BEST CRIME NOVEL OF THE YEAR:
When I reviewed On Beulah Height, by Reginald Hill (HarperCollins, £16.99) back in February, I said, " This is a masterclass in the art of writing fiction. I doubt I'll read a better book this year." And I was right. When a long hot summer reveals the drowned village of Dendale, it resuscitates memories of three missing girls and the man suspected of abducting them. Every copper has a case that haunts him, and for the eternally vulgar but acute Andy Dalziel, it's this one. Now he's faced with what appears to be a rerun of his old failure. This time, he's determined not to be defeated. As past and present intertwine like the complex musical composition that also has its place in the story, we share an elegaic sense of loss that threatens to engulf Hill's characters. This is a jewel of a book.
Nicholas Blincoe's first two novels owed as much to the films of Almodovar and Tarantino as they did to any literary source. With his third novel, Manchester Slingback (Picador, £9.99) he has finally found a style uniquely his, crackling with energy, wit and insight. If Martians landed tomorrow, this would tell them all they need to know about Manchester's underground culture. More than that, it would tell them most of what they need to know about human nature. The novel's bleak collision of past and present is equally graphic in its descriptions of low life having a high time and of the violence that's always lurking in the shadows.
BEST FIRST NOVEL:
Denise Mina has been awarded the Crime Writers Association John Creasey Memorial Dagger for best first crime novel of 1998 for her thought-provoking and sparkily written debut, Garnethill (Bantam, £15.99) It's remarkable not least for the voice of its central character Maureen O'Donnell. Maureen is a former psychiatric in-patient and a victim of child sex abuse who is still not believed by her dysfunctional family. When her lover is found with his throat slashed in her kitchen, Maureen is regarded as not only unreliable but suspect. A perceptive, surprisingly upbeat read, Garnethill is a mature performance that reveals an exciting new talent.
Fred Willard's Down on Ponce (No Exit, £5.99) was short-listed for the same award. Sometimes a book comes along that almost defies description. Willard's debut is one of those, a madcap, surreal adventure for which the term 'pretzel logic' could have been coined. The most ill-assorted gang of villains since the Lavender Hill Mob turn narrative certainties inside out in this noir comedy of crime and punishment.
BEST PRIVATE EYE NOVEL:
Boston-based Dennis Lehane is one of the hottest talents to have crossed the Atlantic in recent years and with his third novel, Sacred (Bantam, £5.99) he establishes a firm beach head on the shores occupied by Michael Connelly and James Lee Burke. Private eyes Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are hired to find a distraught heiress who has fallen under the spell of a cult. But nothing is what is seems in this bravura performance of smoke and mirrors. With its sharp, tight dialogue, explosive action scenes and heart-wrenching emotional crises, Sacred is a hard book to put aside once begun.