Books of the Year 2012: Crime and thrillers
From art to sport, poetry to nature, travel to food, history to music: our writers select the best of the year’s books in a comprehensive guide to the highlights in every shade of the literary spectrum – except grey
Saturday 08 December 2012
Too many people who consume the crime genre persuade themselves of the dubious proposition: "I have a novel in me! Why shouldn't I be coining it like Patricia Cornwell or Mark Billingham?" And some of these wannabes do get published - hence the many dispiriting efforts clogging bookshelves. But rising effortlessly above all the by-the-numbers work this year have been several truly impressive novels.
Attica Locke's debut Black Water Rising marked the American writer out as a socially committed crime writer of real acumen, and her follow-up The Cutting Season (Serpent's Tail, £14.99) is still a remarkably ambitious piece. Set in a Louisiana mansion, it takes on issues of race and history even as it functions on the thriller level. Similar ambition was to be found in Paulus Hochgatterer's The Mattress House (translated by Jamie Bulloch; MacLehose, £18.99), with dark doings in Austria as psychologically truthful as one might expect from this psychiatrist-cum-writer. Hochgatterer gives ammunition to those already whispering that the Next Big Thing in crime (after Scandinavia) may just be coming from… Austria and Germany.
If there are two common denominators to many choices here, they are: second novels in sequences that somehow manage to be as good as the first; and the evocation of setting. Both are true of Peter May's second novel set on the Isle of Lewis, The Lewis Man (Quercus, £7.99), which is every bit as atmospheric as his first, with the eponymous body buried in a peat bog unearthed by the villagers. Ex-policeman Fin Macleod (who has returned to his roots) takes on a complex mystery, and the whole narrative is bleak and mysterious.
Even before her first book appeared, Belinda Bauer had prompted an almost feverish word-of-mouth about just how good she was. But would Finders Keepers (Corgi, £6.99), successor to her ground-breaking Dark Side and Blacklands, continue her upward trajectory? No need for suspense: her vision of a dark and malign West Country in thrall to corruption and twisted psychopathology is quite as unsettling as its predecessors.
Any sniffiness about the fact that Gordon Ferris was a self-published author who parleyed internet success into hard-copy sales was quickly banished by the authority of his work, and Bitter Water (Corvus, £12.99), yet another second-in-a-sequence book of real distinction, takes us further into the conflicted life of his ex-soldier-cum-journalist Douglas Brodie. The time and setting (late-1940s Glasgow) is to be relished.
If readers groaned at the appearance of yet another vulnerable, out-of-her-depth heroine with the first outing for M R Hall's coroner Jenny Cooper, misgivings were banished by the time of her fourth case in The Flight (Mantle, £12.99), where surrender to Hall's protagonist was complete. Here, Jenny investigates the mystery behind a plane crash in the Severn Estuary. Finally, a master on vintage form: Deon Meyer, with the urgent and angry 7 Days (translated by KL Seegers; Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99), which reminds us that he is a defining novelist of modern South Africa.
Barry Forshaw's latest book is 'British Crime Film' (Palgrave Macmillan)
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
comedy Erm...he seems to be back
tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
- 2 Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
- 3 Andy Murray takes to Twitter to show off his Christmas jumper
- 4 Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'
- 5 Top 10 travel destinations for 2015: From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
Madonna Rebel Heart: Pharrell Williams collaboration and 13 more songs leaked
Vagina canoe artist defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'