Setting: Phoenix and LA, 1931
Protagonist: Marion Seeley
First Lines: 'Thrill parties every night over on Hussel Street. That tiny house, why, it's 600 square feet of percolating, Wurlitzering sin. Those girls with their young skin, tight and glamorous, their rimy lungs and scratchy voices, one cheek flush and c'mon boys and the other, so accommodating, even with lil' wrists and ankles stripped to pearly bone by sickness.'
Marion Seeley's doctor husband has lost his licence due to drug use, and the only job he can get is in Mexico. So he leaves his young wife in Arizona where she gets a job at a clinic. There, she meets Louise Mercer - a nurse who is vibrant, scintillating, full of life, and is as much a woman of the world as Marion is naive and innocent. Louise and her friend Ginny introduce Marion to another life - wild parties, alcohol, and powerful and dangerous men. Watching Marion become drawn into the depravity and become tainted by it is both enthralling and unsettling. This is a wonderful tale filled with darkness, lust, sin and beautifully atmospheric and evocative writing. It will most definitely be on my list of favourite reads for 2009.
EMPTY EVER AFTER - Reed Farrel Coleman
Setting: New York
Protagonist: Moe Prager
First Lines: 'We walked through the cemetery, Mr Roth's arm looped through mine. The cane in his left hand tapped out a mournful meter on the ice-slicked gravel paths that wound their way through endless rows of gravestones. The crunch and scrape of our footfalls were swallowed up and forgotten as easily as the heartbeats and breaths of all the dead, ever.'
PI and former cop Moe Prager is haunted by the past - quite literally - as a decision he made over 20 years before is thrown into question once again. And now, the cause of so many problems in his life, Moe's dead brother in law, Patrick Maloney, is seemingly resurrected. Corruption, lies, secrets, loss, uncertainty and despair all serve to make this a great read that lingered in my mind long after I had finished. Coleman's prose is poetic and I love the way this series is as much about keeping secrets as revealing them. EMPTY EVER AFTER has Moe revisiting his previous cases, so it's probably best to read some of the earlier books in the series first. And you should - they're excellent.
BARBELO'S BLOOD - Capt. Joseph Barbelo
Setting: Brixton, London, 1980s
Protagonist: Capt. Joseph Barbelo
First Lines: 'The scent of ionised concrete; the underpass, dripping the evening rain, thundering a hundred regrets into my brain.'
BARBELO'S BLOOD is like a cross between Death Wish and Grumpy Old Men. The subtitle is "The Trusty Terrorist's Illuminati Handbook", and it has all that and more - conspiracies, major philosophical concepts, action-hero thriller stuff and complete and utter madness. Really, I mean it. It's set in Brixton in the 1980s and features eighty-two year old Capt. Joseph Barbelo who, despite his advancing years, takes over a 'firm' and causes havoc - even going so far as to contemplate blackmailing the Bank of England. Lots of very clever stuff, lots of stuff that went over my head, and lots of stuff that made me laugh. Barbelo is a fascinating character, and the supporting characters are excellently drawn. I have no idea how to classify this one - magical realism meets hardboiled meets heavy acid trip, perhaps. A very, very different book that I heartily recommend. But not to my Mum.
ASHES BY NOW - Mark Timlin
Protagonist: Nick Sharman
First Lines: 'That morning, one not much different from any other, I let myself into my flat, kicked off my shoes and opened the fridge to find out what was left there in the way of alcohol.'
Private Investigator Nick Sharman is contacted by 'Sailor' Grant - a man Nick helped to put away for rape and murder twelve years before when he was a young, enthusiastic policeman. It's a case that has preyed on his mind since then. And now Sailor wants Nick to help him clear his name. Edgy, tough, hard-hitting and exciting - this was my first Mark Timlin novel but it definitely won't be my last.
CRIMESPOTTING -AN EDINBURGH CRIME COLLECTION - Various
Series?: Short story collection
This is an anthology of crime stories set in Edinburgh in support of the OneCity Trust (which is committed to tackling poverty in all its forms). The writers included are not all crime fiction authors but all have written a story set in Edinburgh and featuring a crime. It is an excellent and very varied collection. I love short story collections because they introduce me to writers I have never read, and give me a little bit extra from authors I enjoy. There are stories by - amongst others - Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Christopher Brookmyre, Denise Mina and ALKennedy. My favourite stories were by John Burnside and Ian Rankin.