Review: Books of 2018

Ok, not a Top 10 of New Fiction of 2018 because, quite frankly, I’m not sure I read 10 books that were originally published last year.

That’s not to say I didn’t read…I did – a lot. But one of my resolutions of the previous year had been to start reading the stuff I actually bought in paperback/ downloaded to Kindle or Audible rather than keep buying new stuff that ‘looked interesting’ but then didn’t get around to read.

So, a couple of lists covering my reading in 2018 – take it for what it’s worth.

Favourite New Stuff:

I did read some new stuff this year: mostly from my ‘go-to’ authors (see separate articles on authors elsewhere on this site…), and for the most part they were as good as they always are…

Hell Bent: Gregg Hurwitz

Hell Bent – Gregg Hurwitz

The latest in the Orphan X series with protagonist Evan Smoak, and the series is showing no signs of slowing down.

I’ve written extensively about Gregg Hurwitz elsewhere on this site. Everything I said there remains true: I think the Orphan X is the best series of its kind out there today. Where some of the longer-term series by established writers seem to have long past their sell by date, this is really getting going.

For those new to the series: it centres around Smoak, a government trained assassin who is ‘off the grid’: a one-man A team if you like, helping the innocent against apparently impossible odds, hired via phone calls asking for his assistance…only this time, the call comes from the man who trained him up and raised him from being a boy of twelve.

If you haven’t read the series, you’re missing out – as all the blurbs tend to say about these types of books. But I mean it: if you haven’t yet, try the Orphan X books and you’ll see they’re a very different ‘type’.

 

Jackrabbit Smile: Joe R Lansdale

Jack Rabbit Smile – Joe R Lansdale

The latest Hap and Leonard adventure. This time the boys are hired by a pair of white supremacists to find a girl who has been missing for five years. Hap and Leonard take the case, albeit with some severe misgivings, and soon find themselves on a case involving cults, lizard-monster-men, oh, and murder…the same old, same old then…

I’ve written enough about Joe R Lansdale elsewhere and my fondness for the Hap and Leonard books, so this was always going to feature. Not the place to start for new users, and not up there with the best in the series, but even a middling Hap and Leonard is better than most stuff out there.

The Outsider – Stephen King

The Outsider – Stephen King

It was a busy year for King, but ‘The Outsider’ was his tent pole publication. For the first two thirds I think it’s one of the best things he’s written since Joyland. The final third turns a little familiar in terms of the evil present and it’s a bit of a blurring between the Bill Hodges series in terms of ‘mystery’ versus ‘horror’ (indeed, it brings in one of the central characters from that trilogy), but the first half is vintage King and overall it’s definitely worth a read.

The Word Is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

The Word is Murder- Anthony Horowitz

Following on from Magpie Murders, The Word is Murder is another meta-fiction from Horowitz, featuring himself as a (presumably) slightly fictionalised version of himself teamed up with disgraced detective Daniel Hawthorne and forced into another murder investigation.

If it doesn’t quite have the surprise factor of the first book, it does allow expansion of the characterisation of main protagonists (including Horowitz himself), along with further insights into the writing life across fiction and screenplays.

Burning: An Anthology of Short Thrillers – Various

Burning: An Anthology of Short Thrillers by [Oxley, Peter, Finnie, Simon, Craig Hart, Fiona Campbell, Simon Bewick, Carla Day, Will Patching, Dana Lyons, Marcus Cook, Peter Ellis, Tom Goymour, Michael Peirce, Pat Moore, Lori Lacefield ]
Burning: An Anthology of Short Thrillers: Various
Well, I’m going to allow myself a little bit of self indulgence: yes, one of my stories was featured in this collection, and it’s a story I’m very pleased with, and glad to have out there. But regardless of that, I genuinely think there are some great entries in this collection, and for the variety and depth it offers throughout its fourteen stories, it really is an excellent buy.

Beastie Boys Book

Beastie Boys Book

Probably my most fun/ poignant/ nostalgic read of the year – and when I say read, I actually mean, most awesome Audio book. With a stellar cast, the book is warm-hearted, honest and a brilliant tribute to an age, a passion and MCA…thoroughly recommended.

Honourable Mentions of the Year:

Lethal White: Robert Galbraith

Lethal White: Robert Galbraith

I’ve reviewed this elsewhere so take a look there, but in summary: I love the Strike series, and this one was perfectly okay if not up to the standard of the earlier books.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle: Stuart Turton

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle: Stuart Turton

This book got a whole lot of love this year, and had to be the winner of the most aggressively promoted Facebook adverts on my feed. I liked it, didn’t love it. A well-written cross between Agatha Christie, Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day, I was there until the last quarter of the book before it just got a bit to twisted up in itself for me. Ambitious and very different (despite that short-hand description of mine a sentence ago), it’s no doubt going to be made into a movie before too long.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark –  Michelle McNamara

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark – Michelle McNamara

This book probably got more attention than any other real crime book this year, and unfortunately it’s due to the tragic circumstances it was written by: the author having died suddenly before completion. Of course, it might seem diminishing of an extremely experienced and talented writer as McNamara was to point out that she was the wife of the comedian Patton Oswalt, but it undeniably added to the media coverage. The exhaustive and long term investigation into the Golden State Killer, I read the book in a couple of sittings but, to be brutally frank, I struggled with it towards the end. It’s impossible to know how much editing and piecing together had to be done with the existing material due to circumstance, and it will never be known how much the ‘finished’ material would have differed if the author had been able to finish it, but it feels, tragically, incomplete, despite the interventions of notable fans such as Gillian Flynn. The timing of the actual capture of the killer and its relationship to the findings in the book are up for discussion.

Disappointments:

Tangerine – Christine Mangan

Tangerine – Christine Mangan

The cover blurb by Joyce Carol Oates reads, “As if Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn, and Patricia Highsmith had collaborated on a screenplay to be filmed by Hitchcock—suspenseful and atmospheric.”
That’s a hell of a recommendation and comparison, and was certainly enough for me to pick the book up when I read it in the local bookshop. It’s also incredibly generous in comparison to what’s actually on the page. The book is undoubtedly well written, but not, really comparable to either of the first two writers named other than the sex. And as for Hitchock? Hmm, not sure Hitch would have been to taken with making this: it does bare plenty of elements of some of his earlier Hollywood work, but I think after his masterpieces he’d have found the whole thing a bit rudimentary. I think the turning point for me was a plot contrivance vital to the last third of the book which I didn’t believe and from that point on found really annoying in terms of how much the story rested on it. Overall, a disappointment.

The Chalk Man – C.J. Tudor

The Chalk Man C.J. Tudor

This book got so much hype, and so much positive praise I bought it twice – in Hardback and on Kindle – mainly because after buying the paper version I realised my suitcase was going to be too weighed down to take on holiday so I bought the kindle version as well.

The book has sold a ton and topped the Sunday Times besteller list. Stephen King praised it, saying, If you like my stuff, you’ll like this’, and the Amazon reviews are currently sitting at a very impressive 4.1 with 500+ reviews.

All enviably impressive from a first-time author.

But it’s not envy that disappointed me with this book – believe me, some of my favourite mystery/ murder/ thriller…hell, books full stop, have been first time efforts that have been incredibly successful – Scott Smith’s ‘A Simple Plan’, Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’, FX Toole’s ‘Rope Burns’, and about a hundred more…(there’s a pretty good list of ‘first novels’ here)

Everything about the book appealed to me from what I read before buying – whether it was horror or ‘dark mystery’ I always like an unsolved crime/ situation that comes back to haunt the protagonists over the years, and fiction featuring a childhood and now model, when done well, is something I love.

I can see why King praised the book in his own light (but then Stephen King has praised more books over the years than any other living author: I get it: send the new kid’s manuscript to a well known author – I read Minette Walters The Sculptress when it was in its uncorrected proof form because it was passed on to me by the best selling writer in the UK at the time.) and there’s enough stuff that King would clearly appreciate to warrant his praise…but that was the problem for me – there was just too much King influence. Don’t get me wrong – I’m well aware that  King is in no way the first to use childhood and adult alternating time lines, but some of the similarities to IT, Stand By Me and other King childhood tales, as well as other intended or not homages to the likes of Pet Semetary became more an exercise in referencing than reading for me. There is no doubt that C.J Tudor has talent as a writer, and one person’s ‘creepy’ is another person’s ‘meh’, but the number of reviews along the lines of how the book ‘kept me awake at night’, ‘scariest book of the year’, etc led me to expect something a bit more…fearsome? Ultimately, for me, there was too much ‘tell’ and not enough ‘show’ in the book: it wasn’t a horror story – which is fine: looking at my reading list this year there’s very little that was, but it also didn’t work fully as either a mystery or a rites of passage. Given the sales it may well make it as a movie, but I think it’s more likely it would make a three-part Monday night ITV drama.

But that’s just me…and clearly I’m in the minority. I will be interested in the author’s next work, and hey – if I ever get Stephen King raving about one of my books I’ll die a happy man.

If We Were Villains –M. L. Rio

If We Were Villains – M.L Rio

I get that publishers are always looking for the next ‘x’ which has previously done well, and I’ve seen more books over the years being promoted as the next ‘The Secret History’ to make my teeth stand on end, but this one is something a bit special in how closely it seems to mimic the Donna Tartt book. The author’s knowledge and love of Shakespeare is clear – the protagonists all students studying the bard at an exclusive school in the US, but the amount of quotations is beyond ridiculous: if they were taken out the novel would, quite literally be a third shorter…a major disappointment

 

Coming soon…what I actually read in 2018 – the 2017 bought items I hadn’t got around to, some new old discoveries, and a few reprints…

 

 

 

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