UNDER THE RADAR: NINE GOOD BOOKS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED IN 2021
Every year there are piles of books released with a fanfare of manufactured publicity by publishers and certain reviewers, while other equally good books quietly find their way onto bookseller shelves and Kindle lists. This has been particularly the case in 2021, with the disruption to release dates and authors being unable to go on tours playing havoc with publicity plans. Even novels by well known authors, such as Jack Grimwood’s outstanding Island Reich, received little publicity and barely made their way into Australian bookshops due to lockdowns and supply problems.
In advance of doing my own summation of the year’s best crime and thriller titles, I thought I would do my usual list of good books that slipped under the radar and were overshadowed by celebrity releases and over-hyped domestic thrillers.
Some of them may appear on various Best Books of the Year lists, and all are good and well worth checking out. In some cases they are books by smaller publishers, or those which mainly focus on the library market, and there are even a couple which mainly came out as eBooks. With a bit more publicity, I think all of them would have found larger appreciative audiences.
The order is a bit arbitrary, as all are very entertaining, and I have attached links to my earlier reviews.
Zoë Sharp’s The Last Time She Died (Bookouture) was one of the best ‘page turners’ I read in 2021, and it came very close to making my top ten crime novels of the year. A good twisty plot, engaging narrators and a nice pace, it kept me happily engaged from beginning to end. My only complaint was the marketing of it as “Blake & Byron Thrillers: Book 1”, probably did not help the suspense.
It would seem to have had limited paperback release, but is cheaply available on Kindle. My review: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/the-last-time-she-died-by-zoe-sharp-bookouture/
C J Carver shares Zoë Sharp’s ability to write easy flowing, highly entertaining novels, and Scare Me To Death is certainly an enjoyable, ‘thrill-a-minute’ action novel that confidently moves from London to Morocco and back to London for a terrific climax. Some suspension of disbelief is needed, but Carver knows how to keep the plot moving and the action coming, and the result is a highly addictive read. As with the Zoë Sharp book, this one seems to be mainly available on Kindle. My review: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/april-crime-reading-new-books-by-joshilyn-jackson-c-j-carver-and-david-mark/
I was also very pleased to see that Carver’s 2020 release The Snow Thief was on the short list for this year’s Ngaio Marsh award for Best Crime Fiction (New Zealand): https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/more-criminally-good-isolation-reads-some-recent-reading-during-lockdown/
Adrian Magson is one of those spy authors who does not seem to get the attention that he deserves. Far superior to a lot of the popular ‘guns and brawn’ American spy writers, his books always offer good plots, fast action and a clear-eyed understanding of current geo-politics. A Hostile State, the fifth in his Marc Portman series, was an exciting tale that featured a suspenseful chase through Lebanon and a pair of interesting female characters in supporting roles.
Sandy McCutcheon has been absent from the Australian thriller scene for several years now, while he has been pursuing other interests in Morocco, but in the late 1990s and early 2000s he wrote some exceptionally good, and slightly quirky, spy thrillers.
Dead North (Beacon Books) is his first thriller in some years and is an impressive spy story that moved confidently between Britain and Finland, with a clever and very up to date plot that took a persistent British Police Detective Inspector into the wilds of Finland. Facing opposition from MI6 and the CIA, she teams up with a Finnish Intelligence officer to put a stop to a fiendishly dangerous plot.
Peopled with a rich cast of characters, it grabbed attention from the opening pages and held it all the way to the exciting conclusion. Fast paced, original and very evocative it was a really good contemporary spy thriller.
Unfortunately, it received little publicity, or even promotion, by its publisher and hardly made a splash on the thriller scene. It wasn’t released locally in Australia, but is available on Amazon and is well worth seeking out. Highly recommended.
Mike Ripley’s marvellous continuations of the Albert Campion novels by Margery Allingham are always a delightful piece of fun and in 2021 we had two new additions. The first, Mr Campion’s Coven (Severn House), was largely set on a remote part of the Essex Coast and was an enjoyable mixture of historical speculation and mystery.
Mr Campion’s Wings (Severn House) was the ninth of Ripley’s continuations and took Campion back back to 1965 and involved him in a bit of Cold War spying.
Mr Campion’s Coven was my favourite of the two, mainly due to the historical detail and the vivid descriptions of the fictional village of Wicken. I also really liked its cover, which was simple but evocative.
One Australian book which slipped a bit under the radar was Katherine Firkin’s The Girl Remains (Bantam). I thought that it was a much stronger effort than her first novel, Sticks And Bones, and it kept me guessing to the end. It also had good, credible characters and a nice sense of place.
It was a very good read and will be featuring in my annual Australia Day listing of the best Australian based crime novels of the past year.
Robert Gott is an unsung stalwart of Australian crime writing. His 1940s crime novels are always an enjoyable addition to the reading year and offer good plots and plenty of interesting historical detail. His latest, The Orchard Murders (Scribe), was no exception and was an entertaining journey back to 1944.
J S Monroe’s The Man On Hackpen Hill came out in Australia during the peak of lockdown in Australia in September 2021, and had a very low key release here. Which was a shame, as Monroe’s books are always well worth reading and The Man On Hackpen Hill is a good example of his recent Harlan Coben-esque suburban thrillers. It was enjoyable to read and maintained a good level of suspense. Overall, it was a very original and highly contemporary thriller that raised some important issues while entertaining the reader with surprises and suspense
So some good reading, which you may have missed during this strange year. I will be doing a list of my Top Ten crime and thriller titles in the next few days.