Raven: Top five books of 2014

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Looking back over my crime reading of 2014 and compiling my top five, it suddenly occurred to me that my fascination with American and Scandinavian crime has been usurped. This year my selection consists entirely of French and Italian novels, and to be honest there were others from these countries that could quite easily have wangled their way onto my list. I think their appeal lies in the more literary aspect in their style and plotting, and the assured integration of the darkness of the human psyche. Equally, some of these writers also use black humour to great effect, in the manner of Andrea Camilleri and the late great Pascal Garnier, adding another facet to the enjoyment. I found myself either shocked, amused or totally gripped – sometimes all three – by all of my final choices, and would urge you to seek some of these out for yourself. Happy reading.

The Dark Angel5 – The Dark Angel by Dominique Sylvain
Introducing the delectable French crime fighting duo of the dumpy ex-detective Lola Jost and Ingrid Diesel, a statuesque American masseur and exotic dancer, Sylvain’s UK debut was a joy. This unlikely alliance joins forces to investigate the murder of a young woman in Jost’s apartment building. When a charming male acquaintance of the pair finds himself accused, Jost and Diesel navigate the seedy underbelly of Parisian life to clear his name, and track down the real culprit. Witty, surprising and utterly engaging, The Dark Angel hooked me completely.
Buy now on Amazon

deathinpontaven2004 – Death in Pont-Aven by Jean-Luc Bannalec
If you’re keen to discover some new French crime fiction, Jean-Luc Bannalec is a real find. Death in Pont-Aven introduces us to Commissaire Dupin, a cantankerous Parisian caffeine junkie who polices the small Breton village of Pont-Aven, a sleepy community near the sea. Everyone knows everyone else and nothing much seems to happen. However, one morning he is dragged from his coffee and croissant to the scene of a murder at the local Central Hotel, and the game is afoot. Combining the superb characterisation of our curmudgeonly detective, a small community wracked by secrets and lies, and the atmospheric surrounds of coastal Breton, Bannalec delivers in spades.
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gameforfive2003 – Game for Five by Marco Malvaldi
If, like me, you are an ardent fan of Andrea Camilleri and Marco Vichi, you will be thrilled to discover Malvaldi too. Set in a small coastal town in Tuscany, the book features Massimo – a barman and amateur sleuth – and a gaggle of hilarious old timers in their 70s and 80s. Between downing shots of espresso, and lively card games, Massimo and his cohorts while away the time chatting and arguing. When a young girl is brutally murdered near their watering hole, and left in a trash can, they start theorising about events surrounding her death. With a great blend of humour and underlying darkness, I absolutely adored this small but perfectly formed debut.
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thefew2 – The Few by Nadia Dalbuono
A singularly impressive Italian set crime debut. The story focuses on Detective Leone Scamarcio, the son of a once powerful mafia figure. Scamarcio has turned his back on the family business and is on the Rome police force. He is handed a file containing compromising photographs of the Italian foreign secretary with male prostitutes, and soon after that is embroiled in the disappearance of a young American girl on holiday with her family. As the possible links between the cases are revealed, Dalbuono conjurs up a thriller that is dark, compelling and totally unputdownable.
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The Lying Down Room1 – The Lying Down Room by Anna Jaquiery
Having talked interminably about how truly brilliant this book is since June, my top read was never in doubt. This is a thought provoking and atmospheric debut, set in France, which opens with the brutal murder of an elderly woman to the soundtrack of Faure’s Requiem. The reasons for this murder, and the choice of victim, baffle Chief Inspector Serge Morel and his team. As more killings occur, Morel makes a connection between the victims and two individuals who distribute religious pamphlets in the suburbs. His enquiries are taken into the past, away from Paris into the French countryside, and eventually to the heart of Soviet Russia. It’s a superbly multi-faceted thriller that plays with your emotions, and preys on the mind long after reading.
Buy now on Amazon

Find out what our other contributors chose as their top five here.


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