Books of the year 2013: Crime


One might have thought that the standard trappings of crime fiction (from detectives with messy private lives to endemic political corruption) have had such a battering recently that the genre would be in danger of exhaustion – but, in fact, it’s enjoying rude health, with several writers injecting an energising shot of adrenaline.

Such as the pugnacious Denise Mina; as well as being one of the finest practitioners of literary crime, she is also a social commentator of perception and humanity, as The Red Road (Orion, £12.99) reminds us. 14-year-old Rose Wilson, pimped by her “boyfriend”, compromises her already ignoble life by committing two desperate crimes.

It’s a brave (or foolhardy) writer who takes up the Conan Doyle baton (uninspiring results abound), but with Dead Man’s Land (Simon & Schuster, £12.99) Robert Ryan places Dr John Watson in the perfect setting: with the Royal Army Medical Corps in France as a series of deaths takes place, quite unlike the wholesale slaughter of the trenches.

Gordon Ferris is a novelist who goes from strength to strength in a series of pithy, atmospheric and  accomplished novels, such as Pilgrim Soul (Atlantic, £7.99), set in 1947. As in its much acclaimed predecessors (notably the two books featuring ex-policeman-turned-journalist Douglas Brodie, The Hanging Shed and Bitter Water), the vividly realised historical detail is always spot on.

Nele Neuhaus locates her betrayal and corruption in a small town in present-day Germany with the engrossing Snow White Must Die (Macmillan, £7.99), while Philip Kerr takes us back into that country’s history with his dogged German sleuth Bernie Gunther involved in complex moral dilemmas, struggling to retain his soul in a malign society; A Man Without Breath (Quercus, £18.99) is customarily excellent.

As is Antonio Hill’s The Good Suicides (Doubleday, £14.99), set in a wintry Barcelona, opening up Spain as another front in the latest foreign crime wave. And almost at the same time that youthful tartan noir exponent Malcolm Mackay’s gritty yet poetic The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter (Mantle, £14.99) made waves in the world of contemporary crime fiction,  another novel had a similar impact in the blockbuster market – Terry Hayes’ ambitious and weighty I Am Pilgrim (Bantam Press, £12.99). But with the word count rapidly ticking down, let’s at least namecheck the exuberantly written The Tilted World (Pan, £16.99) by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, with its murder and moonshine in the Deep South, and Charles Palliser’s gothic period-set Rustication (Norton, £12.99).

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