Nagaisayonara: Top five books of 2014

2014 has been a bumper year for international crime fiction, and it’s no co-incidence that my top five for this year visits almost every continent on earth (no offense South America, I was limited to five…) The year also saw a brilliant selection of crime fiction translated into English, with several great novels coming from outside the traditionally fertile Nordic countries, particularly Eastern Europe and Asia. Here’s hoping 2015 is just as exciting…

musicforthedead1005 – Music for the Dead by Luis Gutiérrez Maluenda
Nick Caistor brings you this brilliant translation of the work of Spanish author Luis Gutiérrez Maluenda; although there’s very little to connect this novel to the Iberian Peninsula. Set in New York to the swing of Duke Ellington, and tasting of cheap bourbon, you’ll find it hard to believe this novel wasn’t written in 1940s America, where it’s set. When a friend of Duke Ellington’s is being blackmailed, private eye Mike Winowsky jumps at the chance to help out his hero, asking for only a signed record as payment. He soon regrets not asking for more, as he’s pulled into a world of gangs, money and corruption that stretches all the way from Harlem to the mayor’s office. Full review here.
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presentdarkness1004 – Present Darkness by Malla Nunn
This is a novel that stayed with me long after reading it. Set in Johannesburg in the early 1950s, it follows Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper and cuts to the heart of race relations in the rainbow nation. Shortly before Christmas, Cooper finds himself called to the upper-class white suburb of Parkview, where he investigates a home-invasion turned brutal beating. The crime is pinned on Zulu teen Aaron Shabalala, the son of an old friend of Cooper’s, Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala. Together Cooper and Shabalala set out to find out what really happened, and what they find is just how deep corruption and racism ran in 1950s South Africa. Read my review here.
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Borderline3 – Borderline by Lawrence Block
You don’t get much more brutal and noir than a classic Lawrence Block. In 2014 Hard Case Crime republished this collection of two novellas and two short stories from early in Block’s career. The title story is the highlight, a dark adventure following five down-and-outs across the border between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. The novella is full of drugs, sex and violence, and it doesn’t stop with the first story’s bloody ending. There’s a drunken, violent lumberjack, an arsonist, and finally a PI with a difference, in a closing novella that’s reminiscent of Mad Men with murder. This classic collection is perfect for lovers of pulp. Read the review.
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beamsfalling2002 – Beams Falling by PM Newton
While technically a sequel to 2010’s The Old School, this novel stands up brilliantly on its own. It’s the early 90s, and Detective Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly is back on the job, struggling with the physical and emotional demons that plagued her from the bloody ending of The Old School. Handed restricted duties, Ned is sent to be the token Asian face in Task Force Acorn, a special team who’s vague objective is to clean up Cabramatta, outer-western Sydney’s gang and heroin capital. On her first day in Cabra, a schoolboy is shot in broad daylight, and Ned is shocked that no witnesses come forward. Cabramatta is a suburb plagued by fear and suspicion, where the locals do not trust the cops. PM Newton’s novel is deep, complex, and stars one of the best female police officers I’ve ever read. Full review here.
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Malice1 – Malice by Keigo Higashino
A nice little selection of Japanese crime fiction books appeared in English this year. With all that quality available it’s hard to pick a favourite but Malice was the standout novels of the year. Tense and twisted, original and inherently readable, it’s a great argument for translating a wide range of international crime. More psychological than brutal, Malice tells the story of successful author Kunihiko Hidaka, found dead in his house the day before he was set to move to Vancouver. Softly spoken and thoughtful detective Kyoichiro Kaga finds himself investigating an old colleague from his teaching days, the mildly successful children’s author Osamu Noguchi. Noguchi is a master at telling stories, and it’s up to Kaga to find out how much truth there is to Noguchi’s statements. While the identity of the killer may not come as a surprise, the motive, and the events surrounding the death are guaranteed to enthrall you. Read our review.
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