2015 Ten Best Books
10. Blacklands by Belinda Bauer. A very impressive first novel about a young boy whose uncle was murdered by a famous serial killer and child molester. With his family still traumatized by the murder of his uncle, the boy begins a secretive correspondence with the imprisoned killer in an attempt to discover where his uncle's remains are, hoping that finding the body will help end his family's suffering. That saying 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' is suitable here as the boy's plans have unforeseen consequences. Issues of school bullying and the landscape of Exmoor also add to what was a very compelling read.
9. Disclaimer by Renee Knight. Another impressive first novel. The biggest selling book of the year seemed to be Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train (which I read and liked - I thought it was rather good for a mega-best seller - often such books are awful, not so with TGOTT - and I wonder if it will have any lasting effect on the drinking habits of its readers) and early on I kept seeing Disclaimer pitched as the new The Girl on the Train (which itself was the new Gone Girl). In Disclaimer, a woman finds a new book in her new house that appears to be the novelized version of a dark secret she has but one that she has never told anybody. We get her story and the fictionalized version in alternating chapters. And very well done, I thought.
8. Stagestruck by Peter Lovesey. I read 15 novels by Peter Lovesey this year, most of which were in his Peter Diamond series, about the chief of the CID in Bath. Nothing more I love than reading a good series but often I have trouble selecting one as the best. I've selected Stagestruck because I really thought I was going to hate it - the central mystery being who is behind the attack on a pop singer turned actress on her first opening night in the theater. Most of the book is set in the theater and in addition to a murder or two, there was talk of ghosts. Sounds terrible. Instead, Lovesey worked his usual magic (a few of the other books in this series had what I thought were dumb set ups but turned out to be fantastic as well) and was rewarded with a great whodunnit, a thriller, and an interesting look at childhood sexual abuse and vigilantism.
7. Burning Down George Orwell's House by Andrew Ervin. A cynical and burned out Chicago advertising executive flees his collapsing life in Chicago to live in a rented cottage on the Isle of Jura where George Orwell once lived. We get the story of how and why his life in Chicago collapsed as we watch our man potentially threaten the stability of a close-knit and isolated island community. A dark and cycical comedy, I loved it. Also, a first novel.
6. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. So far, there have been five books in this series and I read them all at once. I'm still not sure which one I like the best so this is more of a group award. Rivers of London is the story of a young mixed-race (a touch I really loved and that I thought made the character so much more interesting) London cop who inadvertently discovers he has an aptitude for magic (one of the blurbs on my copy described the series as something like CSI crossed with Harry Potter for grown ups - which is the perfect summation, I think) and becomes apprenticed to the one remaining senior police official who practices magic and handles supernatural crimes when the occur. The books are fast paced and wildly inventive and interesting and many of the storylines carry over from book to book. Maybe the most fun thing I read all year. Plus, Aaronovitch loves the architectural history of London and the books are chock full of interesting details. In general, I do not read much science fiction or fantasy but these books are so much fun that I am wondering what else I may be missing.
5. The Reaper by Peter Lovesey. A stand alone novel this time, not part of the Peter Diamond series. A black comedy about a vicar who steals and murders to support and allow the lifestyle he wants while at the same time being a very good and much loved vicar.
4. Confessions by Kinae Minato. The dark and twisted story of revenge that at Japanese middle school teacher takes on the students she thinks are responsible for the drowning of her daughter in the school swimming pool. Unbelievable. And amazing. But so, so dark. Not for the faint of heart.
3. Chocky by John Wyndham. A short but sweet novel about an English family in which their adopted son may either be mentally ill or have an alien for an imaginary friend.
2. Glitz by Elmore Leonard. I read a few other books by Leonard, my favorite male romance novelist, this year but I liked Glitz the best. A Miami detective moves to Puerto Rico to recuperate from a gunshot would finds himself involved in the life a young woman whom he knows is going to get herself in trouble in the casinos of San Juan and Atlantic City. At the same time, a rapist the detective once arrested has tracked him down in Puerto Rico and is seeking revenge. All these worlds violently collide and order must be restored.
1. Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans. This, by far, was the best book I read in 2015. A precocious young boy in London during the Blitz is relocated to the suburbs after the loss of his godmother. His new family does not have much use for him (aside from collecting the extra rations he qualifies for) until he uses his smarts to aide his foster mother's charity scams. As in my number ten book, Blacklands, when children take on the adult world, things will invariably go wrong. But sometimes a good, smart kid can engineer a happy ending. Warm and funny, sometimes harrowing, always interesting, Crooked Heart is something like what I would imagine Dickens would have created had he lived through the Blitz and could work on a smaller canvas. It hasn't been too long since I read Crooked Heart but I am already feeling like it is time to re-read it. Or maybe the listen to the audiobook version of it.