DavidPrestidge: Top five books of 2013

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As the year comes to a close, each of our writers will be revealing their five favourite crime novels of 2013. This December, we start with our stalwart writer and site administrator DavidPrestidge…

Rather like ever-escalating grades in school exams, it seems that every crop of crime books in a 12 month period is better than last year’s. That can’t be true, of course, but look at the talent on display. Harry Bingham and James Lee Burke featured in my 2012 selection, but then they would, as they are both, in different ways, great writers. I am a sucker for 20th century wartime drama, and English mysticism, therefore Philip Kerr and Phil Rickman were shoo-ins, but a previously unknown writer from North Carolina authored the most memorable crime book of my year.

LOTW5 – Light Of The World by James Lee Burke
Dave Robicheux and Clete Purcel, grizzled veterans of countless bruising encounters with bad men and their deeds, are playing well away from their lush and humid hunting grounds of the Louisiana Bayou. In the clear cold air of Montana, they tackle a ruthless landowner and his dysfunctional family, but find they have an even more deadly enemy – a sexual predator with almost supernatural powers of evil. Burke’s prose is as purple, as poetic, and as penetrating as ever, and the daughters of ‘The Bobbsy Twins’, one feisty and the other downright deadly, both have key parts to play. Reviewed here.
Buy now on Amazon

TMOH4 – The Magus Of  Hay by Phil Rickman
Herefordshire’s most beguiling widow is back. The Rev Merrily Watkins, in the Blue Corner, is again chasing shadows. This time she’s in the rarified atmosphere of the world’s Capital of Books – Hay on Wye. Merrily, with musician boyfriend Lol away on tour, daughter Jane up to no good on an archaeology dig with her boyfriend, and staunch ally Gomer Parry a peripheral figure, is very much on her own apart from her angst-ridden policeman friend, Frannie. In the Red Corner are a murderous local, an evil presence in a bookshop, and the long shadow cast by a dead dabbler in the Black Arts. Reviewed here. Phil Rickman talked to us earlier this year.
Buy now on Amazon

46041_AManWithoutBreath_Jkt.indd3 – A Man Without Breath by Philip Kerr
Kerr places Bernie Gunther in such a place that it is plausible for him to have been a young soldier in the trenches of World War I, a cop during the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s, both a policeman and a soldier on the Eastern Front in World War II, and then stateless in post war South America. Wading through a sewer of moral ambiguity, Gunther is sent by Dr Joseph Goebbels to the frozen forests around Smolensk in order to answer a question posed by the international community. Who murdered 22,000 Polish Officers at Katyn? Was it the Russian NKVD, or was it the SS? The writing is as bleak and profound as ever, and Gunther remains one of the great modern literary heroes. Reviewed here.
Buy now on Amazon

LSWM2 – Love Story With Murders by Harry Bingham
I must declare an interest. I am in love with Fiona Griffiths. How sad is that? Well, allow an old man his moment. Fiona Griffiths is the most beguiling, maddening, improbable but life-affirming heroine in modern crime fiction. She is beset by a mental condition which can be debilitating, but can also bring great flashes of insight. She is fancied by both men and women, but is curiously naive. Here she pursues a trail of body parts scattered across the Welsh landscape, tries to steer a course between her father’s criminal activities and her professional duties, and tries to unravel the fate of an undergraduate turned exotic dancer. We talked to Harry Bingham here, and reviewed the book here.
Buy now on Amazon

ALMKTH1 – A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
This was a standout book. There is crime, and crime of the darkest kind, but for atmosphere, a sense of brooding evil disguised as piety, and the feeling that far from being liberated by a rural landscape of hills, forests and open skies, the residents are prisoners of their own isolation. Cash tells a tale of courage, compassion and bravery shown by ordinary North Carolina people in the face of deceit, corruption and delusion. This is both a rite of passage novel, and a revealing searchlight on the grimy world of religious fundamentalism. A Land More Kind Than Home deserves to transcend the crime fiction genre, and be recognised as a great work of literary fiction.
Buy now on Amazon

Click here to see my top five books of 2012.


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