A Year In Books Paul Burke
1st January and one of the books of the year lands in my lap, Your House Will Pay Steph Cha, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/your-house-will-pay-by-steph-cha/ and so we’re off to good start. I’ve sorted my plans for attending crime writers festivals throughout the year; CapitalCrime2 in London, CrimeFest in Bristol, Theakstons in Harrogate and Liverpool and a couple of smaller festivals are in the mix, not to mention The London Book Fair in March, which I’ve already got my press pass for. Of course, we all know what happened next!
I was in London when Covid-19 hit for various meetings with book people, those were my last face to face chats this year, that was at the end of February. While Covid-19 was an inconvenience for me, my plans and my book world, it was far more serious for so many people. No one needs reminding of the heartbreak, suffice to say Covid-19 messed with everybody. It also messed with publishing, distribution, book selling, publicity and, of course, writing. Small independent traders really struggled from the off. I wrote two features, the first in May, that I hope shed some light on their experience: Publishing in a Time of Covid https://nbmagazine.co.uk/independent-publishing-in-a-time-of-covid-19-where-to-find-a-good-book/ and Coming Out of a Crisis? in August https://nbmagazine.co.uk/24877-2/. Then we thought it was all getting better only to be plunged back into a crisis again. On a positive note the vaccine has arrived and we can see an end game. One of the best things that has come out of this crisis is the remarkable way publishers adapted to the new normal, massively boosting selling online and organising business by virtual conferences and interacting with readers through virtual book launches, panels and even online festivals. Like many readers I’ve had a lot of enjoyment out of joining in and most people’s reading time went up.
I’ve been a bit technophobic but by May there was no alternative but to join the virtual meeting world. Shortly after that I began presenting for Crime Time TV by interviewing Leigh Russell; Anthony J Quinn, Edward Wilson, and Jerome Charyn followed. Only the other day I interviewed Tony Parsons about his upcoming novel Your Neighbour’s Wife due out in January, you know that’s going to be big, naturally I’ll be reviewing for NB. I also took part in two crime fiction panels, moderated by consummate presenter Barry Forshaw, it was a real pleasure to share the virtual stage with him, Maxim Jakubowski and Victoria Selman and to share my thoughts on novels of the year.
NB Magazine battled through, the quarterly magazine maybe having that little extra meaning for readers stuck at home. The Christmas issue, hot off the press, is on its way to subscribers/just arrived as you read. I love contributing online but there is something very gratifying in seeing my pieces in the magazine. This year I got to interview Lynda la Plante on her new novel Buried, Julie Lancaster on The Weight of Small Things and Adam Hamdy on Black 13 and contribute to a retrospective on Roddy Doyle and features on domestic noir, film of the book, crime scenes and a whole slew of reviews. There are already plenty of things in the pipeline for next year…
So to the other books that made my year. Surprise books, those I don’t expect to enjoy or know nothing about in advance, are always satisfying, my favourite and my selection for the online twelve days of Christmas feature is Mexican Gothic Silvia Moreno-Garcia, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/nb-communitys-12-books-of-christmas-day-2-mexican-gothic-by-silvia-moreno-garcia/, Gothic vampire horror Carmilla by Sheridan la Fanu is still so readable, The Madness by Narcis Oller, a nineteenth century Catalan novel in the vein of French natural realism was a delight for its dated but insightful portrait of a young man’s descent into madness but also its political background, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/the-madness-by-narcis-oller/ and The Readers Room by Antoine Laurain made me laugh out loud.
Books that really caught my attention: Black 13 by Adam Hamdy shows how inclusive and contemporary the high octane thriller can be, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/black-13-by-adam-hamdy/. There were several great reprints but the sheer power of GBH by Ted Lewis trump’s all, it’s a classic Brit noir from the writer of Jack’s Returns Home (Get Carter). Written before To Catch a Mockingbird, Face of My Assassin by Jan Huggins and Carolyn Weston, a deep south melodrama, is a powerful indictment of racism and corruption rediscovered and republished by Brash Books. When We Fall by Carolyn Kirby is a literary war story and a love story that engages intellectually and emotionally. Philip and Alexander by Adrian Goldsworthy is a comprehensive and thought provoking re-examination of the two kings and the influence of the father on the man who conquered Europe and beyond, very readable, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/philip-and-alexander-by-adrian-goldsworthy/. The Last Libertines by Benedetta Craveri is a biographical history, seven young aristocrats engaged with the enlightenment in the run up to the French Revolution, literary and thoroughly enjoyable. A collection worthy of a mention is Cutting Edge Feminist Noir ed. Joyce Carol Oates (Pushkin Press) https://nbmagazine.co.uk/cutting-edge-edited-by-joyce-carol-oates/. Paul Vidich’s The Coldest Warrior https://nbmagazine.co.uk/the-coldest-warrior-by-paul-vidich/ is a step up into the top echelon of spy writing and GCHQ by John Ferris is a truly comprehensive history of the secret heart of government communications, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/gchq-by-john-ferris/. The mermaid of Black Conch Monique Roffey was a surprising literary fantasy that just beguiled me. Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann https://nbmagazine.co.uk/tyll-by-daniel-kehlmann/, The Slaughterman’s Daughter Yaniv Ickovits and Trio by William Boyd were all fascinating historical reads. In the year of two superb stories, Three-Fifths by John Vercher and Blacktop Wasteland by SA Cosby, seem particularly poignant and relevant and finally there’s The Big Chill by Doug Johnstone, the second part of his excellent Skelf trilogy, if the opening doesn’t hook you check your pulse.
Of course, it’s always nice to read old favourites if they live up to the standard of the series and these do: The House of Lamentations by SG MacLean (Seeker/English Civil War), Simone Buchholz’s Mexico Street (Chastity Riley) https://nbmagazine.co.uk/mexico-street-by-simone-buchholz/, James Swallow’s Rogue (High Octane), Andrea Camilleri’s The Sicilian Method (Montalbano), Volker Kutschers’s The March Fallen (Gereon Rath), Steve Cavanagh’s Fifty Fifty (Eddie Flynn, legal thriller) https://nbmagazine.co.uk/fifty-fifty-by-steve-cavanagh/, How’s the Pain? by Pascal Garnier, absurd, transgressive French crime fiction and Puppies by Maurizio de Giovanni, (Pizzofalcone series). With honourable mentions for Massimo Carlotto, Abir Mukherjee (technically 2019 but I read it this year), Amer Anwar, Olivia Keirnan, William Shaw, Eric Vuillard, Maggie Hamand, Parker Bilal, Abdelilah Hamdouchi, Ivy Pochoda, Fernanda Melchor, Selva Almada and Max Annas.
For the online edition of NB magazine I interviewed Mark Ellis https://nbmagazine.co.uk/interview-paul-burke-meets-mark-ellis-author-of-a-death-in-mayfair/, David Gilman, Steph Cha https://nbmagazine.co.uk/interview-paul-burke-meets-steph-cha-author-of-your-house-will-pay/, Rod Humphris and Tom Bouman and wrote features on new publishers/imprints: Viper Books, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/nb-meets-viper-books/, Canelo Crime, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/25110-2/, and V&Q Books, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/three-german-novels-form-new-imprint-vq/.
No one would want another year like 2020 but for books it was still a great year and there are a few things to look forward to in 2021:
Slough House Mick Herron (state of the nation/spy novel), Light Seekers Femi Kayode, The Khan Saima Mir, The Old Enemy Henry Porter (contemporary spy story), Crocodile Tears Mercedes Rosende, The Foreign Girls Sergio Olguín, The Sanatorium Sarah Pearce, Your Neighbour’s Wife Tony Parsons, Nick Michael Farris Smith, and new ones from David Peace, Viet Than Nguyen, Kevin Barry, kazuo Ishiguru, Richard Flanagan, Yaa Gyasi, Hafsa Zayyan, Rachel Kushner, Ken Bruen and Doug Johnstone.
Among the notable departures this year, (RIP). Clive Cussler, Alice Lurie, George Steiner, Mary Higgins Clark, Charles Portis, Rubem Fonseca, Maj Sjowall, Per Olav Enquist, Jan Morris, Jill Paton Walsh.
One last note for crime fiction fans. If you’re looking for something new; a wrecking ball of a character (Graeme Macrae Burnett), a blistering story, something grounded and real – look to Mexico Street by the Queen of Krimi, my personal favourite, Simone Buchholz. If you like this one, get the first two, Blue Night and Beton Rouge, there’s plenty of time of read them before the next in the series Hotel Cartagena arrives in March 2021.