Last week I put together a short list of my favourite UK reads this year. You can find them over here if you’re interested.
Now it’s time to turn my attention to the overseas picks. As it happens, they’re all American. I did journey to Canada, Sweden and France, but those reads didn’t make my cut. What I think it shows me is that I need to broaden my choice of material next year and see where that takes me.
I noticed something else about my reading habits in 2015. I’m becoming a lot less patient with books I’m not enjoying. A substantial number of stories were cast aside for one reason or another. I mention this only to highlight how good the books below are. Not only did I make it to the end, I also loved them.
Anyway, in no particular order, I’d like to draw your attention to the following in case you’re hoping to add a little more quality to your To Be Read pile.
My thoughts back in February?
‘This isn’t a novel that shines a torch on the wonders of humanity. Rather it looks down into the chaos of life and the extremities of existence and refuses to shirk away from the darker crevices. Smith pushes the characters hard and their flaws are ruthlessly exposed.
He [Smith] deals with a huge scope and a complex plot and yet always keeps control. The dialogue is well delivered and the book is densely populated by brilliant phrases that speak volumes in few words. Add to that the constant surge of the characters and the story-line (even the back story moves forwards) and there’s one page-turning novel that will satisfy the appetite of many a crime reader.’
It’s excellent stuff, believe me. Just don’t pick it up if you’re a timid soul.
It’s not Redbone’s day. A series of events force him to look at the world in a different way. There are a multitude of injustices to deal with and he’s the man who’s going to step up to the plate (on the cover you can see that baseball bat in his hand as he does so).
‘What makes this book work so well for me is the way Redbone accepts his situation. He knows what he has to do and why and that’s enough for him. He’s been a victim long enough and it’s time to take a stand. Even when those close to him try to warn him off his course and even when the world finally seems to give him a break, he sticks to it all the way and make sure he works things through to the very end. What he has to do is too important to think of himself only – it’s not just those who’ve offended him that he’s taking on, it’s the whole system.’
Prodigal Sons (US) by Mike Miner is something special. It has a dreamlike feel in parts. The world often becomes translucent as Miner paints it for us.
‘I’d cite the finale as a mark of the author’s quality. So many of the possible endings that I’d predicted would have been a poor fit and I was worried that Miner had painted himself into a corner by creating such a wonderful story in the build up. I should have had more confidence. What happens at the close is sublime. The consequences are more profound than I’d imagined and I was moved to the point of tears by its gentle power.’
Miner also pulled off my favourite opening chapter of the year in the book Hurt Hawks in case you want to check that one out.
The Free (US) is another gem from Willy Vlautin and it will remind all of you here in the UK that we should all be grateful for our National Health Service.
‘I read it in small bites because I wanted to savour each section and as I came to the end, didn't really want to finish. It's a complex tale that builds up through the telling of a number of simple stories.’
I was also delighted by my visits to visit some older books.
I read a couple by Ed McBain, both of them featuring the Deaf Man (US). They’re terrific and McBain is on the list for next year.
That Was Then, This Is Now by SE Hinton also knocked me for six. I’m not in the habit of re-reading books, but this is one I was happy to return to and will pull it down from my shelf again one day if I can.