NagaiSayonara: Top five books of 2016

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In 2016 I had the unfortunate issue of having too many great books to review. The nature of the book reviewing game is that you’ll never get to read every book you want to review and sometimes choices have to be made. But with such a wide range of great books available, it wasn’t hard to pick a top five for this year – the difficult part, as always, was limiting it to five.

5 – Darktown by Thomas Mullen
It wasn’t by choice that I didn’t review Thomas Mullen’s brutal dissection of race in 1940s Atlanta – another reviewer got it before me. Officers Boggs and Smith, two beat cops in 1948 Atlanta, are part of a small group of negro officers – hired for mostly political reasons, and despised by the rest of the Atlanta police force. When a black girl is found dead in a rubbish dump in Darktown, the city’s notorious African-American neighbourhood, the two black officers won’t let her death be brushed aside. The two men go searching for the truth, making a few powerful enemies on the way.
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4 – Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama
This year bought me two epic police procedurals from Asia: The Borrowed by Chan Ho-Kei, from Hong Kong, and Six Four by Japanese master Hideo Yokoyama. Both look back over generations, and give fascinating insights into the local police force. It was hard to choose one favourite of the two, but Yokoyama’s unique take on the police procedural just edges ahead. This epic novel links two kidnappings across a generation; the first a failed police operation leading to a girl’s death, the second bearing striking similarities to the first. Superintendent Yoshinobu Mikami is determined the second kidnapping won’t end the same as the first.
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3 – A Hero in France by Alan Furst
The master of World War II espionage is back, with the Germans occupying Paris and a small group of fighters – la Résistance – doing their best to undermine the occupiers. Spring of 1941 in Paris is dark, with Nazis crushing any and all resistance cells they find. Enter Mathieu, a typical Alan Furst hero – think James Bond without the swagger. Between sojourns to the Spanish border, smuggling out stranded allied soldiers before the occupying powers capture them, Mathieu spends his time with women and what’s left of Paris’ nightlife. As always, Furst manages to cut through to the very heart of Europe’s darkest hour.
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2 – Jihadi: A Love Story by Yusuf Toropov
Few books I read stayed with my quite like Jihadi, an early entry into this year’s list that managed to hold its place, based mainly on its unique and timely plot. The love story in the title is between American intelligence operative Ali Liddell and Fatima A, an interpreter working for the Bureau of Islamic Investigation in a fictional Islamic republic currently the subject of American bombing campaign and occupation. The love story is fraught with conflict on both sides – conflict that is told in a nuanced and subtle manner, showing both the humanity and the inhumanity on both sides.
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1 – The Crime Writer by Jill Dawson
I made the unfortunate choice not to review the psychological masterpiece when two other books, both quite large, landed on my to-review list the same week. This is particularly unfortunate because Dawson’s novel rides high on a recent renewal of interest in Patricia Highsmith, and manages to beat the author of The Talented Mr Ripley at her own game. It’s 1964 and Patricia Highsmith is hiding out in a cottage in Suffolk, where she is concentrating on her writing, as well as carrying out an affair with a married woman. Unfortunately, her demons, both internal and external, have followed. I wondered at first whether this can be considered crime fiction – there is almost certainly a murder – but in the end decided it doesn’t matter. It’s one of the best psychological novels I’ve read in a long time, certainly up there with the best of Highsmith’s own work.
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This link will take you to my favourite crime books of 2015.

Click here to see what my colleagues on Crime Fiction Lover chose as their favourite books of 2016.

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