MarinaSofia: Top five books of 2017

2017 was the first year in a long time that I didn’t get to travel very much physically, but I’ve more than made up for it via my reading. This is the freedom that reading crime fiction can give you, and I always enjoy novels with a strong sense of place, where I can learn more about the people and the culture even if I’ve never been there. Crime fiction is one of the best ways to get off the beaten tourist track and find out the – sometimes unpalatable – truth about a region. Northern Italy, Northumberland, East Texas, Finland and Michigan are just some of the places I explored this year, and can’t wait to find out where crime fiction will take me in 2018.

5 – Can You Hear Me by Elena Varvello

Elena Varvello is a poet, short story writer and novelist whose work has won her critical acclaim in her native Italy, including a nomination for the Premio Strega, the Italian equivalent of the Man Booker Prize. Can You Hear Me? is the first of Varvello’s novels to be translated into English. Set predominantly in 1978 in Ponte, a small town in the wooded area of northern Italy bordering Switzerland and France, it is a coming of age story, as 16-year-old Elia Furenti finds himself attracted to his new friend Stefano’s mother, who appears to have fled an abusive marriage, while gradually suspecting that his father might have been involved in the kidnapping and murder of a number of young girls. Written in a spare, incisive prose, it captures the claustrophobia of its mountain valley setting and the anxiety of teenage life perfectly.
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4 – Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

In 1997, teenager Tom Jeffries was found dead at an adventure centre on Scarclaw Fell in Northumberland. The coroner delivers a verdict of misadventure, but rumours still abound. Twenty years later, investigative journalist and podcaster Scott King tries to find out the truth about what happened back then. We hear six different sides of the story from the classmates and teachers who accompanied Tom on the school trip back then. In many ways, this is reminiscent of Kurosawa’s Rashomon, but in modern clothing. A daring mix of up-to-date technology and ancestral fears of dark spirits still malingering in the woods is handled with great verve and wit by author Matt Wesolowski, while the teenage anomie and rivalry also sounds pitch-perfect.
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3 – Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke

Attica Locke has become a go-to author for illustrating the racial tensions underlying American society, particularly in a part of Texas where the Ku Klux Klan is still tolerated, and even admired by some. Darren Matthews may have originally been ambivalent about growing up black in the Lone Star State, but he has now decided that the land belongs to him as much as anyone else and he has deep roots there. He is a proud Texas Ranger who gets called out on a troubling case of almost simultaneous deaths of a white woman and a black man in a town where racial divides are still taken very seriously. The people he meets and the stories he uncovers will make him question himself and test his loyalties to the limit. Read our full review here.
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2 – The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen

Crime novels which can make you laugh out loud and shed tears within a couple of pages don’t come along all that often. Once you delve deeper beneath the mad capers of the protagonist, the often farcical dialogue and lurid accidents, you will find a deep sorrow at the transience of life, the deep loneliness of the human condition and a restless yearning for connection, which are recurring themes in all of Tuomainen’s work. Jaakko Kaunismaa is a content man, a successful mushroom entrepreneur, happily married to a wife who cooks well and helps out in the business… but when his doctor tells him he is going to die very soon because someone has been slowly but surely poisoning him, his bubble bursts in a dramatic fashion. Think screwball black comedy with a deadly aftertaste and you will understand why I felt so attracted to this unusual and highly enjoyable book. Read the review here.
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1 – The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

My top pick of the year is in fact one I had avoided reading for a few months, despite repeated recommendations, because I thought it was not my type of story. Who wants to be plunged into the claustrophobia of Room and at the same time face the The Revenant’s hard-core survivalism in America’s wilderness? Yet this story of a chase to the death in the remote marshland of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is more than just an action thriller. It is also a tense family drama, with skillful portrayal of subtle psychological trauma and torn loyalties. Can you ever leave the past behind, if your father was a notorious child abductor who kept your mother and yourself in captivity for the first 12 years of your life? And how can you respond when your father breaks out of prison and hides in the marshland near your home? A haunting depiction of the paternal bond which won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Read the review.

Click here for my favourite crime fiction books of 2016.

See what other Crime Fiction Lover reviewers chose as their top five of 2017.

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