January reading report

The year has started well, reading-wise. In January I’ve reviewed four books for Euro Crime and ten at Petrona, ranging from Scotland (2), Australia (1), United States (3), Romania (1), Austria (1), Korea (1), Finland (1) and England (4) – though only two of these are translated. This year, I am using a new scoring system* to replace the stars I used previously, as I found that too many books were three-star reads when they are a bit more granular than that (not stellar, not formula). Going a bit wild, I’ve therefore introduced the 2.5 and 3.5 rankings for those books I’ve found not quite as good as, or a bit better than, “good”.

What are my books of the month? Well, as usual I am spoilt for choice, but have selected three:

Third: The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin: a well-written and constructed crime novel that is enhanced by a political story reaching back into the 1980s and affecting public life at all levels today. This novel pulls off a very difficult trick – it is a political thriller without being daft or with “boys’ toys” elements.

Second: The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst. In any other month this would easily be my top pick, and indeed it is as far as crime fiction is concerned. It’s an inventive, beautifully written story about the meaning of reality and perception, structured as a crime plot, as a book about writing, and as a literal reinterpretation of significant events in the characters’ lives. Simply the most original novel I’ve read for a very long time.

First: Kinglake-350 by Adrian Hyland. It isn’t fiction, it isn’t crime – but this account of the bush fires that swept parts of Australia in February 2009 is everything a book should be – gripping, measured, fair, intelligent, thorough, emotional, informative and influential.

The books I’ve reviewed in January, with links to my reviews:

Euro Crime:

The Mattress House by Paulus Hochgatterer, translated by Jamie Bulloch 3.5

A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths 3

Good Bait by John Harvey 3

Finders Keepers by Belinda Bauer 2.5

Petrona:

Kinglake-350 by Adrian Hyland 5

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst 5

The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin 4

Attack in the Library by George Arion, translated by Mike Phillips et al. 3

Dead in the Water by Aline Templeton 3

Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson 2.5

Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst 2.5

Hurt Machine by Reed Farrel Coleman 2

Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson 2

Yin Yang Tattoo by Ron McMillan 2

*Scoring system:
5: excellent; 4: very good; 3.5: a bit better than good; 3: good; 2.5: not quite as good as good; 2: average or not distinctive; 1: not recommended. Points are awarded for a range of factors: good writing style, plot, character, atmosphere, sense of place, emotional engagement, excitement and originality being the main ones.