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RoughJustice: Top five books of 2020

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2020 has been a difficult year for a lot of people, and I have found my reading habits affected. I haven’t read, or reviewed, nearly as much as I would like to, but reviewing my list, I am at least happy with the diversity of my reading. This is reflected in my list, below, and the reprint of Plender, by Ted Lewis, and SA Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland both came very close to making the cut.

5 – The Silence of the White City by Eva Garcia Saenz

The Silence of the White City Eva Garcia Saenz

A serial killer is at work in the Basque city of Vitoria, which is a problem since the alleged killer was sent to prison 20 years ago. It’s up to detectives Unai Lopez de Ayala and Estibaliz Ruiz de Gauna to solve ths case. The book has an intoxicating atmosphere, rich in symbolism and symmetry (twin suspects, twin victims, the pairing of Unai and his partner, the pairing of Unai and his boss) and is full of local culture. Read my full review here.
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4 – Dear Child by Romy Hausmann

Dear Child by Romy Hausmann German crime fiction

I would call Dear Child a post modern deconstruction of the psychological thriller if it weren’t so entertaining. This German novel acknowledges then breaks the rules of commercial crime fiction, at the same time subverting reader’s expectations. Thirteen-year-old Hannah, her younger brother Jonathan, and their mother are recovering in hospital following a hit and run accident. Hannah’s testimony – perhaps unreliable, perhaps not – suggests they have escaped from an isolated cabin near the Czech border. But who is the captor, and who is the victim? Prepare to be bamboozled. You can read the review here.
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3 – The Lady Upstairs by Halley Sutton

The Lady Upstairs by Halley Sutton

In this noir-ish thriller for the #MeToo generation, Jo is a late 20s single woman who’s job is to recruit young women as honeytraps for rich sex pests in Los Angeles. The motivation for the women might be noble but for Jo, her glamorous colleague Lou and the boss lady upstairs, money is what matters. Infatuated with Lou, deadly afraid of her boss, and getting out of her depth in her office affair with the handsome Jackal, in true noir fashion, the lies Jo has been telling herself come home to roost when a mark is murdered. The plot might have come from Elmore Leonard but the execution is darker. I suspect if I’d had time to live with this remarkable debut for longer, it might have found itself higher up the list.
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2 – Play the Red Queen by Juris Jurjevics

Play the Red Queen by Juris Jurjevics wartime crime novel

In October 1963, America’s plans for Vietnam are unravelling. Having limited themselves to an ‘advisory role’, full scale military support now seems unavoidable. Against this backdrop of political and social upheaval, a mysterious assassin is killing high-ranking targets on the American side. The job of Army CID MPs Ellsworth Miser and Clovis Robeson is to stop the murder of the American ambassador.

Jurjevics’ posthumous novel is a gripping thriller and an important social and political history as well as a critique of American imperialism, and acts as a worthy memorial to an important crime writer and publisher. You can read our review here.
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1 – When These Mountains Burn by David Joy

When These Mountains Burn by David Joy front cover

This riveting thriller explores the effect of the synthetic opioid explosion on rural Appalachian communities already neglected and impoverished by trickle-down economics. Raymond Mathis has long gotten used to being robbed or lied to by Ricky, his addict son, but Ricky’s fatal overdose is a blow that he can’t brush off. Galvanised in to action, he is set on a collision course with dealers operating from the cover of the Cherokee Nation reservation and with the DEA whose job is to shut them down.

When These Mountains Burn is full of beautiful language, at times almost poetic, in sharp contrast to the harsh existence it reveals. Heart breaking, timeless and poignant, this is fiction of the very highest level. Read our review here.
Buy now on Amazon

Read about my 2019 choices here.

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