2015 will always have a place in the dark hearts of us Killer Women. It was – still is – the year we launched. Starting with our secret salons, we’ve drunk wine, plotted, we’ve laughed. In May we had our launch, and some of us can even remember it. We’ve written features, appeared in The Times, Marie Claire, The Independent, The Scotsman, The Guardian. We’ve talked at Harrogate, Shetland Noir and Crimefest where we’ve sparred with pathologists, forensic scientists and talked about our some of pet subjects; violence, women, killer twists.
Now, we’re not ones to blow our own trumpets but a few of our number have also collected awards along the way. Jane Casey won the Irish Crime Book of the Year award for After The Fire and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Alex Marwood won a Macavity for best mystery novel in the US for The Killer Next Door, and Paula Hawkins published a book about a girl on a train. You may have read it. If you are the person who hasn’t, you can always catch the film version in 2016, produced by Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks no less.
We’d like to say a huge thanks to all of you who’ve supported us, followed us and chatted with us. There are even bigger and better things to come in 2016, we promise. But before we sign off, and in case you’re stuck for reading matter over the holidays, we’ve each chosen the best book we’ve read in 2015.
Louise Millar, City Of Strangers
Trips to Glasgow and Orkney with Killer Women this year, led me to Lin Anderson’s excellent Glasgow-set crime series with forensics expert Dr Rhona MacLeod. Paths Of The Dead is set in both locations and is the story of a murder investigation following the discovery of a body by a Neolithic stone circle.
Paula Hawkins, The Girl on The Train
My book of the year is Kate Atkinson’s A God In Ruins. Poignant, bleak and beautiful, this is at once a thrilling tale of life as a bomber pilot during the Second World War and a compassionate account of one man’s attempt to live a good and quiet life in the twentieth century. A masterpiece.
Laura Wilson, The Wrong Girl
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro (Vintage) Some of the finest short stories available to humanity. Special mention goes to Sleeping with Dogs: A Peripheral Autobiography by Brian Sewell (Quartet). Just lovely.
Helen Giltrow, The Distance
The best book I’ve read this year? In fact it’s a dead heat between two very different titles. Back in July I tweeted that I’d just bought Don Winslow’s The Cartel in hardback; immediately Stav Sherez, Rod Reynolds and Mark Hill all tweeted back, telling me I had to read its prequel The Power of the Dog first. Published in 2005, this tale of the Mexican drug wars is astonishing in scope and scale. Probably one of the best crime novels ever.
But for sheer enjoyment I’d have to pick Mick Herron’s 2013 CWA Gold Dagger winning Dead Lions, which follows the fortunes of a bunch of disgraced British intelligence personnel as they try to decode a cryptic message left by a murdered Cold War spy. Herron deploys memorable characters, brilliant dialogue, a keen conscience and great jokes, in a book that also manages to nod simultaneously to Le Carre and the great American masters of Noir.
Erin Kelly, The Ties That Bind
I loved The Paying Guests, a slow-burning domestic, literary novel that builds into a gripping courtroom drama. Sarah Waters brings historical London, and fictional past Londoners, to life better than any writer I know. This book is set in 1922, a generation of men – brothers, fathers, husbands – has been lost in the Great War. Genteel-but-poor Frances is forced to take in a couple of working-class lodgers; her passionate affair with the wife, Lillian, crosses the ultimate boundary into murder.
Helen Smith, Beyond Belief
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber is a moving book about loss. An English missionary travels to a faraway planet that has been settled by people from earth. His job is to keep the indigenous population happy by talking to them about the Bible. His separation from his wife, who is still on earth, leads to a gradual estrangement. It’s an extraordinary book – one of the best I’ve read in a long time. Partway through reading it, I realised the author’s wife was dying as he wrote it, which gave it an added, almost unbearable poignancy.
Anya Lipksa, A Devil Under the Skin
Laline Paull’s debut novel The Bees is set in a hive and all the main characters belong to the species Apis mellifera, aka European honey bees, with wasps and spiders taking the role of villains. It’s essentially a political thriller: the hive is a highly repressive society with a rigid caste system and punishment for any who steps out of line – like our heroine Flora 717, doomed to serve as a lowly sanitation bee all her short life, who rejects her biological destiny, risking execution by the hive police. Cleverly constructed around a year in the life of a hive, it’s clear that Paull has done her research into the life cycle and behaviour of the honey bee, and is able to make some very clever parallels with human social hierarchies. If that makes it sound heavy, it’s not. It’s pacy, gripping and occasionally very funny: I loved the male drones who are portrayed as swashbuckling but lazy Arthurian knight types interested only in food, drink and sex.
Kate Rhodes City Of Souls
The Butcher’s Bird by SD Sykes, a wonderful historical thriller…
Alison Joseph, Murder Will Out
A Manual for Cleaning Women. This is a collection of 43 short stories written by Lucia Berlin, an American writer who died in 2004 at the age of 68. She is described as one of America’s best-kept secrets, publishing short stories in her lifetime but never attaining any fame until after her death. Her stories are a delight to read – poignant, serious and with great humanity and empathy. They reflect the reality of women’s lives, in a kind of essential feminism, ranging from the cleaning women of the title story to nurses, to recovering alcoholics – in all cases from Berlin’s own experience. Her writing has a deceptive simplicity, the stories layered with the lightness of a mille-feuille pastry; all I know is, as soon as I’ve finished one of the stories, I want to read it all over again, immediately.
Tammy Cohen, First One Missing
The Story of The Lost Child by Elena Ferrante. The Neopolitan series, which starts with My Brilliant Friend, tells the story of two girls growing up in brutal poverty in 1950s Naples, and follows them throughout their lives, as their individual journeys weave in and out of one another. So far, so predictable, and yet this is anything but. Ferrante is utterly unsentimental and unflinching in her depiction of both the characters themselves and their relationships with the people around them and the times in which they live. This is a side of Italy we don’t normally see – violent, judgemental and remorselessly misogynistic. Her writing is raw and honest, particularly on the ambivalence of motherhood, and her story-telling is second-to-none. I’ll miss Lena and Lila now that the series is finished, but I can’t wait to see what Ferrante comes up with next.
M.J McGrath, The Bone Seeker
Ghettoside by Jill Leovy
African American males make up 6% of the US population and 40% of its murder victims. In this brilliant book, LA Times reporter Jilly Leovy attempts to answer the question: why? Following the real-life investigation by LAPD homicide detective John Skaggs, of the murder of 18 year old Bryan Tennelle, himself son of a respected LA detective, Ghettoside that rare thing: a work of nonfiction that is urgent, gut-wrenching and utterly gripping. A true page-turner. As Michael Connelly says, ‘Everyone needs to read this book.’
KT Medina, White Crocodile
The novel that I have returned to the most over the years is one that I read for the first time when I was aged fourteen: All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. It is a heartbreaking, semi-fictional/semi-factual account of the horrors of the first world war told by an eighteen-year-old German boy. The power in the novel is that the characters are incredibly empathetic and what they go though heartbreaking.
All Quiet on the Western Front never fails to affect me deeply, even though I have read it more than ten times now. As a lesson in how to write great characters and incredibly intense, emotional scenes, it is unbeatable.
Jane Casey After the Fire
One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway by Åsne Seierstad (Virago). It’s a compelling, beautifully written account of the life of Anders Breivik leading up to his terrible act of mass murder in Oslo and on the island of Utøya, in which he killed seventy-seven people, most of whom were teenagers. A chilling story, it focuses as much on the victims as Breivik himself – Seierstad has the ability to draw a vivid picture of someone with just a few telling details, so you have a real sense of what was lost to the world because of Breivik’s actions. It’s also a brilliant depiction of how Norway has changed in the last few decades as immigration and integration have altered the social fabric of the country. It’s not an easy book to read considering the subject matter but it never veers into sensationalism. Seierstad is unflinching and precise in her account of the tragedy, and her treatment of Breivik – a man who lives for attention – is masterful. One of Us has the pace and tension of a thriller but it is also deeply respectful of the victims and their families.
Colette McBeth, The Life I Left Behind
The book I’ve recommended to most people is The Girl In The Red Coat, Kate Hamer’s wonderful, mesmeric debut. It’s about eight-year old Carmel who is taken from her mother at a festival. I was captivated both by Carmel’s story and Hamer’s glorious writing, and sobbed my way through the final pages.
D.E Meredith, The Devil’s Ribbon
At almost 700 pages long, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker, is a brilliant plotted tour de force. It knows its genre backwards, plays with it and inverts it. Its Twin Peaks meets Chandler meets Donna Tart with a bit of Lolita chucked in, for good measure. It’s a thriller and a murder mystery about fame, love, theft, celebrity and what it means to be a writer. It’s about lust and envy; it’s also about guilt. Gargantuan in girth, it’s a page turner. I read it in two days flat. Twists and turns? Too many to mention. For writers and lovers of crime writing, it’s an inspiration.
Alex Marwood, The Darkest Secret
This summer I stumbled across a reference to Dan Gardner’s Future Babble in an article about the extreme end of Climate Change claims, downloaded it and swallowed it in a day. It’s a discussion of the psychological nature and effects of “expert” status, and the strange phenomenon that results in expert predictions often being more inaccurate than those of your average person in the street. I adore books like this, and this way up on my adore list; the human race’s capacity to fool itself is one of the things that fascinates me more than anything else.