I have read and reviewed nearly 170 books in 2013 so it was a difficult task to select the best ones. I eventually settled on a criteria of 12 books that will remain in my memory for a long time. While thrillers are my staple genre, it is very interesting that half of my top selections are outside that genre. The author background is also interesting - 4 Australian, 1 New Zealand, 1 UK and 6 US. While I did read a fair number of bestsellers during the year, there are no top bestselling authors in the list (mystery/thrillers marked *).
Books are listed in the order that I read them, most recent first.
Candice Fox: Hades *
This is an amazing, chilling, violent and emotionally challenging debut crime novel. It is not for the faint-hearted (an example - Hades observed "An adult body needed a long tooth saw") and the body count is huge. It paces you through an emotionally charged, violent and bloody environment from the very start to a stunning climax. It is a dark, compelling and very original crime fiction thriller written by an Australian author with a bright future.
Craig Lancaster: 600 Hours of Edward
This is a sensitive and emotional account of how a developmentally disabled person faces up to to 600 hours which dramatically changed his life. Edward Stanton is 39 year old and lives alone because he has an obsessive-compulsive disorder which makes it difficult for him to relate to other people, especially if they don't conform with Edward's rigid and obsessive view of the world. He says "I'm developmentally disabled. But that doesn't mean I'm crazy". I am looking forward to reading the sequel "Edward Adrift" next year.
Ian Rankin: Saints of the Shadow Bible *
This is a classic UK crime thriller by Ian Rankin who takes us back to the John Rebus's early days in the police force and reviews what he really is and what he has become. Rebus is back in the police force which is his only life but the only way at his age he can continue to work in the force is to take a demotion to Detective Sergeant. The Department of Complaints (Internal Affairs) starts to investigate things that happened over 20 years ago at the Police Station where Rebus started his career.
Michael Robotham: Bombproof *
Michael Robotham is an Australian author who normally writes very good psychological thrillers set in the UK. In Bombproof he shows us that he can also write amusing tales with this a hilarious story about an innocent person who has been branded by accident as a criminal, who has the ability turn a desperate situations into hopeless ones. Sami is sent to prison for a jewel theft he didn't do and when he gets out a local gang lord thinks he is a master safecracker and forces him to use explosives to crack a safe and destroy vital drug evidence. The break in goes badly wrong, his companion blows himself up on the London Underground and Sami is hunted down as a terrorist. Things get even worse and more hilarious from then on.
Thomas Keneally: Daughters of Mars
This is an epic novel written by a talented Australian novelist, now in his 70's, which looks at the consequences of war through the eyes of two sisters from Australia who nurse the wounded off Gallipoli and on the Western Front. The nursing action encompasses all the destructive elements of modern warfare on the human body, plus the awful damage from different kinds of gas, and shell-shock (not recognised at the time by the medical and military fraternity) plus the destructive forces of the Spanish Flu that killed so many from 1918 onwards. This is historical literary fiction of the first order, skilfully written, sometimes with excruciating detail.
Melanie Benjamin: The Aviator's Wife
Melanie Benjamin has written an an unforgettable fictional biography of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of Charles Lindbergh, the first person to fly across the Atlantic. This is a skillfully written, very personal story about one of the most remarkable women of the 20th Century who married one of America's greatest heroes and flew as his co-pilot on many of his pioneering trips. Lindbergh was one of the greatest control freaks of all time and continued to make Anne's life a misery right up to the time of his death. Her first child was kidnapped and the case became a media circus before the child was found murdered. Despite that tragedy she brought up five more children without much support from Lindbergh in a basically dysfunctional home.
Mark Gimenez: Colour of Law *
"Colour of Law" is the first and probably the best legal thriller by one of my favourite authors, Mark Gimenez. The story focusses on the legal, ethical and personal dilemmas faced by a young and successful lawyer in Texas, Scott Fenney, who is ordered by the court to provide pro-bono defence for a hooker accused of murdering one of her clients. Scott believes she is innocent and is faced with a dilemma when pressure is placed on him by powerful people to drop the case, pressure that could kill his successful career. His boss says to him "...the color of law isn't black-and-white, it's green! The rule of law is money - money rules! Money makes the law and the law protects the money! And lawyers protect the people with money!"
Jason Matthews: Red Sparrow *
This is an outstanding, exciting, chilling espionage thriller which is undoubtedly the best espionage thriller I have read this year, and probably for several years.The Cold War is over but espionage between the US and Russia (under Putin) continues. Jason Matthews is a masterful storyteller who takes us inside the treacherous world of present day espionage on a switchback trail of lies, disinformation, deceit, treachery, violence and torture. This is a great espionage thriller which will keep you absorbed throughout as the plot twists and turns in unexpected ways.
Terry Hayes: I am Pilgrim *
"I am Pilgrim "is definitely the best covert ops/terrorism/murder book I have read this year. It is a complex first novel by veteran Australian journalist and screenwriter Terry Hayes. This thriller left me with so many impressions - intelligent and clever, superbly and deeply plotted, brilliant characterisation, ambitious, enthralling, page-turning, action-packed and mostly unpredictable. Dame Gail Rebuck, CBE (Chair of Penguin Random House) has reportedly called it "The best debut thriller since Day of the Jackal". I am inclined to agree.
Julie Thomas: The Keeper of Secrets
New Zealand author Julie Thomas has written a remarkable debut book which is compassionate, historical, essentially musical and at times extremely emotional. It is a story of a German Jew (a Holocaust survivor), a Spanish Catholic (Maestro Conductor) and a music loving Russian billionaire, and a very special violin made in the early 1700's by Guarneri del Gesù. This book touched my emotions as few books have done. The book could also have been titled "The Tears of an Angel" - you need to read the book to see if you agree.
Deanna Raybourn: A Spear of Summer Grass
This is very different to Deanna Raybourn's normal Victorian romance/sleuth novels. This time Raybourn conjures up a wonderful picture of the environment and social atmosphere of colonial East Africa just after WWI. This is a different type of love story - it is about love of East Africa and love between Ryder (an "Out of Africa" character) and Delilah. The central theme that makes this book so memorable is how Delilah tries not to fall in love with life in that part of Africa. Delilah's first night in the African veld opens her eyes to a new world - "I took in a deep, long breath, drinking in Africa, strange and wonderful Africa."
Pat Conroy: The Great Santini
Pat Conroy's books are mostly connected with his difficult childhood where he experienced mental and physical abuse from his dominating father which form the central theme of this book. Colonel Bull Meecham is a top-gun Marine fighter pilot (who calls himself "The Great Santini") whose life and family are driven and dominated by his dedication to the Marines' way of life. What is uplifting is that Conroy survived to become an author of the first order who can write with passion and understanding about this difficult subject. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants a challenging read which will make you both sad and happy and you will remember for a long time.