Well, those nice folk at WordPress inform me that this is my 700th post, so, as I usually do, it’s time for a special post. As I was getting close to this “milestone”, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to write about. After all, I’ve kind of done most of the “Top Five” posts that I could think off – I’ll do an Ellery Queen one, once I’ve read them all, but that’s a way off. But then I saw a link to this article on Twitter. The 101 Best Crime Novels of the Past Decade.
To be fair, that’s a bit of a misleading title. It’s the top ten of each of the past ten years over at the Mystery Showcase at The Booklist Reader. But as with every best of list, it’s biased towards the reader’s tastes – a lot of reviewers wouldn’t touch an historical mystery set more than two hundred years ago unless it had the name Sansom on the cover. Ditto a light-hearted mystery – some readers need their angst! I consider myself pretty well read in crime fiction – some new, some old. You might have spotted this. But out of the 101 books on the list, I’ve read exactly one. So I thought I’d do my version. Obviously, I’m not doing 101, you’ll be pleased to hear, but here’s my Top Ten Crime Books of the last decade, in no particular order.
How did I decide the list? Well, the books had to be page-turners and mysteries. That’s basically it…
Holmes On The Range – Steve Hockensmith
I’ve reviewed a few entries in this series but never got round to the first in the series. You could make a case for The Crack In The Lens taking its place in the list, but this tale, introducing Big Red and Old Red, the crime solving cowboys with a penchant for the tales of Mr Holmes, is an absolute cracker, simultaneously funny and clever. Not an easy trick to master but Steve Hockensmith is a master wordsmith – this is a great read that really should be on more bookshelves.
OK, this was only two reviews ago, and isn’t out in the UK for another couple of months. In the meantime, why not read the almost-as-impressive Now You See Me (which, btw, is nothing to do with the dumb-but-fun magician film)? But this tale of three damaged people circling each other while a child killer lurks in the background (or possibly the foreground) is a masterful piece of work that any fan of mysteries and thrillers needs to read.
Another very recent read but it was such a breath of fresh air. A homage to the Golden Age with a cleverly constructed fair play mystery with a sense of humour so in tune with my own, I was constantly grinning my head off while reading it. And it’s got a pig in it (although not a murderous one like one of the other entries in the list). It’s the first in hopefully a long series from J A Lang and I’ve been looking forward to the next one ever since I finished the first one. Fortunately, it’s on its way.
Critically acclaimed but possibly not enough due to the pre-apocalyptic sort-of science fiction setting. But the world that Winters has created is stunningly thought out, with the behaviour of the doomed members of Planet Earth never strays into the realms of incredulity and I wish there was a way to read more about Hank Palace – but that kind of defeats the point of the trilogy. I almost included the superb finale to the trilogy, World Of Trouble, if only for the outstanding ending, but this just edged it.
The finale (possibly) to the adventures of Arthur Bryant and John May, the octogenarian investigators of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, both an intriguing mystery and a heart-breaking farewell to our heroes. Apparently there will be more to come, according to Christopher Fowler, but this would have been a stunning way to say goodbye. For followers of the series, the final chapter is simply heart-breaking.
The one book on the original list that I actually have read and I completely agree with its inclusion – although I could easily have replaced it with Birthdays For The Dead. Grim Tartan Noir with a line of black humour running right through it. Probably not to everyone’s taste but both of these books are must-reads in my book. This one in particular is notable for a clue that is sitting in plain sight throughout the tale that I can almost guarantee the reader won’t notice.
Billingham is a shameful omission from the original list – an author who skilfully combines the thriller and mystery genre. This is my favourite of the series so far, although there are a few rivals, with a hostage-taker demands that Tom Thorne, possibly the unluckiest police officer to date, takes a look at a possible miscarriage of justice. A horribly tense situation with the hostages combines with Thorne’s race against time for a cracking read.
Another homage to the Golden Age – hmmm, going to stop using that term, I think. My next review will explain that a bit. Another homage to the classic puzzle plot that was so common in the Golden Age – that’s better – and again, like Chef Maurice, uses more overt humour to carry the premise. Here, in the first of three novels, Mervyn Stone, ex-script editor of the TV show Vixens From The Void, investigates murder at a sci-fi convention. One of the books that inspired the blog that you’re reading – the other two are great reads, all bringing something original to the puzzle-plot on top of the fun. And you might want to check out the phenomenal The Axeman Cometh, an audio play featuring Mervyn that simply has to be listened to.
Well, he had to show up somewhere on the list, but 2012 saw the return of my favourite of Paul’s sleuths, Brother Athelstan. A locked room poisoning, a decapitation and death by pig. What more could you ask for? The grime of Richard II’s London, complete with simmering tensions as the Peasants’ Revolt is on the horizon, pervades the book, which is never less than gripping. It does annoy me that the historical is often overlooked when people look for “proper” mysteries. There are loads of them out there but they don’t take place in country houses. And Paul Doherty writes some of the best of them…
Probably the book that would garner the most disagreements as it’s dark. Extraordinarily dark. In fact, it makes Shatter The Bones look like the Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Probably the furthest from a mystery – there is a whodunnit element but it’s not a fair-play mystery. Instead, it’s a mesmerising thriller steeped in darkness that grips you and doesn’t let go. With a shaft of light in the central character Aector McEvoy steering things forward, this is a memorable read that leaves you wanting more.
Yes, that’s eleven books. Sue me, the original article was supposed to be one hundred but included an extra one. The Wesley Peterson series by Kate Ellis is one of my favourites, as regular readers will know, and this is the one that got me hooked. Part historical tale, part modern day police mystery (and it’s a proper mystery) and a loony in a mask from Ancient Egypt combine to make one of the many strong entries in this series. If you haven’t tried this series, then this one, or my pre-2006 favourite The Armada Boy, is a good place to start.
If you ask someone else, they’ll pick ten different books (or a hundred different books) and ask me again tomorrow and I’ll have picked something else. Possibly The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards, or The Skin Collector by Jeffrey Deaver. Possibly something else that I’ve forgotten about. Undoubtedly also something from Michael Jecks once I get that far into his back catalogue, but I’m only up to 2001 at the moment. But these are eleven books that every mystery fan should get round to reading at some point. Enjoy.
Coming Soon On The Blog: In preparation for the upcoming Bodies From The Library conference at the British Library, a whole load of Golden Age fiction, some well known, some less so, as I look for the answer to the question – “What exactly makes a Golden Age mystery?”