As the university closes for the holiday break today, we hope you’ll find time to enjoy some reading over the next couple of weeks. Our department’s David Wilson has compiled his list of top reading recommendations for this year (five in general fiction and five in detective fiction). Feel free to add your own recommendations and reviews in the comments. Do you have a top five? Top three? At least one book you’re hoping to get to over the break?
David Wilson’s Recommendations
1. Accusation (2013) Catherine Bush
What happens when someone is accused of a crime? Who do we trust–the victim or the accuser? On the surface, Bush’s novel reads like a thriller with its suspects and clues, but just below the waterline we can glimpse the ambiguities of searching for truth and justice amid murky motives and conflicting versions. The story follows a journalist who meets a man running a circus. When allegations of abuse surface, she has to rethink what she knows about him. This story made me consider the dilemmas we face when we read and tell stories.
2. The Son of a Certain Woman (2013) Wayne Johnston
Flat-out funny. Set in 1950s St. John’s this narrative launches itself with verve. I was hooked in the opening pages when I heard Percy speak. It was Dickens who said that a “boy’s story is the best that is ever told.” With this novel Johnston makes a strong case that he is Canada’s Dickens. The story takes on the Catholic Church, the Odyssey, and James Joyce. It’s the kind of book you’ll read, and then want to tell others about.
3. Dogs at the Perimeter (2012) Madeleine Thien
This novel explores the trauma of war. Set in Montreal and Cambodia it follows the wrecked lives of those dealing with the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge and genocide. When terror and chaos reign, what does one want to remember? How can someone overcome that kind of horror? It’s a beautifully told story about how we can’t escape the past or ourselves.
4. An Inconvenient Indian (2012) Thomas King
For anyone who likes their history infused with humour and thoughtful insight, this is the book for you. King tells a good a story about the interactions between natives and whites in North America. Along the way he busts several myths and stereotypes. It’s an entertaining, informative account with a conversational tone.
5. The Progress of Love (1985) Alice Munro
When she won the Nobel Prize this year I dug out my old paperback of this collection of 11 stories I read for a Canadian literature course over 20 years ago. With my notes in the margins I rediscovered the quiet brilliance of her prose. These stories are a remembrance of a summer past; a time that’s become sepia-coloured like an old photo. They remind me that we have to come to terms with others and ourselves in order to move forward.
And now for the detective fiction recommendations:
1. Havana Nocturne (2009) T. J. English
True crime reporting at its best. A fast-paced account of how the mafia moved into Cuba and made Havana their Mob City during the 1950s. Legendary mobsters like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, politicians like JFK and Batista, celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Rita Moreno, and of course Castro and his band of revolutionaries, make appearances in an entertaining narrative that follows all the players, parties, and pay-offs.
2. Midnight in Peking (2012) Paul French
A gripping reconstruction of a shocking unsolved murder case in 1937 Peking on the brink of the Japanese invasion. A young English woman is brutally killed, and 75 years later Parry tries to put this haunting puzzle back together. It reads like a whodunit–full of clues, red herrings, conspiracies, and cover ups. A fine history of Old China.
3. The People who Eat Darkness (2012) Richard Lloyd Parry
This book is a well-researched account about a young woman who disappeared in Tokyo in 2000. It’s part memoir in its depiction of the trauma experienced by the family, part police procedural in its portrayal of Japanese law. It has a noirish feel as it follows the kind of evil that can descend on a person.
4. Happy Birthday, Turk! (1987) Jakob Ajourni
Set is Frankfurt Germany, this gritty novel is a descendant of the hard-boiled tradition. The private eye is from the Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe mold, and makes a fine anti-hero with his own murky motives. Like all good detective fiction, this story moves beyond the facts of the case to explore psychological and social issues. A fun book to read on a plane or at the beach.
5. Chourmo (1996) Jean-Claude Izzo
The second installment of the Marseilles trilogy finds ex-cop Fabio Montale trying to figure out the links between family, mafia, immigrants, and the police. There are plenty of twists and turns but the real pleasure here is the vivid setting. I could taste the greasy fish and smell the harbour as I read this bleak tale about a weary man who just wants to be left alone.