Of the works of fiction I read my favourites were:
1.) The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen by Peter May are the Best of 2015. It is the second time I have had a trilogy featured as Best. In 2009 it was the first two books in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. I justify choosing a trilogy as the Best book of the year as my personal right to define the terms of my awards. As well they are one long story in three parts.
May’s Hebridian trilogy took me deeply into a part of Scotland that I had not been reading about for over 30 years when I read Lillian Beckwith’s autobiographical works of fiction of her life in the Hebrides.
In reading May’s books I felt the bite of the wind off the Atlantic, saw the dazzlingly blue sky swept clear of clouds and felt the unique texture of walking in peat bogs. If the Hebrides were even 2,500 km instead of 7,500 km away from me I would be sure to visit them.
May, in Fionnlagh (Finn) McLeod, has created a character as vivid and compelling as any author in recent memory. The former Edinburgh police officer has his personal troubles but they do not leave him a wreck of a man. After 20 years he returns to the Isle of Lewis and solves a trio of murders.
I have never accepted Thomas Wolfe’s dictum that you can’t go home again. You cannot go back to the same home but you can go home. The returnee will still have profound connections with the past.
Best of all the murders in the trilogy are all related to life on the island, its geography and its history. They could not have been written in a different setting.
2.) Killing Pilgrim by Arlen Mattich was a finalist for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Fiction novel in Canada. It did not win the Award though in my analysis of the shortlist I thought it was the best and deserved to win the Award. Maybe being 2nd on Bill’s Best of 2015 Fiction will be a modest recompense.
The book opens with the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, by a Yugoslavian secret service agent. I had never appreciated the number of theories that exist on who killed Palme until I did some research after finishing the book. I do not think the real life killer was a member of Yugoslavia’s intelligence agency but Mattich has put together a compelling story.
Killing Pilgrim is the second book in a series with Marko della Torre, a member of the Yugoslavian secret service, who is now coping with the breakup of the country and his role as a Croatian.
The book also features a dangerous American woman agent who destroys gender lines in her lack of morality and affinity for violence.
3.) The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson ties for third this year. In mid-year if I had been asked what I expected to be the great legal mystery of the year set in the American South I would have said without hesitation Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. Instead, The Secret of Magic was by far the better book.
Regina Mary Robichard, a brand new Negro New York lawyer, is sent by Thurgood Marshall to rural Mississippi in 1946 to investigate the death of Lt. Joe Howard Wilson. Being a war hero could not save Joe Howard from being brutally beaten and killed because he did not keep his place in southern society as he returned from the war.
In Mississippi Ms. Robichard stays in the guesthouse of fabled children’s author, Mary Pickett Calhoun, who is a staple of local society. Mary Pickett wants to do what is right but it is hard in the Deep South of that era.
3.) Joining The Secret of Magic in third position is Another Margaret by Janice MacDonald. It is the second of two books written by Canadians on this year’s Best of Fiction list.
Another Margaret is an excellent academic mystery but it became a Best of the year book for two reasons.
With the lead character, Randy (Miranda) Craig, an Alberta university professor of English the book is filled with references to Canadian literary figures and their works. I enjoyed seeing how many I recognized.
Most important MacDonald had Craig write about the life and novels written by Margaret Ahlers, an Alberta English professor, who was reclusive to the extreme.
To have Craig study the literary work at a university level meant MacDonald created detailed plot lines for five additional books within Another Margaret.
Had the ending been as good as the rest of the book Another Margaret would have been my choice for Best of 2015 Fiction.
I had a good year or reading and hope your year went as well. Happy New Year for 2016!