By Sharon Dempsey
He’s making a list,
He’s checking it twice,
He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice
Since we are in the throes of another quasi-lockdown, and with Christmas shopping in mind, I thought I’d blog about my favourite reads of 2020, the year that shall never be named henceforth. While we battled a pandemic – every dystopian novel I have ever read seemed to come alive before my very eyes – books were my go-to safe place. As a child of the Troubles I was used to seeking refuge in between the pages of prose. During the seventies I lived in Enid Blyton safe places of ginger beer, bouncy heather beds, caves and coves and boarding schools. Come the eighties I progressed to Stephen King and a different type of horror while Belfast blazed around me. While the world burned, I have found my reading time has decreased – but hey ho we’re in the midst of a pandemic and have probably experienced the most important election American has ever seen. Yet, still I have found solace in my beloved crime fiction genre, reaching for old favourites and finding new loves among the face masks and hand sanitiser.
Here’s my recommended reads from the latter half of 2020:
I read True Story by Kate Reed Petty during the hottest summer week and loved it for being inventive in from and its meditation on what it means to reclaim your own narrative following sexual assault.
Chris Whitaker’s, We Begin at End, near enough broke me during the first lockdown. A murder mystery with a big heart and an unforgettable heroine in the form of Duchess Day Radley ( my kids should be relieved that they already exist for I would have named one of them after Duchess) is the kind of book that transports you and makes you feel on a whole new level.
One of my all-time favourite writers, Tana French, has gifted us The Searcher, a much-lauded mystery set in Ireland that offers both atmospheric and character-driven storytelling driving towards a devastating ending.
Northern Irish crime fiction has a huge place in my heart so in no particular order these guys distracted me through the great toilet roll rush of 2020: Kelly Creighton, with special mention for Problems with Girls, a sharp, insightful read that has made me hunger for more DI Harry Sloane.
Brian McGilloway’s The Last Crossing, a book that made me ache for the sins of our past and reminded me what Northern Irish crime fiction does best – calls the ghosts of the past to account for their sins.
Claire Allan with Ask No Questions (coming to a bookshop near you soon) a lose yourself in the dead of the night type read that showcases the character of journalist Ingrid Devlin and has a heart-racing dénouement that made me gasp.
The Traveller by Stuart Neville, a collection of short stories and a novella that oozes the macabre and tingles with horror just below the surface.
Other notable releases in 2020 were Steve Cavanagh with the pulsating Fifty-Fifty, taking Eddie Flynn to a whole new twisty level. The Chain by Adrian McKinty was a plot-propelled exploration of chain styled kidnappings. Liz Nugent’s My Little Cruelties showcases her trademark style and preforms a psychological autopsy of the worst of human nature.
My Dark Vanessa, by Kate Elizabeth Russell, a disturbing book exploring a relationship between a teacher and his student, which I listened to on audio book while on my lockdown walks.
Coming this month, Anthony Quinn’s Turncoat promises to be haunting and unsettling, and is set on the pilgrim island of Lough Derg and I am looking forward to reading it.
Shout out also to NI crime fiction comrades Simon Maltman who published Witness, James Murphy who concluded his Terror trilogy with Dark Light, and Catriona King who is on her twenty-fourth Craig Crime Series novel.
What’s to come: Looking to 2021 I can promise you that there are some amazing books waiting in the wings.
I have been fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy of Abigail Dean’s Girl A and believe me, it lives up to the hype. Part true crime feeling and memoirish it takes the reader to place of pure darkness that is impossible to turn away from.
Jane Harper returns with The Survivors, a book that promises to consolidate her as one of the best crime writers around.
The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn asserts itself to be the Mean Girls of our time with a college reunion, slick with secrets. I am really looking forward to reading it.
Kate Bradley’s forthcoming book, What I Did is an addictive and emotional psychological thriller about the darkest family-held secrets. I had a proof copy of this intense, heart-racing story and it kept me reading through the night. The Shadow Man by Helen Fields, claims to be a tightly plotted tale of obsession and manipulation, and is out in February.
The Last House on Needless Street claims to be the Gothic thriller of 2021 with Stephen King declaring it ‘a true nerve-shredder that keeps its mind-blowing secrets to the very end. [I] haven’t read anything this exciting since Gone Girl.’ Yeah, I’m sold Stephen so if Viper want to send me a proof copy, as an early Christmas present, I’m waiting beneath the tree.
Also look out for Who Took Eden Mulligan? my new release in Spring 2021, with Avon Harper Collins, described as ‘Readable. Addictive. Edgy. Intelligent,’ and ‘a crime novel that is as insightful as it is addictive.’