END OF YEAR ROUND-UP Val McDermid's Crime Beat's Cream of the Corpses for 1996
Easy Meat, by John Harvey (Heinemann, £15.99)
The stand-out novel of the year for me. Set against the dark background of Charlie Resnick's Nottingham, it deals with love, death and loss powerfully and terribly. It has all the tragic inevitability of Shakespeare and the compassionate humanity of Ella Fitzgerald's voice. Thronged with characters drawn in a few lines into people we recognise, Easy Meat is enthralling; I read it in a day and it stayed with me for many more. At its best, the crime novel illuminates the society we live in, showing us the often painful truths that lie just outside our peripheral vision. This is one of the best.
Honourable mention: Without Consent, by Frances Fyfield (£15.99, Bantam)
Best First Novel
A bumper year for new talent. It's hard to pick out an individual winner, because they're all quite different. You wouldn't go wrong with any of the following: Hen's Teeth, by Manda Scott (The Women's Press, £6.99) a taut thriller featuring a pathologist and a doctor, both women; Quite Ugly One Morning, by Christopher Brookmyre (Little,Brown, £12.99) Edinburgh black humour, Irvine Welseh meets Terry Pratchett in a tightly plotted NHS trust scam;Goodnight, My Angel, by Margaret Murphy (Macmillan, £15.99) a suspense techno-thriller in the Minette Walters mode, set in Manchester; A Personal History of Thirst, by John Burdett (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99,pb £5.99) exotic, erotic legal thriller with more twists than a corkscrew; or Ruby, by Gerry Byrne (Gollancz, £15.99) a strange obsessive search for truth, an unsentimental walk on the wild side of London's underbelly.
Humorous Crime Novel:
Shooting Elvis, by R.M.Eversz (Macmillan, £14.99)
subtitled Confessions of an Accidental Terrorist, it's wild, wicked and off the wall. When Mary Alice Baker delivers a package to LA airport for her biker boyfriend, the worst thing she can imagine is getting a parking ticket. Minutes later she staggers from the wreckage of a terminal demolished by the bomb she's just handed over. Now she's on the run, from the cops, from her ex-boyfriend and from a pair of hit men. Fast, frightening and very, very funny.
Best History Mystery:
Dying Light in Corduba, by Lindsey Davis (Century, £15.99)
As ever, Davis's Roman Empire is as vivid as downtown Salford, its intrigues and politics sharply relevant to our contemporary world as Falco investigates an olive oil scam. This is perhaps the darkest Davis's novels, yet the overall effect is strangely uplifting. Salted with humour, spiced with unsentimental affection, this is a model of what the history mystery should be.
Nathan's Run, by John Gilstrap (Little, Brown, £12.99)
Nathan is on the run. At twelve, he's been branded a cop killer, an escapee and so dangerous he should be shot on sight. Among the forces of law and order, only one man believes in Nathan's innocence. An electrifying race against time, compelling, page turning and stacked with suspense, this is a thriller that tugs at the heart without spilling over into sentimentality.
Best Police Procedural:
Faithful Unto Death, by Caroline Graham (Headline, £16.99)
Set in a typical Thames Valley village with its mixture of commuters, the retired clinging to past glories, the rural poor and a grapevine that makes Fleet Street look like Trappist monks, Caroline Graham's latest Inspector Barnaby novel is one to savour. Barnaby and his sidekick Sergeant Troy, charmless and uncouth as a Pot Noodle, struggle to make sense of contradictory evidence and unmask a killer as callous, devious and selfish as ever stalked a mean inner city street.
Best Private Eye:
Even The Wicked, by Lawrence Block (Orion, £15.99) The Matt Scudder series of private eye novels goes on getting better and better as Block penetrates the deeper reaches of the human heart and deals with the big issues like loyalty, redemption, guilt and fear. Here Scudder is hired to uncover the identity of a vigilante killer. As if that wasn't enough, he also has to work out why someone would want to murder a man already dying of Aids. A compelling page-turner.