Thrills, spills and festive chills
Myles McWeeney picks the top crime books and thrillers of 2016 for under the Christmas tree
If I could choose just one thriller from all that I have read this year to recommend as a Christmas present for a friend, it would be All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage (Quercus/Riverrun, €22.50). This remarkable novel, an utterly compelling tale that is part supernatural ghost story, part acutely observed psychological thriller and part gripping family saga, is set in the late 1970s in rural New York State and tells the tragic story of George and Catherine Clare, refugees from the pressures of the Big Apple as Catherine's dream of rural bliss fade and crumble to dust.
The Steel Kiss by Jeffrey Deaver (Hodder & Stoughton, €28.50) is the latest in the long-running series featuring paraplegic forensic investigator Lincoln Rhyme and his policewoman assistant/lover Amelia Sachs. The pair are up against a ruthless and awesomely tech-savvy psychopath who uses ordinary domestic electrical equipment to deadly effect. Deaver's formidable technological and forensic research, acute insight into the criminal mind, and insightful awareness of serious moral issues that affect modern life, make this breathlessly entertaining fiction.
Also hugely entertaining is The Plea by Steve Cavanagh (Orion, €17.99), which features former scam artist Eddie Flynn, who is now a defence attorney who chooses to defend clients with big problems but little money. The FBI ask him to represent multi-billionaire computer whizz-kid David Child, accused of the brutal slaying of his girlfriend. The problem is the FBI want Eddie to get his new client to plead guilty and spill the beans on a company he has done work for. Terrific courtroom drama with plenty of hardcore action thrown in - Grisham on steroids.
John Grisham himself delivered a new book this year, The Whistler (Hodder & Stoughton, €17.99), in which young investigator Lacy Stoltz has to look into the most corrupt judge in American legal history. The judge has close associations with organised crime, and soon Lacy is facing life-or-death decisions as she and her dodgy whistle-blowing associate try to track the judge's ill-gotten gains. An exciting and cracking return to form.
Equally exciting is Redemption Road by John Hart (Hodder & Stoughton, €22.10). Set in the remote, rural landscape of North Carolina, this may possibly be the second-best thriller you'll read this year. Elizabeth Black is a hero cop. Or is she? In rescuing a young woman from two rapists, she pumped 18 bullets into them and now she must rely on disgraced cop Adrian Wall, who is leaving prison after serving hard time for killing a woman whose 14-year-old son, Gideon, is determined to kill the moment he walks out the prison gate. The fate of all three becomes inextricably entwined in this exquisitely written book.
Once again, Irish crime writers distinguished themselves in 2016. Trespass by Anthony J Quinn (Head of Zeus €21.90), is a truly excellent read in which troubled PSNI Inspector Celcius Daly, under an internal investigation for a fumbled investigation, must try to find a young boy kidnapped by a group of Travellers. The case involves secret Border smuggling routes, rogue politicians, a clandestine property company, former Protestant paramilitaries and a Traveller woman who disappeared a long time ago. An outstanding, deeply satisfying and beautifully written police procedural that exposes harrowing truths about the fragility of Northern Ireland's peace process. Another brilliant read is The City in Darkness by Michael Russell (Constable, €25.99), which is set in Dublin in 1939. Special Branch Detective Inspector Stefan Gillespie, a widower with a young son, is abruptly called to Laragh, near the lake where his wife tragically drowned. An unpopular postman has disappeared, and Stefan finds the case has startling personal ramifications. This third outing for the likeable DI Gillespie is an vivid evocation of Ireland during the Emergency, seamlessly blending real people and events with exciting fiction.
Death at Whitewater Church by Andrea Carter (Constable, €19.99) takes place in the ruggedly beautiful landscape of Donegal's Inishowen peninsula. This assured debut introduces solicitor and amateur sleuth Benedicta O'Keefe. When the skeleton of a missing local man is found in Whitewater Church's crypt, Ben's efforts to penetrate years of local, personal and political history in the small and closed Inishowen community in search of the truth make for an engaging read.
In A Savage Hunger by Claire McGowan (Headline, €22.10) PSNI forensic psychologist Paula Maguire is called to a remote religious shrine in Ballyterrin where student Alice Morgan has disappeared in suspicious circumstances. The girl's father is a life peer and a bigwig in the Home Office in London, and there are disturbing connections to a decades-old murder and links to the IRA hunger strikes in the summer of 1981. McGowan scores once again with a gripping, multifaceted thriller that burrows perceptively into the fracture lines of Northern Ireland's holding but fragile peace process.
Proof by Martina Reilly (Hachette Books Ireland, €16.99) opens with the murder of Charles Hanratty - and Marcus Dillon is put on trial for the crime. He insists he is innocent, but admits he has no alibi and plenty of reasons for wanting Charlie dead. His only hope is the testimony of his childhood friend, Sash, and her sister, Aspergers sufferer Lana. Lana knows the truth - but only if the right questions are asked. Reilly's 20th novel is a cleverly constructed, pacy and engaging story.