I’ve struggled for both time and concentration for reading over the past couple of months – moving house and a bout of Covid will do that to you! So it’s been a snatched few minutes when the kids are busy, a few pages on the train and as much as I can manage in bed before my eyes betray me. In times like these, I need the plot to establish quickly and the pages to keep turning. And it has given me chance to reacquaint myself with some favourite authors and discover some cool new voices as well…
The writer who has done most to keep me reading lately has been the US crime writer Dennis Lehane. Mystic River, Lehane’s magnum opus which was made into the Oscar-winning movie, has long been one of my favourite crime novels. I returned to him this month, reading two of his novels back-to-back. First up was Moonlight Mile, from his Kenzie and Gennaro series, featuring a Boston couple who also happen to be private investigators. Here, their past is dragged into the present after a girl they found in a notorious case a decade ago has gone missing again. Amanda McCready was six when she first went missing (in Lehane’s novel Gone, Baby, Gone – also an excellent movie), now she’s 16, ferociously independent and has gotten mixed up with some pretty dangerous people. All the hallmarks of Lehane’s greatness are on show here – awesome action, believable characters and savage social commentary.
I followed this up by reading Shutter Island – how I have never seen the Leonardo Di Caprio movie I have no idea, but I am so glad I haven’t because reading the book was a tense, thrilling and terrifying experience. US Marshall Teddy Daniels and his new partner Chuck Auel have been sent to Shutter Island, home of the mysterious Ashecliffe Hospital, a facility that plays host to radical mental health treatments and some of the country’s most dangerous and depraved criminals. One ‘resident’, Rachel Solando, has gone missing on the island and it’s up to Teddy and Chuck to find her. Cue a mind-melting, insanely twisty story that will keep you up into the small hours. An absolute masterpiece of suspense that I utterly devoured.
Amen Alonge is one of the freshest new voices I have read in British crime writing for some time. Alonge was born in Lagos but moved to London twenty years ago and it is the capital that plays host to his muscular debut, A Good Day To Die. Pretty Boy has been away from the City for 10 years: now he’s back and he’s got revenge on his mind. After accepting a lavish bracelet as part-payment for a big bag of drugs, Pretty Boy becomes a target – the bracelet has a grim history and its owner is willing to spill a lot of blood to get it back. What follows is a crazy-fast thriller full of despicable bad guys, gun battles, epic fight scenes and a body count that would make John Rambo wince. A Good Day To Die is that very rare thing – genuine British noir. A very promising start to what could be an epic series, perfect for fans of Lee Child, Ted Lewis, Derek Raymond and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Fuminori Nakamura’s dark and slippery My Annihilation (translated by Sam Bett) opens with a man entering a rural Japanese log cabin. The man is in trouble and is here to switch his identity. The only items in the cabin are a handwritten manuscript about some notorious murderers and a suitcase containing a body. As we learn more about the man’s past – and that of the corpse – we are taken on a journey where characters and scenes, histories and memories are shifted. The reader is constantly tripped up, discomfited and, ultimately, made complicit in a brutal and unforgiveable series of acts. Like a mash-up of Pascal Garnier, Camus’ l’etranger and Squid Game, this is a compulsive, mind-bending literary thriller that I read in one feverish sitting.
Click here to see what else I have been reading recently.