Friday, December 6, 2019

You Might Want to Read These...



It’s that time of year again, when the airwaves are filled with the sound of Michael Bublé coming out of hibernation and the papers are filled with critics’ Best Of lists.

Like Jim yesterday, I make no claim that my choices are a best of anything, merely a list of books I enjoyed this year. I’m going to start with a confession, though. There was no book that I read in 2019 which wowed me in the way certain books (like Attica Locke’s Bluebird Bluebird or Denise Mina’s The Long Drop) have in previous years, but that’s probably a reflection of the fact that I haven’t read enough this year.

So, where to start?

Return of the Old Favourites:
There are some authors who have achieved membership into Mukherjee’s Pantheon of the Greats, and at least two of these had books out this year which I devoured. 

First up, Metropolis by the wonderful Philip Kerr. Kerr passed away last year, but he left the manuscript for this, his final novel, Metropolis, featuring his iconic German detective, Bernie Gunther. Metropolis sees a young Bernie transported back to one of his earliest cases. It’s packed with the usual black humour and Kerr genius and made more poignant by the knowledge that it's the last we’ll ever see of Bernie.

It’s fair to say that my love of historical thrillers was sparked by Martin Cruz Smith and his standout novel, Gorky Park, which introduced us to detective Arkady Renko of the Moscow Militsia. That was in the early 1980s and a hell of a lot has happened to Russia and Renko in the intervening decades. 

The Siberian Dilemma is Cruz Smith’s latest, and finds Renko in Siberia, chasing after his girlfriend and getting mixed up in the murky world of oligarchs and Russian politics. The Renko novels have always been a fascinating insight into a land so utterly different from the West as well as rollercoasters of tension, and this one’s no different. If it lacks the taught, high drama of Gorky Park, it makes up for it with up to the minute commentary on the situation in Russia today. If you like your crime fiction with a political narrative, you should read this.




Standout Young Blood
There are several authors whose work I read for the first time this year and which stood out from the crowd. 

I’ll start here with the wonderfully talented Steph Cha and her novel, Your House Will Fall, which tells the tale of two families, one African American, the other Korean American, both affected by a shooting which took place at the time of the LA riots in the 1980s. It’s a poignant, thoughtful novel, offering the perspectives of both families, still reeling from that tragedy almost forty years later.


MW Craven is a tough looking Englishman from Cumbria, the border lands between England and Scotland. He’s also a wonderful bloke, and his novel The Puppet Show, recently won the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year. I think his new novel, Black Summer, is even better. It features Craven’s detective duo Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, and the case of a man who Poe put away for the murder of his daughter, but whose daughter then turns up alive. 





Best Cosy
I don’t read much ‘cosy crime’ – it’s not really my cup of tea, but I’ll always make an exception for my friend Vaseem Khan and his Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series, set in present day Mumbai and featuring retired police inspector, Ashwin Chopra and his pet baby elephant, Ganesh. Khan’s latest novel, Bad Day at the Vulture Club sees Chopra and Ganesh investigate the death of one of Mumbai's wealthiest citizens, a murder with ramifications for its poorest. Chopra is uneasy entering a world of power and privilege, and is soon plagued by doubts about the case. But murder is murder, and in Mumbai, wealth and corruption go in hand in hand. This is the best Chopra novel to date. Khan is really coming into his own and can be ranked alongside the greats of the sub-genre such as Alexander McCall Smith.
Brilliant, Just Brilliant
There are some authors who you just know you’re in safe hands with. Their writing is sublime, thought-provoking, and often tinged with wit. Mick Herron is one such author, and he’s on the fast-track to entering my Pantheon of the Greats. His latest, Joe Country, is once again set amidst the ‘slow horses’ of Slough House, the spies and spooks who’ve fallen out of favour at MI6 and have been hidden away in the hopes that they’ll be forgotten about. Joe Country sees the spies investigate the kidnapping of the child of one of their former colleagues who was murdered in the line of duty. As with all of Heron’s novels, it’s the portrait he paints of these so human, hum-drum and fallible spies, which really set his books apart from the herd.

Non Fiction
Sometimes the truth can be more gripping than any fiction. That’s definitely the case with Ben MacIntryre’s The Spy and the Traitor, the story of Oleg Gordievsky, a senior KGB officer who became an MI6 agent and, for more than a decade, supplied his British spymasters with a stream of priceless secrets from deep within the Soviet intelligence machine. No spy had done more to damage the KGB. When Gordievsky is recalled to Moscow and feels he’s about to be uncovered by the KGB, he sends a signal seeking extraction. And so begins one of the most daring missions of the Cold War. This is a brilliant book and had me hooked from the first to the last page. If you’re interested in the Cold War, you should read this.

Books I want to read.
As usual, there are a number of books which came out at the end of the year which I haven’t yet had a chance to read. Straight to the top of the pile go Westwind, a tech thriller written by Ian Rankin a few decades ago but never released until now, and Agent Running in the Field by John Le Carré. I hope to get through these before the end of the year, because whatever else 2020 has in store, I’m sure there’ll be a slew of great new books to read.


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