I have a confession to make… I’ve never read a crime novel before. Except Sherlock Holmes (at university) but does that really count? No, I’ve not even read Agatha Christie. I usually read a mixture of so-called literary fiction, classics – I’m totally engrossed in re-reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall at the moment – and, when it comes to genre, fantasy is my go-to.
Since starting work for Turnaround in November I’ve been surrounded by so many superlative sounding crime books and specialist crime publishers that I started to question why I’d never read any. I enjoy crime dramas on TV – especially any European imports on BBC4 and Sky Atlantic’s Fortitude – but I am guilty of having been a bit biased against the crime fiction genre. Why? I’m not sure. Possibly working in bookselling for years and seeing a lot of identikit book jackets and formulaic blurbs. It probably also has something to do with my dad, who is incredibly well-read, and reads more than anyone else I know, but now exclusively reads crime novels and can never remember the plots of any of them when I ask him about them. I think I always saw it as a more disposable genre and my academic background has, until recently, almost completely rejected it.
But crime fiction has changed a lot in recent years. It has long been the bestselling genre but lately it seems to have gained a sense of gravitas and, tellingly, 2016 was the first year in which a book that was ‘officially’ a crime novel – His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet, published by Saraband – was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It is not actually this that has affected my decision (of which more in just a moment) but rather the fact that working with some of the best publishers of crime fiction in the business – Akashic Books, Bitter Lemon Press, No Exit Press, Orenda Books, and Soho Press, to name but a few – has made me reconsider how I view the genre.
So, in 2017, I have decided to read one newly published crime fiction novel a month, in its month of publication, from Turnaround’s comprehensive list. Where possible I will endeavour to read a book by a different publisher each month, although I make no apologies for occasionally just choosing something that sounds interesting to me despite having already read something by that press! I also want to try and read as internationally and diversely as possible. I shall also include thrillers and anything involving murder, detection, or any of the archetypes of crime but has, for whatever reason, not been classified explicitly as crime. I will then do a little write-up of the book – what appealed to me about it, what I learned about crime fiction from it, and any other thoughts that occur.
Here we go!
January 2017, Kill the Next One by Federico Axat (Text)
‘Ted McKay was about to put a bullet through his brain when the doorbell rang. Insistently. He paused. He couldn’t pull the trigger when he had someone waiting at the front door.’
My book for January was Kill the Next One by Federico Axat, published on 26th January by Text Publishing, an Australian independent press that publishes literary fiction – including a range of Australian classics – and non-fiction. Classed as ‘thriller’ rather than straight-up crime fiction, Kill The Next One in fact comes, as you can see, with the caveat ‘the perfect thriller’: a great place to crack into my year of crime/thriller fiction, then! Axat is originally from Buenos Aires, although the novel is set in the US, and published by an Australian company, so my international agenda is also satisfied. I also really like this jacket! Yes, red and black are crime genre staples, but the yellow post-its (and who doesn’t love a post-it?) really make it stand out as something a little bit different.
Now, although I’ve never read crime fiction before, I am still very familiar with the genre from having worked in the books industry for over a decade and watching crime on TV. So please believe me when I say that I think this may be the apex of psychological thrillers! It also involves chess and a scary possum. I don’t want to say too much else about it and risk spoiling the plot for anyone but, suffice to say, its labyrinthine plot uses not just an unreliable narrator but an unreliable narrative strategy told in four sections with layer upon layer of conflicting realities, bizarre dream/fantasy sequences and flashbacks. This is unsettling yet enthralling and, more than with any other book I’ve ever read, I frequently found my mind blown by pieces of the puzzle falling into place. I tore through it in three days (usually I average about a week per book), missed my stop on the bus twice, and gasped audibly in public at least five times. It captured me in a very different way to anything else I’ve read and I wish I could do a longer write up, because I have a lot to say, but not at the risk of revealing too much.
Kill the Next One by Federico Axat –Published by Text Publishing 9781911231066 – p/b £10.99
Post by Rachel.
In February I will be reading The Year of Needy Girls by Patricia A. Smith, from Akashic Books: join me!