Alien vs Predator Armageddon – Tim Lebbon
Aside from the sci-fi aspects, which are suitably well realised, this delivers all the thrills, suspense, sacrifice, courage and raw emotion you could wish for from a classic war story. It’s a stimulating and challenging read, the strongest of the trilogy, and a rare instance of a tie in surpassing the source material.
Behind Her Eyes – Sarah Pinborough
Word of mouth classic: gripping, taut and suspenseful, with an agonising slow burn to the big reveal. This is flawlessly written, and reminiscent of Du Maurier’s Rebecca and the cynical tone of Highsmith’s Little Tales of Misogyny, but with added sci-fi sensibilities. And try as I might, I came quite close, but I couldn’t guess the ending.
13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough
Similarities to Behind Her Eyes in the use of an unreliable narrator, the presence of a scheming manipulatrix and a taut, well-constructed chess match of a plot building to a revelatory ending.
The Beautiful Dead – Belinda Bauer
In a world where the percentage play is to do a long-running series of Inspector Somebody, Bauer’s novels are unflinchingly original and startlingly light on police presence. This one revisits the theme of Blacklands by highlighting the relationship between a serial killer and an amateur sleuth / potential victim, and revisits the theme of Rubbernecker by getting inside a different kind of mind, that time autism and this time dementia. It also explores various emotional minefields such as bereavement, loss, loneliness and professional rivalry, interspersed with moments of genuine hilarity, and that’s even before we consider the tense and gripping main murder plot.
The Blade Artist – Irvine Welsh
Takes the infamous Begbie character where you’d never expect him to be, albeit hinted at in a moment of humanisation near the end of Trainspotting 2. Compelling narrative, working as both a page-turning thriller and a complex character study, complete with dark humour, political satire, and an ending that provokes not just the desire for more, but sheer desperation.
Good Me, Bad Me – Ali Land
Ingenious narrative, reminiscent of Sarah Pinborough’s 13 Minutes and Behind Her Eyes in certain ways, and Du Maurier’s Rebecca in that it has a character who is virtually never in it, but dominates proceedings through her influence on others. Also delivers a tense and disturbing character study at the forefront of a twisting plot.
Bleeding Things – Tim Lebbon
Haunting tale of supernaturalism and madness, set against the backdrop of Berlin in the last days of the war. Conveys the horror of war perfectly, using beautiful language to describe overwhelming ugliness.
Pretty Masks – C.A. Bell
Intimate and deeply shocking, this is a story that goes right to the edge and keeps on going. It doesn’t shy away from getting up close and personal to the heart of the battle, both internally and externally, with unflinching depictions of extreme violence, mental illness, and sex as a weapon. And just when you think you’ve worked out where it’s going, it drags you someplace deeper and darker. This is not an easy read, but exceptionally well plotted and written, and a greatly rewarding experience when you emerge on the other side.
Autonomy – L.C. Morgan
A rare sequel that improves upon the original, this really ramps up both the external conflict between rebel humans and occupying aliens, and the internal conflict within Kyra about the loves of her life and the perceived betrayal of her people. And then the ending is completely unexpected and hugely courageous, posing fascinating questions about where the rest of the series will go.
Autonomy – Jude Houghton
Hideously bleak yet chillingly plausible view into the mid-21st Century, with identifiable characters despite the extreme situation. Builds stealthily up to a frantic finale with a twist which makes everything fall into place.
White Corridor – Christopher Fowler
In parts cosy and familiar, with amusing and likeable characters, but interlaced with fear, tension, and a fiendishly clever plot. Nothing is what it seems, the reveal is likely to take you by surprise, but it all makes sense on reflection.
The Shut Eye – Belinda Bauer
Slight crossover into spec-fic territory, and also a rare police procedural from this author as a bitter detective seeks the help of a psychic. It cleverly defies expectations at a number of turns; with the outré elements, the identity of the killer, and having such noble work done by a thoroughly dislikeable detective.
Quieter than Killing – Sarah Hilary
Skilfully plotted and beautifully written, by turns chilling, challenging, poignant and thought-provoking, with me taking some pride in guessing the killer a full two pages before the reveal! This also opens up more about the life of the protagonist, and the author too, dropping in references to her favourite TV shows, and managing to restrict herself to single line about Brexit. Best of all, it shows the weak and powerless finding untapped reserves of courage, and the seemingly villainous experiencing fear and even redemption of a kind.
Love Me Not – M.J. Arlidge
Whistle-stop pacing, framed by the time being given at the start of each chapter. It successfully portrays the anger and bitterness that can create a killer, the courage and determination of those who would stop them, and the grief and devastation of victims’ families. This is completely unflinching, and refuses to shy away from inflicting a terrible ordeal upon its main characters, or guarantee to keep them safe from harm.
The Facts of Life and Death – Belinda Bauer
Bauer absolutely refuses to be bound by genre expectations, but the crime community wisely keeps hold of her because the writing is just so good. Here, she balances writing convincingly as a ten year old girl with providing a compelling and fast moving narrative, injecting both insightful humour and looming terror, and moving effortlessly between the two to produce a plot which is complex enough but not too much. She certainly plays the whodunit game by her own rules, ready to trip up any reader who tries to outthink her. There is also plenty of emotion amongst the intellect, juxtaposing the growing pains of the focus character with loss of love and hope, as well as life. And while being firmly contemporary, the descriptions of the rugged landscape recall Du Maurier’s Cornwall or Hardy’s Wessex, and place the reader right there.
Daisy in Chains – Sharon Bolton
Real helter-skelter of a plot, with puzzles aplenty and twists galore, some of which I predicted, others not. Excellent true crime style narration too, reminiscent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.
Finders Keepers – Stephen King
This is a real book lover’s book, with literary appreciation being the cornerstone of both the narrative and the plot. It nods to King’s own works too, with The Shawshank Redemption mentioned, after the feel of it was strongly evoked during the antagonist’s prison term. The crime story unfolds in an unusual way, with 120 pages or so of exposition proving to be a joy to read in itself, before it catches up to the modern day. Thereafter, it delivers fast-paced thrills and suspense, shocking twists, and bags of heart and emotion too.
Yesterday – Felicia Yap
Highly skilled world-building, with delicious satirical touches when the characters imagine a world with memory as a hate-filled nightmare, and the caste system around length of memory working as an allegory for racial and other prejudices. Against that backdrop the characters are well realised despite, or because of, having to rediscover themselves on a daily basis, and the plot gallops along, twisting and turning as it goes.
Eat Your Heart Out – Dayna Ingram
Background: Novella about a zombie outbreak battled by gun toting lesbians, from Queer Speculative Fiction publisher Lethe Press, picked up for free at a BristolCon a few years ago.
Compelling combination of characters you really care for, brisk and humour laden narrative, smart and sassy dialogue, and some very interesting new angles on both the zombie mythos and relationship dynamic.