Catherine Turnbull: Top five books of 2018

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This year has seen a host of authors who won prizes for their bestselling debuts bring out second and third books, and I think they are writing better stories every time. Rory Clements, Joseph Knox, Jane Harper and Abir Mukherjee illustrate this perfectly and Sara Sheridan’s longer running series brings books I quietly enjoy every year.

5 – The Lost Man by Jane Harper

This book gives Jane Harper’s debut The Dry a run for its money as the location returns to the Australian Outback after a trip to the rain forest in her second, Force of Nature. Unlike the first two novels, detective Aaron Falk is absent and there is no central cop. This time the mystery is a domestic thriller told from the perspective of Nathan Bright, whose family are at the heart of it. His brother Cameron lies scorched to death in 45-degree heat after crawling around the sundial-style shadow of the headstone at the grave of a stockman who died many decades ago in a place so remote that a year could have passed since the last visitor was there. But Nathan knows there’s no way Cameron would have chosen to die this way.  We journey with Nathan as our guide and he’s pretty much as unreliable a narrator as you can get. What Harper does brilliantly is convey the claustrophobia that can be endured despite an endless sky and distant horizons, the stifling domestic tensions, and the small-town rancour, where folk turn on each other. Read our full review here.
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4 – The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox

This powerful sequel to Joseph Knox’s debut Sirens is razor sharp with blunt-talking northerners, is literary but spiked with page-turning ferocity, contains tragedy laced with hope and features a convincing cop who gets justice both in and outside of the law. DC Aidan Waits goes back on the beat, dumped in the dustbin of the night shift with his odious and witty partner DI Peter ‘Sutty’ Sutcliffe. When they go on a shout to the disused hotel, The Palace, they discover an injured night watchman on the third floor and a corpse wearing a smile on the fourth. You might think that a noir novel featuring a disfigured corpse, child trauma, sexual abuse and terrifying characters from Hell would not be a book for those faint of heart. However Knox’s skill is to take us to those dark places without explicit or look-away-now violence – to the darker natures we recognise in everyday people and their lives. Read our full review here.
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3 –  Russian Roulette by Sara Sheridan

Sara Sheridan’s ex-Secret Service backroom girl Mirabelle Bevan is on her sixth investigation in 1950s Brighton and goes undercover when her lover Superintendent Alan McGregor is taken off a gruesome murder case because the key suspect is an old school friend. Mirabelle steps in to find the killer of a young woman whose husband has been arrested for the slaying. With the help of her pregnant assistant Vesta, Mirabelle frequently risks her life in a heartbeat and uses her excellent surveillance skills, even posing as a call girl to get to the truth. There is much to admire about Mirabelle and Vesta and the rest of the recurring cast in these books. The stories are pacy and the development of the key characters and their relationships enhance the action, which is set in a compelling era. Read our full review of Russian Roulette.
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2 –  Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee

Abir Mukherjee’s third mystery featuring Captain Sam Wyndham, a World War I vet and ex-Scotland Yard detective in 1920s Calcutta, sees him caught in the crossfire between the Indian independence and the British administration. Wyndham’s addiction reaches a critical stage, but it is a visit to an opium den that sets him on his next crime case, as he struggles through his cravings. He and his bright sidekick Sergeant Surrender-Not Bannerjee are soon investigating murders, while the brutal military intelligence Section H has his cards marked. Before long Wyndham discovers a sinister link between the murders at the heart of the British rule. Mukherjee tells the compelling story of this neglected and fascinating period of Anglo-Indian history in a cracking rollercoaster style with wit and credibility. Read the full review here.
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1 –  Nucleus by Rory Clements

Crime in Cambridge in the 1930s is in the spotlight again in the second outing for Rory Clement’s history professor, Tom Wilde, who we first met in Corpus. Wilde is a spy for both the British and US governments. The university city during the seismic events leading up to World War II is a fertile location with its spies, Nazi sympathisers, atom-splitting physicists and IRA terrorists planting bombs. The action centres on the race for the nuclear superbomb by the British, Americans and the Nazis and takes Wilde to the White House and a mission from President Roosevelt. I loved the intricacies of this puzzle and minefield and can’t wait to be thrust back into the dizzying (anti) social whirl of pre-war Cambridge again. Read our full review here.
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Read about my top five books of 2017 here.

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