SPRING CLEANING – THE BEST BOOKS OF 2021 …. SO FAR!
I have been doing some spring cleaning, sorting through the books I have read so far this year and excitedly picking out the most promising books to be released before the end of the year.
Later this week I will be posting on the major releases to still to come, but for now I thought I would do up a list of my favourite books of 2021, so far.
Three quarters of the year is nearly over, and we have already seen some terrific releases from new and established authors. The following lists set out, in no particular order, six or so of my favourite crime, thriller and debuts releases of 2021.
The division between crime novels and thrillers is rather arbitrary, but I have tended to follow the advice of George Easter at Deadly Pleasures, and applied the term thriller to books which feature a fast pace, a protagonist in danger, lots of action, usually a deadline or two and the focus is on saving someone or something. And most importantly, there are no cats! Some of the books below, such as John Connolly’s The Nameless Ones, could fit in either grouping, but I have shoehorned them into the category which seems the most logical to me.
I have provided some brief words under each of the books and a link to my longer reviews, if you want to check out in more detail what I thought (but no spoilers).
Firstly, the crime novels.
S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland was the stand-out crime novel of 2020. A powerful heist novel with a large dose of social commentary and fine writing, it deservedly won praise and awards from around the world. Now Cosby has followed it up with the equally impressive Razorblade Tears, about two fathers, one white and one black, seeking revenge for the murder of their sons. I suspect that it will follow Blacktop Wasteland in winning a lot of awards. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/july-justice-new-tough-novels-by-s-a-cosby-steve-cavanagh-and-gabriel-bergmoser/
Michael Robotham is one of my favourite authors. He rarely, if ever disappoints, and When You Are Mine (Hachette) is another first class read. It features a new engaging protagonist in the form of promising young London police officer Philomena (Phil) McCarthy, who gets in deep trouble when she pursues a domestic violence case against a popular police detective. A well written and engaging novel. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/strong-reliable-female-narrators-late-june-reading-by-michael-robotham-catherine-steadman-and-jane-casey/
Jane Casey’s stand alone novel, The Killing Kind (Harper Collins), plays some clever variations on the usual serial stalker theme, with London barrister Ingrid Lewis trying to escape the attention of a disgruntled former client. A very carefully crafted and totally absorbing mystery that builds to an exciting conclusion and several clever twists, most of which I did not see coming at all. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/strong-reliable-female-narrators-late-june-reading-by-michael-robotham-catherine-steadman-and-jane-casey/
Kyle Perry’s The Bluffs was one of the stand-out Australian crime fiction debuts of 2020. Set in the remote wilderness of Tasmania’s Great Western Tiers it was a tightly constructed and gripping story. With The Deep (Michael Joseph) Perry shifts the action to the rugged and dangerous coast of south-eastern Tasmania and has produced another strong book about drugs and corruption in a picturesque part of Australia. An exquisitely plotted and well written story that confirms Perry’s status as a rising star of Australian crime writing. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/the-deep-by-kyle-perry-michael-joseph-20-july-2021/
Another impressive Australian crime novel is provided by Sarah Bailey with her richly plotted The Housemate (Allen & Unwin). A clever, cold case crime novel with dual timelines set nine years apart, it is an impressive mystery that reminded me of Val McDermid’s early stand alone novels. There is depth and complexity to the plot, and the characters are credible and interesting. The story darts in unexpected directions and Bailey unleashes several good surprises in the final pages. A very good read. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/the-housemate-by-sarah-bailey-allen-unwin/
Ian Rankin’s completion of uncompleted novel left by the ‘godfather of tartan noir’, William McIlvanney, is one of the stand out of novels of 2021. Set in Glasgow in 1972, The Dark Remains is a tough, gritty tale that convincingly captures the style of the original Laidlaw novels. The dialogue sparkles and the tension steadily mounts as Rankin takes Laidlaw down some dark streets in search of the killer of a major criminal. Top notch! https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/the-dark-remains-by-william-mcilvanney-and-ian-rankin-canongate/
Simon Rowell’s The Long Game (Text) takes the list to seven, but I could not leave it off. The Long Game is a very entertaining crime novel that is elevated above much of the competition by its easy flowing style, nicely limned characters, vivid descriptions of Melbourne’s beachside suburbs and strong sense of credibility. It was a pleasure to read. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/the-long-game-by-simon-rowell-text-august-2021/
In addition to the above, there were several other novels that I could have easily added to the list, including
M. W. Craven’s Dead Ground, Michael Brissenden’s Dead Letters and Charlie Donlea’s Twenty Years Later.
The seventh book in Mick Herron’s highly acclaimed series about Jackson Lamb and the ‘slow horses’ of Slough House was probably the most eagerly awaited spy fiction release of 2021 and Slough House (John Murray) certainly did not disappoint with its twisty plot, superbly etched characters and wry touches of humour. A must for all fans of British espionage fiction. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/spies-spies-spies-three-recent-espionage-novels-by-mick-herron-jack-beaumont-and-michael-kurland/
Another long awaited British spy novel, which did not disappoint was Henry Porter’s The Old Enemy (Quercus). The third in Porter’s series about former MI6 agent Paul Samson, The Old Enemy offered a good plot, plenty of surprises, some touching moments of poignancy and enough convincing modern spy craft to satisfy even the most demanding armchair spook. A terrific read. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/the-old-enemy-by-henry-porter-quercus-april-2021/
John Connolly’s The Nameless Ones (Hodder & Stoughton), could fit comfortably under either the thriller or crime novel category, but I think that its relentless pursuit plot and bloody action sits it more readily in the thriller pile. Regardless of how it is categorised, it is a terrific, fast moving story that once more showcases Connolly’s beautiful writing and his amazing grasp of history and detail. I also liked the extra texture given by the slight supernatural elements and the moving reflections on death and culture. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/the-nameless-ones-by-john-connolly-hodder-stoughton-july-2021/
Paul Doiron’s Dead By Dawn (Minotaur) was probably the most exciting thriller I have read so far this year. From the thrilling opening, when Maine game warden Mike Bowditch’s jeep is forced off the road into an icy river, to the final bloody conclusion, the pace and excitement never let up in this page turning novel of survival. It also has a good mystery running through it too. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/wilderness-thrillers-new-books-by-c-j-box-and-paul-doiron/
Set in a very different wilderness is Tony Park’s African thriller Blood Trail (Pan Macmillan). Dealing with the effects of COVID on wildlife parks and poaching in South Africa, it is a well paced and action filled novel that fascinates with its background information. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/blood-trail-by-tony-park-macmillan-august-2021/
Island Reich by Jack Grimwood (aka Jon Courtenay Grimwood) is the most recent of the thrillers I have read and one of my favourites. An enjoyable hark back to the classic World War II thrillers of the 1960s and 70s, it is a fast paced, twisty story that smoothly interweaves historical fact and fictional action. A really entertaining read. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/september-suspense-books-by-margaret-hickey-jack-grimwood-and-lachlan-page/
Again there were several other novels which could have comfortably been added to the list, including Tom Bradby’s Triple Cross, Robert Goddard’s The Fine Art of Invisible Detection and Gabriel Bergmoser’s The Inheritance.
From my reading I do not think that there has been as many outstanding debut crime novels this year, compared to 2020, but it may just be a reflection of the disrupted release schedule this year and the diminished number of review books being sent out during this latest lockdown phase (Australia). The good news is that those debut novels I have come across have been of really good quality and the authors of them show good promise. I have picked five of my favourites.
Allie Reynolds’ Shiver was one of the first crime novels I read this year and it still remains firmly stuck in my mind. Set in an isolated ski lodge high up in the French Alps, Shiver provides an enjoyable and exciting twist on the classic crime plot of a group of characters, all with a bag full of old secrets, under threat from an unknown source in a remote location. I really enjoyed it and look forward to Allie’s next book. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/shiver-by-allie-reynolds-hachette-27-january-2021/
Also very entertaining is T. J. Newman’s much publicised Falling (Simon & Schuster). Minutes after take-off veteran pilot Bill Hoffman receives an unexpected video call from a terrorist who has taken his family captive. Either crash his Los Angeles to New York flight into an undisclosed target or watch his family be blown up by the explosives strapped to them. If he tells anyone about the terrorist threat his family will killed. He is also told that another terrorist is onboard to make sure that he follows instructions. As Bill tries to thwart the terrorist’s plans, the plane steadily makes it way north. It is a great premise and Newman does a good job in wringing the maximum suspense from it. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/may-mayhem-recent-crime-and-thriller-reading/
More sedate is Matt Nable’s nicely crafted debut set in Darwin in the early 1960s, Still. This is a slow burn, character driven crime novel with a good level of tension and a strong sense of foreboding. It excels in its characterisations and depictions of life in Darwin in the 1960s, and the descriptions of the moribund city and the surrounding countryside are very vivid and ring true. It is an impressive novel, which I suspect will feature strongly at award time. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/recent-australian-crime-novels/
Also containing evocative descriptions of the Australian outback is Margaret Hickey’s Cutters End (Penguin). Although Margaret has written other books, my understanding is that this is her first crime novel. The story involving an investigation into an old death on a remote piece of highway, is a good one and Margaret deftly creates a good set of characters and locates them in a believable place and time. Fans of Jane Harper’s The Dry will like this one.
Finally, Girl, 11 (Text) by Melbourne-based Amy Suiter Clarke appeared with very little publicity and probably should have received greater attention. Set in a nicely realised Minneapolis, Girl, 11 is a good addition to the growing number of crime novels involving old murders and true crime podcasts. A quirky central protagonist and a snaky, surprising plot keep me interested from the beginning to the tense conclusion. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/girl-11-by-amy-suiter-clarke-text-may-2021/
So some really good books to check out, if you haven’t already done, and in my next post I will pick out the best of the remaining new releases for 2021.