Criminally Good Parallel Reads

No matter how engaged you might be with your current read, when it comes to a complex doorstopper like The Debacle, you need some alternative reads to keep you sane. Happy to report I’ve found, courtesy of Newcastle Noir and CrimeFest, just the remedy with the following crime fiction novels. These may be teeny-mini-reviews, but all the books are worth a look.

Zoe says they are verrrry good reads too.

The first three (incidentally, all Orenda books – I promise I’m not on commission, though!) were the ones that most tugged at my heartstrings, so I suggest you be in a good place emotionally when you read them. They are not entirely depressing – there is hope and humour in each of them – but they are about as gritty as it is possible to get without turning into a sandpit on an abandoned building site. The remaining four are more conventional police procedurals, although there is nothing bland or boring about any of them.

Will Carver: Good Samaritans

Winner of the Description of the Most Dysfunctional Marriage Award, the sorry tale of insomniac Seth and his bored wife Maeve will stay with you. Fiercely funny as well as unbearably sad to read about their inability to communicate with each other, as well as about all the other lonely people out there and their desperate urge for connection, looking for it in all the wrong places. It will leave you reeling, uncomfortable, and wondering about your own life.

Helen FitzGerald: Worst Case Scenario

Another book with deeper messages rippling out as you read it, leaving indelible marks in your psyche. Beneath the humour and the refreshing ‘don’t-give-a-damn’ rebellion of the disillusioned and menopausal probation officer Mary Shields, there is a lot of social critique and an uncompromising portrayal of life at the margins of society, the kind of things we would rather not know about.

Doug Johnstone: Breakers

And, since we are on the subject of heartbreak, let’s move from the mean streets of Glasgow to one of the most deprived areas of Edinburgh, where 17 year old Tyler is trying to somehow hold together his precarious life and profoundly dysfunctional family. Filled to the gills with brutal scenes and characters that no child should have to deal with, it also has moments of tenderness involving puppies, bedtime stories and home cooking that nevertheless manage to steer clear of clichés and sentimentality.

G.D. Abson: Motherland

If you are equally fascinated and repulsed by Putin’s new (same old) Russia, then this is the book for you. Plenty of local colour and an all too believable backdrop of suspicion, corruption and cover-ups, with an engaging and tough heroine who is just trying to make her way as honestly as possible in a society that seems determined to thwart her at every turn. The start of a series that I will definitely be keeping an eye on.

Mari Hannah: The Scandal

I’ve been a huge Mari Hannah fan from her very first series (and still my favourite), the Kate Daniels one, although she has moved on to two other series since then. As a former probation officer, like Helen FitzGerald, she too injects a voice of authenticity and social concern in her writing, most obvious in this book in her description of the lives of those sleeping rough on the streets of Newcastle.

Mick Herron: London Rules

So many people had been recommending the Slough House series by Mick Herron to me, that I could no longer resist and jumped in at the deep end with one of his most recent. This did mean that perhaps the descriptions of some of the characters and their motivations were opaque to me, but I can see the appeal of this satirical, almost absurdist take on spy thrillers. The clumsy, incompetent and woefully mismatched ‘intelligence’ team led by the undiplomatic and uncharismatic Jackson Lamb (who reminds me slightly of Dalziel) are a joy to behold.

Vaseem Khan: Murder at the Grand Raj Palace

The much longed-for relief in a bunch of rather dark crime novels, this is a charming and quirky story about the rather earnest Inspector Chopra, his sweet-tempered and playful baby elephant, his practical wife Poppy… oh, and a murder at a luxury hotel. The author does a great job of balancing light and dark, without it ever descending into an unbearably cosy and unbelievable situation, and there are references to darker elements of Indian history and society.

12 thoughts on “Criminally Good Parallel Reads”

    1. I find crime fiction comforting like chatting with old friends, especially since I read books in parallel. So I can engage with a complicated one, especially when it’s in a foreign language (slower reading, usually), but also relax with my crime reads.

  1. You do have some great choices there, Marina Sofia. I like the Kate Daniels series very much, myself, and it’s good to see the talented Helen FitzGerald on your list, as well as Mick Herron’s work. I agree, too, that breaking up a doorstopper novel with a smaller one or two is a good idea.

  2. Quite a few people have mentioned Worst Case Scenario, which I am tempted by. Like you I tend to alternate between a few books in different genres. Crime fiction is actually one of my favourite genres, perfect to relax with.

    1. Admittedly, the subject matter of most of the above crime novels are not exactly relaxing, but I found them more bearable than a relentless, uninterrupted description of the atrocities of war.

  3. I keep hearing good things about the Mick Herron books – very tempted! I tend to go for GA crime as a distraction, although I’m thinking of reading some short stories and an essay collection side by side – we’ll see. And I’m not sure the harsh subject matter of some of these book is 100 miles away from the war and revoltion in The Debacle – which is why I tend to contrast something harsh with something cosy! 😀

    1. Yes, I was thinking of that as I was writing up: that actually most of these books don’t make for very ‘light’ reading. Perhaps not enough of a contrast to the truly grim account of war.

  4. I avoid war in fiction. Too much of it in reality in the news media in print and online. I want distraction when I read, to crawl into the safety of a book. Stress, tension, hassles: read fiction that is not unsettling. I have not read any of the above authors, but will remedy this. Kate Daniels looks like someone I want to meet.

  5. While I am not a fan of murder mysteries and such, the last one did sound interesting so will check it out and add it to the groaning pile.
    Truth be told, I read The Millenium Trilogy, all three volumes in four days. I just couldn’t put it down and it was a friend who got me to read them. Thanks.

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