Top Books of 2008 is something everybody is doing at the moment.
I find these lists very uncomfortable - it seems so unfair to distill down an entire years entertainment into a Top 10 or similar. Besides I'm notoriously mathematically challenged so I don't do 10. What I have done is found a number of books that are well worth another mention from last year.
Starting out with the locals:
Voodoo Doll by Leah Giarratano. There were a number of things about this book that made it a standout. There is the central character Jill Jackson - whose ongoing recovery from a horrific childhood incident is the most realistic portrayal I've read. Add to that a very moving story of a disturbed "criminal", who, no matter how horrible his own crimes, engenders a real sense of sympathy in the reader. Leah is undoubtedly writing from a deep knowledge of her subject matter, but she doesn't write "as an expert". The books are a good story, with the understanding being demonstrated rather than lectured.
Blood Sunset by Jarad Henry. I loved this book for a couple of reasons - the sense of place of Melbourne. Particularly Melbourne during those long, hot, smokey bushfire days of summer. When the pavement gets sticky and people get unbelievably ratty. Add to that a very realistic portrayal of police procedure and police behaviour and I was a very happy reader after I finished this book.
The Build Up by Philip Gwynne. Okay I'm got to get repetitive here and you might be starting to get a hint about some of the elements of a book that really appeal to me but sense of place again. Darwin in the Build Up - that period just before the Wet finally arrives. When people (again) go bats and strange things happen. I could smell the air getting heavy, feel the place through and through. The story was great as well, and the central character, in particular, extremely well done.
A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn. Okay, is anybody really surprised that I loved the sense of apartheid South Africa. Perhaps not so strong a sense of Africa as a place in that there are no vistas of the land, no native animals wandering the streets of the town (as they probably don't - same as here / few of us are lucky enough to have a resident kangaroo leaning against the back fence). But what really appealed to me about this book was the characterisations and the way that it drew a picture of apartheid society that was absolutely gloves off.
Shatter by Michael Robotham. If it's any consolation Michael I'd be happy to find you at a dinner party I was attending, although maybe a few chairs away. This was a profoundly disturbing book simply because of the sheer evil of the villain of the piece. It was written in a way that made that sense of evil profoundly disturbing, without once degenerating into caricature which is often the case when an author is trying to engender a reaction in the reader. Again, a tremendous character set as well which really helped the reader care about the outcome. A lot.
Natural History by Neil Cross. This was a surprise. A big surprise which is probably not fair as the author is obviously a very accomplished writer. The people that populated this book were particularly appealing, and it has one of those "what the" endings which just simply worked.
Now, from over the ditch and not very far away at all:
Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave. Mr Cleave has rapidly become one of my favourite authors. He has an ability to astound me (and frighten me witless) which is somewhat startling for somebody who reads as many books as I do. Slightly more lunatic maybe than earlier books, Cemetery Lake was an astounding book about a man who spirals out of control, who knows it, and doesn't seem to necessarily want to change it. Raw and magnificently disturbing.
Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill. I've been a fan of this series, set in Laos, since the very first book but this one, in particular, got to me. I absolutely loved the way that Dr Siri is becoming more and more comfortable with who he is and how his life works (including the supernatural aspects which just seem so culturally accurate), but the journey of Mr Geung in this book is simply magnificent.
The Shadow in the River by Frode Grytten. This book appealed to me greatly for a number of reasons. I loved the sly dry humour, I loved the portrayal of outsiders and the way a closed society can just simply leap to conclusions because it's easier. I loved the fact that the crime wasn't the point - it was the catalyst for a story about a society that is disintegrating.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. An example of the best of the best of crime fiction. Social commentary, some not too subtle revenge, a journey story - for more than just Lisbeth, a traditional "closed room" styling. I confess I was a little leery because there had been so much "press" about how good this book was, but it really did live up to most of the predictions for me.
The Redbreast and /or Nemesis by Jo Nesbo. Jo Nesbo writes a fabulous series around one of those magnificently rumpled, grumpy and problematic central police characters. As well as that great portrayal though, there is some fantastic and intricate plot development as well as intrigue and suspense.
Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason. Buy and read immediately author. Need I say more?
Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardotti. Ignore the blurb. These are great characters - not at all morose, there is a lovely light touch of humour in a book that starts off in a very grusome manner.
A Quiet Belief in Angels by R J Ellory. This appealed probably in large part because it was different. An unusual book that is very moving in places, undoubtedly slow paced which won't appeal to everyone, but it's worth trying to get into the swing of the book just for the emotional experience.
Die with Me by Elena Forbes. It's always immensely satisfying to find a debut book that appeals. Hopefully this is the beginning of an ongoing series as this was a great book. Good cast of characters, in a very solid plot which has some quite sobering moments.
Blood from Stone by Francis Fyfield. This book became an award winner about the time I was reading it and I could really see why - or at least it greatly appealed to me as well. I like books where even the crime seems ambiguous and this was very much an exploration of a woman's life.
Absolution by Caro Ramsay. Another debut that had a bit of a wow factor to it - with some very brave scenarios built into it which gave the book a very satisfying twist. Definitely a little on the darker side, and very interesting with it.
The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel. This has possibly been one of the best of my best books of 2008. It snuck up on me - I had a copy but hadn't picked it up, until the author was flagged as attending MWF. So on the morning of the festival session, it became my train book and I nearly didn't get off the train. Took me just a day or so to read it and it has stayed with me ever since. Based on true events, but with a different timeframe and a resolution (the true crimes remains unsolved). It is told in an unusual form with a combination of story, testimony from eye witnesses and prayers or commentary from the unidentified killer. The intimacy that the style gives the book makes it very discomforting - you know that you are hearing the voice of the murderer somewhere but they are difficult to pick. Fascinating and a worthwhile winner of awards.