I read and reviewed 110 books in 2013, way more than the 80 I hoped to read. As a whole it was a good year of reading and here are my ten favourite fiction books (not all of which were published in 2013). For full reviews of each book click on the links and to see all 110 reviews click here.
Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer
Witty and smart, with a nice mix of darkness and
light, pathos and humour, and a cleverly worked plot. Patrick Fort is a lovely creation - truthful, logical, obsessive and
unintentionally abrasive - and the other characters are fully formed. The plot is nicely put together, with a couple of very nice
twists towards the end of the story. There isn’t a
word out of place, and the story is all tell and no show. An excellent
piece of literary crime fiction.
Hard Bite by Anonymous-9
Original, witty, smart, dark, and hard with a soft-centre. Elaine Ash
(Anonymous-9) writes in very assured and sparkling prose that is all
show and no tell, and which swaps between the first person narrative of
Dean and the third person of the other characters. The plot is very nicely put together, and whilst it could have twirled
off into a screwball noir, it manages to be darkly comic without
descending into farce, and wheels an interesting path through a morally
fraught landscape. Along with
good contextualisation, there is also a decent sense of place in both LA
and Mexico. One of the most original crime and enjoyable novels I’ve
read in a good while.
The City of Strangers by Michael Russell
A compelling, page-turner police procedural/political thriller that punches all the right buttons - gripping plot, strong characterisation, excellent historical
contextualisation, well realised sense of place.
Gillespie is a well penned and engaging lead, with a well developed back
story. He is accompanied by a mix of fictional and real characters who
are all alive on the page and whose interactions are nicely observed.
There is a balanced blend of Irish and international politics, supported
by some nice historical detail that is informative without swamping the
story. A very fine piece of crime fiction.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
There’s very little to fault in Cline’s storytelling or the detailed
world he creates, which has a strong sense of plausibility and realism. The story
hooks the reader in and the pages keep turning. The characterisation
is nicely done, the plot is excellent, and the contextualisation is very
well realised. It’s clear that Cline spent a lot of time on
the details and it shows - it’s a tale about a bunch of geeks doing
geeky stuff that is geeky in its creation. It was a joy to read given its strong plotting and intertextuality.
Little Criminals by Gene Kerrigan
A cracking read and a lesson in how write all
tell and no show, using tight, sparse, expressive prose. There isn’t a
single sentence that doesn’t propel the story forward. The characterisation is excellent and the plot is tight and gripping, with a series of wonderful scenes
and realistic dialogue. The
whole book is wonderfully evocative of Dublin before the crash,
colliding together the worlds of criminal gangs and the corporate
elite. An excellent tale, very well told.
The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home
A hugely enjoyable read, told in an engaging and compelling voice. An
awful lot happens in its 280 pages, but at no point does the story feel overcomplicated or
underdeveloped or overly contrived. The
characterisation is excellent and Douglas-Home is particularly good at
framing and playing out a scene and the interactions between
characters. There is a strong sense of place throughout, especially
with respect to rural, coastal Scotland. The plotting is, in my view is
exceptional, creating a story that hooks the story in and incessantly
tugs them along on a gripping, emotional journey.
Pale Horses by Nate Southard
A country noir of the blackest kind, offset with strong bittersweet
undertones. The story charts the intersections of three principal
characters over the course of a murder investigation: an aging sheriff
with Alzheimer’s, an unbalanced deputy with a drug habit and a Christina
Ricci obsession, and a former marine haunted by his time in Iraq and
Afghanistan. All three characters are very well drawn and developed as
the story progresses. There is a good sense of place and
contextualisation concerning small town, rural America, and the plot is
compelling, building to a violent but nicely done denouement.
The Thicket by Joe Lansdale
Set just as oil is being discovered in Texas and the first cars are bumping along unpaved roads, The Thicket is an adventure yarn that is a mix of Tom Sawyer, Stand by Me and True
Grit. The strengths of the tale is its
voice, characterisation, sense of place and time, and plot. The story
is told as a form of a reminiscence through a very engaging narrator’s
voice that makes it feel as if it’s the transcript of porch-told tale.
plot is a boys own adventure with a large dose of spice and grit, that
is perfectly paced with the right balance of action and reflection, and
the reader is placed into the landscape of East Texas in the early
twentieth century and its social relations and rhythms.
Home Invasion by Patti Abbott
Home Invasion follows the trials and
tribulations of different generations of a dysfunctional family of
grifters over nearly half a century. Each chapter is set in a different
year at a key inflection point in a family history, told through evocative prose and a
narrative that perfectly captures the unfolding scenes, the tenuous web
of social relations, complex swirl of emotions, and the foreboding that
things will never quite work out as desired. A dark, unsettling,
sympathetic and thoughtful tale that never quite extinguishes hope.
Ostland by David Thomas
A fictionalised account of parts of the career of ‘Dr’ Georg Heuser – his part in solving the famous S-Bahn murders and his role in the murders of thousands of Jews and others in occupied Russia a few months later, and his arrest fourteen years after the end of the war and subsequent trial. A story that becomes more compelling and disturbing as it progresses, especially as cracks and doubts are added to Heuser’s professional demeanour and the account unsettles what would seem like commonsensical judgements about Heuser’s actions. A thought-provoking read and whilst the story is quite simply told, it packs a very powerful punch.