FictionFan Awards 2015 – Crime Fiction/Thrillers

A round of applause please…

 

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2015.

In case you missed them last week, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…

THE CRITERIA

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All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2014 and October 2015 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.

THE CATEGORIES

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There will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories

Genre Fiction – click to see awards

Factual – click to see awards

Crime Fiction/Thrillers

Literary Fiction

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…and…

Book of the Year 2015

 

THE PRIZES

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For the winners!

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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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Nothing!

THE JUDGES

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Me!

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

CRIME FICTION/THRILLERS

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Despite the fact that I’ve grown more and more unenamoured with a lot of contemporary crime, I’ve still had lots of good reads this year, though on looking back several of them are reissues of older books or have taken a slightly quirky approach. But simply because I read more crime than any other genre, this is still the section that is hardest to decide. So because the choice was so hard, I’ve decided also to list the nominees that didn’t quite make it into the final list. All of these books were great reads, and I look forward to reading more from each of these authors in the future.

NOMINEES

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

 

the voices beyondThe Voices Beyond by Johan Theorin

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Young Jonas is spending the summer on the island of Öland at the resort owned by his family, the Klosses. One night, he takes his dingy out onto the sea. Drifting in the darkness, a sudden shaft of moonlight shows a boat approaching and he doesn’t have time to get out of the way. He manages to climb aboard the boat before his dingy is sunk, but what awaits him there is the stuff of nightmares – dying men (or are they already dead?) on the deck stalking towards him and calling out in a language he doesn’t understand. This brilliantly atmospheric opening sets the tone for a book that combines a mystery in the present day with a story that takes us back to the USSR in the days of Stalin. Plot, writing, research, characterisation – all top quality, and it finishes off as atmospherically as it began. A great read – frankly, this could easily have been the winner.

Click to see the full review

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the zig-zag girlThe Zig-Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths

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Set in Brighton post-WW2, this is a great start to a new series from the author of the Ruth Galloway series. Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto served in a secret unit known as the “Magic Men” during the war. Now Edgar is a police detective and Max has gone back to his profession as a stage magician. When a dismembered corpse turns up, it has echoes of one of Max’s tricks, and as Edgar investigates it appears the solution may lie in their wartime past. Both place and time are done very well, with the shadow of the war still hanging over the characters and the world they inhabit. With an intriguing, complex plot, an interesting slant on a unique (and not entirely fictional) aspect of the war, some very enjoyable humour and a touch of romance, this is a great mystery of the traditional kind. And best of all, unlike the Ruth books, it’s written in the past tense.

Click to see the full review

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vertigoVertigo by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

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As Paris waits uneasily for war to begin, Roger Flavières is approached by an old college friend, Gévigne, who puts an odd proposition to him. Gévigne is concerned about his wife, Madeleine. She has been lapsing into odd silences, almost trances, and seems bewildered when she comes out of them. Gévigne knows she’s been going out during the afternoons but she says she hasn’t – either she is lying, which Gévigne doesn’t believe, or she has forgotten. Gévigne wants Flavières to follow her, partly to find out what she’s doing and partly to make sure she is safe. This is, of course, the book on which the Hitchcock film was based and, for once, despite my love for all things Hitchcock, on this occasion I think the book is better. Hitchcock’s decision to elevate the importance of the vertigo aspects, as opposed to the book’s study of the effects of obsession on an already weak mind, somehow makes his Ferguson a less complex and intriguing character than Boileau-Narcejac’s Flavières. And the ending of the book is much more satisfying than that of the film. An excellent read.

Click to see the full review

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you zoran drvenkarYou by Zoran Drvenkar

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Back in 1995, a massive snowstorm brought traffic to a halt on the road between Bad Hersfeld and Eisenach. As people huddled in their cars overnight, trying to keep warm, The Traveler stepped out of his vehicle and worked his way along the line of cars, murdering the people inside. By the time the snowploughs got through, twenty-six people were dead and there was no trace of The Traveler. In the present day, Ragnar Desche has found the frozen body of his brother Oskar and is out to get revenge against whoever killed him and stole the massive stash of heroin he was keeping for Ragnar. And four teenage girls are worrying about the fifth member of their little clique who has been missing for nearly a week… This is a great book, written almost entirely in the second person through the eyes of each of the huge cast of characters in turn. Drvenkar handles this unusual technique superbly, forcing me to identify with each of them, however unlikely. It’s noir dark shot through with just enough gleams of light to keep it bearable, pacey and tense, grim and disturbing, no punches pulled – and quite stunning. I’m still not completely sure it shouldn’t be the winner…

Click to see the full review

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FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2015

for

BEST CRIME FICTION/THRILLER

 

lamentation

Lamentation by C.J. Sansom

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It is 1546, and an increasingly ailing Henry VIII has swung back to the traditionalist wing of the church – in fact, some fear he might be about to make amends with the Pope and take the country back to Catholicism. The constant shifts in what is seen as acceptable doctrine have left many sects, once tolerated, now at risk of being accused of heresy. And, as the story begins, Anne Askew and three other heretics are about to be burned at the stake for preaching radical Protestantism. At this dangerous time, Henry’s last Queen, Catherine Parr, has written a book, Lamentations of a Sinner, describing her spiritual journey to believing that salvation can be found only through study of the Bible and the love of Christ, rather than through the traditional rites of the Church. Not quite heretical, but close enough to be used against her by the traditionalists. So when the book is stolen, Catherine calls on the loyalty of her old acquaintance, Matthew Shardlake, to find it and save her from becoming another of Henry’s victims. And when a torn page turns up in the dead hand of a murdered printer, it’s clear some people will stop at nothing to get hold of the book…

I have long held that Sansom is by far the best writer of historical fiction, certainly today, but perhaps ever; and I’m delighted to say that this book is, in my opinion, his best to date. A huge brick of a book, coming in at over 600 pages, and yet at no point does it flag. Like the earlier books, this one is completely immersive – the length of it is matched by its depth. The fictional aspect is woven seamlessly into fact, and the characters and actions of the real people who appear in the novel are consistent with what we know of them through the history books. The combination of the personal and the political is perfectly balanced, and Sansom never fails to take the consequences of events of previous books through to the next, meaning that the recurring characters continue to develop more deeply in each one. There’s always a long wait between Shardlake novels, but they are invariably worth waiting for. And as England moves on to dealing with the aftermath of Henry’s death, I very much hope that Shardlake will be there to lead us through it…

Click to see the full review

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Next week: Best Literary Fiction Award

Five of the Best!

FIVE 5-STAR READS
MAY

SMILEYS

Each month this year, I’ll be looking back over my reviews of the past five years and picking out my favourite from each year. Cleo from Cleopatra Loves Books came up with this brilliant idea and kindly agreed to let me borrow it.

So here are my favourite May reads…click on the covers to go to the full reviews, though it must be said my early reviews were somewhat basic…

 

2011

 

last-man-in-towerUK3002011 was the first year I chose a ‘Book of the Year’ and this was the book. For me, the best fiction must shed some light on the society in which it’s set, provide memorable characters and tell us something about the ‘human condition’. This book does that in spades. Masterji, the last man of the title, has become one of those rare characters who have gained a permanent place in my fictional landscape. As the Vakola area of Bombay begins to come up in the world, the inhabitants of an apartment block are offered money by a developer to move out. One man, Masterji, a retired teacher, wants to stay. This is the story of how the promise of wealth changes and corrupts a community. But it’s also so much more than that. The author takes us into the lives of Masterji and his neighbours, letting us see their thoughts and dreams and fears. With humanity and humour he paints a picture of the friendships, favours and shared histories that bind a community together; and then shows how small envies and old grievances are magnified when that community is divided. A great book.

 

2012

 

bring up the bodiesWhen a book is as good as Wolf Hall, a sequel is sometimes as much to be dreaded as anticipated. Here, though, Mantel succeeds in giving us a second instalment that is worthy of the first. As Anne Boleyn fails to give Henry his much-wanted son, Cromwell finds himself facing a similar situation as his mentor Cardinal Wolsey had – to find a way to rid the King of one Queen and replace her with another. Ever mindful of Wolsey’s fate, Cromwell is determined to succeed where he failed; and to settle a few old scores along the way. In this book, Cromwell is still presented as urbane, intelligent, mannerly and a loving father. But we also get to see more of his dark side – the man who will stop at nothing to achieve his ends. As the Seymours seek to rise to power on the back of Henry’s longing for the quiet Jane, we are given a clear picture of how women were schooled and used as objects of barter. But in the end, the outstanding character in this sequel remains Cromwell who, in Mantel’s confident hands, has become one of those literary characters who will remain in the mind long after the book has been read.

 

2013

 

someone to watch over meWhen a residential unit for disabled people is burned down, all the residents are killed bar one. Jakob has Downs Syndrome and a grievance – he never wanted to be placed in the unit and he doesn’t like it there. It seems to be an open and shut case but, because of his disability, Jakob is sent to a secure psychiatric hospital rather than prison and it looks like he’ll stay there for life. At least, until one of the other inmates asks lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to try to get the case reopened. I’ve discovered over the last few years that I don’t really get on very well with male Nordic writers, but enjoy some of the female ones a good deal. Haven’t quite analysed why this should be, yet. Sigurdardóttir manages the difficult subject of disability in this book without ever becoming mawkish or sentimental, and there’s a beautifully creepy strand woven through the main plot, which adds an extra layer of tension. One day I’ll read the rest in the series…

 

2014

 

a princess of marsArriving naked on Barsoom (Mars), John Carter finds himself captured by huge six-limbed green Martians, also naked, repulsive to look at and vicious by nature. However, endowed with superior strength and agility by the low gravity on Mars, the brave Carter has soon killed enough of these creatures to win their admiration and to be made a chieftain among them. This comes in handy when he meets his true love, in the guise of a (naked) red Martian, Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium. She has been captured by the green Tharks and is soon to be tortured to death for their amusement. But Carter is entranced by the beauty and spirit of Dejah Thoris and sets out to save her and return her to her own (naked) people, the Heliumites. In truth, the ‘best’ book I read in May 2014 was The Road, but this one has given me so much fun in terms of reading, reviewing and chatting that it has to be the winner. I’ve since read two of the sequels and expect to return to Barsoom again…

 

2015

 

you zoran drvenkarGrim and brutal, darker than black, and written almost entirely in the second-person present tense, so I should have hated it. But it’s brilliantly written, with language and imagery that would easily fit into the ‘literary’ category, and with a depth and range of characterisation that is rare in any kind of fiction. Although there’s no supernatural element to it, it feels strongly like a particularly savage fairy-tale. Fundamentally, it’s about evil. Three strands – a gangster looking for the person who left his brother dead and stole a stash of drugs, a group of teenagers worrying about a missing friend, and a serial spree killer. The viewpoint revolves through thirteen characters with the reader being put inside each of their heads in turn. Drvenkar handles the complexity in a masterly fashion and the second half of the book in particular whirls the reader on towards a climax that is almost operatic in its high drama and totally satisfying inevitability. It’s noir dark shot through with just enough gleams of light to keep it bearable, pacey and tense, grim and disturbing, no punches pulled – and quite stunning.

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If you haven’t already seen Cleo’s selection for May, why not pop on over? Here’s the link…

You by Zoran Drvenkar

you zoran drvenkarThe demon in the darkness…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Back in 1995, a massive snowstorm brought traffic to a halt on the road between Bad Hersfeld and Eisenach. As people huddled in their cars overnight, trying to keep warm, The Traveler stepped out of his vehicle and worked his way along the line of cars, murdering the people inside. By the time the snowploughs got through, twenty-six people were dead and there was no trace of The Traveler. (Excuse spelling – the book goes with US English throughout.) In the present day, Ragnar Desche has found the frozen body of his brother Oskar and is out to get revenge against whoever killed him and stole the massive stash of heroin he was keeping for Ragnar. And four teenage girls are worrying about the fifth member of their little clique who has been missing for nearly a week…

If you only read one crime thriller this year, please make it this one! Grim and brutal, darker than black, and written almost entirely in the second-person present tense, so I should have hated it. But it’s brilliantly written, with language and imagery that would easily fit into the ‘literary’ category, and with a depth and range of characterisation that is rare in any kind of fiction. Although there’s no supernatural element to it, it feels strongly like a particularly savage fairy-tale. Fundamentally, it’s about evil…

And then in every darkness there dwells a demon who was born without a heart and eats other hearts to assuage his insatiable hunger. The demon hides in the shadows, you can find him in the corners of the mouth of a cruel child, and even if you close your eyes out of fear, he lurks behind your lids and stretches his fingers out for your heart.

Drvenkar used second person very effectively in his previous novel, Sorry, but only in short bursts. I doubted very much if he could pull it off as the primary viewpoint in a 500-page novel. But in fact he uses it wonderfully to put the reader deep inside each character, seeing through their eyes and feeling through their hearts. By my reckoning there are a total of thirteen viewpoints rotating throughout the book, and as each takes over the reader becomes that person. It seems to me that this could only possibly work if the characterisation is convincing and individual enough to ‘fool’ the reader’s brain into acceptance. Somehow Drvenkar manages this feat. At first when we don’t know the characters it can be confusing but as he develops each into a separate entity it becomes easy to know who ‘you’ are at any point, and for avoidance of doubt each section is clearly headed with the name of the particular ‘you’ you are at that moment. What I found amazing was that he could not only make me identify with the ‘yous’ who were the girls, but at different times he made me be a ruthless gangster, a psychopathic serial killer, and an even stranger one that I won’t reveal for sake of avoiding spoilers. Sometimes at the start of a chapter I felt I couldn’t accept being this other person, but within a page or two Drvenkar had pushed me inside their character and my cynicism had retreated in defeat.

Berlin noir...
Berlin noir…

I understand from the author bio in the book that Drvenkar has written extensively for the YA market before turning to dark, very adult thrillers. This shows through in his characterisation of the girls – I found them entirely believable, both in speech and in their actions. The rotating viewpoint lets us see all of the main characters from each other’s viewpoints as well as their own, and this makes them very rounded. But the second person perspective makes even the minor characters come to life. There’s also a narrative voice, for which he uses first person plural – this has the effect of making it feel like all of the other characters who are not currently ‘you’, or perhaps like an all-seeing Greek chorus commenting on the action. And he uses foreshadowing superbly to add an ever-increasing air of tension and menace…

Don’t worry, you don’t need to talk, you don’t need to think or, for a while, exist, we’ll find out everything about you anyway. Why you became a shadow, why you don’t want to exist anymore. Invisible. We’ll open a window into your life and let the light in, and we’ll shake you awake until you scream with fury. But there’s time for that, that comes later.

Zoran Drvenkar
Zoran Drvenkar

Sounds like it should be dreadful, doesn’t it? But it isn’t! His skill carries it off brilliantly, making this one of the best and most original thrillers I’ve read in years. The translation from the original German is by Shaun Whiteside, which means that it’s flawless – it never feels like a translation, which is the highest praise I can give. I’ve deliberately said very little about the plot, because it’s so intricate that it would be almost impossible to avoid spoilers. The interest is in seeing how it all works, how all the various parts fit together. It’s noir dark shot through with just enough gleams of light to keep it bearable, pacey and tense, grim and disturbing, no punches pulled – and quite stunning. It gets my highest recommendation.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 44…

Episode 44

 

It’s that time of year when we all make fabulous resolutions so that by mid-January we can all feel like complete failures for having broken them all already. So, in the spirit of the season, here are the resolutions I plan to break over the coming months…

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

2) Make time for re-reads.

3) Reduce the TBR to no more than 70 by the end of the year.

4) Stop reading so many new-to-me authors (since the precious gold is hidden amongst a fair amount of dross) and catch up on the back catalogues of authors I know I enjoy.

5) Read more classics, including some Dickens and a book a month for the Great American Novel Quest.

6) Read more sci-fi/fantasy.

Hmm… I currently have 17 unread review copies, and have requested 6 more, so Resolution 1 is looking a bit shaky. I think we all know Resolution 3 isn’t going to work out. Resolution 4 is problematic since the TBR currently contains books by 54 new-to-me authors.

But I’m delighted to say that the TBR has increased dramatically to 133 – delighted since the increase is because I’ve added loads of things I want to re-read plus some sci-fi – AND I’ve wasted a happy few hours making up (yet) another lovely, lovely spreadsheet scheduling all my reading for the next few months so as to keep on top of Resolutions 2, 5 and 6. I won’t stick to it, of course, but the joy of lists is surely in the making of them… a beautifully over-complicated spreadsheet feels like an achievement in itself.

So here’s some of what’s coming up – judge for yourselves if they meet my intentions…

Crime

 

you zoran drvenkarI enjoyed Zoran Drvenkar’s Sorry a lot, despite it being darker than my normal fare, so I’ve been waiting impatiently for this one to be released for Kindle. Doesn’t sound my kind of thing at all really, but then neither did Sorry

The Blurb saysIt’s a late-summer night in Berlin and notorious criminal Ragnar Desche isn’t too happy. He’s just found his brother, Oskar, dead, frozen stiff and sitting in his home next to a swimming pool full of marijuana plants. Someone’s flooded the pool and stolen a Range Rover, but what’s worse is that Ragnar’s huge cache of drugs is missing—and he’s going to want it back. Meanwhile, nearby, a group of teenage girls are out at the movies. Thinking about boys and worrying about acne, they notice that the prettiest member of their clique is missing. She hasn’t been seen for days, and the trouble she’s found herself in is about to set all of the girls on a collision course with the Desche gang and drag them into a fight for their lives—a fight that might turn out to be more evenly matched than it first appears.

A gritty, pulsating, psychological thriller told through the eyes of an enormous cast of characters, You is an audacious and unpredictable combination of pulp, pluck, and revenge.

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Factual

 

four revolutions in the earth sciencesFour Revolutions in the Earth Sciences – just started reading this one and it looks as if it will be interesting, though I feel I might end up arguing with him as often as I agree with him. We shall see! Courtesy of NetGalley.

The Blurb saysOver the course of the twentieth century, scientists came to accept four counterintuitive yet fundamental facts about the Earth: deep time, continental drift, meteorite impact, and global warming. When first suggested, each proposition violated scientific orthodoxy and was quickly denounced as scientific — and sometimes religious — heresy. Nevertheless, after decades of rejection, scientists and many in the public grew to acknowledge the truth of each theory.

The stories behind these four discoveries reflect more than the fascinating push and pull of scientific work. They reveal the provocative nature of science, which raises profound and uncomfortable truths as it advances. This absorbing scientific history is the only book to describe the evolution of these four ideas from heresy to truth, showing how science works in practice and how it inevitably corrects the mistakes of its practitioners. Scientists can be wrong, but science can be trusted. In the process, astonishing ideas are born and, over time, take root.

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Fiction

 

station elevenIt seems everyone’s raving about how good this book is, so in the end I’ve given in, despite being a new-to-me author. Courtesy of NetGalley…again.

The Blurb saysAn audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, “Station Eleven” tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

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the way things wereWhen I read Aatish Taseer’s earlier book Noon, I had a couple of reservations about it, but overall felt he was a compelling storyteller and one to watch. So I was delighted to be offered this via Amazon Vine.

The Blurb saysThe Way Things Were opens with the death of Toby, the Maharaja of Kalasuryaketu, a Sanskritist who has not set foot in India for two decades. Moving back and forth across three sections, between today’s Delhi and the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s in turn, the novel tells the story of a family held at the mercy of the times.

A masterful interrogation of the relationships between past and present and among individual lives, events, and culture, Aatish Taseer’s The Way Things Were takes its title from the Sanskrit word for history, itihasa, whose literal translation is “the way things indeed were.” Told in prose that is at once intimate and panoramic, and threaded through with Sanskrit as central metaphor and chorus, this is a hugely ambitious and important book, alive to all the commotion of the last forty years but never losing its brilliant grasp on the current moment.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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