Guilty Conscience: Top five books of 2011

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So, 2011 is almost at an end, and the overlords at Crime Fiction Lover have asked me to come up with my top five books of the year. The idea is that in the run-up to Christmas our site brings you regular recommendations from all of our writers – perhaps some of them will make a fine gift for your crime-loving family and friends. Or, a treat for yourself. Go on, you deserve it…

As for choosing my top five… Impossible!

For me it’s been a year of great read after great read, so narrowing it down to just five has been incredibly difficult. It has been a fantastic year for crime fiction with many new writers coming to the fore, whilst more established ones have upped their game in response. There have been some cracking debutes with Howard Linskey’s The Drop,Vincent Holland-Keen’s The Office of Lost and Found, and Julie Morrigan’s Convictions all coming close to making my list. The big names are absent from my list, mainly because I’m a hipster, apparently. Whilst Val McDermid, Linwood Barclay, Lawrence Block, and Mark Billingham all released outstanding novels this year, they missed out on a place in my top five.

Without further ado, may I present to you my top five crime novels of 2011…

5 – Broken Dreams by Nick Quantrill
The only debut in my top five, Broken Dreams is an accomplished novel, which utilises setting extremely well. Based in Hull, it’s a PI detective story on the surface, with bundles more realism than is usually seen in this genre. When Joe Geraghty gets hit, he goes down, rather than performing incredible martial arts moves. A gritty thriller at heart, Quantrill is a name I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from in the future. It sells as a fantastic price on Kindle too.


Buy now on Amazon


4 – Cold Kill by Neil White
The fifth novel in the Garrett/McGanity series, Cold Kill comes in at number four. Having been a reader from the beginning, it’s been a real experience watching Neil White grow increasingly adept at creating excellent crime novels, with gripping plotlines and excellent characters. Cold Kill is a step up for White, however, with an increasingly deftness for pace and plot becoming more apparent. White is a writer on the up, evidenced by his great success this year. Having also recently moved to Sphere, who also publish Val McDermid and Billingham amongst others, expect to see him riding high in the hardback charts soon in parallel to his great success on Kindle.
Buy now on Amazon


3 – Dead Money by Ray Banks
A page one rewrite of an earlier novel (which I didn’t read), Dead Money proves once again that Ray Banks is perhaps one of the most overlooked writers during the awards season. But not here on Crime Fiction Lover where he made our Recommended list with a five star review. Set in a dark and dank world, populated with characters who scream tangible realism, Dead Money is a must read. Another gritty thriller, this novel demonstrates Banks’ sparse and powerful writing, combined with incredible pace. Whilst it is not advisable to devour books, this is a novel to be digested thoroughly, left to settle, and will probably only take a day or two to read, such is the compulsive page-turning Banks generates.
Buy now on Amazon


2 – The Donor by Helen FitzGerald
Just missing out on the top spot… it’s The Donor. With a cover that suggests lighter fare, The Donor proves once and for all you can’t judge a book by its cover. Containing the best opening 100 pages I’ve ever read, this is an astounding novel packed to brim with incredible characters and a plot which will grab any reader by the heart. Perhaps because I’m a father, or maybe it’s just down to FitzGerald’s unrelenting prose, but I still find myself pondering the book six months after reading it. FitzGerald is an extraordinarily talented writer, with a pitch perfect voice for character and story. The Donor shows off all her attributes incredibly.

Buy now on Amazon


1 – Black Flowers by Steve Mosby
Having earlier in the year been longlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year with his novel Still Bleeding, Steve Mosby has delivered his best novel since The 50/50 Killer with Black Flowers. A crime thriller on the surface, with Black Flowers Mosby displays his talent for peeling that onion further. With flashes of horror and pathos, normally absent from the crime genre, this is a novel with so much more than you’d guess from the blurb. At its core, it’s about relationships, in particular father-child relationships, and what normal people will hide from their loved ones. In the hands of a less talented writer, this could have become a convoluted mess, but under Mosby’s tattooed prowess, Black Flowers is instead a beautiful crime story, with just the right amount of darkness within. Mosby’s greatest attribute is his ability to convey a scene so richly, meaning the reader feels absorbed by the story, making his books an absolute pleasure to read… even if some bits get really, really, dark. His turn of phrase, descriptive writing and plot reveals are all astounding. His use of language is unmatched amongst crime authors, with Mosby unafraid to use linguistic power to drive a story. An incredible novel. I’ll be astonished if this is the only accolade this book receives.
Buy now on Amazon

And that’s it. My top five. All very different from one another, which highlights what a deliciously diverse year for fiction 2011 has been. With more and more new authors coming to the fore, honing their craft, 2012 should be another great year for the genre!


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