There’s something about a great thriller that makes me want to curl up with a cuppa and forget the world – and we’ve all been in need of a little comfort of late. I have read some absolutely superb novels from across the genre – crime, noir, psychological and horror – over the past few weeks and here are the picks of the bunch…
‘Blacktop Wasteland’ by SA Cosby has to be a contender for my favourite book of the year. It’s a brilliant noir thriller, a chastening expose of the working-class black experience and a moving meditation on fathers and sons. Beauregard ‘Bug’ Montague is a former getaway driver who’s gone straight to set an example to his sons. But, with his auto-repair shop failing, Bug can’t resist the offer of one last pay-off that could be the answer to all his money problems. We follow Bug as he is lured back to his old ways, forced to make choices no man could escape from unharmed.
There are nods to the greats of the past in Cosby’s style – you can feel the influence of Elmore Leonard, Jim Thompson and others on every page – but he has created a style that’s all his own. Fast-paced, full of small-town gangsters and written in a fresh new voice – this is THE crime novel I’ve been waiting years to uncover.
‘We Begin At The End’ by Chris Whitaker is a top-class psychological thriller. Full of retribution, revenge and regret, it tells the intertwined stories of a group of small-towners whose lives are still consumed by a death that occurred thirty years ago.
Vincent has served three decades in prison and is on the verge of release. Star, the victim’s sister, has never got over it. Walker, the town police chief and Vincent’s childhood friend, has been weighed down by his part in it all ever since. And among all this bitterness is Duchess, Star’s daughter, who has spent her 13 years with a drunk for a mother, an absent father and the ghost of an auntie she never knew weighing down everyone around her.
What unfolds is a tale of honour, betrayal and murder. The story takes lots of unexpected twists and turns and is utterly impossible to put down. But what really makes it work is Whitaker’s ability to draw real, rounded characters that we care about deeply. This is a truly fine thriller which hooked me in hard and did not let go for a second. If you liked ‘Where The Crawdads Sing’, ‘American Dirt’ or ‘Life or Death’, you will fall deeply in love with this book.
It’s probably best not to get too attached to the characters in ‘The Hunted’, Gabriel Bergmoser’s thrilling first step into horror writing; some of them might not be around for too long.
Frank runs a two-bit gas station in the Australian outback, dozens of kilometres from the nearest town. He thinks his biggest problem is his teenage granddaughter Allie, who has been sent to live with him for a while. But when a young woman stumbles, bloody and battered, from a rickety ute on the forecourt, he enters a new world of pain. Because the people who did this to her, they’re on their way, and they are not messing around.
‘The Hunted’ is a dark, grisly survival novel which harks back to the classic horror films of the past. Imagine Texas Chainsaw Massacre mixed with Deliverance, all set against a Mad Max backdrop, and you’ll be getting somewhere close. Brace yourself, this one’s bloody!
‘Call Him Mine‘ by Tim MacGabhann is a thoroughly enjoyable literary crime novel which takes in drugs, violence and journalism in Mexican cartel country. Andrew, an Irish journalist working in Mexico City, and his photographer boyfriend Carlos are investigating corruption in a dilapidated former oil town when they stumble across a brutal murder scene. When the local police appear too scared to go near the body, Andrew flees. Carlos, however, stays to continue digging. It’s a decision that will cost him his life – and Andrew his safety.
We follow Andrew as he attempts to find answers – and stay alive – while avoiding ruthless cartels, brutal police and corrupt officials. MacGabhann writes with clear insight about the workings of Mexican power structures and the complicated role of foreign journalists – he is himself a journalist working in the area. The prose snaps, the story goes along at a fair clip and there’s a trippy, gonzo style to what could otherwise have been just another cartel novel. This is an engaging and enticingly promising debut from a hugely talented young writer.