Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Best reads of 2013

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.  The 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.


Bernadette said...

Looks like some more to add to my own wishlist as I haven't read too many of these, though Rubbernecker will be appearing on my own list tomorrow and The Sea Detective missed out by a slim margin.

Anonymous said...

Rob - You've read some good 'uns this year. I agree that The Sea Detective was great, and you reminded me that I want to read Little Criminals very much. All the best to you for 2014.

pattinase (abbott) said...

This was a wonderful birthday present, Rob. I am in fine company. Have a happy, safe New Year.

Anonymous-9 said...

Rob, I'm sitting here with a throbbing face after dental surgery and making this list has almost made it all better. Alcohol is off limits with the antibiotics but the doctor said nothing about taking in the View from the Blue House and a shot of Rob Kitchin.

The House lineup for 2013 is stellar, and I'm so honored to be part of it. Thank you very much, Rob. I hope the bird of paradise poops a big load of success on your head in 2014. When you're not wearing a hat.
Best, best regards,
Anonymous-9 (Elaine)

Anonymous-9 said...

A wee clarification: HARD BITE was released as a paperback in 2013 by New Pulp Press. It was published digitally in 2012 by Blasted Heath.

Al Tucher said...

If the other eight are as good as HARD BITE and HOME INVASION, I have some catching up to do.

Nate Southard said...

Thanks, Rob! It's good to be in such fine company.

TracyK said...

A very interesting list. I have Hard Bite and Home Invasion on the Kindle; hope to get to them soon. My husband bought The Sea Detective, so we will both read it this year. Several others sound like I will want to follow up on them.