Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch
Very clever story full of memorable characters and written with real verve and swagger. Finds a harmonious balance between comedy, crime, adventure, the supernatural, and the character study of an amorous young man, consistently hitting the spot on every level.
The Innocent – Harlen Coben
This boasts a highly complex plot with a wealth of twists and turns. Even if some can be predicted and not all of them ring true, there are plenty here that do hit the spot. This is an inventive work with much to enjoy.
Zombie Apocalypse: Endgame – Stephen Jones (and others)
The most obvious reference is to Max Brooks’ World War Z; this is unlikely to match that for commercial success, but to my mind surpasses it. By using a multitude of authors, the variation in voices is that much more convincing, and inventive layout adds even greater verisimilitude. Most writers do a very good job, but top contributions are from Paul Kane, Pat Cadigan, Conrad Williams and especially Peter Atkins.
The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
This is talked about as being one of the most disturbing novels ever written, but it’s so much more than that. It looks at the cause and effect of cruelty and social detachment with as much sensitivity as brutality, and feels true to itself at every turn. The plot twists are surprising in the extreme, but all these shocks are consistent with what has gone before and make sense under further examination. I’m badly understating it here, so please visit http://www.gingernutsofhorror.com/15/post/2015/04/my-life-in-horror-its-just-a-phase-i-was-going-through.html for a longer and better review.
A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle
We effectively have two different mini novels here: one marking the debut of two of crime fiction’s most loved characters, and the other, surprisingly, an epic western taking a barbed look at the early days of the Mormon faith. Doyle cleverly turns this around to gives us a murderer who’s more hero than villain and victims whose fate is long overdue.
The Cabin in the Woods – Tim Lebbon
Lebbon inherits Whedon’s inventive concept, and too big to comprehend ending, but makes his own mark too. He relishes the chance to go splatterpunk, writing with joie de vivre and killer turn of phrase: “A unicorn gored a scientist against a wall, its horn probing through his stomach and chest, grinding, tearing, and his spurting blood painted its gorgeous flowing mane red.”
The Girl with all the Gifts – M.R. Carey
Works perfectly well as a zombie novel, but does so much more besides, exploring themes of growing up, adhering to authority, crises of conscience, and above all, the eternal question of what it means to be human. Furthermore, it does all this without ever feeling preachy or deviating from the story arc. This stands up there alongside Alden Bell’s work as a testament to how good zombie fiction can be, and is pretty much the book I want to write when I grow up.
The Death House – Sarah Pinborough
Once again, those themes of growing up, adhering to authority, crises of conscience. This delivers ideas and intellect, but above all this delivers real and raw emotion: compelling, heart-rending and ultimately so inspirational. Once I’d towelled the tears away I went on a 7 mile run, played the guitar for the first time in months, and vowed to write more, and better.
The Silence – Tim Lebbon
A Wyndhamesque apocalypse with shades of The Birds and The Mist, this tightens the tension to almost unbearable levels. The technical aspects are plausible and well thought out, creating a solid base for the characters to shine through. Excellent and innovative choice of first person narrator too.
Little Girls Lost – J.A. Kerley
Bravely deals with difficult subjects in a clever, interlinked plot, with the crime thread running parallel to a political one, in the form of a mayoral election. The Gumbo King is a cut above the usual secondary character, and really steals the show as this races to a breathless climax.
Dubliners – James Joyce
This gives numerous understated, but piercingly accurate demonstrations of the psychological weakness of the human condition. ‘Two Gallants’ shows how desperation and a lack of self-respect can be projected onto others, while ‘Eveline’ and ‘A Painful Case’ offer heart-breaking depictions of damaging ourselves through decisions that we weren’t brave enough to make.
The Hunt – Tim Lebbon
A tense and thrilling ride, reminiscent of Mark West’s novella ‘Drive’, albeit on foot instead of in car. I’m sure you don’t need to be a parent or a runner to be moved by this, but as both it put me right in there, nerves stretched to breaking point and never knowing what would happen next. Also great to see such strong and dynamic female characterisation in a mainly male POV novel.
Whitstable – Stephen Volk
A sensitive and low key portrayal of bereavement, facing up to old age, and the personal life of a much loved figure. This deals with a difficult further subject matter in a deft and believable way, and one which is satisfying, even inspirational for the reader.
Beyond Here Lies Nothing – Gary McMahon
This packs a double punch; as both an inner city exposé and a supernatural tale, juxtaposing moments of philosophy with unflinching violence. It provides all the darkness and intrigue you can bear, paid off with sudden epiphanies and moments of redemption.
Rubbernecker – Belinda Bauer
Stunningly audacious and innovative use of point of view, mostly coming from a coma patient and a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome; this so defies all standard conventions of crime fiction that the main police character is not even introduced until page 333! This is consistently adroit in the clues and breadcrumbs it leaves, and ingenious in the coalescence of the seemingly disparate strands, but also with bags of heart to go with the intellect.
The Secret Life of Girls – Chloe Thurlow
This slice of erotica is cerebral as well as sexual, with Thurlow using an unreliable narrator to great comedic and satirical effect. Refreshingly, this ain’t romance, and although the main character isn’t always entirely likeable, the joyous way she hurtles from one new experience to another draws you in and drags you along for the ride.