Vicki Weisfeld: Top five books of 2019

Having reviewed more than 40 crime novels for Crime Fiction Lover this year, I noticed a couple of things. Though my reading year started rather slowly with a lot of OK but not great books, a flurry of excellent ones appeared in the last few months. My best-of list tends toward the innovative, the quirky and the literary, away from the predictable. A lot of authors follow the thriller template very competently. You know who they are. The writers of these books mix it up.

5 – The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes

Murder of Harriet Monckton, Elizabeth Haynes

A historical novel one set outside London in 1843, provides a Greek chorus of voices to describe 23-year-old Harriet Monckton, her life and circumstances, and her murder. The conflicting motivations of those closest to her provide any number of possible suspects, but what causes the inquest to flounder is the lack of evidence. Haynes’s story, which ultimately does reveal the murderer, is based on a real-life case that remains unsolved. She weaves testimony from the official investigation into the fiction and even includes Harriet’s perspective, when her diary is found. Here’s the full review.
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4 – This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman

This historical crime novel set in the early 1950s recreates the social and political circumstances around the case of Irish immigrant and convicted murderer Albert Black, one of the last people to die under New Zealand’s capital punishment law. Black comes across as an ordinary young man who makes some shaky decisions and some shakier friends, but hardly an evil person. Yes, he assaulted a bully who then died, but the trial reveals all may not have been as it seemed. The jurors – and even the judge – regard him as ‘not one of us’ and in this era of anti-immigrant sentiment This Mortal Boy provides a powerful caution. Beautifully written. Full review here.
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3 – Blood by Maggie Gee

Maggie Gee is a literary novelist who makes an extravagant leap into crime fiction when her character, Monica Ludd, murders her reprobate father. Or does she? The police appear to think so. Large and loud, Monica is completely prey to her impulses. Alas, these impulses often are contrary to her own best interests. Among them is the calculated seduction of the police detective who keeps coming around. She has five siblings, all with peculiarities of their own. Yet, it’s the unforgettable Monica who makes this funny and entertaining book sing. Here’s the full review.
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2 – The Last Act by Brad Parks  

In a plot full of agonising twists, the FBI persuades aging child star Tommy Jump to take on the acting job of a lifetime. He’s to pose as a convicted criminal sent to a minimum-security prison to befriend a specific inmate and learn his secrets. An ex-banker, the man was convicted of helping Mexican drug cartels launder billions of dollars, and he has the documents that could bring them down. Parks does a terrific job describing Tommy’s efforts to ingratiate himself with the inmate and maintain his dangerous deception. The story was born of Parks’s totally justifiable outrage over real-life US banking shenanigans. Read the full review here.
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1 – Conviction by Denise Mina

Conviction, Denise Mina

No stranger to crime-reading audiences, Denise Mina has written a book notable for its oddball pair of protagonists – in a strange alliance because their spouses have run away together. Anna is living under a pseudonym for complicated reasons and Fin is an anorexic rock star. They both fall under the spell of a true crime podcast – a story within the story – about an explosion aboard a luxury yacht that left several people dead, one of whom Anna knew. With limited skills but plenty of nerve, they set out to investigate the tragedy themselves. Soon, Fin begins podcasting their quest, bringing the unwanted attention of some dangerous adversaries. Read the full review.
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