Spriteby: Top five books of 2013

2013 has been quite a year for catching up with the latest exploits of several old favourites, and making the acquaintance of one or two new detectives and authors who have entered the crime fiction genre over the last 12 months. My crime fiction year has had a particularly historical flavour to it, with only the occasional foray into the modern day. With several interesting historical reads already on my radar for 2014 (The Harlot’s Tale by Samuel Thomas, Who Thinks Evil by Michael Kirkland, and A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger) I’m certainly looking forward to another great year of historical crime fiction to keep me as absorbed. So, which books made it onto this year’s top five?

meltwater5 – Meltwater by Michael Ridpath
The third book in the Fire & Ice series featuring Detective Magnus Jonson finds us returning to Reykjavik not just for a new case but to discover whether Magnus will uncover the truth about a deeply personal investigation that has been hanging over him and his brother Oli, since they were children. As with the previous two books – Where the Shadows Lie and 66° North – Magnus is working both cases in tandem, with the narrative moving seamlessly between both. He now finds himself looking into the murder of an Italian activist who could have been killed because of some very damaging information relating to the death of a protestor in Israel. As with his previous cases, nothing is as it initially seems and the body count mounts before the final reveal, but just how shocking will his own skeletons turn out to be? The fourth book in the series, Sea of Stone, is due for release in May 2014.
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death-st-james-park4 – Death in St James’ Park by Susanna Gregory
The Thomas Chaloner adventures are a series I discovered last year when I reviewed The Piccadilly Plot. In January, I took myself back to Restoration England and joined Chaloner for his latest hunt, but having made one or two enemies within the Lord Chancellor’s office in the past, it’s not quite the intrigue he was hoping for. A cart loaded full of gunpowder has been blown up outside the General Letter Office, but instead of being set to work finding out who’s behind it, Chaloner finds himself on the sideline – making inquiries into bird poisonings at the St James’ Park aviary. With rumours of papist plots and Dutch invasions filling the local coffee houses, why has his attention been diverted? Are there more to these poisoned birds? Chaloner must launch his own investigation, without the authorisation of his master, if he is to find out.
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The Heresy of Dr Dee3 – The Heresy of Doctor Dee by Phil Rickman
Phil Rickman’s a writer who likes his crime fiction with an added dash of the supernatural. His Merrily Watkins mysteries are a series I’ve quite happily immersed myself in. The latest book in that series, The Magus of Hay, was recently reviewed by our own David Prestidge. However, back in 2010 he started to develop a new series of mysteries featuring the Elizabethan mathematician and astronomer Dr John Dee. Towards the end of last year, the second book in that series was released and I decided to delve in. The backdrop of the story is the mysterious death of Robert Dudley’s wife, Amy, and the question of whether her fall was accidental or murder. However, John Dee is being sent to Wales alongside Dudley to look into an entirely different matter. A decidedly sinister brigand has been accused of using witchcraft to bring about death, and a victim has injuries similar to those of men mutilated after a battle over 100 years earlier.
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A Treacherous LIkeness2 – A Treacherous Likeness by Lynn Shepherd
Following on from Tom-All-Alone’s, which saw Charles Maddox investigating a mystery based on the Dickens classic Bleak House, Lynn Shepherd returned in February with a new case for Maddox. With old rumours resurfacing, Maddox is engaged by the son of Percy Bysshe Shelley to look into the circumstances surrounding the death of the poet’s first wife, Harriet Westbrook, in 1816. Charles finds himself being drawn into an intricate web of deceit, and he makes one or two shocking discoveries along the way. It’s a mystery that intrigued me from the start and held my attention right up to the final page. Read MarinaSofia’s review here.
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blood-on-a-saint1 – Blood on a Saint by Anne Emery
I have to admit, I have something of a soft spot for Father Brennan Burke and his legal partner in crime, Monty Collins. It’s a series that never fails to entertain. Last time I caught up with them they were back in the old country for Death at Christy Burke’s. Now they’re back in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a woman’s claim to have seen the Virgin Mary in the churchyard of St Bernadette’s is about to give them their biggest headache yet. In the wake of all the pilgrims who have traveled to the church, controversial talkshow host Pike Podgis has arrived in town to ask some probing questions of Fr Brennan. Things don’t go well but less than 24 hours later a body is found in the churchyard, and it’s Podgis who finds himself with uncomfortable questions to answer. Monty finds himself lumbered with the man’s defence, and with Brennan bound by the confessional, the pair must try to solve a crime without discussing what they know with each other.

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Click here to see my top five books of 2012.

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