I was late compiling my list of my top 10 reads for 2016. But that turned out to be a good thing. I have only just finished News of the World by Paulette Jiles, and, it seems, I had saved one of the best for last. News of the World is set in 1870 in an America still devastated by war. Captain Jefferson Kidd, a 70-year-old veteran, travels the country earning a living readings newspapers to a population desperate for information. He agrees to return Johanna, a 10-year-old girl who had been captured years before by
It’s 1948 and Atlanta is a city divided by race, teetering on the cusp of change. Dark Town, the subject of a new book by Thomas Mullen, is the city’s black area, defined by poverty, unemployment and violent crime.
When the mayor decides to set up a black police force, Lucius Boggs, son of an influential preacher, and Tommy Smith, a war hero decorated for bravery, are among the eight selected. Right from the start it’s a poisoned chalice. The white police force is overtly antagonistic, often violently so. Unwanted at the main police station their headquarters is instead the dilapidated basement of the local YMCA. Their powers are
One of my favourite crime books last year was The Dark Inside, the debut novel by
British writer Rod Reynolds. It was set in 1946 and Reynolds had managed to capture the all-pervasive fog of casual menace and violence that makes shows like True Detective so compelling. Now comes the sequel, Black Night Falling. It’s just a few months after The Dark Inside. Journalist Charlie Yates, bruised and bloodied, has left Texarkana hoping to pick up the jagged pieces of his life in the more benign atmosphere of America’s west coast. But a desperate phone call from a former colleague, Jimmy Robinson, pushes all the right buttons: “Dead girls. Unfinished business. The right thing.”
Yates heads for Hot Springs, Arkansas, and from his first footsteps on the airport tarmac
American author Colton Whitehead has already garnered a swag of accolades for his work – a Guggenheim and Whiting “genius” awards plus being short-listed for the Pulitzer – making his new novel, The Underground Railroad, highly anticipated. An excerpt was published in a special lift-out in The New York Times. But it was the book’s selection as the subject of Oprah’s Book Club that lit the “destination stratosphere” fuse.
His subject isn’t new. The underground railroad was the metaphorical name for the loose network of people and secret routes that helped slaves escape the antebellum south to the more benign northern states. First operational in the early 19th Century it was most active in the 1850s and early 1860s, and has been the subject of countless fiction (perhaps most notably Toni Morrison’s Beloved) and non-fiction, films, documentaries and scholarly research. What Whitehead does is give the railway an architectural structure,
Rug up when you settle down to read The North Water, or strongly defend your spot in front of a blazing fire. Author Ian McGuire has created a world so physically, emotionally and psychologically bleak that, from the first few pages, you know you’re going to be in for a chilling time.
It is the 1850s and former army surgeon Patrick Sumner has signed up for a six-month voyage on a whaler, The Volunteer, out of Hull, a town on England’s north east coast that was once the heart of a booming whaling industry. But Volunteer is putting to see, heading into the treacherous Arctic waters in the twilight of an industry overtaken by new fuels like coal oil and paraffin.
The Final Murder is the second in Anne Holt’s crime series starring senior Norwegian police Superintendent Adam Stubo and psychologist Johanne Vik. The two met in the series debut, Punishment which was released in translation earlier this year, and quite apart from working well together they obviously hit it off socially in a big way.
When The Final Murder opens they are now married and Stubo is on paternity leave after the birth of their daughter, Ragnhild. It’s a sad commentary on the marital skills of many factional cops, that he flatly refused, even when ordered, to return to the back in the office due to a particularly high-profile killing of an attractive TV presenter. Stubo is a refreshingly normal character. Humane and caring. Apart from the occasional forbidden cigar and glass of wine to assist contemplation, he’s devoid of the traits that tend to single out the modern crime buster. He’s a good father both to Ragnhild and to the strangely quirky Kristiane, Vik’s daughter by an
Stark, the small west Australian coastal town which is the setting for Sam Carmody’s debut novel, The Windy Season, is fictitious. But as anyone who has travelled off the tourist track to the more remote parts of Australia can attest, it exists under a number of aliases. It’s just the kind of town which might, to the outsider, at first seem attractively unusual. But it doesn’t take long to reveal its real character, an undercurrent of menace that makes you look over your shoulder when walking down the road, even on a sunny day.
Stark is the kind of town where society’s flotsam and jetsam turn up. A human gyre. The wounded and the wounders. This is a place where people really do just disappear. Because they want to. Or sometimes because someone else wants them to.
I read Sarah Maine’s debut novel The House Between Tides over a couple of days while enjoying Fiji’s balmy climate. It’s a credit to her ability to create a deep sense of place that the winds whistling through the Outer Hebrides island lost none of their chilly bite, nor the wild seas their temper. It’s 2010 and when the last of her relatives dies and bequeaths her the ancestral home, Hetty Deveraux leaves her troubled relationship and travels to Scotland. She has dreams of restoring the house and potentially opening a hotel on the magnificent rocky outcrop where it is perched.
But when she arrives she find it is less a house than a tumbling down neglected memorial to the brilliant but troubled artist Theo Blake who had lived there until his lonely death. Then a skeleton is unearthed beneath what’s left of the floorboards and Hetty finds herself drawn into a century-old mystery surrounding Theo, his young wife Beatrice and Cameron, the charismatic son of Theo’s estate manager.
Katherine Brabon’s The Memory Artist, which won The Australian/Vogel Literary Award for debut novelist for 2016, is the story of Pasha Ivanov who grew up in the 1960s in the small Moscow apartment where his dissident parents and their friends gathered. They were determined to find out and circulate information about the Stalin government’s ruthless repression, perpetuated by subsequent regimes, long after his death. Tens of millions had been murdered, exiled to brutal remote gulags, placed in mental institutions or, simply disappeared. Control over information, even thought, brutally enforced. Fear as powerful a censor as a prison cell or a man with a gun.
In the 1980s, following Brezhnev’s death, new leader Mikhail Gorbachev has ushered in fledgling glasnost, an increased openess about the activities of
Alan Furst has carved out a substantial niche for himself with his meticulously researched thrillers set in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. His latest, A Hero in France, opens in March 1941, ten months after the French premier Marshal Petain’s infamous capitulation and the arrival of the German occupying force.
The hero of the title, code-named Mathieu, lives a double-life, his identity never revealed, even to his lover, Joëlle. He heads a cell of the French Resistance tasked with getting downed RAF airmen out of France and back to England, not just for the propaganda value but also because of the appallingly high attrition rate of pilots. The book spans five critical months in the work of the cell and its web of supporters, supporting network, operating under an increasingly suffocating blanket of fear, suspicion and distrust as the German grip on Paris, and France, tightens.