END OF YEAR ROUND-UP Val McDermid's Crime Beat Cream of the Corpses for 1995
Best Novel: The Dark
Room, by Minette Walters
Grabs the reader with a shocking and grisly prologue and simply doesn't let go for a tense 397 pages of nailbiting suspense. Walters is a pathologist of the perverse desires that drive us to unimaginable places, writing with real empathy and pity and turning ambiguity into an art form. This is contemporary crime writing at its absolute peak. [See review of The Sculptress]
Honourable mention: Significant Others, by Robert Richardson (Gollancz, £15.99)
Best First Novel: A tie between
A Grave Talent, by Laurie R. King (HarperCollins, £14.99)
and North of Montana, by April Smith (Hutchinson, £14.99)
A hard choice this year. Smith introduces Ana Grey, an ambitious FBI agent fighting against chauvinism and the dark shadows of her own past. Tightly plotted and compellingly written, it's tense and tortuous, fast and feisty, an engaging mix of the personal and the professional.
King features Casey Martinelli, newly promoted to Homicide and with her own secret to conceal, and Alonzo Hawkin, a veteran detective who's moved to San Francisco for a fresh start. They race against time to track down a psychopathic serial killer in a New Age community. Tight, credible plot, convincing action, absorbing characters and a strong sense of place.
Honourable mention:Instruments of Darkness, by Robert Wilson (HarperCollins, £14.99)
Best Humorous Crime Novel:
Angel Confidential, by Mike Ripley (HarperCollins, £14.99)
No contest. If laughter is the best medicine, this should be available on National Health prescription. Crammed with one-liners that provoke groans and giggles in equal measure, Angel Confidential romps confidently along with enormous brio. All this, and a plot too!
Honourable mention: Lestrade and the Kiss Of Horus, by M.J.Trow (Constable, £15.99)
Best History Mystery:
A Time to Depart, by Lindsey Davis (Century, £14.99)
Marcus Didius Falco's back on the job on the mean streets of ancient Rome. The world's first private eye, whose clients range from the emperor Vespasian to the local laundress, is hired to root out corruption among the local lawmen. If Julius Caesar had written about the Roman Empire with the verve and wit of Lindsey Davis, kids would be queuing up to learn Latin.
Best New Partnership:
Mucho Mojo, by Joe R. Lansdale (Gollancz, £15.99)
Hap Collins is a white nobody with a sense of honour seldom seen since Bogart stopped playing private eyes. His best buddy Leonard Pine is black and gay, but the friendship transcends prejudice. Hap tells his story of despair and destruction in an East Texas town with a grim humour and a sense of humanity that against all odds manages to make this novel upbeat and positive. Add to that the pacy, vernacular writing of the true raconteur, and the end product is that uncommon thing; a gutsy, honest unsentimental story that grips like a pit bull. [See review of Joe R. Lansdale's The Two Bear Mambo]
Day of Wrath, by Daniel Easterman (HarperCollins, £15.99)
Easterman's thrillers are never less than enthralling, elegantly written and frighteningly credible. So when a writer with his gifts, Belfast born and bred yet also an expert in Islamic studies, turns his attention to combining the IRA, Muslim extremists, Christian fundamentalists and maverick British security in one tight plot, there's nothing for it but to lie back and submit to the master. Stylish, shattering and spellbinding.
Honourable mention: The Masterless Men, by J.K.Mayo (Macmillan, £14.99)
Best Police Procedural A
Hard Frost, by R.D.Wingfield (Constable, £15.99)
and The Detective Is Dead, by Bill James (Macmillan, £14.99)
Two very different kinds of novel, but both dealing with mavericks.
David Jason's vivid portrayal of DI Jack Frost has finally brought his creator's novels the popularity they deserve. In an plot packed with more storylines than six months of The Bill, the anarchic Frost faces pressures from within the force and without it as he struggles against time to track down murderers, kidnappers, paedophiles, blackmailers, burglars and a place where he can buy a packet of fags after ten o'clock at night. Frost's latest outing is a delight from start to finish, a unique and unlikely blend of humour and tragedy.
Bill James has been underrated for too long. With this gripping excursion, he cuts a swathe through the opposition and stakes his justified claim as one of the kings of the dark hill. His Harpur and Iles are the Angel Gabriel and Satan of the boys in blue. Together, they tread cautiously and sometimes crazily through the minefield of crime to reach solutions the rest of us pray are mere fictions. If you've missed James so far, start at the beginning and work your way through this beautifully crafted, viciously poetic series.
Honourable mention: Let It Bleed, by Ian Rankin (Orion, £15.99)
Best Private Eye:
Born Guilty, by Reginald Hill (HarperCollins, £14.99)
A white man who's never been to Luton writing about a black private eye based there sounds like a recipe for disaster. In Reginald Hill's deft hands, it's the recipe for a souffle of delights. This fast-moving kaleidoscope is shot through with coruscating wit, not least in the shape of Hill's wonderful creation, The Lost Traveller's Guide, 'the famous series devoted to places you were unlikely to visit', which allows him to paint a picture of the fictional Luton that satirises British townscapes from Doncaster to Dover. Lighter and frothier than Hill's excellent Dalziel and Pascoe series, Born Guilty is perfect for chasing away the winter blues. [See Review of The Wood Beyond]
Honourable mentions: Till The Butchers Cut Him Down, by Marcia Muller (The Women's Press, £5.99) and The Last Tango of Dolores Delgado, by Marele Day (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99)