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Ian Rankin Recommends His Top 5 Reads of 2019

Posted on 5th December 2019 by Mark Skinner

Although famous as the undisputed king of Tartan Noir and the creator of DI John Rebus, Ian Rankin's rediscovered space-race thriller Westwind is a very different but equally compelling proposition this Christmas. Find out what books the crime maestro couldn't put down this year. 

I'm hoping I might be unwrapping the latest novels from John le Carre and Robert Harris this December 25th. But if you are thinking of Christmas gifts I'd also suggest the following, which have been among my favourite reads of this year:

Joe Country by Mick Herron

You could almost call Herron the 'anti' le Carre. He writes with great humour as well as tension about a group of spy misfits based in London, under the baleful supervision of their grotesque boss Jackson Lamb. In this instalment, the spies head to Wales on a fraught mission involving shady arms dealers and a member of the royal family.

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Like John le Carre but with better gags, Mick Herron continues to reinvigorate the spy thriller with the sixth full length outing for Jackson Lamb and the ‘slow horses’ of Slough House. Events are moving ever closer to home for the washed-up spooks and, this time, nobody is safe.

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The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Harper writes wonderfully evocative whodunits set in the glaring heat of the Australian outback. In this, her third book, a farmer is found dead on a parched piece of land. His brother needs to know why he died, but in doing so family secrets and old wounds will need to be ripped open. It'll keep you gripped to the last page.

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After addressing bloody violence in small-town Australia with The Dry, Jane Harper opens up the arid landscape of the outback in her second, unbearably tense, thriller. Crackling with the oppressive heat of its scorched environment, at its heart are a trio of brothers and a mysterious disappearance with a disconcerting lack of suspects.
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Girl by Edna O' Brien

I cannot believe the Booker judges missed this short, brilliantly evocative novel by one of our supreme storytellers. O'Brien's research is meticulous but she never allows it to overshadow her central character, a schoolgirl abducted in Nigeria and forced into marriage to a rebel soldier. When she eventually escapes, she finds her life back home to be no less troubled. This is an affecting and powerful story ripped from contemporary news headlines.

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Girl proves that, even in her 89th year, Edna O’Brien remains one of the greatest living prose stylists. The tale of a girl abducted by Nigerian terrorists, this masterly novel refines O’Brien’s signature concern with the social, sexual and religious oppression of women and speaks keenly to the most relevant issues of modern society.
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Metropolis by Philip Kerr

Kerr was a giant of the historical crime novel. This latest adventure for his hero Bernie Gunther was, alas, published posthumously. It fizzes with energy and ideas as we are taken back to Bernie's early days as a police officer in 1920s Berlin. Real historical events and characters flit across the pages as Bernie tries to discover who is murdering the city's prostitutes - and attacking homeless war veterans. A bittersweet, bravura close to what has been a superb series of books.

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The last novel from author Philip Kerr, who sadly died in 2018, Metropolis is a fitting swansong for his iconic anti-hero Bernie Gunther, taking the detective back to his origins. Set in the dying hours of the Weimar Republic, this is Gunther amidst the bubbling underbelly of Babylon Berlin, pitted against a force determined to cleanse the city whilst Hitler’s ascendancy waits in the wings.
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Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald

You probably won't have come across a character like the hero of this book before. Mary Shields is a parole officer in Glasgow with a chaotic lifestyle who finds her personal and professional lives spiralling out of control. Along the way Fitzgerald touches on the men's movement, new media and social issues, but it's the powerhouse central character who'll keep you reading and snorting with laughter. She's spellbinding - though I'm not sure I'd ever want to meet her!

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The crime novelist’s crime novelist, Helen Fitzgerald has a unique ability to combine gallows humour belly-laughs with searing, white knuckle suspense. Worst Case Scenario’s twisted tale of an acerbic probation officer and a notorious wife-killer is another pitch-perfect thriller packed full of quotable lines and heart-stopping incident.
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Comments

Wayne Sharp

I picked up Metropolis today, but paid full cover price, explanation?
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Wayne Sharp
21st December 2019
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