I readily acknowledge that publishing 500 posts in the 10 years that I've been writing Material Witness does not make this crime fiction's most prolific blog. But perhaps a silver star for longevity? When I wrote the first post in April 2006, aiming to 'create this site as a resource for crime/mystery/thriller/historical fiction fans'. it was one of a relatively small number of blogs doing that.
In the intervening 10 years - save a sabbatical that covered most of 2012 - I've been reviewing, interviewing and sharing various other bits and pieces here, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it, even if time has become increasingly hard to come by. So I hope readers will forgive an entirely self-indulgent post in which I discuss the 10 favourite books I've reviewed in the 10 years of Material Witness.
The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin, 2006 - Rebus is the godfather of modern British fictional detectives and Rankin has for years been setting an unfairly high bar for his peers. I loved this particular novel with Rebus meddling on the side of a G8 meeting. 'Rankin handles a broad, sprawling plot with great certainty and control, seamlessly marrying the small time world of Edinburgh crime with unfolding global events and characters.'
The Turnaround by George Pelecanos, 2008 - A new Pelecanos novel has become horribly rare in recent years, but for a time about a decade ago the DC based writer was in the richest vein of form, producing masterpiece after masterpiece. The Turnaround might have been the best of an exceptional bunch: 'It is done beautifully. Pelecanos has an extraordinary facility for the minutiae of human life and in writing with empathy for his characters. He is not judgmental, avoids hyperbole and in doing so shows life as it is, rather than stylising and editorialising it for a modern audience that is used to being led by the nose by the media'.
A Quiet Belief in Angels by RJ Ellory, 2007 - AQBIA played a pivotal role in the development of the blog, having been the first review to draw thousands of hits following it being chosen for the Richard and Judy book club. It encouraged me to continue blogging and Ellory was generous in his thanks for championing his work before television made him a bestseller. AQBIA follows one man on an epic journey and was thoroughly captivating. 'Beautiful, poetic and strangely uplifting'.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, 2009 - Gone Girl may have catapulted Flynn to super-stardom but for me her two previous books, Sharp Objects and Dark Places are far more powerful and affecting. Dark Places is one of the most upsetting novels I've ever read and it sticks with you for a long time: 'This is what Flynn is really really good at: putting the reader inside the story, having them live every twist in turn'.
The Broken Shore by Peter Temple, 2007 - This complex and rich novel set in the Australian bush touches true greatness. It would be on my shortlist for desert island books. 'A book that is so powerful, so atmospheric, so well written, that time seems to stand still while reading it'.
The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly, 2014 - I've reviewed more novels by Connolly than by any other author and the latest Charlie Parker novel is the one I look forward to most each year. Any one of four could have been in this spot - A Time of Torment, The Whisperers, The Lovers - 'This is, put simply, a brilliant and sophisticated thriller written by one of the undisputed masters of the genre operating at the top of his considerable game'.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, 2013 - Walter's quirk novelist with a great range, and I've enjoyed all his books, but this one has Richard Burton in it, and who could fail to love that? 'A rich and dense novel, packed with drama, acute observation and emotion. (I challenge you not to shed tears in the final few pages)'.
Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor, 2008 - There are personal connotations to this wonderful historical mystery, but even without them it makes this list. 'It is intelligent, atmospheric and thought-provoking. It is compelling, and draws the reader into to its perfectly-constructed world, leaving you wanting to race through it to unravel the mystery but also not wanting ever to finish such a beautiful book'.
Heartstone by CJ Sansom, 2010 - Sansom's Tudor England is so rich in detail that you can smell the stench of rotting garbage on the streets, so alive with Henrician intrigue you fear the monarch's wrath personally. I love this series, and it's tough to pick a favourite, but the dramatisation of the sinking of the Mary Rose steals it for Hearstone. 'Reading the Shardlake books is akin to taking the best history course you could imagine and over the course of the five books, Sansom "teaches" his readers about myriad aspects of life, politics and economics in the Tudor period. In Heartstone he covers the condition of the rural poor, the early industrialization of England, the life of the fighting man and tax policies of the period.'
The Nightmare Place by Steve Mosby, 2014 - Steve Mosby's off-beam psychological thrillers have been a staple of Material Witness since the beginning. His books are among the smartest I've read and I've never found them to be less than challenging or fascinating. 'He is currently operating in the very top tier of British crime writers, and this novel is confirmation of his great skill and versatility. It's an absolute ripper and deserves a broad audience.'