CrimeFictionLover: Top five books of 2013

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Well, all my excellent colleagues here at Crime Fiction Lover have weighed in with their favourite books of 2013, and one thing I love about it is that everybody’s tastes and ranges of reading are so different. Now it’s my turn and, well, the choices are all ones you won’t see in any of the prior posts in this series.

Madness and mayhem were the themes of 2013 for me. Severe mental conditions are often behind the most heinous of crimes so it’s easy for writers to create psychopaths and the like, to be their villains. All the books in my selection have such characters in them, however in most cases the authors have gone beyond the mere stigma of madness in their antagonists, and have tried to explore the reasons behind the violence. What is it that can make a person kill someone else? Another common factor is that four of my top five are from Scandinavia, while the fifth would easily fall into the Scandinavian crime fiction sub-genre, but was written by an American. I enjoyed my crime reading in 2013 even more than in 2012, and here are my picks of the year…

Redemption5 – Redemption by Jussi Adler-Olsen
The third Department Q story by Denmark’s Jussi Adler-Olsen just edged out Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith. I think maybe the long-brewing madness, psychological damage and finely honed process of the kidnapper that our hero Carl Mørck is hunting in Redemption was just a touch more chilling than the graft and greed we saw in Cruz Smith’s post-Soviet gangsters. The lives of two children taken from a deeply religious family are at stake as Mørck and his assistants Assad and Rose struggle with a very strange clue delivered to them all the way from the Scottish coast: a message in a bottle, written in Danish. There’s some wonderful interplay between the characters and a hair-raising chase half-way through that’ll keep you riveted. Read the review here.
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healer4 – The Healer by Antti Tuomainen
Some Finns don’t consider themselves to be part of Scandinavia but Tuomainen’s crime writing fits right in with the Nordic greats who have gone before him. Here we have a seemingly authentic Helsinki of the near future, ravaged by floods, disease and social disorder as the polar icecaps melt. Poet Tapani Lehtinen is caught up in all this as he searches for his wife Johanna, who has disappeared. Has she become another victim of The Healer, a serial killer loose on Helsinki’s anarchic streets? Cold, wet, gritty and poetic, The Healer has a unique, melancholy atmosphere to it as Lehtinen works with one of the only good cops left in the city. We’ve had news that Harvill Secker is to translate Tuomainen’s next book, Dark as My Heart for 2015. Reviewed here.
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icanseeinthedark1003 – I Can See in the Dark by Karin Fossum
Not an Inspector Sejer novel but brilliant nonetheless. Here Karin Fossum tells a crime story from the other side. Our narrator is the dark and twisted character, Riktor, who works as a carer in an old age home where – when nobody’s looking – he likes to torture and torment the residents. He’s careful about where and how he wounds them, though, and because he only picks on the most helpless he seems to get away with it. When a local drunk Riktor has befriended goes missing, the police start sniffing around and, knowing exactly what happened to the man, we see Riktor grow more and more confident that he’ll get away with it. Actually, his very strange life is crumbling at its foundations. Unique and unusual, this book will stay with you, proving Fossum’s great talent with psychological crime fiction. Read the review here.
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policeukcover1002 – Police by Jo Nesbo
One of the highlights of my year was a telephone conversation with Jo Nesbo where he told me a great deal about his writing ambitions and his inspirations, and we also talked about Harry Hole. Police is the tenth book in the Harry Hole series and here we get to see a character tormented by booze and guilt at his most level-headed, and well-grounded. Which is just as well because around him people are losing their lives – in particular members of the Oslo police department. Hole has left the force. However, when the killer, who is replicating past unsolved crimes, takes out an old colleague, Harry Hole throws himself into the investigation. The book also ties up huge loose ends about his girlfriend Rakel, her son Oleg, and Harry himself that were left dangling at the end of Phantom. Cover to cover, a gripping read. Read the review here.
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generationloss1 – Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand
All the other books on my list come from Scandinavia, and this one would bear all the hallmarks of Scandinavian crime fiction if it weren’t set in coastal Maine. A harsh climate, isolation, madness, secrets, murder – they’re all here. Photographer Cass Neary heads up to a remote island to interview another photographer who found fame and fortune in the 1960s, and in fact was an inspiration for Cass herself when she was younger. What she finds up there is a community of strange characters adrift of the modern world, facing the hardships of an unforgiving terrain. Their population isn’t dwindling just because there are no jobs in the region, though. Something else is making teenagers disappear and Cass thinks she’s finding clues in the wonderfully artistic photographs she keeps finding left here and there. An incredible novel and thoroughly recommended. Reviewed here, and an interview with the author here.
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To see which books I chose in 2012, click here.

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