I think I may be the last blogger in the world to post a Best of 2020 list. I just cannot put together a best of the year list in November when there are still 6 weeks of reading or early December when there 3 weeks of reading left in the year. I do not know whether other earlier blogger list markers do not count the books read in the remainder of the year or count them in the following year. I plan to stay with my actual end of the year lists. This post will have Bill’s Best of 2020 Fiction. My next post will have Bill’s Best of 2020 Non-Fiction and a personal category of Bill’s Most Interesting of 2020. The lists do include books published earlier than 2020.
For the best of 2020 fiction -
1.) The Last Trial by Scott Turow - A brilliant book about the last trial of Sandy Stern who has been featured in several of Turow’s books. The 85 year old Stern is joined by his talented daughter, Marta, and his quirky granddaughter, Pinky. In an ironic twist it is Marta’s last trial as she is also retiring after the trial. The Stern team is defending Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Kiril Pafko, on charges of murder. He developed a powerful drug, g-Livia, to treat lung cancer. It saved the life of Stern. Unfortunately, there have been a number of deaths in patients because of allergic reactions to the drug. Did Pafko falsify data in a drug trial leading to more deaths?
2.) A Time for Mercy by John Grisham - I have not actually posted a review of the latest Grisham book. I received it Christmas Day and finished it 3 days later. I almost stayed up late on the 27th as I was so caught up in the story but stopped just after midnight. Grisham returns to Ford County in northern Mississippi in 1990 where Jake Brigance is compelled by Circuit Judge Omar Noose to defend Drew Gamble, a 16 year old boy, charged with capital murder of County Deputy Sheriff, Stuart Kofer. There is no doubt Gamble killed Kofer. In a strong law and order state how can Jake defend the teenager. Will the jurors send a 16 year old to death row? As common in murder cases the character of the victim becomes an issue. Kofer was abusive to Drew, his mother and his sister. It is a long book at 480 pages as Grisham meticulously builds the case. Jake is facing multiple challenges. He is struggling financially and most of the county is hostile to his representation of Drew. It is such a vivid portrayal of life in rural Mississippi, trial preparations and a riveting trial that will evoke memories of Jake’s defence in Grisham’ first book, A Time to Kill.
3.) Greenwood by Michael Christie - My most memorable book of the year occupied another 3 posts. (One of the posts discussed the physical makeup of the book and the beautiful edging.) It is a powerful story of trees and people. Beginning in 2038 during the “Great Withering” of the planet’s trees and going back to 1908 when two boys are found after a train crash and named the Greenwoods. The story then works its way back to the present and ultimately 2038. The Greenwood family is deeply involved with trees throughout the book. One of the brothers becomes a lumber baron in British Columbia. Southern Saskatchewan, one of the rare areas in southern Canada with few trees, has a significant role. I exchanged emails with the author on the trees of my life from the family farm and how I treasure Canada being known around the world by a red maple leaf.
3.) The Skull Mantra by Eliot Paterson (First, second and third posts) - Comrade Shan has been sentenced to a labour brigade in Tibet for being too good an investigator. Survival is a daily challenge. When a headless corpse wearing American jeans is found at the worksite the commanding colonel of the region knows more than a superficial investigation is needed. Shan is designated. The colonel does not recognize that Shan can only be an honest investigator though Shan is astute enough politically to provide the colonel with a good socialist reason for finding the real killer when a convenient killer is quickly identified. The story digs deeply in Tibetan culture. Spirits are alive. After the discovery of the body the members of the labour brigade refuse to return to the mountain because of jungpo which translates to “hungry ghost”. The spirit of the deceased will haunt the site and bring bad luck until proper death rites are performed. Wondering why the body was left upon the mountain rather than dumped over the edge into oblivion Shan consults a murderer who advises him:
“A killing with no one to appreciate it, what’s the point? A good murder, that requires an audience.”
Happy New Year to all! I know I need a new year.