Jeremy Megraw: Top five books of 2013

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OK, so you’ve decided to give the gift of crime this holiday. Blood-splattered wrapping paper, check. Crime scene tape ribbon, check. All that’s lacking is a choice selection of books that your noir-loving loved one can hunker down with for a good holiday read. Well, CFL has got you covered. This year we’ve waded through a great bevy of diverse murder mysteries and police procedurals spanning the globe so you don’t have to. Here are some of my personal favorites…

ITDarkness1005 – In the Darkness by Karin Fossum
Eva Magnus is walking along a lake in the park with her daughter, who suddenly sees the corpse of a man floating near the bank. She rushes her daughter away and heads for the nearest phone booth. Strangely enough, instead of calling the police, she calls her father and has a normal conversation about family matters. More puzzling still, she takes her daughter to McDonalds as if nothing has happened. Is she in shock, or does she know more than it appears? After someone else reports the body, Inspector Sejer is called to the scene to investigate. Published as Eva’s Eye in the US, this is the long-awaited translation of the first book in the Sejer series. Read the review here.
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HoneyGuide1004 – The Honey Guide by Richard Crompton
Christmas is coming to the shanty towns surrounding Nairobi but so is the threat of massive violence, as warring tribes vie for supremacy against the background of Third World corruption and pre-election chaos. Amid the violence erupting on the streets, detective Mollel is determined to solve the murder of a prostitute, mutilated in a manner suggesting a tribal ritual. Mollel’s investigations lead him to a charismatic minister and his wife who shelter wayward women, and a rich white businessman with political connections who may have been the victim’s last customer. Then he encounters Honey. She is the victim’s friend, also Maasai, and who may hold the key to the mystery. Crompton’s debut novel sets up what promises to be a top-notch detective series. Reviewed here during New Talent November.
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womanwhowouldntdie3 – The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die by Colin Cotterill
In 1970s Laos, retired coroner Dr Siri Paiboun is recalled to solve yet another mystery. Good thing, because he is the country’s only coroner anyway. A spiritual medium, who herself apparently rose from the dead one morning, senses that the body of a highly placed bureaucrat is located near the Mekong River. Siri sees the dead constantly and often they give him indecipherable clues to murders. By the way, he also happens to be possessed by a thousand-year-old shaman… Madame Daeng, Siri’s wife, tries to control her jealousy and suspicion of the witch who is leading Siri to the body. Meanwhile, a figure from her past has landed in her village and is bent on mortal revenge. Fans of the Dr Siri series, set in Communist-era Laos, have been delighted at this new instalment, but newcomers need not read the others in the series to enjoy this fun and quirky book. Read the review here.
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13642932-e13842244714912 – Ghostman by Roger Hobbs
An Atlantic City casino has just been robbed, but the heist has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Our ghostman is called in and assigned to do the impossible: find the missing stash, which is wired to explode in 48 hours, stay clear of the FBI, and avoid getting whacked by the drugs kingpin who also has his sights on the dough. We never learn the ghostman’s name as he embarks on his violent quest, but we do learn via flashbacks about his own disasterous role in a heist in Kuala Lumpur. That heist’s mastermind has now called in a favour, so the ghostman can’t really refuse the new gig, even though it sends up all kinds of red flags. One benefit might be a reunion with his former mentor, the very professional and very beautiful Angela. This is a book that will initiate you into the dark arts of the wheelman, the jugmarker, boxman, buttonman, etc… complete with encyclopedic detail about their methods and tools of the trade. You might want to read this debut before the movie comes out, as the rights to it were snapped up before the ink was quite dry. It will get your blood pumping and dare you to put it down. Reviewed here during New Talent November.
Buy now on Amazon

FlateyEnigma1001 – The Flatey Enigma by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson
If forced to choose only one of these books, I would go with the Flatey Enigma, a mesmerising, ambient mystery with a strange beauty to it. When a body is found in a remote coastal village near the Icelandic town of Flatey, Kartan, a reluctant functionary from the capital is dispatched to sort things out. Unfortunately for him, the body is identified as an eminent Danish scholar of antiquities whose specialty is the Flatey manuscript, an ancient tome housed on the island whose cryptic text is shrouded in a centuries-old mystery. It appears the man died of exposure but not before spelling out a message with stones from the beach that may point to his murderer. The medieval manuscript, which contains a riddle that has never been solved, becomes the focus of the investigation as much as the corpse. Ingólfsson’s novel progresses slowly, which matches the lifestyle of the locals and atmosphere of the island, and is filled with rich ethnographic detail and history, making it rise above the standard rare book murder mystery. Full review here.
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Also recommended: Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, two of which were published this year: Police (Harry Hole # 10) and Cockroaches (Harry Hole # 2).

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