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RG Oram

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2017 … Best debut novel

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Writing as an aged hack, and a commentator on other people’s creativity (having little of my own), I can hardly imagine what a mixture of triumph, joy – and trepidation – must run through the minds of writers when they finally have a book that makes it into print. I have read some very good self-published books this year, but to have actually convinced a hard-nose publisher that your novel is worth printing – that must be an amazing feeling. Likewise, it must be what sports commentators call “squeaky bum time” waiting to see if members of the public actually stump up and buy your book.

The notable debuts in crime fiction this year have been many and varied. I was much taken by the main character in RG Oram’s Much Needed Rain, whose perceptions and awareness of his fellow mortals are so acute that he is, effectively, a human polygraph. Lloyd Otis served up a dystopian London in 1977 with his Deadlands – splendidly both crime and grimy. In another urban landscape similarly blighted, Augustus Rose, in The Readymade Thief, described a delinquent girl turned loose in a Chicago that was a potent mixture of gritty realism and fantasy.

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Without doubt the most compelling three words uttered in a 2017 debut novel were, “Choose one, bitch”, the strapline for Samantha King’s The Choice, where she created a nightmare world of domestic Noir where a mother is forced to choose between the lives of her two children. TA Cottrell provided another peep between the curtains of an apparently normal house, when What Alice Knew laid bare the scars of memory, guilt and bitterness that can be borne by old relationships. Peter Laws is an intriguing chap. He is a serving Baptist minister, with a fascination for horror and the supernatural. In Purged, he introduced us to Matt Hunter, a former minister himself who, in between lecturing on comparative religions, investigates dark deeds – in this case a series of murders connected to a charismatic church and its congregation. A novel which received huge praise around the world for its power and elegiac qualities was The Dry, by Australian Jane Harper. This was a compelling account of how a Federal policeman returns to his hometown, a five hour dusty drive from Melbourne, to investigate the slaughter go a local family.

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KnoxEvery book I’ve mentioned won admirers from different sections of the reading public but, for me, the die was cast when a rather shy young man read the opening paragraphs of his soon-to-be-published novel at a book promotion evening in a smart Fitzrovia Hotel. Joseph Knox (left) may still have work to do to become a Richard Burton in the making, but Sirens is comfortably my debut novel of 2017. On a very superficial level it’s a police procedural, set in Manchester, where we share the trials and tribulations of a young copper, Aidan Waits. Waits is a complex character, attended by his own demons and obsessed with bringing down a local drug baron. That’s where any resemblance to a bog-standard cops and robbers tale ends. Knox writes with the kind of savage poetry which reminded me very much of the great Derek Raymond and the bleak world and urban eloquence of his Factory novels. I am delighted that a follow-up novel is on its way, but what a challenge, to equal such a stunning debut!

“Knox has penned a black tale which is certainly not a comfort read. There are passages which made me physically wince, but the author has the confidence to give us an ending, once the mayhem has died down, which is both bitter-sweet and poignant.”

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Click the links to see who won

Best historical crime novel

Best police procedural novel

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … O’Driscoll & Oram

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OramRG Oram (left) is Welsh through and through, being born in Swansea and living most of his life in Carmarthenshire. His debut novel Much Needed Rain introduces David Lewelyn, who is the human equivalent of a polygraph, as he has developed a unique sense of perception which recognises dozens of little facial tics and mannerisms which indicate that the subject is lying.  His relationship with the Los Angeles Police Department – in the shape of Detectives Forsythe and Baker –  undergoes a dramatic volte-face, however, when his secretary is found murdered, and he becomes a prime suspect rather than a valued consultant. Much Needed Rain is out now in Kindle and paperback, is published by Matador, and is available here. You can follow RG Oram on Twitter and contact him on Facebook.

SODFrom the principality of Wales we dart across the Irish Sea to the beautiful city of Cork, where we find Sean O’Driscoll (right) and his latest novel, Steal Big: Vatican City. This is the second in the series exploring the exploits of a daring criminal called The Mastermind. He cannot be accused of lacking ambition, since the first book in the series, Steal Big: New York,  has our man planning to walk away with a cool 6.7 billion dollars. Now, he takes on not only the FBI, but perhaps the most powerful, secretive and ruthless non-governmental body in the world – the Catholic Church.

Sean O’Driscoll is on Twitter: Steal Big: Vatican City is published by Matador and is out now on Kindle and in paperback. 

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