It’s no secret that my favourite fiction genre is the murder mystery, and this year I finally cracked open the first Chief Inspector Gamache mystery by Louise Penny, Still Life, and then went on to devour the next three before deciding I needed to space them out because they are that good. Bury Your Dead may just be the finest example of the genre I’ve read to this point: the slow revealing of a harrowing experience that haunts the protagonist; the contemporary murder he is drawn into; the re-opening of a solved murder; and a centuries-old mystery: all woven together into one compelling narrative.
Elizabeth George serves up the latest outing for Inspector Lynley in A Banquet of Consequences, although it is DS Havers who is front and center in this excellent continuation of the series. Another strong female detective was introduced in The Burning by Jane Casey. DC Maeve Kerrigan is investigating a series of murders when she is severely injured saving the life of a fellow officer in a trap gone awry. As she recovers she begins to suspect her best friend of using the murders to cover one of her own. Excellent stuff. Another new author to me was Arnaldur Indridason, a fine example of the Scandinavian mystery genre. In Silence of the Grave, Reykjavik detective Inspector Erlendur investigates a decades-old murder following the discovery of a body in the foundations of a cottage. Cleverly switching between the investigation and the first-person narrative of the brutal husband and father who once lived in the cottage, the identity of the body remains veiled until the very end. I also enjoyed Alex by Pierre Lemaitre, a fast-paced and brutal mystery with a couple of huge plot twists, and The Black House by Peter May, in which a local boy returns to the Isle of Lewis to investigate a murder, where painful memories and a great love story are slowly revealed, setting up a dramatic conclusion during a centuries-old ritual slaughter of seabirds. A fabulous drama.
In Young Adult fiction, Scott Westerfeld’s trilogy Uglies/Pretties/Specials is the chilling narrative of a totalitarian society where tolerance for those who reject its engineered structure of a beautiful but docile populace is minimal. The protagonist, Tally Youngblood, follows a friend into the wasteland and discovers the ‘Smokies’ – those who have refused the surgery that turns them into ‘Pretties.’ Rebellion, betrayal, heartache – classic YA dystopian fiction, and very well done.
I stumbled across Brandon Sanderson this year, and can’t believe I have not encountered his remarkable, fully-realized fantasy worlds before. Beginning with The Rithmatist, moving on to Elantris and then starting the Mistborn trilogy, I found his ability to create believable, compelling alternative worlds and societies (where protagonists consume and ‘burn’ metals to gain super-powers; use complex mathematical drawings to repel monsters that live in two dimensions; or are unable to die and suffer the accumulation of a thousand injuries and wounds) to be quite remarkable. Looking forward to many more books from this American writer.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman at his disturbing best. The fifty-ish unnamed narrator ends up back at the farm with a pond where his seven year old self long ago encountered the Hempstocks – grandmother, mother and daughter (he thought) – who turn out to be ancient beings who keep evil from the world. When the boy becomes the vector through which one such evil being enters the world and transfixes his whole family, the Hempstocks move to repel her. Formerly Fingerman by Joe Nelms is a wacky first-person narrative where an ad-man whose life is falling apart enters the FBI witness program after lying about witnessing a major mob killing in an attempt to start over.
Finally, in the ‘old friends’ category, I re-read Raymond E. Feist’s wonderful fantasy series, The Riftwar Saga, as well as Colin Dexter’s first Inspector Morse mystery, Last Bus to Woodstock, and yet again managed to be surprised by the reveal of the murderer.
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