Two different versions of a nostalgic but beautiful song
Here are my favourite reads in 2014. I’ve read a total of 67 crime fiction books this year, a number that’s pretty consistent with my reading average for the last five years. I’ve split them in two groups, contemporary and classic. (All titles in no particular order)
In the first group:
- Rubbernecker(Bantam Press, 2013) by Belinda Bauer. Bauer’s narrative style is unparalleled, and the plot is nicely structured. Everything seems real and I’ve found fascinating Patrick’s character. The first chapters may seem to be simple writing exercises but superbly worked out. The reader may question at an early stage if it all will make any sense. But as in a jigsaw, each individual piece has a role to play and, in this novel, every detail, no matter how small, has its significance. Contrary to what it may seem the scenes that take place in the dissecting room and in the special care unit, don’t turn out to be disgusting. Mainly because they’re written with good taste and Bauer doesn’t delight in unpleasant details. More irritating is the behaviour of certain characters and their attitude towards those clearly disadvantaged. In short, a very original novel, intelligently written and which I’ve have very much enjoyed. An excellent read to start the year. Highly recommended. A writer which is very worth to be followed.
- The City of Shadows (Avon, 2012) by Michael Russell. The City of Shadows is quite simply a brilliant crime novel and, for my taste, also works extremely well at all levels. The story is very well thought-out and it is nicely written, consequently it serves efficiently to an exciting plot. It is also quite attractive and very well documented. The complexity of the plot and of the subplots do not undermine the clarity of the narrative, quite contrary, it is easy to read and awfully enjoyable. Besides the story has a great sense of place, the characters are beautifully drawn and the author accomplishes to recreate with success the atmosphere of those times. I strongly recommend this book and I look forward to The City of Strangers.
- Graveland (Faber & Faber, 2013) by Alan Glynn. Graveland is the third novel in a loose trilogy by Alan Glynn. You can find my reviews of the two previous instalments, Winterland and Bloodland, clicking on the book titles. Some of the characters that have appeared before, will return again in Graveland. It doesn’t seem to me necessary to have read the two previous books for a complete appreciation of this one. However it’s highly recommended; the only reason is that they are all excellent readings. For my taste this has been one of the best Alan Glynn novels I’ve read to date. A very sound story that provides a superb portrait of our times and has also an excellent character development. A highly enjoyable financial thriller.
- Saints of the Shadow Bible (Orion Books, 2013) by Ian Rankin. For my taste Ian Rankin dazzles us again with what is probably one of his best novels in the series. I loved it and I have spent great moments in its company. In addition Rankin offers us some magnificent dialogues, his house mark. The Rebus character, far from boring me, I find it fascinating. Don’t miss it!
- How’s the Pain? (Gallic Books, 2012) Translated from the French by Emily Boyce, originally published as Comment va la douleur? (Zulma, 2006) by Pascal Garnier. Pascal Garnier has been a real discovery for me this year. I very much enjoyed the previous book I read, The Panda Theory (see my review here). But I can say I have found this one is even better. It’s certainly a bleak and gloomy story, a really noir fiction tale, but it does have a fair amount of humour that is not usually found in another authors. And even if I have read it translated, it certainly seems to me that it’s extremely well written; what turns its reading into a genuine pleasure. A luxury.
And among the ones I consider classics:
- The Pledge (University of Chicago Press, 2006). Translated by Joel Agee. Originally published as Das Versprechen: Requiem auf den Kriminalroman, 1958, by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. I cannot but recommend this novella not only to all crime fiction readers but to everyone in general. A small gem in my view. Given its length, it will only take but a few hours of your precious time, but it’s worth it. It took me two or three sittings even if I’m not a fast reader. It is paradoxical to write a detective novel, to announce the requiem for the detective novels, but the answer can be found reading this remarkable story. A masterpiece.
- Strange Loyalties (Canongate Books Ltd, 2013. First published in Great Britain in 1991, by William McIlvanney. After reading the first two books in the trilogy, little I can add here that have not already been said elsewhere. Suffice it to say that Strange Loyalties is on par with the previous instalments. Perhaps I could highlight the audacity of McIlvanney to explore uncharted territories. Specifically this story is about the feelings of guilt and loss. And it’s a pleasure to read it. A superb ending to a magnificent trilogy by a first class writer. Do not miss it.
- The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Penguin Classics, 2010) Originally punlished in 1963 by John Le Carré. A superb novel whose reading I have thoroughly enjoyed. Despite its dark and gloomy tone, the story is narrated with great skill and the result is brilliant. The dialogues are excellent and the characters are indeed astounding. The central theme revolves around the consequences of our actions and exposes the unorthodox methods, if I may put it in this way, that are used even by the secret services of countries that consider themselves an example of democracy and transparency. Today a modern classic, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold marked an important milestone not only in its genre, but also in literature with capital letters.
- The Long Goodbye (Penguin, 2010) First published in 1953 by Raymond Chandler. The Long Goodbye is the sixth instalment in the series featuring Philip Marlowe and, for my taste, is Raymond Chandler’s masterpiece. The most personal of all his novels, in which the author introduces some autobiographical elements scattered among several characters. The plot is character-driven and, of all his books, is the one that contains more elements of social criticism. Definitely a book that will find a place in the list of my all time favourites. A must read.
- The Widow (New York Review Books, 2008) Translated from the French by John Petrie. Original title La Veuve Couderc, 1942 by Georges Simenon. This is an extremely difficult book to classify. In a way it resists to any such classification. And quite difficult to review in my case, maybe due to my lack of qualification and education. All I can say is that it’s an extraordinary book, even when it takes me out of my comfort zone, as sometimes happens. It’s a harsh story, sad and terrible but it becomes unbelievably real. The portrait of the two main characters is absolutely fabulous. And, as in a Greek tragedy, Tati and Jean inevitably head towards a destination of which they can’t escape. A terrible and gloomy novel though it’s certainly a true masterpiece. Honestly, I do regret not being able to read French fluently, to fully enjoy this novel. And even if I don’t have any competence in this ground, I must highlight I’ve very much enjoyed from a marvellous translation in my view.
Other books that deserve a special mention were: Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda; The Song Dog by James McClure; Crónica de una muerte anunciada by Gabriel García Márquez. English title: Chronicle of a Death Foretold; El detective moribundo de Leif G.W. Persson. English title: The Dying Detective; The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler; Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler; The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson; The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler; El ruido de las cosas al caer (English title: The sound of things falling) de Juan Gabriel Vásquez; Maigret y el Liberty Bar by Georges Simenon (English title: Maigret on the Riviera) and The Hunting Dogs by Jørn Lier Horst (my review will be coming up soon).