I have a vague memory of expressing the wish that 2016 would be better than 2015 in my final blog post of 2015. Yeah, right. 2016 has been a lousy year, both personally and internationally, and if 2017 isn’t an improvement I shall a) be very surprised, and b) find a remote corner of the known universe to emigrate to and quietly curl up in a corner and go to sleep.
But when things get tough and the tough get going, my answer is to lose myself in a good book. Of which there have been plenty over the year. Here are some of the highlights.
January was a very good month for books. I discovered Karen Rose, one of many prolific thriller writers who hadn’t come my way until Alone in the Dark , second in her Cincinnati series. It’s a hefty tome – weighs in at 600+ pages – but not a weighty read and well worth the effort and time. Great plotting, and a cast of characters you can touch and smell. In a good way.
Also The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths, the latest in her Ruth Galloway series. She’s one of my favourite crime writers; she gets better and better.
In February I rediscovered Meg – now repackaged as M G – Gardiner, with a standalone called The Burning Mind in the USA and Phantom Instinct over here. I shall never understand why this woman’s books haven’t been picked up by an enterprising maker of high-octane action movies. Great characters skid from one crisis into the next in vividly drawn locations. What’s not to keep you on the edge of your seat?
March found me comfort-reading one of my favourite authors – Reginald Hill.
Five years after the great man’s death, I’m still collecting his enormous backlist, and so far every one I’ve found has been a winner. Some authors’ work improves so much with the passing years that early titles are a tad – sometimes a lot – disappointing. With Reg Hill, the only downside is that the earlier ones are shorter. The Long Kill is a winner.
In April I rediscovered yet another favourite. Why Ruth Downie isn’t world-famous and multi-award-winning is a complete mystery. She combines wonderfully engaging characters, a sense of history and place that make Roman Britain jump off the page, neat and complex plots, and writing to die for, and the result is pure literary magic. Tabula Rasa is (or was back in April) the latest in the brilliant Ruso series. There’s another new one now – hurray!
May required more comfort-reading, and daughter provided it – Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens.
If you haven’t discovered this delicious YA series yet, go out and hunt it down! This is the fourth. Think Agatha Christie meets Angela Brazil. Two teenage girls at an upper-crust boarding school encounter dead bodies wherever they go: this time on the school hockey pitch during a firework display. It’s littered with midnight feasts, climbing up drainpipes, nasty prefects who dish out detentions at the drop of a textbook... If you were ever a youthful fan of 1930s school stories, or better still, enjoyed the brilliantly hilarious stage play Daisy Pulls It Off, you’ll love them. And if American blog-followers have no idea what I’m ranting about, I feel very sorry for you because you’re missing a treat.
June brought me back to once of my favourite favourites: Phil Rickman. December was the only one of his early creepy mysteries I hadn’t read; I now have the full set. OK, I know I keep banging on about him, but this man is seriously good, and even more seriously undersold. This is one of his pre-Merrily Watkins novels, and it made me shiver when I wasn’t standing back and admiring the sheer quality. Find him. Read him. That’s all I can say.
The rest of the year yielded up an equally rich crop, but I’m going to keep you in suspense until next week about those. Meanwhile, round here we do Christmas, and I’m off to play my part in the kitchen aspect of making it happen. Whatever you do or don’t do to celebrate or commemorate midwinter, have a great one.