My Year in Books #HallOfFame #BookLove2021


2021 was a difficult year for me as my Dad died in April and consequently, I didn't read as many books this year as I have the past few years. However, Goodreads tells me I read 114 books and as always, reading entertained, educated and soothed me. Every book I review on my blog is a book I have read and recommend but there were some that really stood out for me. I'm a firm believer that sometimes you read a book at the right time so please bear in mind that reading is subjective and these are my opinions only.  If I read and reviewed your book this year, rest assured I valued and enjoyed the time I spent with it, whether it appears on this list or not. I've included a snippet from each of my reviews to whet your appetite, click the title of the book if you'd like to read more.
I have limited myself to choosing books which were published in 2021 (I go by print book date if there's an earlier ebook publication date) but there were some novels which I'm sure I would have included on previous lists had I read them in their year of publication. So to start with, I'm giving a quick shout-out to the following books.

Degrees of Darkness is an addictive, powerful, poignant thriller which understands that the emotional repercussions endure beyond the conclusion of an investigation.

I listened to the audiobook of Hunted and thought the narration by Christopher Ragland captured the essence of the novel superbly. The pacing perfectly matched the rollercoaster storyline, ratcheting up the tension with each near-miss or new revelation, while each character's voice is clearly defined and suits their personalities.
Next up are the books I very highly recommend, listed by reading order.

January - March


Action-packed from the start, as this brutal, extended war reaches its final battle, the bloody, magic-fuelled clashes and rising casualties on both sides meant I almost had to read with my hands over my eyes. 

Unflinchingly honest with flawed, difficult characters who have nevertheless taken up residence in my heart, There's Only One Danny Garvey is absolutely unmissable. 

Last Flight to Stalingrad might be set during one of the most significant battles of modern warfare but the huge scale allows for an intimate, perceptive character study.

Taut, ambitious and engaging with a superb sense of time and place, Red Corona is an excellent debut thriller and Tim Glister an author to watch.

The modus operandi of this memorable, creepy serial killer is seriously unsettling and the twisty, atmospheric plot is totally engrossing from the first page through to the hugely satisfying conclusion. 

…this really is a fabulous short story collection that made me laugh, cry and grit my teeth while it raised my pulse level and made me think.
Dark Memories is a tense, intriguing police procedural which once again demonstrates just how good Liz Mistry is at examining the very worst of humanity while sensitively centring the victims of crime.
As a lover of intelligent, provocative, sinister fiction, I thought Deity was excellent; as a parent to teenagers, it's terrifying. I loved it!
This is magical realism at its most captivating with the evocative wartime setting accentuating the nostalgic spirit of the book.
Intriguing, engrossing and intricately plotted, Singapore Fire is a rewarding action thriller; I thoroughly recommend it.
It's a thought-provoking, complex thriller which transported me to Nigeria and despite the inescapable violence and unrest, has left me desperately looking forward to a return.
It's a complex, emotional case which throws up plenty of suspects and the tense, compelling plot keeps the surprises coming until the perfectly pitched resolution which is as thought-provoking as it is shocking.
Sebastian de Souza's debut is richly imagined world-building at its most immersive; I loved the juxtaposition of futuristic technologies - from the flying Podd vehicles to the holo-pop advertising holograms - and the Heath Robinson style contraptions used by the inventive Offliners.
The clever weaving of past and present examines how history continues to influence lives, both on a familial and broader scale and the exploration of whether violence can be passed down through the generations is intriguing. 
Although we don't see much of Molly here as she is snatched very early in the novel, I was impressed by the care taken to ensure she and her distraught parents are never overshadowed by the various interactions in the MICT.

April - June

A Gambling Man by David Baldacci
A Gambling Man is historical crime as its most authentic and almost feels like a book written in the period in which it's set, although Archer is perhaps more enlightened than many men of the era

Dead Secret is a dark and disturbing thriller but it is deeply compassionate too; D.C. Maggie Jamieson is rapidly becoming one of my favourite fictional detectives and this series just keeps getting better.
A must-read for anybody who enjoys complex, exciting thrillers which are both highly topical and yet offer intriguing historical comparisons
This intricately woven story is a slow-burning, compelling tale where the exploration of a doomed marriage amidst a hostile environment eventually reveals the dramatic truth behind the sinister fate of this troubled family.
Compassionate, poignant and uncompromising, When I Was Ten is an unsettling, gripping thriller which twists and turns throughout but for all the dramatic revelations, it is also a compelling portrait of violent guilt and fear amidst intense loyalties.
No Going Back is a cleverly plotted, intriguing book which kept me riveted from first page to last and although this case is concluded, I loved the cliffhanger ending that promises more trouble ahead.
Guardians at the Wall is fiction of course, but such meticulously researched, engaging writing ensures that this riveting story is imbued throughout with an evocative sense of authenticity.
 The twists keep coming until the very end with a conclusion that left me stunned. I loved Save Her, it's a suspenseful, addictive psychological thriller 
I Know What You've Done is a compelling domestic noir thriller; packed with simmering tension, dark twists and with an insightful, involving plot that meant I raced through the pages in a day
The superb characterisation and creative, fantastical storytelling weave together magic, friendship and danger in an irresistible celebration of womanhood. I loved every word - in fact you could say I was bewitched!
The often ominous ties to Ancient and Classical Greece are richly symbolic, weaving an intense story of loss and longing amidst the disturbing rising body count.
This is original, consummately convincing crime fiction which reminds us that behind each victim is a story - perhaps even more than one story.

July - September

Susi Holliday writes such creepy, compelling, original thrillers and the dystopic, genre-defying Substitute is no exception - I loved it! 
The wartime chapters present a realistic, fascinating and moving portrait of the time while the modern day sections are also heartbreaking as both women gradually come to terms with Violet's dementia.
Set in 1948, the vivid descriptions of the island and the cleverly included subtleties observing geopolitical concerns and widely-held attitudes and prejudices ensures that as with the previous Ash Carter novels, the sense of time and place is utterly superb.

With its intricate, compulsive plot, astute, convincing characterisation and an atmospheric sense of place which ensures that this story resonates everywhere yet could only take place in Iceland, Girls Who Lie is as beautifully written as any literary fiction novel.

Bleak, suspenseful and utterly compelling, this atmospheric, mournful thriller is breathtaking Nordic Noir at its blackest.
An old lady trying to stop murders predicted by a pirate radio station is such an enticing, imaginative premise for a book and Half-Past Tomorrow more than met my expectations.
The Great Silence is an outstanding novel; it's as dark, twisted and gripping as you'd expect from crime fiction, imbued throughout with witty, empathic humanity and is intelligent, insightful and authentic -  a wonderful read about death and life
The preventable death of a small child is a terribly distressing subject, of course but what makes this such an absorbing story is that it's also a beautifully empathetic observation of family dynamics, love, grief, miscommunication and fear.
…almost nothing is quite as it initially seems, and the real explanation for the crop circles and murders is both horrific and heartbreaking.
I loved Five Minds and am excited to recommend it; innovative and unpredictable throughout, this electrifying debut thriller effortlessly melds genres and loudly heralds that this is an author to watch.
Poignantly melancholic yet imbued with hopeful determination, it's both a sweeping epic of shared humanity and an intense, intimate love story, I was captivated throughout

With its absorbing, thought-provoking plot which is complemented by the empathic characterisation throughout, His Other Woman is a touching, intriguing novel which captivated me from start to finish. I thoroughly recommend it.

October - December

"
Welcome to Cooper is a whip-smart, cynical thriller with a bleakly evocative sense of place and characters I wanted to know more about despite knowing I'd want to avoid them in real life.
Tense, harrowing and gripping throughout, The Huntsmen kicks off the DS Royston Chase series in fine style.
A joy to read from start to finish, Babes in the Wood is exciting, moving and utterly captivating. I never want this series to end!
 The intelligent, fast-paced plot is packed with shocks and surprises and despite obviously being a far-fetched scenario, C.R. Berry manages to make it all seem scarily plausible.
Consistently intriguing and thoughtfully compassionate, Dead Mercy might just be Noelle Holten's best book so far.
Poetic, immersive and imbued with heart as well as an icy bite, The Christmas Murder Game is the perfect read to snuggle up with in the bleak midwinter!
There's a poetry to West Camel's writing which means the power of his words are almost deceptive; this beautiful, descriptive novel explores truths about society and community, families and friends with such penetrating insight.

Now for the standout books that I loved the most this year and for the first time, I'm calling this section my Hair Past A Freckle Hall of Fame! The inductees for 2021 are again listed in my reading order.



The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean
The sense of place is evoked with a vividness that means The Last Thing To Burn is an uncomfortably immersive experience. The wide open fenland setting is ironically claustrophobic, the flat landscape giving Lenn an unfettered view of the depressing, isolated farmhouse and ensuring Thanh Dao has little hope of ever managing to escape. His threats and punishments are delivered with cruel precision and yet throughout her years of captivity, despite losing so much of herself, she has somehow managed to retain her humanity. She is still able to find the smallest moments of pleasure, through something as simple as a few licks of a boiled sweet or through the words of the strikingly relevant 'Of Mice and Men' and as the book progresses, it also becomes evident that although she has been subjected to unimaginable physical and mental torture, she hasn't lost her capacity for empathy. 
A sinister, supremely taut nightmare, bleakly powerful yet written with compassionate authenticity throughout, The Last Thing To Burn is utterly magnificent and whatever I say here is unlikely to truly do it justice; it is undoubtedly one of the best books I have ever had the privilege to read.

This is an emotive case for all involved, from Blix and Ramm themselves, to Blix's partner and daughter who are still clearly traumatised by events in Death Deserved and to those more directly involved in what led to the New Year's Eve attack. In the best tradition of Nordic Noir, there isn't ever going to be a truly happy ending here but nevertheless, the search for the truth behind the smoke screen of lies and subterfuge  is absolutely compelling. 
The complex plot allows each new revelation to slowly peel away the many layers, inexorably reeling in the reader as the tension builds towards the devastating, heart-stopping conclusion.  With an excellent translation by Megan Turney, the taut pacing and atmospheric sense of place is complemented throughout by the perceptive, intriguing characterisation which ensures Smoke Screen is confirmation that this addictive, exciting series is going to be one of my favourites. 

At the start of The Garden of Angels, fifteen-year-old Nico Uccello has been suspended from school for a week after watching bullies attack a Jewish classmate. He reluctantly goes to visit his ailing grandfather, Nonno Paolo in hospital, wishing he could be elsewhere instead. However, his thoughts of a day on the beach at the Lido, chasing girls or pursuing his photography hobby begin to be usurped by the letters his grandfather says are a story he has been saving for only him.
These letters allow the novel's dual time frame to shift between 1999 and 1943 as Nico reads about the events that will determine the then eighteen-year-old Paolo's whole life. As Nico is transported to the uncertain, dangerous days of Mussolini's Italy and Nazi Occupation, David Hewson's intimate descriptions of the city are unsettlingly vivid. Venetians have perhaps been able to carry on more normally than other parts of the country so far but there is change in the air and the labyrinthine streets and waterways provide an atmospheric backdrop to the increasingly tense story.

The friction generated both inside and outside the hotel, past and present packs a surprisingly emotional punch but there is sharply observed humour here too, with the references to Morricone being a particular highlight. One of my favourite aspects of this series is always the chapter titles and they don't fail to delight again - how can you not love a book that features such headings as 'ARE THE NINJA TURTLES ON THEIR WAY?', 'THE WURST IS YET TO COME' or 'COLUMBOISHNESS'?!
As with all the books in this outstanding series, Hotel Cartagena effortlessly exudes the essence of film noir and Rachel Ward's superb translation deserves all the plaudits for capturing the supercharged emotions so perfectly. The sense of place throughout is exemplary, from the grey, damp claustrophobia of Hamburg to the dangerous temptations in Colombia while the acerbic dialogue and perceptive characterisation is tender and honest too. Possibly my favourite in the series so far, Hotel Cartagena is starkly atmospheric and oozing style but achingly poignant and beautifully compelling. 

Bloody, brutal and twisted, this dark thriller isn't for the faint-hearted but those who enjoy a twisted tale will love the blood-curdling revelations and almost relentless non-stop action.
It's not just a gore-fest however; there is a perplexing mystery at the heart of Blackstoke while the scenes of courage and selflessness as characters realise what is really important are genuinely moving.  At the start of this review I compared Blackstoke to a 70s or 80s horror movie and although it definitely encapsulates the essence of many of those films, it could never be accused of suffering from the one-dimensional, often misogynistic characterisation frequently seen back then. Rob Parker ensures his characters are people to care about, many have a redemptive arc and there is even some empathy spared for the hideous antagonists, despite their monstrous activities.
Blackstoke may not be welcomed by housebuilders but this descent into a suburban hellscape is viscerally suspenseful and unrelentingly compulsive -  I absolutely loved it! 

It's uncomfortable reading at times but that's what makes Will Carver such an irresistible author. He doesn't gently allude to the topics we try to ignore; he compels us to confront our alleged desire for world peace, our over-sharing of every minutiae of our lives on social media, our desires, our envy, our propensity for evil. For what is perhaps most unsettling here, is that these tenants are not evil - even Scythe, the egotistical, mercurial artist who Abe killed right at the start and who apparently isn't missed by anybody - but something is present at The Beresford that drives them to commit the most heinous of acts. And yet even as we convince ourselves that this building is cursed so we must also face the truth about the world we've created outside The Beresford and it's not a soothing notion.
If this all sounds a little too bleak, it's not and the novel is peppered throughout with black, provocative humour that will undoubtedly offend some readers but which allows Will Carver to make his astute observations about the world without readers feeling as if they've been hit over the head with a carafe of wine...  It's one of those  books which will be interpreted differently by every reader who comes to it and that's the genius of this author. He uses his exceptional literary talent to force us to examine our own lives, our own moral justifications and subconscious principles and to realise that we aren't quite so different from these tormented, tempted characters. Disturbing, cynical, darkly funny... nobody does fiendishly twisted better than Will Carver! 

And yet for all the horror, the humour that has always been such a highlight of these books continues to delight too. There's a wonderful exchange where Bliss is asked if he was born in a barn. I won't give away his response here but it was just one of the scenes which made me laugh out loud. As always, many of the funniest moments take place between Bliss and Penny Chandler, proving once again why they have become my favourite fictional double act.
It's hard to pick a favourite novel in a series which is so reliably excellent but The Autumn Tree is another exceptional piece of writing. It's an exciting, heartfelt rollercoaster of a read and although Bliss may be reaching the final years of his career, this is a series which continues to be as fresh and compelling as ever.

It's a more political investigation for Poe, with the murders linked to events that occurred years ago in Afghanistan, the truth of which has never fully been revealed. As a former military man himself, he naturally feels an affinity with those affected and his concern for the bereaved involved ensures he is determined to see justice served. The global implications of the case are incendiary, however, it's less the relations between nations which concerns him than the emotional ripples of choices that engulf families.
Tilly's incomparable brain and Poe's own acute eye for detail are needed more than ever in this superbly crafted mystery which keeps the surprises coming right up to the stunning conclusion. There are numerous reasons why this series is so beloved of its many fans but ultimately it's because each book is an outstanding demonstration of compelling plot, excellent pacing, astute characterisation and perhaps most importantly, is written with enormous heart. Absolutely unmissable; like its predecessors, Dead Ground is compulsive crime fiction of the very highest quality.

What follows is an emotive, heartbreakingly frank story of secrets and lies, dark truths and falling in love. This is no Pretty Woman fantasy, however, it's complex, poignant and searingly honest. Sebastian is, of course, the book's shining light but it's important not to patronise him or demean him. Louise Beech has created a character who is as rightly complex as any other. He is autistic but he's also witty, astute, sexual, angry, loving; in other words he is a wonderfully flawed human being.
Every book that Louise Beech writes is different but they are always undeniably her and are imbued with such warmth, such perceptive humanity that, even when the topics she explores are difficult to read about, you implicitly trust her to leave you feeling deeply moved. This Is How We Are Human is one of those stories that touched my soul; empathic, thought-provoking and truthful, it's an unforgettable triumph.

The characters became real people; some I cared about, others I feared but I believed in each of them. Brilliantly narrated by Warren Brown, I listened to Far From the Tree on my way to and from work and almost keeled over walking up the hill as I forgot to breathe!
The first-rate sense of place deserves praise too,  I loved the description of the police station built on the site of converted Victorian baths where access to the open-plan bullpens sited in the drained pool area are via two sets of steps at the shallow end. Meanwhile, the vivid Warrington setting sings with the edgy energy of a town caught up in the bitter rivalries of its larger, more famous neighbours. 
The various strands of the novel are cleverly interwoven with the tension rising relentlessly until the brutal, bloody conclusion which is as moving as it is shocking. That's perhaps what makes this outstanding thriller so memorable - yes it's a dark, gritty story about vicious gangsters but it exudes love, warmth and dry wit too. From Foley's fears for his family to the often black humour which features throughout, the Warrington 27 might be an extraordinary case but nothing about Far From The Tree feels fake and it radiates real life from start to finish. Taut, honest and utterly compelling, this is a terrific introduction to the Thirty Miles Trilogy, I absolutely loved it. 

As the novel progresses, he gradually begins to piece together fragments of his past but although he recalls the troubled, intense relationship he had with his brother, Rory amidst the darker memories of his father, he struggles to remember exactly what he saw when he witnessed the murder. His increasing desperation to discover the truth reveals a man tormented by the brutality of his past and by his daily struggle just to stay alive but determined to investigate and to confront these haunting snatches of memory which may condemn him or set him free. The progressively suspenseful storyline is as moving as it is intriguing and I found it playing on my mind even when I wasn't reading it. 
Such an intensely character-driven story is necessarily slower paced but I Know What I Saw is still a tense, twisting novel with an unflinching, eye-opening sense of place. Beautifully, searingly honest and observant, this powerfully poignant, intelligent thriller surprised and captivated me. Utterly outstanding.

Awais Khan's intensely evocative descriptions are redolent with the sights and smells of the country; from the protective barbarity of the remote village to the institutional corruption of the drug-ravaged Lahore, he brings Pakistan vividly and uncompromisingly to life. It takes real courage to write so honestly and movingly about the darkest, most reprehensible aspects of your country, particularly as there are still many in this patriarchal community who object to the condemnation of what is seen as a cultural necessity. 
Amidst the unvarnished depiction of heinous atrocities and the righteous anger, there is some hope too and recognition that although more progress is needed, both women and men are able to fight for and exert very real change in the way young women are treated in Pakistan. At a time when violence towards women is perhaps under the spotlight more than ever, No Honour is an outstanding, profoundly moving novel; compassionate, immersive and unflinching, it is a highly relevant, important exploration of the entrenched cultural disgrace of honour killings. 

The cop family doesn't have it easy here and there are some dramatic and emotional scenes which really help the readers understand what sort of protagonist Casey Wray will be.  The case consumes her at times but she isn't as jaded as some fictional detectives, she is cynical yet trusting, honest and hardworking. She has risen through the ranks despite having been a target of sexist taunts which have left her still second-guessing herself at times and has since succeeded in improving conditions for the women who have come after her. Tough yet fragile, the labyrinthine, harrowing nature of the case reveals her to be a rather solitary, even lonely figure at times even though she is obviously held in high regard by many of her fellow officers, and most importantly establishes her as a complex, compelling lead character in what will undoubtedly be a must-read series.
Black Reed Bay is a breathless, atmospheric thrill-ride but the exciting twists and intense revelations don't undermine the emotive humanity which is found throughout this sensational novel. I'm already desperate for more!

Lilja Sigurdardóttir's nuanced understanding of people shines throughout the book; Áróra appears to be a rather ruthless character at times, particularly when she senses the opportunity to expose a financial crime and to make money herself, and yet there's a vulnerability to her too. She isn't the only person keeping things from others however, and the apartment block where Ísafold was last known to be living is teeming with secrets. Readers are always one step ahead of the investigation and there are several scenes which follow a character who clearly knows what happened to Ísafold and who is still watching her former boyfriend, Björn. Meanwhile, in another flat, Olga has her own reasons for fearing the police investigating the block too closely but what is she risking by keeping somebody else's secrets alongside her own? Iceland might be a remote island but it becomes evident that it still has to figure out how to manage issues which affect the global community and as with other countries, the political and the humanitarian don't always align here as they should. 
Lilja Sigurdardóttir weaves a beautifully descriptive, melancholic story of fear, guilt and a need to belong. This is everything Nordic Noir should be; a tense, uncompromising look at hidden lives and dark secrets. I can't give anything away about the ending but it's the perfect way to finish this book while leaving me salivating for more. Bleakly evocative and heartbreakingly insightful; I loved every word.

Despite the brash, technicolour theme park setting and the extraordinary situations that Henri finds himself in, The Rabbit Factor remains a believable read throughout because it's written with such observant wit and affection for the idiosyncrasies of human nature and absurdities of life. David Hackston's translation deserves a mention here too, he ensures the narrative flows seamlessly throughout.
Henri discovers that while his calculations help him to negotiate the dangerous chaos, his personal life requires him to do something an actuary usually tries to avoid and to take a risk where the outcome is far from certain. What is certain, however, is that The Rabbit Factor is another exceptional novel from one of my favourite authors. The sense of place is superlative, the characterisation exemplary, the perceptive humour outstanding and it is all written with such enormous heart. It might feel strange to describe a thriller this way but I finished The Rabbit Factor feeling as if I'd been wrapped in a comforting blanket of love and hope. Thank goodness there's more to come, we all need more Henri Koskinen and more Antti Tuomainen in our lives!

It's Autumn and Visberg is preparing for Halloween and another celebration, the details of which are kept a closely guarded secret. Although the exemplary sense of place always evokes the claustrophobic magnificence of the Swedish forest, there's a frontier feeling to this series too, with each curious, isolated community having its own traditions - and secrets. As Tuva attempts to learn more about the place, there's an echo of The Wicker Man about proceedings - perhaps some things are better left unseen...
Tuva isn't the only strong character in the book and as well as a welcome return of some Gavrik regulars, the Visberg townsfolk make a huge impression on her and on the storyline. It's difficult to know where to begin with this assortment of strange eccentrics whose bizarre behaviour amidst the rumours and resentments leads to a melting pot of twisted intrigue as potent as the rotten, fermented apple smell that pervades the place. Visberg seems to have a peculiar relationship with body parts - human and animals which means it's not surprising to find a pop-up shop run by the wonderfully weird troll carving sisters we first met in Dark Pines. They aren't the only ones who make the most of nature's bounty in the most disturbing ways and it all adds up to an intense, ominous creep-fest where just about anybody could be capable of murder.

As Maeve uses what she learns attending AA meetings to start her own Psychopaths Anonymous Group, she realises that for the first time, that she might just be falling in love. This might make some people more vulnerable and even Maeve struggles at times to manage the separate parts of her life but our antihero is too clever and too mindful of her own desires to really lose sight of what she wants. Her cynical observations of 21st century life, from our consumption of the 24-hour news cycle and reality television shows to our willingness to share our every thought on social media, seeking affirmation through likes and replies is uncomfortable to read at times but it's something Will Carver does so well. He isn't preachy and he doesn't offer any suggestions or answers but he does force you to consider all of our roles in what life has become.
Psychopaths Anonymous is about as dark and twisted as crime fiction comes; it's also bloody funny. Murder is serious but a killer can enjoy their work and we can have fun reading about it - even if we do feel a little dirty at the same time...  Will Carver's latest is provocative, offensive and savagely brilliant - this is risk-taking, challenging fiction at its very best. I loved it.

The sense of place is excellent too; Christchurch may be a small city but it's big enough for a small child to disappear and for the masses to form a mob. Paul Cleave might explore whether it is the quiet people we most need to fear but this uncomfortably honest thriller is as much about society's reaction to tragedies as the case itself. We live at a time when social media fuels anger and a desire for instant retribution but as is portrayed here to stunning effect, the memes, hashtags and protests often forget that real people are involved, and that regardless of who the perpetrators may be, there are always victims too.
The pace never lets up as the race to discover what really happened to Zach takes one unexpected turn after another and I tore through this compulsive, terrifying book in just a few hours. The Quiet People is an exciting, almost unbearably tense thriller but it's also a deeply emotional read and it moved me to tears. I'm so grateful to Orenda Books for bringing Paul Cleave to my attention, this is easily one of my books of the year. 

The evocative sense of time and place is a joy throughout; The Shadows of Men is a beautifully written novel which places the reader firmly in the heart of 1920s India. As Sam and Suren travel to Bombay, we vividly experience the striking differences between the two cities - there's a wonderful little scene where Suren bemoans the culinary failings of Bombay - but there are similarities too, including the religious and cultural differences that blight the country. Reading The Shadows of Men with the benefit of hindsight means we recognise the foreshadowing indicating what will eventually transpire, particularly regarding the dangerous divisiveness of religious nationalism. Suspicions are raised and hatred exploited and though Sam and Suren's resolve rarely waivers, they are understandably horrified by the implications of what they discover here. The conclusion to The Shadows of Men is perhaps the only way the book could end, considering what occurs during the course of the novel and I'm intrigued to discover what it means for Wyndham and Banerjee in the future.

Of course, you only have to spend a short time on social media or see the various protests around the world to understand that the mandates that have accompanied the pandemic have angered many people. Tony Kent examines what could happen to those radicalised by the conspiracy theorists here, and it's a frightening prospect which almost certainly isn't too far from reality. 
One of the strengths of this series is that while it's obviously fiction, it doesn't take too much of a stretch to consider that some of the choices made behind closed doors - whether in governments or by those who oppose them - are terrifyingly plausible. No Way To Die is exactly what I want in a political action thriller;  the breathtakingly tense storyline had my heart racing throughout and the intelligent, complex exploration of modern politics made me perhaps even more nervous. With a sense of place that thrust me right into the heart of the action, No Way to Die has a cinematic quality which means it's crying out to be turned into a movie or television series. An outstanding thriller, then and a book which should firmly cement Tony Kent as one of the best in this genre. 

If you've read this far, thank you. We've finally reached my book of the year and true to form, I haven't picked just one. However, they are all by the same author and form a trilogy which is a remarkable masterpiece that deserves to be read and recommended for many years to come. It's a series that took roughly 10,000 to complete, with approximately 1.1 million words between the three books.



My Book of the Year 2021

The Sturmtaucher Trilogy by Alan Jones

This sensational historical series; The Gathering Storm, Flight of the Shearwater and The Turn of the Tide captivated and moved me more than any other book this year. Raw, harrowing and deeply moving, these powerful, exceptional books are amongst the best I have ever read. 

The Simon Wiesenthal quote, 'For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing' is noted at the start of the chapters which detail what happens in Kiel and beyond in 1936 and it's a damning indictment not just of the Germans who stood by but also the international governments who did too little, too late. However, despite being a harrowing read - particularly knowing that much worse is yet to come - the reasons why people didn't speak up and even supported the erosion of Jewish rights are tragically comprehensible.
If Erich Kästner and at least two of his children allow us some belief in humanity, his wife Maria is a more difficult figure to like. She might not be actively anti-Semitic and has been friendly to Yosef's wife, Miriam until now but she isn't prepared to risk her name or status, especially as she is impressed by many of Hitler's achievements and doesn't share the General's fears for the future. 
A book of this size and scope allows readers to really get to know both families as we follow them through the years and although it's inevitable that our fears will mostly be for the Nussbaums, there are ominous hints that life will become harder for the Kästner family too. This is a necessarily difficult story; you can't read about the cruelty of teachers towards their Jewish pupils, the cruel destruction of Jewish shops and synagogues and the sickening treatment of Jewish victims of the SS without feeling upset and angry but this is clearly a book borne out of devotion to the subject. The depth and breadth of research is evident throughout and it ensures that The Gathering Storm is never an exploitative read. Any fictional treatment of the Holocaust must remain true to what really happened, regardless of our innate desire for heroism and solace. For all Erich Kästner's attempts to protect his friends and to warn others of the imminent danger for the Jewish community, we are never left in any doubt that he is doomed to fail; evil will flourish and the extent of suffering will be almost beyond the capacity of our worst imaginations.

The level of research that informs a book of such authenticity as this is apparent throughout as is the author's knowledge of sailing. There are several chapters set at sea which are so consummately and powerfully described, I felt as if I was right there with them. Der Sturmtaucher and the North Sea almost become characters in the novel such is their importance here and as with the rest of the book, the sense of place is never less than immaculate.
Flight of the Shearwater is a commemoration of extraordinary bravery and resourcefulness, recognising not just the more audacious undertakings but also the sheer courage of merely trying to survive. However, it is also a sobering reflection on the nature of evil, exploring how some people are empowered and fanaticised by the brutal treatment of others, while more are willing to turn a blind eye. While General Erich Kästner's moral fortitude can never be doubted, his wife Maria is further damned by her actions here. It was already made clear in The Gathering Storm that she isn't willing to risk her social standing to protect the Nussbaums but as she becomes increasingly angered by her husband's staunch support of their staff, it becomes harder to excuse her refusal to acknowledge the evidence before her or to ignore that the complicity of the masses is ultimately just as shameful as the extreme acts of violence inflicted by the Gestapo and SS.
Flight of the Shearwater is a remarkable novel; the nerve-wracking, dramatic storyline is riveting from start to finish and the characters so vividly brought to life that it's easy to forget they're (mostly) fictional but throughout Alan Jones remembers the millions of  real-life victims of the Holocaust and he ensures that this harrowing, moving book bears testimony to their suffering and honours their memory.

Although the trilogy is mostly centred on the members of the Kästner and Nussbaum families, the fate of the friends and enemies we have also followed throughout is recounted here too. It goes without saying that loss features heavily but there is also hope and eventually some deeply touching reunions which moved me to tears. The storyline continues after the end of the war as people begin to return to the place they once called home and attempt to discover what happened to their loved ones. The desperate chaos of a nation bombed into submission and now split between America and Britain in the West and the Russians in the East is of course, a reminder that the Second World War was also the start of a different sort of war. However, this isn't really a novel about the complexities of global politics, it's about the people affected by them and the sheer number of displaced persons and family members desperate for any news is heartbreaking, particularly with the knowledge that millions of people were killed and that their stories will never be truly known. Meanwhile, opinions are split between those who were persecuted for years; some understandably want vengeance, others counsel against sinking to that level but all want justice and in the thoughtful, empathic closing chapters, it's sobering to comprehend just how many of the perpetrators escaped capture while those who enabled them were too numerous to convict. 
Some families were reunited against the odds however, and in this final book of what has been a remarkable trilogy, Alan Jones acknowledges that the end of the war and with it the destruction of National Socialism finally allowed people to look towards the future with optimism. The sensitive writing and extraordinary attention to detail throughout the Sturmtaucher Trilogy has ensured that these utterly consuming books will remain with me for the longest time. The Turn of the Tide is a fitting, moving conclusion to a majestic series which I can say without any hesitation is one of the best I have ever read. Please read it.

All that remains is to thank all the authors whose books have featured on Hair Past A Freckle in 2021; I say it every year because it's true -  without your words, this blog wouldn't exist. Huge thanks also to the publishers, publicists and blog tour organisers who continue to invite me to read such fantastic books and of course, thank you to my fellow bloggers, as always your support and friendship means a great deal to me. Finally, thanks to everybody who has taken the time to read, comment on and share my blog posts, I truly appreciate it. 
I've also had the privilege of recommending a book every Saturday on Shaftesbury's community podcast, This is Alfred; it's becoming an FM radio station this year which hopefully means even more people will hear me enthuse about some of the books I've loved. Many thanks if you listened to me at any point in 2021.
I'm excited to read the many wonderful books I have lined up for 2022 and have already read a book which blew me away and is a dead cert for my next Hall of Fame! I also hope to catch up with some of the novels on my tbr pile - if only there were more hours in the day... Life is still uncertain for many of us but authors continue to write and publish wonderful books that draw me into their pages for a while and for that I remain immensely grateful. I wish you all a safe, happy and healthy 2022 and look forward to sharing more book love with you all.






Comments