Andre: Top five books of 2014

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Re-issues have made up much of my reading this year, from the ambitious reprint project of the Maigret series (alongside the first English edition of Simenon’s startling psychological novel The Mahé Circle) to the scandalous 1980s PI debut from Julian Barnes’s alter ego Dan Kavanagh, and the 75th anniversary edition of Geoffrey Household’s relentless Rogue Male. There were 50th anniversary reissues of Ruth Rendell’s From Doon With Death and Patricia Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January (a movie tie-in), as well as new editions of Kyril Bonfiglioli’s comic crime trilogy. Meanwhile, the British Library’s Crime Classics series has become a publishing phenomenon with bookshops displaying the striking retro covers for this Golden Age revival. However, for all these riches in crime’s back catalogue my top five is focused on contemporary talent.

The Fever (Megan Abbott)5 – The Fever by Megan Abbott
Some novels grip you with suspense, sharp plotting and snappy dialogue. Then there are authors like Megan Abbott whose writing has the power to cast a spell over you. The Fever is not a typical crime novel, though there is a mystery at the heart of this account of the growing hysteria surrounding an undiagnosed contagion among girls in an American high school. The sense of dread builds as you read this beguiling novel from one of the genre’s finest stylists. Abbott’s good at capturing the ubiquity of social media in teenagers’ lives too. Read about it here.
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Dog_Will_Have_His_Day4 – Dog Will Have His Day by Fred Vargas
Published almost two decades after it appeared in France, this was the long-awaited (for English readers) sequel to The Three Evangelists, a separate series to the Adamsberg books. Vargas is capable of combining Gallic whimsy with sinister plots, and she’s done it again with a story that begins with the discovery of a toe bone buried in dog excrement. It’s a case that suits the Evangelists, a trio of unemployable postgraduates known for their fixation on obscure details. Their investigation ends up in a Brittany fishing village on the trail of a pit bull terrier – and the owner of that toe. Click here for the full review.
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FactsofLife nddeath3 – The Facts of Life and Death by Belinda Bauer
Belinda Bauer deservedly won the Theakstons Old Peculier crime novel of the year in the summer for Rubbernecker, and the follow-up was almost as good. Ruby Trick is a 10-year-old growing up in a troubled family in a storm-battered enclave of Devon. In an effort to keep her father close, she decides to help him in his hare-brained scheme to catch the serial killer who’s preying on young women in the community. It’s a dangerous move that makes for another of Bauer’s compelling, original standalone crime novels in which children play a key role. Read the review here and check out our interview with Belinda Bauer.
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galveston2002 – Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
As much as I relished Wiley Cash’s This Dark Road to Mercy, there was slightly superior southern noir to be found in this novel by the creator of True Detective. While the acclaimed HBO series took the police procedural into occult territory, Pizzolatto’s 2008 novel (published this year in the UK) is an almost poetic piece of neo-noir. Roy Cady is a mafia bagman with lung cancer who’s run out of people he can trust. When he goes on the run with a prostitute he rescues from a bad situation there’s a flicker of hope about their futures – but not for long. It’s rare to read a novel – in any genre – as haunting and powerful as this one. The review is here.
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the-axemans-jazz-2001 – The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin
Ray Celestin’s debut is utterly audacious: a historical novel based on the unsolved case of a real-life serial killer in New Orleans in 1919, with a supporting cast that includes a young Louis Armstrong. Celestin is a British author yet he’s created a richly evocative portrayal of the Big Easy and the burgeoning jazz scene of almost a century ago. It’s an ensemble procedural that follows the rival investigations – and the lives – of a detective, a disgraced ex-cop and a young woman aiming to make a name for herself as a PI. The Axeman’s Jazz is a major achievement and it was a deserving winner of the John Creasey New Blood Dagger. The full review is here.
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Find out what our other contributors chose as their top five here. Or, see my choices from 2013 here.

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