It's been another good year for crime fiction - although this list might have looked a little different if Australian thriller star Jane Harper had released a novel. Others I read this year that stood apart included The Quaker by Liam McIlvaney, Joe Country by Mick Herron and The Night Fire by Michael Connelly. Without a doubt my most returned to book was Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz's The Soprano Sessions, which was close at hand during a recent marathon Sopranos rewatch.
Agent Running in the Field
John Le Carre
It's easy to take a writer like Le Carre for granted - his output is of such consistent quality that another good Le Carre novel isn't at all remarkable - what sets this apart is its vitality, conciseness and up-to-the-minute subject matter. Some have called this his "Brexit" novel - but that undersells it - there is so much going on here - weary spies, venal politicians, a creeping and malevolent nationalism.
"What really scares me about nostalgia is that it's become a political weapon," Le Carre told the BBC in October.
"Politicians are creating a nostalgia for an England that never existed and selling it, really, as something we could return to".
A feisty, late career highlight from the 88 year old master.
(William Heinemann, $37)
Harris is best known for his monsters - Hannibal Lector being his most famous - but what's often overlooked is the simple beauty of his writing - Stephen King described reading Harris's prose as like "running a slow hand down cold silk".
Harris's new monster is Hans-Peter Schneider, a brothel owner who has a liquid cremation machine in his Miami warehouse but it's the spirited eponymous lead who will sear into the memory. Cari Mora is an ex- Colombian FARC child soldier who, like many of Miami's immigrant population is eeking out a living and trying to keep under immigration's radar. Yes, the finale gets a little gung-ho and the plot, which revolves around $25 million worth of cartel gold, isn't particularly original, but this is an entertaining and oddly affecting thriller.
Lady in the Lake
Lippman's last book Sunburn - a noir exercise that brought depth and nuance to its femme fatale lead - was a highlight of 2018 and this is even better. As I said in my original review this "pushes the crime novel forward into interesting, complicated places". Maddie Schwartz, a 37 Jewish year-old housewife, leaves her husband and child and sets out looking for excitement in a deftly depicted mid-60s Baltimore.
What begins as a domestic tale of female empowerment takes some unexpected swerves - exploring racism, gender inequality, politics and desire. Lippman presents a compelling portrait of a city she knows well that also draws parallels with today's troubled America.
This was without question the breakout thriller of the year - a whip-smart page turner with a horrifying premise - if someone kidnapped your child and asked you to not only pay a ransom but in turn kidnap another child before yours is released - what would you do? This elevated Irish writer McKinty from a critic's darling to an airport mall best seller. Cartel author Don Winslow summed it up best when he called it "Jaws for parents" - great characters, a propulsive plot which plays upon our most primal fears and the best rags-to-riches author story for many years.
City of Windows
Robert Pobi (Mulholland $33)
A sniper is loose in a New York and ex-FBI agent turned astrophysicist Lucas Page is called in to help. Page is the kind of guy NASA call when they have a problem, his mind might be razor sharp but his body betrays his past - an accident that he refers to only as the Event left him with severe physical trauma, one eye and sophisticated prosthetics.
Rejoining the FBI is the last thing he wants to do - but when he learns that the sniper's first victim is his former partner - he reluctantly agrees.
A cerebral page-turner with a fascinating cast of supporting characters that isn't scared of getting political and the start of an intriguing new series.
Call Me Evie
J P Pomare
Winner of the best first novel at this year's Ngaio Marsh awards Pomare's Call Me Evie announced the arrival of an exciting new thriller talent. Pomare cites a range of NZ media as influential on the Kiwi section of Evie - Alan Duff's Once Were Warriors, Jane Campion's Top of The Lake, Taiki Waititi's Boy and short film Two Cars, One Night and one senses he's set to join them as a part of our cultural landscape. Pomare shifts between past and present exploring issues of memory, perception and power with real skill. Don't start this late at night if you want any sleep.
His new book In the Clearing is out in February.