LoiteringWithIntent: Top five books of 2012

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It’s been another bumper year for crime fiction, which makes picking just five books a job on par with gift-wrapping a football or trying to get the dog to wear her super-cute fake antlers. 2012 saw Rebus return in all his grumpy glory, a first outing in English for the book which launched Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole, and a crazybrilliant turn from Gillian Flynn with Gone Girl, the book which wins the award for most recommendations from people on Twitter. Honourable mentions, before I start, to Old Gold by Jay Stringer, Stuart Neville’s Stolen Souls, and Cold Grave by Craig Robertson. Okay then…

5 – The Murder Wall by Mari Hannah
This highly assured debut marked the arrival of a major new talent on the crime scene. The Murder Wall opens with a brutal double murder and more bodies swiftly follow, as a local businessman is killed and a lone wolf psychopath takes victims seemingly with impunity. As a straight forward police procedural it is excellent, all pace and ratcheting tension, but Mari Hannah is an author with a great knack for creating characters who step off the page and they’re what lifts this book above the crowd. The second instalment, featuring her no nonsense detective Kate Daniels, came out in the autumn and all the signs look good for this series to take off in a big way.
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4 – Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

A whip-smart subversion of the traditional detective story Turn of Mind features a spiky, fiercely intelligent surgeon whose identity is being gradually eroded by Alzheimer’s. Accused of murdering her best friend, Jennifer White either doesn’t know if she’s responsible or won’t say, and LaPlante keeps us in aching suspense right up to the final pages. More than simply a great crime novel it is a meditation on loss, family and friendship, and such an acute exploration of the effects of dementia that it was awarded the Wellcome Trust Book Award. If you loved Before I Go To Sleep, this is the book for you.
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3 – Safe House by Chris Ewan
After producing a string of dry-witted caper novels Safe House was a something of a departure for Chris Ewan, but he took to the dark side with admirable flair. Set on the Isle of Man it’s centred around a nice, normal guy who finds himself caught up in the disappearance of young woman who everybody insists never existed. Throw in competing enforcers with high level connections, bent coppers, environmental terrorists and a very tough private investigator and you’ve got a seriously gripping thriller in your hands. Add Ewan’s deft plotting, drip-fed tension and characters you really root for, and you’ve got a bona fide must read. Safe House is currently at the top of the Kindle bestseller list at the ridiculous price of 20p, so now’s the time to buy.
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2 – The Child Thief by Dan Smith
This book sucked me in from the very first page – a man drags a sled bearing the bodies of two dead children across a frozen wasteland, heading towards an isolated village where he expects help but finds instead a lynch mob. Set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution, with the Communists sweeping through the countryside, taking everything they can get their hands on, it features an engaging protagonist in pursuit of a truly chilling villain, the cannibalistic child thief of the title. With echoes of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road this is a grimly haunting book, beautifully written and dripping with menace. The Child Thief is perfect Christmas reading, in other words.
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1 – A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez
Back in February I picked up a copy of A Dark Redemption and before I was 50 pages in I knew it would make my top five list. By the end I knew it would be at number one. A highly sophisticated police procedural which takes the reader down London streets less known, into communities haunted by African wars, where political activists rub shoulders with ex-child soldiers and warlords, it explores the legacy of violence and the price of searching for truth when many people want it to remain buried. Introducing detectives Carrigan and Miller, an intriguing pair who bring their own complicated histories to the page, this is a fabulous opening to a new series which I’m sure will prove to be a big hit with readers who like their crime politically literate and elegantly written.
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