Catherine Turnbull: Top five books of 2017

4 Mins read

There are always some standout books of the year that appear on several of our top five lists. Such is the case here with Anthony Horowitz’s The Word is Murder, whilst Denise Mina’s The Long Drop is collecting a cabinet full of awards. I also like to champion short stories and this year I was impressed with the CWA anthology and Ruth Rendell’s A Spot of Folly collection. Not everyone shares my love of short fiction, so here are my top five novels, an eclectic range as I like to mix it up.

5 – No Dominion by Louise Welsh

This third installment of Louise Welsh’s The Plague Times Trilogy unites two of the survivors of the viral flu ‘the sweats’ – Stevie Flint and Magnus McFall. The pair are attempting to rebuild a democratic civilisation in Orkney after normal society has collapsed. When three strangers arrive the fragile community is upset and days later they disappear taking Magnus’s adopted son Shuggie, his girlfriend Willow, three other teenagers and a baby with them. Meanwhile, Willow’s adoptive parents are murdered on their farm. With no time to lose, Stevie and Magnus head to the mainland and find guerilla gangs of fierce teenage girls, rapist bandits and paedophiles, psychopaths at every turn and lynch mobs driven by religious fanatics. No Dominion is a thrilling finale to this dystopian series and explores how we can fix a shattered society… Read the full review here.
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4 – The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

I was a wee bit dubious when I heard Anthony Horowitz had written a novel in which he cast himself as the narrator. The prolific and best-selling author not only peppers the story with references to his books and screenplays – Foyle’s War, Conan Doyle follow-up The House of Silk and the Alex Rider YA series – he also name drops movie giants Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson with a fictional meeting to discuss him writing for them. This isn’t depicted as showing off, however, more a fascinating insight into the writing life, and a memoir with enough self-deprecating moments to enjoy the conceit. In this murder mystery, Horowitz is asked by the rude and sacked ex-MET detective Daniel Hawthorne to shadow his investigation and write a true crime book. The pair set off on the trail when a wealthy widow is murdered, hours after she has arranged her own funeral. We are hooked into a labyrinth of clues along with Horowitz for an entertaining whodunit metafictional puzzle. Here’s our full review.
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3 – My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood

Kate Rafter is a journalist with PTSD who returns to Herne Bay after watching a child she had befriended die whilst on an assignment in Syria. Her mother has recently died and her Sally sister is drinking herself to death. With flashbacks to the death of the Syrian boy and to an abusive childhood that Sally and she have never recovered from, Kate is falling apart. She turns to alcohol and pills to get her through the night, but fails to block out the screams she hears in the early hours. She is convinced they are coming from next door and an Iraqi child is at risk, but no-one will believe her. She can’t even be sure she is not imagining this herself. Through the nightmares and the blurring reality of the daylight hours, we learn that Kate has been terrified and traumatised all her life, by abuse and the death of her brother and more recently from the horrors she has witnessed in war zones. But the journalist’s instinct to discover the truth is strong and I was with her all the way as she stumbled towards the light in this debut thriller.
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2 – The Long Drop by Denise Mina

This smart novel, based on true events, takes us on a bizarre binge drinking session around the seediest bars and clubs of 1950s Glasgow. We are with psychopathic serial killer and rapist Peter Manuel, and foolish and ambitious businessman William Watt, whose wife, sister-in-law and daughter have been shot dead. Watt suspects Manuel of the crime, but goes out drinking with him, to save his own reputation, after he has been suspected of killing his own family. We are also in the company of gangsters, who threaten the pair throughout the evening and give testimony in Manuel’s trial for eight murders, as the chapters switch between the night and the courtroom six months later. The Long Drop, named after a method of hanging and with a nod to lengthy drinking, has won every prize going this year, including the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish crime book of the year at Bloody Scotland, named for a brilliant man who wrote a whole world inside old Glasgow bars. I was fascinated and appalled by Manuel and Watt during my all-nighter in the grimy old town of the 1950s and as Manuel conducted his own defence, playing to the jury and the women who packed in to watch justice be served. Here’s our full review.
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1 – Nine Lessons – Nicola Upson

There are two real life classic fiction writers for the price of one in this seventh book in a series featuring Golden Age crime writer and playwright Josephine Tey as the main character. And although he died the year before 1937 when the novel is set, the famous ghost story writer MR James is an integral, albeit historical, part of the story too. There are also two crime plots for Tey and her friend Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose to investigate; a series of brutal murders and a rapist terrorising Cambridge, right on Tey’s new doorstep. This is Golden Age in style, but written with contemporary insights into how we view sexual abuse today, and of course we read it with our 2017 ideas of how women should be treated. The atmosphere of the 1930s is brilliantly created with the political climate overshadowed by the spread of fascism, the echoes of the abdication of the king the year before and the menacing approach of another world war. This fictional Tey is to be admired. You can discover how Upson created her in our interview and read the full book review here.
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See what other Crime Fiction Lover reviewers chose as their top five of 2017.

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