A Taste for Death: The sharpest crime novels of the year

The pace never slackens, the sparring between characters is constant.

Written by Paromita Chakrabarti , Anushree Majumdar | Published:December 27, 2014 4:34 am

The Secret Place (Hodder & Stoughton) is Irish thespian and novelist Tana French’s fifth offering in the Dublin Murder Squad series and she has a winner on her hands. French dives deep into a boarding school’s hyperreality, always quick to observe the gossip, the jargon, the rivalries that are played out in between classes at St Kilda’s.

The narrative double-dutches between the months before 16-year-old Chris Harper was found murdered on the school grounds a year ago, and the present. The pace never slackens, the sparring between characters is constant, and in spite of their youth, or perhaps because of it, nobody at St Kilda’s is entirely innocent, or incapable of a ruthless crime.

There’s a reason why 28-year old Swiss author Joel Dicker’s The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair (MacLehose) became the sensation it did, with over two million copies sold in a year. It’s a literary whodunit that is as gripping as it is playful. The body of a 15-year-old who disappeared 33 years ago is discovered on writer Harry Quebert’s property in rural New Hampshire, along with a manuscript of his celebrated work.

As Quebert languishes in jail, his protege Marcus Goldman shakes off a crippling writer’s block to write his version of what really happened. Dicker’s tone is light and funny, and though Goldman is a self-obsessed smart-aleck strangely reminiscent of Nick Dunne from Gone Girl, the book is never tedious or pompous.

Keigo Higashino explores the treacherous undercurrents between ambition, talent and jealousy in the literary world in Malice (Little Brown), a Roshomon-like narrative of the murder of acclaimed best-selling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka. Hidaka’s old school friend Osamu Nonoguchi, a writer of children’s books, and the one who discovers his body in his locked study, keeps a journal recording the details of his association with the dead writer.

Police detective Kyochiro Kaga is a realist who “was never much for literature in school”. His account of the crime, alternating with Nonoguchi’s, is riddled with questions. The answers lie in the childhood of the two writers, in a world where boys bullied each other “just because” and where resentments ran deep and long.

The Farm (Simon & Schuster) is Tom Rob Smith’s fourth book and first standalone novel after his immensely successful Child 44 series. Smith crafts a taut, atmospheric thriller about a family that keeps secrets from each other.

As is the case with most crime fiction set in Scandinavia, the natural beauty of south Sweden gives way to a darkness that spreads across the pages. Smith ups the ante, as well as the suspense, by tightly wounding fairy tales and folk tales into the plot, blurring the lines between reality, fantasy and memory.

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