David Prestidge: Top five books of 2015

December is here. What does that mean? Boughs of holly? Decked halls? Mistletoe? Yule logs and chocolate decorations? Enough Christmas carols to give you ringing in the ears? Or… is it the time of year when all the Crime Fiction Lover reviewers write posts about their favourite crime novels of 2015?

Correct on all counts to be honest, and we think our series of ‘top five books of 2015’ articles will give you some smashing gift ideas for the crime fiction lover in your life, or serve as wonderful suggestions to go into your letter to Father Christmas. As deputy editor on the site, I’ll start things off. Four of my favourite writers have made my list in 2015, but I am delighted to begin with a relative newcomer…

The Pale5 – The Pale House by Luke McCallin
McCallin is not the only contemporary author exploring the paradox of ‘the good German’ in a WWII setting, but he is up there with the very best. Captain Gregor Reinhardt is a military policeman trying to keep his feet on the ground and his head on his shoulders in the chaotic last days of the German occupation of Sarajevo. Beset on all sides by rival nationalist groups, the Germans are evacuating the Bosnian city as fast as their transport can carry them, but Reinhardt still has a job to do investigating an apparent massacre of civilians. Are the culprits German, or does the answer lie behind the forbidding walls of The Pale House, headquarters of the formidable Croatian revolutionary movement, the Ustaše? Find out more by reading the review.
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songofshadows2004 – A Song of Shadows by John Connolly
We had no hesitation in adding Portland PI Charlie Parker to our PI Casefiles of the best fictional detectives. In case anyone suspected us of not being huge fans of Connolly’s conflicted and damaged hero, we even wrote a comprehensive Guide To John Connolly’s Charlie Parker. Parker returned this year to face his recurrent demons, which include memories of the brutal death of his wife and little daughter. Now, after a near-fatal assault, he is recovering by the sea, but is drawn into a case which has its roots in the evil deeds of Nazi death camps. One of the vilest creatures ever to darken the page of a crime fiction novel – Cambion The Leper – makes a brief but telling appearance, and as Parker tries to track down a killer who revels in appalling violence, he is both chilled and cheered by the ghost of his dead daughter, Jennifer. Our April review of the book is here.
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This Thing of Darkness3 – This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham
When a respected critic says that you have created ‘the most startling protagonist in modern crime fiction’, the author must be, in turns, delighted and a nervous wreck. How do I keep up the good work? How do I develop the character? Harry Bingham – who we interviewed in 2013 –  must face these demons daily, but shows no sign of slipping. Here, Fiona Griffiths, the beguiling, sexy, vulnerable, frighteningly intelligent and slightly bonkers heroine of three previous novels, tackles a case of corporate corruption. Not the most dramatic of potential scenarios, you might think, but the gripping and unnerving finale will have you thanking your god of choice that you are sitting in your armchair, and not beside Fiona. Find out more here.
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Friends of The Dusk2 – Friends of the Dusk by Phil Rickman
No-one currently in print mobilises the landscape and sends it out into battle like Phil Rickman. The hillsides and sunken roads of the English-Welsh border country are home to lonely farms, Victorian chapels haunted by hellfire preachers, and quiet villages where old wrongs are cherished and polished like heirlooms. In a unique mix of crime, personal anxiety and municipal corruption – with just a hint of the paranormal – Merrily Watkins is up to her clerical collar in a case of old bones, new vengeance, and a thoroughly modern case of a celebrity abusing his young admirers. We praised Friends of the Dusk in our recent review, and Phil Rickman talked to us about his work in a 2013 interview.
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The Bone Tree1 – The Bone Tree by Greg Iles
When a book is physically massive there is, of course, no guarantee that quality will match size. In this case, however, big book equals even bigger impact. If The Bone Tree is breathtakingly ambitious – its core purpose is nothing less than to link the three most significant political assassinations of the 20th century – the verve and poetry of the writing more than keep pace. Set in modern day Natchez, Mississippi, writer, lawyer and politician Penn Cage must be prepared to sacrifice everything he holds dear in a desperate battle with right-wing activists, whose poisonous touch has compromised every aspect of political and legal life across The South. The Double Eagles are not redneck buffoons, but powerful and ruthless individuals who have even drawn Penn’s saintly father into their web of murder and corruption. We reviewed The Bone Tree in June 2015.
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Keep coming back to Crime Fiction Lover throughout December where the rest of our team will be posting their top five books.

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