calliope Kinema Club on posh, proper Wilkinson Square. According to Yorkshire police superintendent Dalziel, it’s all legal. Detective Peter Pascoe, however, doesn’t believe it. His dentist, who knows real broken teeth and blood when he sees them, insists that the pretty actress wasn’t playing a part when it happened. But the action that puts Pascoe into the picture is homicide. The sudden death of the Calliope’s proprietor soon turns a sleazy sex flick into serious police business. And now Dalziel and Pascoe are looking into the all-too-human desire for pain, pleasure…and murder.

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Crime

Courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley. This series is darker than I usually go for, but I love her writing – she usually creates a really creepy or tension-filled atmosphere. And I like the two lead characters too…

The Blurb says: The police find out about the crime the way everyone does: on Snapchat. The video shows the terrified victim begging for forgiveness. When her body is found, it is marked with a number 2…

Detective Huldar joins the investigation, bringing child psychologist Freyja on board to help question the murdered teenager’s friends. Soon, they uncover that Stella was far from the angel people claim – but even so, who could have hated her enough to kill?

Then another teenager goes missing, and more clips are sent. Freyja and Huldar can agree on two things at least: the truth is far from simple. And the killer is not done yet.

A brilliantly suspenseful story about the dark side of social media, The Absolution will make you wonder what you should have said sorry for…

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Thriller

Courtesy of Orion via NetGalley. I enjoyed Cavanagh’s debut novel, The Defence, a few years ago and really meant to keep up with his new releases – didn’t happen! However, I keep seeing glowing reviews of his books, so I’m jumping back on board with this new one. The blurb is singularly unhelpful, I must say, and if I didn’t know anything about the author, would certainly not tempt me to read the book… WRITING BLURBS IN CAPITALS DOESN’T MAKE THEM MORE EXCITING!!! (FF’s Eleventh Law… 😉 )

The Blurb says: BEFORE YOU READ THIS BOOK
I WANT YOU TO KNOW THREE THINGS:

1. The police are looking to charge me with murder.

2. No one knows who I am. Or how I did it.

3. If you think you’ve found me. I’m coming for you next.

After you’ve read this book, you’ll know: the truth is far more twisted…

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?