Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. A complete cheat, since I’ve read all but one of her novels, but I don’t think I’ll read a better book this year, so I make no apology. It’s not crime, but I don’t read crime fiction exclusively, and it does centre on the overwhelming and all too common crime of climate change denial. Everyone should read this book. It fulfils all my criteria of the best kind of fiction: characters with a life outside the book, a sense of place to die for, a story that keeps you turning the pages, and something important to say.
So since I cheated with my first choice, here’s a second. Resistant, by Michael Palmer. It’s one of my favourite sub-genres: David beats an especially wicked Goliath to a pulp. In this case David is a small-time doctor with major issues, and Goliath is a bunch of shadowy extremists who are both rich and powerful. A terrific page-turner; I was sad to find that the author died last year, but there’s a backlist I can explore.
You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, and Letters to My Daughter’s Killer by Cath Staincliffe. Two books, because I read them consecutively without first realizing that they had similar themes: a woman coming to terms with having a metaphorical bulldozer driven through her life. Cath Staincliffe is a small cheat, because I’ve read one of her earlier books, but I’d never heard of Jean Hanff Korelitz. Both books are immensely powerful, and drew me right into the middle of the situation. When I finished reading, in both cases I was left with a strong sense of lives going on after the story.
The Critic by Peter May. Clearly the US appreciates this guy more than his native UK does; this book was published over there seven years before someone saw the light over here. It was a strange experience. There I was, in a wine-producing region of France, reading about murder in... a wine-producing region of France. And you know what? I only had to drive a couple of miles to know he’d got it absolutely right. This is a writer who does his homework.
I also read Die Easy, the tenth (I think) Charlie Fox adventure by my good friend Zoë Sharp. I loved every page, every twist, couldn’t put it down, recommend it heartily, though since I’ve read the other nine, it lies way outside the first-time brief for this list. But I had to mention it anyway.
I’ve read a lot of books this month (when do I ever not!) but if I’m honest I have to say nothing by an unfamiliar author really made me stand up and cheer. Among the newbies, Mary Kubica’s The Good Girl is the stand-out title: an accomplished debut, all the more notable because of the author’s courage. She takes on three individual first-person voices, and a structure which far more experienced writers would back away from.
Best of a big bunch were two by authors whose work already graces my shelves. I’ve become a fan of Penny Hancock via her first two psychological thrillers, so the third, Trick of the Mind, was always going to be a treat; and I can take any amount of Elly Griffiths, even when she’s not writing about forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. The Zig Zag Girl is set in 1950s theatreland, so it ticks plenty of boxes for me; and hey, it’s Elly Griffiths.
They say good things come to those who wait; until the last week of the month, November was another month of OK, but nothing outstanding. Then I read The Moon Pool, by Sophie Littlefield, and was blown away. I knew fracking went on; I sort-of knew that it happened in the North Dakota I fell in love with on a brief visit twenty years ago. But I had no idea what life was like in an oil-boom town. This book drew me into the heart of that world in the wake of the two protagonists: mothers, in search of sons who followed the oil money and disappeared without trace. People who feel real, on a journey in a place which lives and breathes: what more do you need in a book? OK, maybe a bit of plot. There’s that too.
The month is only halfway through as I write this, and I confidently expect to read at least four or five more books before it ends, but in terms of authors I hadn’t read before, those four or five will have to work hard to beat Erin Kelly. I’m certainly going to be looking for more by this lady.
She has written the tie-in novel of 2013’s must-watch TV serial drama, Broadchurch – and unlike many TV tie-ins I’ve picked up out of curiosity, it’s every bit as good as the TV version. OK, I know she was handed the plot, characters and setting, so it’s no criterion of her ability to create them, but it takes skill, a lot of skill, to pick up a sheaf of dialogue and camera directions and turn them into a novel that held my attention as firmly as the original. Clearly Erin Kelly knows how to write, and that’s what matters most. I look forward to finding out how she handles the other elements of fiction.
A happy, productive and successful 2015 to one and all.