CrimeFictionLover: Top five books of 2019

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Crime fiction is something I’m always enthusiastic about, but 2019 has not produced the best vintage in my opinion. There seems to be a lot of safe and franchise-able writing going on at the moment, with established series ticking over like clockwork. Nordic noir is one of my favourite sub-genres, and a few years ago it was stirring things up in crime fiction but even that has felt a bit flat over the past year or so. Hopefully, 2020 will bring some new blood into the genre, along with fresh ideas. We’ll be keeping an eye out for debut writers, new series and standalones to shake things up in the next 12 months, I think.

That said, these five books from 2019 are all exciting, interesting and definitely worth your time if you haven’t tried them already.

5 – Inborn by Thomas Enger

In a small town in Norway, two teenagers have been murdered. Mari, the young woman, was Even’s girlfriend and they’d recently split up. He wasn’t at the high school music gig where they were found, claiming to have been at home brooding over the break-up. But things in Even’s story don’t quite add up for Chief Inspector Yngve Mork. Author Thomas Enger uses an interesting storytelling technique, switching timelines between Even’s trial, Mork’s investigation and events leading up to the murders, and eventually deeper connections are made between the key characters. Could the case be related to the death of Even’s father in a car accident many years ago? It’s a tense story, told in a measured and restrained style, that nevertheless draws you into Even’s confusing teenage world. I liked the fact that this young adult standalone reads perfectly well for old adults too. Read the full review here.
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4 – The Siberian Dilemma by Martin Cruz Smith

Although Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko series started with a bang back in 1981 with Gorky Park, there have only been nine books in nearly 40 years – which makes the arrival of the latest a real treat for fans. We find Renko in Moscow, worried about the whereabouts of his lover, the journalist Tatiana. She was last seen in Irkutsk, researching a story on an oil oligarch with political ambitions – something not generally tolerated in Putin’s Russia. Renko gets the chance to begin searching for her when the prosecutor sends him there to get a confession out of a young Chechen accused of attempted murder. Cruz Smith writes gorgeously about Russian culture, society and the great taiga where death can be brought as easily by a hungry bear as by a hitman’s bullet. It’s a beautiful read, though let down by a rather simplistic ending. Read the full review here.
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3 – Metropolis by Philip Kerr

Philip Kerr died suddenly in 2018, shortly after completing Metropolis. Unexpectedly, it brings to an end the author’s spectacular Bernie Gunther series. Like Arkady Renko, Gunther is detective who somehow manages to bring about justice as he investigates cases under extreme political pressure. Many of the books take place in Nazi Germany, but here we go back to Gunther’s early days as a detective during the Weimar Republic of the late 1920s. With both fascism and communism on the rise, and a ring of vicious gangsters operating in Berlin and beyond, someone has been shooting crippled veterans – victims of World War I. Also dead is a young prostitute, who happens to be the daughter of a very powerful mobster. Amid populism and antisemitism, Gunther goes undercover as a beggar, placing himself as bait in the killer’s path. It’s a fascinating and extremely well-researched read, which you’ll love if you enjoyed Babylon Berlin. Read the full review here.
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2 – Little Siberia by Antti Tuomainen

There are so many great things about this book, it’s hard to know where to start and, indeed, it was hard slotting it into second position. Formerly a poet, Antti Tuomainen always finds unique ways of using crime fiction to say new things. Most importantly, he makes you feel something at the same time, even if his characters and their circumstances are unusual, to say the least. In this story, we find ourselves in northern Finland, near the Russian border. Parish priest Joel is guarding a meteorite that has crashed to earth before it can be taken away for analysis when two burglars break in to try and steal it. One of them later blows himself up and this curious caper continues with Joel setting himself two tasks – firstly to protect the meteorite at all costs, and secondly to find out who made his wife pregnant because he knows he couldn’t have. Find out more in our full review here.
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1 – The Chain by Adrian McKinty

A new book in the Sean Duffy series would have been satisfying, but in 2019 Ulster author Adrian McKinty kicked on into new territory. Dreary Belfast was left behind for autumnal Massachusetts where 11-year-old Kylie O’Neill is snatched at the bus stop by a man and a woman. But we soon learn that they are victims too and after paying a ransom for their son, they have been coerced into kidnapping someone else’s child as part of an on-going cycle called the chain. Kylie’s mother Rachel will also have to pay a ransom and abduct a child, with the faceless criminals behind the scheme never dirtying their hands as they reap the profits. It’s a brilliant concept, with the author bringing it to life through his protagonist, Rachel. Although she’s battling cancer, she decides to unravel the chain and expose those behind it. Clever, exciting, brilliant. Read the full review here.
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Here are my top picks of 2018, and you can read about the best books of 2019 as selected by my colleagues on Crime Fiction Lover right here.

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