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In the past, one book has for me usually distanced itself from the pack as the "book of the year," but this time around I am unable to single out one title. Instead three books jostle in my mind as outstanding. One is Ian Rankin's latest, The Impossible Dead. As we all know, Rankin retired John Rebus a few years back. Rebus was ready for retirement. He was drinking too much and had become far too cynical. In his place has come Malcolm Ross, a policeman in a unit that investigates the wrongdoing of other cops, commonly known as "The Complaints." Ross drinks Appletizer and has less angst than Rebus, but his cases are as complex and political as his predecessor's.
As a historian, I really appreciate the series by C. J. Sansom based in Henrician England. I am hard-pressed to think of another that better combines historical detail, sharp plotting, and a likeable detective. Heartstone, the fifth in the series, maintains Sansom's high standards. To the historically-accurate plot of England preparing for naval war against France in 1545, Sansom adds a number of subplots, including one involving Shardlake and his relationship with a woman erroneously housed in Bedlam. If I have a problem with this book, it is in the large number of overlapping subplots, which require several chapters to resolve at the end.
There will never be another Stieg Larsson, and it is time that we stopped looking for one. The Millenium Trilogy was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. There are other good Nordic writers, however. This year I was particularly impressed with Jussi Adler-Olsen's The Keeper of Lost Causes. As is usually the case, Adler-Olson has been publishing for some years, and this book, while the first in English translation, is hardly his maiden effort. Adler-Olsen is Danish, and so the setting is a bit unusual. So too are the premises of the book. A Copenhagen cop who has been involved in a violent incident in which colleagues were killed (and in which he failed to draw his gun) is so damaged by guilt that he becomes a pariah within his unit. He eventually is exiled to a newly-created Department Q, located in the basement of the police building, which is charged with investigating cold cases. He is Department Q's only member, although he soon acquires an assistant, an Arab named Assad, who is officially employed as a cleaner. Assad, it transpires, is not only a brilliant detective but an experienced one, having worked for some years for some Middle Eastern secret service agency. The two men work together to solve the long-ago disappearance of a member of parliament. Good stuff!
My book of the year for 2011 is C.C. Benison's, Twelve Drummers Drumming. This is the start of a new series for the author of the 'Her Majesty Investigates series'. The main character, Rev. Tom Christmas, aka. Father Christmas, is the new rector of Thornford Regis, a small English town. However, although the town seems idyllic and a far cry from the inner city where Tom Christmas had previously worked, all, as we might guess, is not as it seems. It is the classic English mystery with a modern setting. Miss Marple might be surprised at the way the townscape and public behaviour have changed but she would not be surprised at the secrets and the evil that lurks within.
2011 has been a good year for me as a number of my favorite authors have had new titles. I have been a big fan of Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 'Bill Slider' series since it started in 1991, and have always been sad that she neglected this series because of the demands of her historical series, The Morland Dynasty, now up to #34. However, by some fluke this year there have been two Slider novels published. In March, Body Line was published and since August has been available in trade paper. In November, we received Kill My Darling, the 14th in the series and only available so far in hard cover.
The tenth in Barry Maitland's Brock and Kolla series, The Dark Mirror, finally arrived in trade paper in September, followed in October by Chelsea Mansions, only available in hard cover. This series is set largely in London and its environs and gives a very contemporary view of the city and British society. The seemingly random murder of an American tourist visiting the famed Chelsea Flower Show is the starting point for Chelsea Mansions. The second death of a Russian oligarch leads David Brock and his team to travel long distances in both time and space, to the United States and into the long forgotten past.
I used to be a big fan of Val McDermid but recently I had been finding her a little too dark for my taste. However, I really enjoyed her most recent title A Trick of the Dark, a standalone set around an Oxford college. Charlie Flint, is a clinical psychologist, whose career is somewhat under a cloud, is asked by one of her undergraduate advisors to look into a murder.