As a new year dawns, it’s time to look back on my reading habits for the past twelve months, and pick out those books that really stood out for me this year. As I do so, it occurs to me that I didn’t do a 2017 round-up, thereby depriving my regular reader of the wisdom of my choices for last year. To remedy this, I’ve included a list of my favourite books of 2017 below without comment.
The Top Books of 2017
As always, books are listed in the order I read them, and no further significance should be attached to their position in this list.
Rattle by Fiona Cummins
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
Spook Street by Mick Herron
What You Don’t Know by JoAnn Chaney
Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski
Retribution Road by Antonin Varenne
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
The Awkward Squad by Sophie Hénaff
Fever by Deon Meyer
Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann
Final Girls by Riley Sager
Lucky Ghost by Matthew Blakstad
Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith
The House by Simon Lelic
He by John Connolly
I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King
The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler
The Mountain by Luca D’Andrea
Strange Weather by Joe Hill
Which leads us neatly back to…
2018 was a bumper reading year for me, in which I read a massive 91 books. This number may have been bolstered slightly by my rediscovery of my love for comics, which account for 10% of the books on my list. Sixteen of the books were debuts, and a further twenty-six were by authors that were new to me. Seven have been translated from foreign languages.
Without further ado, then, my favourite books of 2018, the best of a very good bunch. If you have missed any of these titles, I’d recommend hunting them down.
Top Reads of 2018
There’s more than a hint of Stephen King in CJ Tudor’s writing, and her debut sometimes feels like King’s IT. Less supernatural, and more of a mystery, Tudor tells the story of a group of kids growing up in England in the 1980s, and of their reunion in the present day, and of the horrific events that shaped who they would become.
Reader Dad on the follow-up to Wesolowski’s excellent Six Stories: “Hydra lives up to the expectations set by its excellent predecessor, and is as inscrutable and unexpected as readers of Six Stories will expect. Matt Wesolowski’s second novel builds on the strengths of his debut, and proves that this young writer has plenty of talent to burn. Accomplished, intelligent and incredibly well-written Hydracements Wesolowski’s place as a writer to watch, especially if you’re looking for authors who aren’t constrained by genre boundaries. Hydra should be top of your list of books to read early this year, and if you haven’t yet read Six Stories, then you have some serious catching up to do.”
Reader Dad on Will Dean’s excellent debut: “Dark Pines is nothing short of perfection. Engaging all of the reader’s senses (you’ll feel the cold and smell the pine forest around you), it’s a cleverly-constructed mystery with a cast of memorable (though not always for the right reasons!) characters, not least of which is the story’s protagonist, Tuva Moodyson. Will Dean brings a fresh new voice, a writer with a broad understanding of how to manipulate the reader to his own ends and how to bring the world he has created to stark, immersive life around the reader. This isn’t the last we’ll hear from Dean, and I’m hoping it won’t be the last we’ll hear from Tuva Moodyson either. You’ll go a long way to find a more engaging, entertaining and intense piece of crime fiction this year, so grab a blanket and give yourself over to the care of the talented Mr Dean.”
Set in the middle of a riot in Belfast, Brennan brings together a thug, a corrupt cop and an ambitious reporter to tell a story like none you’ve ever read before. Heavy on the Belfast accent, Disorder is at times shocking, at times funny, a perfect vehicle for the voice of a writer who has been toiling behind the scenes for a long time. Disorder also holds the distinction of being the book that launched No Alibis Press, which has recently launched it’s second book, Ian Sansom’s December Stories 1.
Reader Dad on Zen and the Art of Murder: “There is much to love about Bottini’s first Black Forest Investigation – meaty characters, beautiful settings, horrific crimes that might be grabbed from the headlines – so it’s strange that it has taken so long for them to appear in English translation. Jamie Bulloch’s translation is – as always – excellent, grabbing the reader from the opening line, and holding our attention through to the final satisfying twist. In unearthing this gem, the ever-reliable MacLehose Press adds yet another must-read author to their stable of foreign crime writers – which already includes luminaries such as Stieg Larsson and Pierre Lemaitre – and introduces the English-speaking world to a flavour of crime novel that we haven’t previously encountered. If you’re looking for something fresh and new, Zen and the Art of Murder could be just the book you’re looking for. Atmospheric and engaging, it’s the start of a series that’s likely to reach Wallander or Rebus heights, making Louise Bonì a household name, and Oliver Bottini an author we’ll be talking about for some time to come.”
I know I always say that the books aren’t listed in any particular order. This year, there are two books that I feel stood head and shoulders above anything else I’ve read, pushing them into a league of their own. Turton’s debut is the first of these novels. Here’s what Reader Dad had to say: “The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is, quite simply, an incredible debut from a very talented new writer. A complex but tightly-plotted narrative grabs the reader from the first page and carries them effortlessly through the story. Agatha Christie by way of Quantum Leap and with a dash of Inception, Evelyn Hardcastle turns those old-fashioned mystery tropes on their head to produce something new and exciting, a story that will play on the reader’s mind long after the final page has been read. With a debut this good, I can’t wait for Stuart Turton’s next novel, but I have to be honest: if it’s as complex as this one, I fear for his sanity. Definitely one for my end-of-year list, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle has quickly become one of my favourite books of all time.”
This was one of my surprise finds of the year. Nolan Moore is a archaeologist who presents a documentary series beloved of conspiracy theorists. Setting out in the footsteps of an explorer who claimed in 1909 to have discovered a mysterious cavern in the Grand Canyon, Nolan discovers the fabled cavern and discovers that it’s not quite what it seems. Plagued by ancient machines, the supernatural, and members of his team who are not who they claim to be, Nolan’s focus quickly shifts from the whys and whens, to the single, all-encompassing question: how does he get out of this alive? The added bonus here is that Michael Rutger is another penname for the always-reliably-excellent Michael Marshall (Smith).
In a departure from his immersive Glasgow stories (all excellent books, with some of the least Twitter-friendly titles you could imagine), Malcolm Mackay turns his eye to the future and takes us to Challaid, the biggest city in the Independent Kingdom of Scotland, where private investigator Darian Ross is about to get entangled in the most dangerous case of his career. Mackay’s distinctive voice shines through, but he’s flexing a whole new set of muscles here, as he builds the city of Challaid around us as we go – alternating chapters tell of the city’s history and how it fits into the overall story. Comparisons to Jack O’Connell’s Quinsigamond books are inevitable, but if you ask me, In The Cage Where Your Saviours Hide marks the start of a new phase for one of Scotland’s finest writers.
Reader Dad on The Hunger: “The Hunger owes much to Dan Simmons’ The Terror, but Alma Katsu makes the story her own, evoking the exhaustion of constant travel, fear of the unknown and the dreaded cold of winter in the mountains so that the reader feels every mile of the journey, held captive by the story until it’s done. The characters are beautifully-drawn and play a huge role in making us want to keep reading: they leap fully-formed from the page, and we become invested in their eventual fate. One of the finest horror novels written in the past handful of years, The Hunger is a modern classic-in-waiting, and Alma Katsu is, without a doubt, a writer to watch very carefully.”
There had to be one, right? Here’s what I thought of the first of three new books to appear this year with Stephen King’s name on the cover: “As a Constant Reader of almost thirty years, it’s difficult not to come across as gushing fanboy, but The Outsider is another excellent addition to the King oeuvre. Cleverly plotted, it’s a study in suspense and discomfort, King’s trademark narrative style serving to draw the reader in and carry them along for the ride. The echoes of earlier works prove that King has lost none of his ability to frighten or discomfit after more than forty years at the top of his game, while still remaining fresh and relevant, every book the perfect jumping-on point for new readers. Fifty novels in, Stephen King continues to captivate and entertain his audience; The Outsider is a must-read for new and old readers alike.”
Reader Dad on Alex Reeve’s debut: “Alex Reeve’s debut novel is a cleverly-constructed puzzle that examines issues that are still relevant today through the lens of Victorian England. Leo Stanhope is an exceptionally likeable character for whom we find ourselves rooting from the outset. While it has a decidedly dark perspective, there is a heart of wit and charm to The House on Half Moon Street that makes it not only enjoyable, but memorable as well. It’s a gripping story that captures the imagination of the reader from the first page and holds them captive until the very last word. This is, of course, helped along immensely by the promise of further adventures of this amateur detective with a unique selling point. We will, I suspect, be hearing a lot more about Mr Reeve and Mr Stanhope in the near future. Now is the perfect time to get involved.”
Every night, a cruise ship leaves Sweden en route to Finland. Dubbed “the booze cruise”, it’s full of people looking for a good night and cheap drink. But tonight, it won’t be much fun, because tonight there’s a monster on board, a monster with an angelic face and an insatiable bloodlust. By the time the ship reaches Finland, it will be painted red and none of the passengers will be human anymore. Blood Cruise is a fun, gore-soaked horror romp that will make you think twice about taking a cruise.
Reader Dad on the first book in the Sun Eater series: “When all is said and done, Empire of Silence is little more than an eight-hundred-page prologue to a much larger story that should start in earnest with book two. Science fiction’s answer to Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, this is epic storytelling at its finest. With influences as far-reaching as Dune and Dan Simmons, Empire of the Sun is, despite its massive size, a fast-moving, action-packed introduction to one of the most memorable characters, and one of the most original and inventive pieces of science fiction produced in the past twenty years, if not more. A self-contained story in its own right, it quite obviously forms the start of a much larger story. Christopher Ruocchio has laid the groundwork for something truly epic, something not to be missed. We can only hope that he’ll break the mould of his fantasy counterparts, and give us regular instalments of this incredible series.”
Tade Thompson’s debut novel takes us to a Nigeria of the future where the town of Rosewater has grown up around a strange, alien dome that seems to want to help humankind. Government agent Kaaro was present when the dome arrived and, unlike most of the world, has seen inside it. But now something is killing off people like Kaaro and he must get to the bottom of the mystery while he still has time.
Completely unlike his debut novel, Michael Hughes’ Country takes place on the Irish border during the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. When a Republican cell’s sniper refuses to shoot anyone else, it causes a rift in an otherwise well-oiled machine. Embarrassed by the refusal, the cell’s leader decides to prove his worth and ensure that the status quo is maintained, while everyone else attempts to sign some kind of treaty that would bring peace to Northern Ireland. Country is the second of my stand-out novels.
This was an unexpected gem, a new, authorised, Philip Marlowe novel. Osborne’s story takes place in 1988. Philip Marlowe, now a retired private detective has moved to Baja California where he spends his days propping up the bar at the local hotel, with nothing but his faithful cane for company. Hired by an insurance company to investigate potential fraud, Marlowe takes the job to combat the boredom, and for an excuse to take a trip around Mexico. Age hasn’t blunted any of Marlowe’s mental facilities, and he still has an eye for the ladies that he inevitably comes into contact with. And his advanced years certainly don’t save him from the beatings that were a staple of Chandler’s tales. Only to Sleep is a welcome return to the world of an old friend, and is an excellent addition to the Marlowe canon.
Reader Dad on the second DI Fawley novel: “Cara Hunter has already proven her mettle with a pitch perfect debut. In The Dark is, surprisingly, even better than her first and doesn’t necessarily require knowledge of the first book to enjoy it (although I’m going to recommend that you stick to the prescribed order). It’s a lightning fast read that still manages to settle in the reader’s subconscious, where it’s sure to stick around for some time. Intelligent and gripping, In The Dark has a warm heart in the already-established characters and a wonderful sense of humour that doesn’t detract from the dark and intense subject matter. Book three is already making its way out into the world; I, for one, am celebrating this embarrassment of riches while it lasts. If you are in any way a fan of crime fiction or psychological thrillers, you can’t afford to pass up on Cara Hunter’s excellent novels.”
Reader Dad on Pierre Lemaitre’s latest: “The latest in a long line of must-read novels from Pierre Lemaitre, Inhuman Resources shows a master storyteller at the top of his game. Surely France’s most exciting – not to mention most eloquent – author, Lemaitre continues to produce some of the finest crime fiction to appear in the past decade. Ably translated by the always-excellent Sam Gordon, this is the perfect read for the long nights ahead and one of the finest novels – of any genre – that you’ll surely see this year.”
A surprise entry this year, here’s what Reader Dad had to say about the novelisation of the latest Star Wars spin-off: “Beautifully packaged and including a glossy photo section in the middle (oh, the nostalgia for the novelisations of my youth), Mur Lafferty’s Solo answers many of the questions left unanswered by the film and acts as an unmissable companion piece. Mur Lafferty’s ability to capture the reader’s attention, and to make larger-than-life legends such as Han Solo and Lando Calrissian pop off the page make her an instant “must-read” author – I, for one, will be tracking down her backlist.”
Smythe has often said of I Still Dream that it’s the book of which he is most proud. And rightly so. While it doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of his Anomaly novels, it’s still one of the best things he’s written. Telling the story of Laura Bow and her artificial intelligence, Organon, the novel spans a 50-year period in which the world almost ends. It’s a warning message about the dangers of technology, but it carries with it a message of hope: technology can help us, but only when it’s properly developed, maintained, curated. It is, after all, the sum of our parts, so it’s bound to have some human flaws built in.
2019 And Beyond
And so to 2019, which I have already started reading. There are already plenty of exciting books to look forward to this year, and I’m excited to share my thoughts on many of them with you. For now, though, I just want to thank the authors and publicists who keep me in a constant supply of books and Twitter conversation, and the people who regularly visit Reader Dad: I promise there will be more to see this year, so do please keep coming back.
Happy New Year to one and all, and Happy Reading!