Nagaisayonara: Top five books of 2018

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Every year there’s one standout book that I know as soon as I finish it will take the number one spot on my top five for the year. 2018 has been no exception. As always, my selection takes readers all over the world, with four different continents represented. The lack of Australian and African novels in my top five doesn’t mean there aren’t any great books coming out of those two continents, just that I wasn’t lucky enough to review any of them. With Brexit and anti-immigration policies continuing to dominate the newspaper headlines in 2018, it’s good to see that crime fiction is as international as ever.

5 – Gringa by Joe Thomas

The first crime novel I’ve read set in São Paulo certainly wouldn’t get anyone queuing up for the next flight to South America. Set mostly in the city’s gritty and drug-ridden favelas, Gringa follows Ellie, an idealistic British journalist writing for the arts section of a minor English-language paper, with dreams of being an investigative journalist. Her investigation takes her into Cracolândia, or Crackland, the open-air drug market where the poorest of the poor and the worst of the worst intermingle. It’s up to police detective Mario Leme to find her, against his better judgement. For a real insider’s look into a city torn apart by corruption and social stratification, you can’t beat Gringa. Read our full review here.
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4 – Sins as Scarlet by Nicolas Obregon

Detective Kosuke Iwata finds himself in Los Angeles, after escaping a hell of his own making in Japan. The strength of Obregon’s debut was in his careful and detailed evocation of Japan, which comes through just as strongly in his follow-up. It’s set between downtown Los Angeles, the heavily Japanese-American city of Torrance, California, and the Mexican border. Iwata’s marriage fell apart in Japan and now he’s working as a private eye in LA, doing his best to make amends. When his former mother-in-law comes to visit him demanding he find out what happened to her other daughter, a transgender woman named Meredith, Iwata has no choice but to help. Sins as Scarlet is big and complex, and delves into some of the biggest social issues facing the world in 2018. Read our full review here.
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3 – The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong

Yu-Jin is the good son of the title, until he wakes up one morning covered in blood, with only vague recollections of the night before, and with his mother’s body downstairs, her throat slashed using his razor. He does his best to hide his mother’s body from his half-brother and his aunt, but he knows it won’t last forever. His aunt is a child psychologist who diagnosed Yu-Jin as requiring medication at the age of 15, medication that she said was for epilepsy but which had side-effects that ruined his burgeoning career as a swimmer. The truth behind this medication, Yu-Jin’s family history and the black outs and mood swings he suffers is slowly pieced together through his flawed perspective. There’s a lot more to this novel than first meets the eye, and it makes me hunger for more Korean crime fiction. Read our full review here.
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2 – The Killing Habit by Mark Billingham

The latest is DI Tom Thorne novel is a little different to those that came before in that the main investigation isn’t a homicide. There are quite a few killings, however all the victims are on four legs. But Thorne knows serial killers, he knows the archetype and the signs that are a prelude to killing. When a number of cats are found mutilated and dumped on doorsteps in London, Thorne wants to catch the perpetrator before they graduate from felines people. He has a hard time convincing anyone else at the Met that there’s anything to investigate, and is largely on his own as tries to piece together the few clues he can find. Meanwhile, his colleague DI Tanner is investigating the shooting of a refugee on his own doorstep, and Thorne is roped into helping her investigate that. What follows is the most satisfying police procedural I’ve read in a long time. Read our full review here.
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1 – Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr

I received this for review not long its author Philip Kerr died unexpectedly at the age of 62. His death was a true shock to the crime fiction world and the author always wrote tense, intelligent and well-researched crime fiction. Greeks Bearing Gifts is the 13th in Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series, with the 14th and final to come out in 2019. Set in 1957, it sees Gunther back in Munich, working as a claims investigator for one of Germany’s largest insurance companies. It’s not a job Gunther is excited about, but it seems in each book he’s talked into working for someone he doesn’t want to, through blackmail, extortion or threats. As part of his work Gunther travels to Greece to investigate a boat owned by a German national which caught fire in the waters off Thessaloniki. As always, through meticulous research and brilliant dialogue Kerr shines a light on the social struggles of the time, and shows Bernie Gunther doing his best just to get along. It is truly sad that Metropolis, out next year, will be the last Bernie Gunther novel. Read our full review here.
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See my top five books of 2017 here.

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