Holding with personal tradition I post my choices for the “Best” of the year at the end of the year. In this post I provide my list of “Best Fiction”. My next post will cover “Best Non-Fiction” and “Most Interesting”.
Of the works of fiction I read in 2018 the best were:
1.) Bluebird,Bluebird by Attica Locke – I am a year behind most reviewers who picked Bluebird, Bluebird as a top book of 2017 because I read it in January of 2018.
With the hero, a 21st Century Western lawman, a Texas Ranger no less, in Darren Mathews who has a .45 on his hip and a big truck to ride there is a memorable character to lead the story.
As Mathews is an African American, Locke created dynamics that made the story extraordinary. The white citizens of East Texas are in a quandary. Centuries of prejudice against African Americans run up against a profound respect for the Rangers. To their fictional credit the respect outweighs the prejudice.
The story is the classic tale of the American West with a lone lawman fighting a criminal gang as he investigates a murder. That the gang is formed of white supremacists is credibly modern.
That the first victim is a black man is no surprise. When the second victim is a white woman expectations are again confounded. Revenge against black men for even slights to white women had been ingrained in the American South but here the timing is reversed.
It is a brilliantly told work of crime fiction and is the first in a series to be set along Highway 59 in East Texas where Attica’s family roots run deep. FX will be developing the books into a television series.
2.) Testimony by Scott Turow was my choice for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. It lost out to Proof by C.B. Tobisman. Testimony is an exceptional legal mystery.
Bill Ten Boom gives up a successful career as a mid-America lawyer and an unsuccessful marriage in his early 50’s.
He is enticed into joining the International Crimes Court in the Hague as a prosecutor where he is assigned the investigation of an alleged massacre of 400 Roma in Bosnia approximately 10 years after the end of the Bosnian civil war.
The book makes clear how the Roma remain reviled and disdained in Europe.
Among the potential suspects are the American military and Bosnian Serb paramilitary.
An intriguing element of the book are aspects of forensic science such as comparing the traces of minerals absorbed by buried bones against soil specimens from the earth where the bones were found. The analysis can determine if the bones were placed there at the time of death or later.
There are discussions of the purpose and limitations of current international criminal prosecutions. America, fearing the possibility of charges against the American military, will not even provide information to investigators.
Testimony is the opposite of the cartoonish thrillers that are being churned out in Hollywood.
3.) CutYou Down by Sam Wiebe – Little of my crime fiction reading involves noir. Rare is the work of noir that reaches my annual “Best of Bill” lists.
Vancouver’s Sam Wiebe, a swiftly improving young writer, has crafted a compelling story.
Dave Wakefield is a tough P.I., a former policeman, whose primary investigative technique is poking around. Drug dealers and organized crime poke back.
At the same time he is bright and often witty.
In the search there are a pair of important female characters.
Assisting him in the search is half sister Kay, formerly known as River. She is a lively character.
At the same time he has an ongoing personal and professional relationship with his ex-lover, Sonia, a serving Vancouver police officer.
I will be interested to see if Cut You Down makes the shortlist for the 2019 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Criminal Novel.
3.) Scrublands by Chris Harper – This Australian bestseller came my way from the publisher in late 2018. Harper grabs the reader on the opening pages when Anglican pastor, Byron Swift, kills 5 men standing outside his church one Sunday morning in rural Australia.
A year later struggling journalist, Martin Scarsden, is assigned to a story about how Riversend is dealing the with murders.
While in the town he is drawn into the great unanswered question of “why” did Swift kill that morning. How his alleged pedophilia could cause him to kill has troubled many in the town.
As Scarsden starts probing more bodies turn up and he is suddenly at the center of the biggest story in Australia.
Scarsden must delve deeply to find the “why”. While many would like to know “why” at least as many would prefer no investigation into “why”.
It is an absorbing book about to be released in North America. I have predicted it will be a bestseller.