DavidPrestidge: Top five books of 2014

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It has become tradition here at Crime Fiction Lover for each of our contributors to share their top five crime books of the year past, each December. I’m first up and for me it’s been a year of clever British authors coming up with unique plotlines, as well as a good helpings of atmospheric Southern noir from the US.

Reviewers have favourite writers, but we do have to be impartial in print, and if a well-loved author falls short of their best, we have to tell it like it is. I’m delighted to say that I breathed a sigh of relief when four of my personal top crime writers all published new books in 2014, and each one was stunning. I was even more thrilled to add to my top five a writer who was completely new to me – Guy Portman. He is definitely someone to watch – and read – but not for those of a prudish disposition!

necropolis small5 – Necropolis by Guy Portman
This shell-burst of a book had me laughing out loud at the thoughts of Dyson Devereux, a minor functionary in a mythical English town. He is responsible for cemeteries and burials, but his main joy is in silently savaging his colleagues. The writing is gloriously politically incorrect. No sacred cow goes un-slaughtered, no minority – either sexual or ethnic – goes un-pilloried. But where, I thought, is the crime? And then it hit, with a rapid and astonishing gear change as Devereux moves into psychopath mode. This is a brilliant, caustic and unique novel, best not read while you are in public view! Read the original review here.
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At Death's Window4 – At Death’s Window by Jim Kelly
This beautifully crafted story is as English as they come, and is set on the coast of Norfolk. Detective Peter Shaw finds himself in the middle of a criminal war where the commodity at stake is neither narcotics nor female flesh, but a local edible seaweed – samphire – which is a costly delicacy in the smart gastro-pubs of London, despite being as cheap as chips in the area where it grows. A corpse tethered to the sea bed, an outbreak of local vengeance against second home owners, and his own physical imperfections prove a huge challenge to one of Britain’s most cerebral and interesting coppers. The full review is here.
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thisdarkroadtomercyUS2003 – This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
Among contemporary novelists, no one comes close to Wiley Cash for his portrayal of children cast adrift in an adult world. Two young sisters, Easter and Ruby, witness the death of their drug addicted mother and are abandoned by their wastrel father. They are incarcerated in a well-meaning but sterile institutional home, until the night when their errant father turns up and abducts them. What follows is a picaresque journey through modern America, as Wade and his daughters are pursued by the good and the bad, against a resonant background of the final days of the baseball season. Read my original review.
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Strange Death2 – The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths by Harry Bingham
I plead guilty as charged. I am fascinated, obsessed by, and probably madly in love with the most adorable and unforgettable woman in modern crime fiction. Fiona Griffiths is more than slightly mad, despite having an Oxbridge education and an IQ off the scale. She harnesses her condition – Cotard’s Syndrome – to work to her advantage in her day job as detective with the Welsh police. Fiona goes undercover to penetrate a gang of fraudsters, and puts her life on the line in doing so. My original review said, “This writing is brilliant, and it hits spots that other crime fiction simply doesn’t.”
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Adobe Photoshop PDF1 – Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
As much as I loved the previous four novels, this one left them for dead and lapped them half way through the race. Penn Cage is a writer, lawyer, and currently the elected mayor of Natchez. Sat on its bluff above the Mississippi, Natchez has witnessed enough crime and hatred provoked by racial differences to last for a millennium. When Cage is drawn into a bitter dispute over a decades old crime, he is horrified to discover that it involves his own father, who is regarded locally as a living saint. The sheer depth and breadth of this novel – and the power of the writing – make it my best book of 2014. Click to read my review of Natchez Burning.
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To see my five picks from last year, click here.

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