RoughJustice: Top five books of 2013

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For every great book that receives attention on a list like this, another two or three miss out. Tom Piccirilli (The Last Whisper in the Dark) and Jake Hinkson (The Posthumous Man) just miss out for the second year in a row, while Brother Kemal was a wonderful final novel by the late Jakob Arjouni. New Pulp Press continued to release challenging books that other publishers won’t touch, and Les Edgerton’s edgy The Rapist was a standout for me. Another one that came very close was Complex 90, the Mickey Spillane book recently completed by Max Allan Collins – it’s as thrilling as it is outlandish.

grave descend5 – Grave Descend by Michael Crichton
Here was a surprise. Crichton’s blend of popular science and high-concept plotting had never appealed to me, but this short gem from 1970, written when he was a student, shows how well he knew his way around the thriller. He wastes no words in telling the story of a salvage diver in Jamaica who gets into deep water when invited to dive the wreck of a luxury yacht. The fact it hasn’t even sunk yet is just the start of his problems. Complete with another wonderful cover from Hard Case Crime. Reviewed here.
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Kinsmen4 – Kinsmen by Bill Pronzini
Another reprint, this time from 1993, and by an established master of PI fiction. Pronzini takes his greatest creation, The Nameless Detective, out of his native San Francisco into backwoods California in a missing persons case with an explosive racial angle. Throughout Pronzini shows us how Nameless builds his case through dogged leg-work, and why the series is still going strong after more than 30 years. Read the review here.
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Dead Lions3 – Dead Lions by Mick Herron
A deserving winner of this year’s prestigious CWA Gold Dagger and a book we awarded five stars, Dead Lions is a thriller with a comic touch. MI5’s unwanted spies, led by the rude and fearsome Jackson Lamb, get a shot at redemption when a retired spy manages to leave a clue about a Russian sleeper cell before his death at the hands of foreign agents. But who will succeed and who will die is anyone’s guess?
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The Hanging2 – The Hanging by Soren & Lotte Hammer
This debut by the Danish brother and sister writing team is procedural crime fiction of the highest order. The police have no leads in the investigation of five mutilated men found hanging in a school gymnasium, until the caretaker commits suicide the next day. The men are revealed to be paedophiles and the crime is not just one of revenge but a sophisticated plot designed to induce copycat killings and change Danish society forever. The Hammer will get you to question your own idea of justice, just as they have their police question how best they can serve the population. This book is stunning in its ambition and execution. Reviewed here.
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The Devil In Her Way1 – The Devil In Her Way by Bill Loehfelm
Transplanted New Yorker Maureen Coughlin is making her way in post-Katrina New Orleans, and is in her final days as a probationer in the NOPD. A series of random events lead her on to the trail of Bobby Scales, a big-time criminal who has managed to stay under the radar by using the devastated city’s orphaned children to commit his crimes. If they are caught, he just kills them. The plight of the city and its citizens plays a big part in this book but, undoubtedly, the star of the show is Maureen. Loefholm gives us an empathic but never sentimental portrayal of a damaged woman who continues to fight her corner no matter what. Inspiring and engaging, Maureen Coughlin is the best character I read all year. Read the review here.
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Click here to see my top five books of 2012.

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