Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Gr8ful Eight: My Best New Reads of 2015

First, mea culpa: after contributing some crime insight to the New Zealand Listener's 100 Best Books list for 2015, I've been lax at sharing broader thoughts about the last year in crime fiction here. All the 'best of' lists flying about online are certainly fascinating. Subjective, but fun: it's great to give kudos to authors that have struck a chord with us, who've elevated our reading through their craft and toil.

Good Reads whispers that I read 103 books in 2015: 69 of which were crime, mystery, or thriller. Of those, 55 were by new-to-me crime writers. I've always loved following series (eg Poirot, Robicheaux, Bosch, Theo Tate, Tom Thorne, Sonchai Jitpleecheep, Poke Rafferty, Carson Ryder, DD Warren, and many others), but also trying new authors - I hadn't realised until now I'd done quite so much of the latter last year. 

So given all that, I've decided to choose my 'best discoveries' for 2015, rather than a 'best books' list. This means that as brilliantly clever as Paul Cleave's TRUST NO ONE is, it's not on this list. Nor is Michael Connelly's superb Bosch continuation THE CROSSING or John Connolly's outstanding Charlie Parker tale A SONG OF SHADOWS. Ditto Ben Sanders' gritty New Mexico thriller AMERICAN BLOOD. All exceptional crime tales, all 'must read' titles for any crime fan, but all from authors I've read before. 

Honestly, from around 50 new-to-me authors, it's been tough to narrow down the best of 2015, but holding a gun to my own head, here are those books that made me particularly grateful to have opened the cover. 

Inside the Black Horse by Raymond Berard: an armed robbery interrupts a drug deal, igniting a compelling tale that has a good feel for rural and small-town life. I was intrigued, then enthralled. A story populated by a range of authentic characters: hard-working people, blue collar and white collar, bludgers, gang members, cops and criminals. The weak and the wounded, the courageous and the strong. One of the very best debut Kiwi crime/thriller novels I've read in several years. Read my full review here.

Made to Kill by Adam Christopher: a loving homage to Raymond Chandler and the canon of private eye tales revolving around mid 20th century California, with a fresh and futuristic-ish twist: the hard-bitten detective is the last robot on earth. A delightful, fun read, where the 'robot detective' gimmick doesn't overshadow the story (which at its heart is a very well written noir tale). A page-turner full of wisecracks and pithy descriptions, darkness and absurdity. Something different, but very good. Read my full review here

Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton: a well-rounded debut from Seattle author Hamilton, who crafts an excellent page-turner which intrigues through its characters as well as its gripping plotlines. Wounded Army Ranger Van Shaw returns home to discover his estranged grandfather, who'd raised him to be a thief, bloodied and dying on the floor. Shaw must navigate a minefield of police, military masters, past associates, and an unknown killer as he seeks to find the truth before his Army leave is over. A remarkably assured debut about a hero with real series potential. Read my full review here

The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul Hardisty: a searing debut novel that is difficult to pigeon-hole. Clay Straker is a military vet turned oil company consultant, a man forced to face up to the falsehoods of his own life when a friend is kidnapped by a local terrorist with an unusual ransom demand. Hardisty brings Yemen to vivid, sweat-inducing life, powering an environmental thriller with exquisite prose. An evocative book, extremely thought-provoking. Read my full review here

Beyond The Rage by Michael J Malone: Glaswegian poet Malone delivers a visceral, brutal crime tale that has a dark heart but is peppered with humorous moments. Abandoned by his father after his mother's suicide, Kenny has grown into a likable criminal, capable of violence but with some moral compass. When his father looks to re-enter his life at the same time his hooker girlfriend is badly beaten, Kenny must stay alive while juggling mysteries past and present. Ferocious and exquisite. Read my full review here

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough: a beautifully written story of a teenagers in peril, locked away in an isolated 'school' in a dystopian future, where a genetic disease leads to segregation. Not necessarily crime, but there's plenty of psychological suspense, and the quality of the storytelling and the writing, along with its well-woven themes relating to life, love, and death, make The Death House a superb read. I've been meaning to try Sarah Pinborough for a while, and she's now added herself to my 'must-read' list. 

The Devil of Delphi by Jeffrey Siger: a killer wanting the quiet life collides with a vicious European gangster, bootleg liquor, and Greek power and politics in this enthralling instalment of Siger's popular Chief Inspector Kaldis series. There's a real vitality and freshness to Siger's storytelling, with lots to like from the inter-office banter of the cops, mixing dark and light, to the blend of mythic history and sordid contemporary Greek life. I'll be going back to the beginning to read them all. Read my full review here

Cold Moon by Alex Sokoloff: this is a catch-all listing for Sokoloff's excellent 'Huntress/FBI' series, which culminated in 2015's Cold Moon. I was so hooked I read all three books in a 36-hour period. Sokoloff does a tremendous job creating conflicted and layered characters, on all sides of the hero-villain divide (a murky divide at that), while probing some nasty real-life issues that can rot under the radar. A new take on the serial killer sub-genre, from a talented storyteller. Read my full review here

A NOTORIOUS NINTH: only an asterisk kept The Hunter's Prayer by Kevin Wignall from making my 'Gr8teful Eight' - this exceptional tale was first published several years ago, fell out-of-print, but was re-released with a new title in 2015. The new title matches that of the upcoming film adaptation. Wignall's novel is a crisp thriller blending entertainment with philosophy, loss, and a scrabble for redemption in the world of contract killers. I highly recommend it - you can read my full review here

HONORABLE MENTIONS: I was fortunate enough to read a large number of very enjoyable crime novels in 2015, and would recommend many of the new-to-me authors I tried. In particular, I'd like to give a quick hat tip to Steve Cavanagh's fresh take on legal thrillers (The Defence), former sportsman John Daniell's absorbing tale set in the high-stakes world of European pro rugby (The Fixer), two thrillers from former soldiers - Brian Haig's military-legal thriller The Night Crew and Thomas Ryan's Clancy-esque The Field of Blackbirds, as well as Sarah Ward's contemporary take on the classic British village mystery In Bitter Chill, and James Oswald's latest Inspector McLean tale, Prayer for the Dead. 

Phew, and that was only the tip of the reading iceberg. Roll on 2016. So many good books to read. 

Have you read any of the above books? Do you intend to? I'd love to hear your thoughts... 


  1. Cheers, Craig. I'm beyond chuffed (See what I did there?) to be on your list. You've made my week!

  2. 50 new authors that is remarkable. I enjoy finding new crime/thriller authors also. I joined a book club last year, worst decision ever. I look forward to blogging again and getting great recommendations. I am adding Cold Moon to my TBR list this year. Happy New Year

    1. Hiya Marce. Yeah, I was surprised myself that it was that many new authors. I guess I didn't read as much series stuff as I usually do each year. Nice to try a lot of new-to-me people too, though it keeps growing the TBR mountain range. Happy New Year to you too.

  3. Great list - I'm just doing a straight "Best Of…" but there'll be a crossover or two from your list. The problem is whittling it down to a number that isn't totally ridiculous! Your recommendations are always solid, Craig, so the couple I don't already have on the TBR mountain will be added as soon as cash flow allows!

    1. Hi Linda, thanks for the kind comment. Yeah, it's so hard to cut down eh? I'm reasonably picky about what I read anyway, so have very few duds among the 103 books read last year - almost all are solid to spectacular. I see you're a fan of psychological thrillers. I'd heartily recommend Paul Cleave's TRUST NO ONE to you. Cleave is usually in the Mo Hayder-esque darker edge of crime writing (black humour included), but this, his latest release, is a truly head-spinning psychological thriller about a crime writer that gets Alzheimers and starts confessing that he's really a killer and the crimes in his books were based on real things he's done. The ultimate unreliable narrator - multiple perspectives from the same character through time and 'madness' setting in. Very very clever.

    2. Oh, an in terms of you liking James Lee Burke, you might also want to give John Hart (double Edgar winner, exquisite Southern gothic), Wiley Cash (Dagger winner, Southern gothic-esque) a go, as well as Urban Waite's SOMETIMES THE WOLF and Tom Bouman's DRY BONES IN THE VALLEY. The latter were two of my better reads of 2015, but came out in 2014 so didn't make this particular 'Gr8ful Eight' list.

  4. The book I enjoyed most this year was "Uncontrolled Spin" by author Jerry Summers ( The author has extensive experience in law enforcement and it shows in his novel. The book follows main character Sean Green and his multi-million dollar marketing business, the budding romance with his newest client Jessica Silva, and the murder of his best friend. This is a thriller book that really has it all (deception, suspense, in depth characters, and lots of plot twists and turns!) I can't recommend it enough. It is the first of the series and I can't wait for the next one! Hope you will give it a read; I would love to hear your opinion. Happy reading in 2016