Drown – Junot Diaz
Shades of Carver and Kerouac as Diaz uses beautiful language to describe ugly situations. This is often shocking, disturbing or heartbreaking, but with a daring sense of audacity running through it.
On Deadly Ground (also known as King Blood) – Simon Clark
This is one of the best created apocalyptic scenarios I have ever read, epic in both scale and execution. It cleverly juxtaposes the cosmic disaster with the personal problems and human relationships, focusing on humanity’s inevitable lapse into savagery and showing it in brutally stark detail.
Mr Mercedes – Stephen King
Utterly compelling narrative with unlikely heroes who are both likeable and believable. The pacing is excellent, moving this into the unputdownable category, with foreshadowed twists and signposted wrong-footers alike hitting the spot and the tension rarely dipping.
Bodies of Water – V.H. Leslie
Clever dual timeline narrative with tantalising drip feed of information, constructing the characters so that they feel almost cosy in their familiarity, which makes it all the more unsettling when the rug is pulled from under you. Thoughtful yet fast-paced, with fascinating information seeping through from the author’s research as well.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist – Dario Fo
This is funny, frenetically paced and with a hard hitting political message, pitching the balance just right between entertaining, satirising and sermonising, as well as repeatedly breaking down and rebuilding the fourth wall for added comedic and dramatic effect.
A Song of Stone – Iain Banks
Bleak, beautiful, and brilliant. Sumptuous prose throughout, absolutely breathtaking at times, with a highly unusual but understated second person narrative. Set against an apocalyptic backdrop, the war story retreats to show a vivid, intense, and sensuous study of the most complicated love triangle I’ve ever read about.
The Highest Tide – Jim Lynch
Judy Blume meets Jacques Cousteau as Lynch fuses a coming of age drama with the Encyclopaedia of the Sea. This is a gentle but powerful insight into small town mentality, sudden fame, love, loss and responsibility, and those feelings we feel in making the difficult transition from boy to man. That it also happens to be the most charming and emotive book about sea life you’re ever likely to read is an added bonus.
The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die – Marnie Riches
Riches creates a leading character who, while being brilliant, remains wholly believable and endearing, with ambitions and vulnerabilities that anyone can relate to. The story is intelligently plotted and packed with twists and red herrings, and the way two seemingly separate strands join together is ingenious.
Little Boy Blue – M.J. Arlidge
Arlidge takes an understanding and non-judgemental approach to the underground scene, and depicts it unflinchingly yet with sensitivity, never letting it detract from the crux of the story. And in a world full of predictable endings, this one bucks the trend, big style!
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany
After a slowish couple of acts to get into its stride, this hits hard and consistently, with increased pacing, high emotion, intrigue, and suspense. There are nostalgic, even heartbreaking looks at previously lost favourites, and new depths being added to much-loved, and also not so loved characters.
The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
Rounded and compelling characters with believable virtues, drivers and flaws, an unpredictable plot full of twists and turns, and plenty of humour and heart blended in along with the adventure. At any given time it could be hilarious, harrowing, or heartbreaking, sometimes all three in quick succession.
The Fireman – Joe Hill
This tells the story and it feels the feels. The science makes sense, the characters, good and bad, are consistently authentic and compelling, and the plot is well constructed and unpredictable. And at times it’s absolutely heartrending.
Ultimatum – Simon Kernick
Fast-paced and full of action, cinematic in its scope and with a plot like a corkscrew. This is basically a big-budget summer blockbuster on paper.
Blacklands – Belinda Bauer
Incredibly bold narrative choices, one a child, one a child killer, building a taut and tense story with compelling characters that gathers pace towards a frenetic conclusion.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – Agatha Christie
Does just what you’d expect of Agatha Christie, combining an upper class comedy of manners with a brutal murder, a fiendish mystery, and the brilliant workings of Poirot’s little grey cells.
To Usher, The Dead – Gary McMahon
Provides a great variety of stories, whilst still maintaining a consistent narrative voice. Even in the shorter stories, there is surprising depth of plot and character.
Pretty Little Dead Things – Gary McMahon
Solid, well-constructed plot involving two intertwining cases and the main characters personal life, a good mix of the real world and the supernatural, compelling, believable characterisation, and excellent, sumptuous descriptive passages.
Tastes Like Fear – Sarah Hilary
Expert plotting, quality prose, unflinching grittiness, emotional depth, stunning plot twists. What I’ve come to expect from this author.
The Final Minute – Simon Kernick
Breakneck, blockbuster plotting and pacing, bold choice of anti-hero narrator, and tight writing with twists aplenty.