Each month Maxim Jakubowski brings together a regular monthly selection of his favourite reads of the moment. Always wide-ranging and often with a crime at its heart, there will be something to suit every reader - but don’t just take our word for it as there are free opening extracts for each one.
The Number One bestseller. Fifteenth in the 'series of superb novels built around the haunted private detective Charlie Parker' (Daily Mail)
A Maxim Jakubowski selected title. Ex-American publisher Joe Kanon is a much underrated master of the classic espionage tale, best known for The Good German which was filmed with George Clooney in the eponymous part, but his other novels of spies and the Cold War are all similarly gripping. Defectors, set in the late 1950s and early 1960s introduces two brothers who took different political paths, one who worked for the OSS and then the CIA and has now become a publisher and the other who defected to Russia out of personal conviction following the Spanish Civil War. When the latter, now living in Moscow with his family, writes his memoirs, his brother plans to visit him and is soon confronted by an intricate web of spying, treachery, past sins, shifting truths and regrets. Kanon's strength lies in the realism of his characters rather than the rote exposition of shenanigans and by the numbers action scenes and the results are eminently rewarding. An intelligent chess game-like thriller with a solid foundation of human experience, just the sort of book that hooks you in with stealth and then never lets go. ~ Maxim Jakubowski If you like Joseph Kanon you might also like to read books by Dan Fesperman, Martin Cruz Smith and Nelson DeMille.
Shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger 2017. Justifiably already highly-praised, this debut by a young Manchester author deserves all the generous encomiums and more lavished on it. A disgraced undercover young detective is tasked to find the errant daughter of an influential but shady politician and is plunged into a fascinating descent into the demi-world of the modern Mancunian drug scene. All too soon, the case becomes intensely personal as he gets embroiled with the 'sirens' of the title, the not always innocent young women who work on the fringes of the scene as courriers or more. With terrible affection for his bruised and imperfect characters, Knox displays a master's touch in slow plot building that any veteran crime writer would envy all the way through to a bleak but satisfying ending full of humanity and dread. British Noir at its sensitive and worrying best. ~ Maxim Jakubowski A Maxim Jakubowski selected title.
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | November 2017 Book of the Month In the hinterlands of America, a man completes his jail sentence for accidental murder and returns to his home town, where relatives of the boy he killed whilst drunk driving are set on revenge. The sad lives of people caught in a circle of despair is captured with poignant accuracy as well as the slippery slope that leads them there despite all their best intentions. A novel about the day to day life and travails of ordinary people eager for redemption or, at any rate, a chance at a normal life, this is both moving and gripping as the assorted characters reach out for a safety raft of sorts despite all the indignities circumstances heap on them and they struggle to retain dignity and principles. A harsh but beautiful thriller that has you cheering under your breath for its wounded, fallible protagonist throughout and a considerable achievement, with echoes of WINTER'S BONE in its celebration of the human spirit. And lest I make Farris Smith's novel sound too worthy, may I add it grips like a vice... ~ Maxim Jakubowski
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | Shortly after the Russian revolution, a White Russian count is spared execution because of a subversive poem he wrote defying authority before the fall of the Czar and is, instead, exiled to an attic room in a luxury hotel in the heart of Moscow, where he once enjoyed a luxurious suite and all the amenities that wealth could provide. As he adapts to his house arrest, we follow his encounters with the motley denizens, employees and visitors of the hotel and watch how his state of mind changes alongside the Russia outside the walls of the hotel. Both meditative and, at times, truculent, this also forms a parallel history of Russia over the following forty years or so until the death of Stalin and for a narrative isolated inside a closed locale becomes amazingly broad in scope, reflective, expansive and so often terribly moving, albeit with much wit and humour. Unforgettable characters, both fictional and real life, a web of subtle relationships: all human life is here and a triumphant follow-up to Towles' debut novel which had been set in the glitter of New York in the 1930s. Long but wonderfully rewarding, this will make you laugh, cry and smile, an epic that never even moves outside the hotel's lobby! Loved it. ~ Maxim Jakubowski February 2017 MEGA Book of the Month. The Lovereading view... Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, the gentleman of the title, is not executed with his fellow aristocrats for he had already left Russia at the start of the Revolution and he returns in 1918. This mystifies the Bolshevik tribunal he stands before in 1922. He wrote a poem which is deemed a call to arms, but for which side? So he is placed under house arrest for life. Conveniently his address for the last four years has been The Hotel Metropol, the best in Moscow. Now moved to humble rooms in the old servant quarters in the belfry, he nonetheless has the run of the beautiful establishment, the restaurants and bar. He makes friends with the servants and guests alike and is dubbed by an old student friend who has suffered in the Gulag, “the luckiest man in Russia”. Intrigue, romance and friendship pepper the years as we follow the Count from 1922 to 1954, a time of huge change as a new Russia is created. With a nod towards the period in its style and lots of philosophy, I wouldn’t say this was compulsive but it is strangely hypnotic, one is certainly drawn to it although it isn’t an easy read. It is a comfortable book to be with despite its horrific span in history for imprisoned in his hotel, Rostov is indeed one of the luckiest in Russia. ~ Sarah Broadhurst Click here to read a Q&A with the author about this book.
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | Not a thriller by any means, unless the quest by a twin sister to discover what happened to her other half in the horror of the concentration camps might qualify it as such, young American author Konar's literary novel aims straight for the heart, a lyrical evocation of both the bonds between siblings, the power of dreams and hope but also of the abominable power of ordinary evil which the Nazis released into the world. The sad tale of identical twins Pearl and Stasha Zagorski and how their personalities (and mutilated bodies) were modified by Doctor Mengele in the horrors of Auschwitz becomes an elegy to beauty and the invisible language of children. Despite the terrible nature of the subject, Konar manages to bring a new sensibility to it and turns this poignant story of an aspect of WW2 which should never be forgotten into a curious and moving fairy tale of sorts, and a salutory reminder. Like a flower on the scorched grounds of hell, this is a story about the human spirit, in the tradition of Primo Levi and The Child Thief, which should be praise enough. ~ Maxim Jakubowski The Lovereading view... A very special, rather beautiful, and truly unforgettable novel, this is a story that has become a part of me, and is now lodged in my soul. 13 year old twins, Pearl and Stasha are star ‘attractions’ at Mengele's Zoo. In the midst of the nightmare of Auschwitz, they witness the very worst and best of humanity in conditions that are almost impossible to comprehend. Each girl tells their own story, each child’s voice, views from a position of innocence and experience, a world of confusion, horror, and love. While this is deeply unsettling, uncomfortable, and my brain often wanted to skirt some of the searing truths, it is also a touching, stunning read. Affinity Konar writes with an exquisite hand, sparks of affection and passion flame through the darkness. ‘Mischling’ darts through thoughts like a dream of a memory, waking them to a harrowing age old horror, yet also displaying the true wonder of humanity, the love our hearts can hold. ~ Liz Robinson February 2017 Debut of the Month.
A Maxim Jakubowski selected title. New York in 1930 is a teeming abyss of crime and idealism at the outset of Roger Ellory's first novel in some time. Fleeing his home soil folllowing a momentous crime, Irish bareknuckle fighter Danny McCabe joins up with a couple of Corsican immigrants, brother and sister, of which Lucia has glittery dreams of a Hollywood career. They are soon on the run to Los Angeles where they encounter still more corruption and the ties that bind them are put to a stern test as they attempt to remain just a step ahead of the dark underworld, past and present, on their trail and the love between Danny and Lucia is a fragile buoy that hold them together. Ellory excels in resurrecting the America of a mythical Golden Age with colour and grit, with bit parts involving the likes of Raymond Chandler, William Faulkner, mafia kingpin Mickey Cohen and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to pepper pebbles of reality into his sprawling depiction. A burning heart saga that ranges from the 1930s to the 1960s, this is a major achievement. ~ Maxim Jakubowski
A Maxim Jakubowski selected title. Neglecting his favourite character Russian investigator Arkady Renko, of GORKY PARK and other novels fame, Cruz Smith offers us a bittersweet thriller romance set in Venice and the notorious Republic of Salo during the dying days of WW2 in Europe. A local Venice fisherman still smarting from the painful memories of his young wife having left him for his own brother, an actor much loved by the fascist regime, comes across a beautiful girl who initially appears to have drowned in the lagoon. But Giulia survives and turns out to be the scion of a wealthy Jewish family who is the only one to know the name of a notorious traitor and she is being hunted down by the remaining German occupying forces as well as the fascists. Thrown together, their adventure will take them to Salo, with a colourful cast of characters including Mussolini's own mistress and a louche demi monde of diplomats, forgers, schemers and divided partisans all anxiously awaiting the arrival of the American forces. Fluid, gently romantic and expansive storytelling. ~ Maxim Jakubowski
A Maxim Jakubowski selected title. Swanson's follow up to the gripping and dark The Kind Worth Killing is equally suspenseful although its characters are less obviously twisted at first sight and sports a Rear Window Hitchcockian feel to it that quickly grips you and forces you to read into the night. A London art student, still traumatised by a terrible past encounter, swaps flats with a distant cousin and moves to Boston where she gradually begins to interact with other tenants and occupants of her building as an investigation into a murder in a nearby apartment gets under way. Fragile, emotional, Kate Priddy appears, initially, to be the perfect victim-in-waiting but Swanson cleverly deflects the cliches and paces the revelations until almost all who surround her are tainted by suspicion, and the action swings between Boston and London and fear grips in a vice. Edgy all along and builds to an explosive climax. ~ Maxim Jakubowski
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | Oh my word, this book is devious, twisted, and an absolute knockout! The story, revolving around love, passion, suspicion, and deceit, kept me teetering on a razor sharp wire of uncertainty. Sarah Pinborough’s writing is sublime, it’s shrewd, artful, cunning, and as the story sucked me in, I felt the manipulation of the words warping and writhing as they entered my consciousness. I found myself sitting in stunned silence when I reached the very end, then wanted to jump and down and recommend ‘Behind Her Eyes’ to the world. Start reading just as soon as you can so you too, can experience the deep, dark, dangerous depths of this truly bone-chilling and wonderful novel. Make sure you enter with a clear mind, and try not to get too confident as the story will quite happily trip you up and stamp all over you. Sarah Pinborough, I salute you! ~ Liz Robinson The considerable buzz building around Pinborough's new novel (following the already mightily impressive The Death House and 13 Minutes) is led not only from her respective publishers' camp but also, more importantly, from advance readers, and is fully deserved. This could well become a massive commercial success along the lines of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train and it held me in thrall from beginning to end. The tale of a dark, puzzling and twisted affair that goes horribly wrong for, seemingly, all parties, it's unpredictable, tricky, immediate, gut-gripping and difficult to summarise without giving out any of the shattering spoilers and seduces like no other, with viewpoints changing in front of your eyes as you turn the page, putting all you've read before into question in a most clever way, sowing constant seeds of doubt the moment you begin to identify with one of the characters and sympathise with them. Imaginatively wicked, ingenious, and 'that' ending will leave you open-mouthed. ~ Maxim Jakubowski
A Maxim Jakubowski selected title. Set in South London, Fiona Cummins' debut is insidious and icy in its depiction of a psychopath whose modus operandi could have Hannibal Lecter flinching and proves a worthy addition to the pantheon of malevolent grotesques of crime fiction. At times, it feels like Thomas Harris meets John Fowles' Collector, and this is no faint praise. Detective Sergeant Etta Fitzroy is still haunted by the disappearance of a little girl when another child goes missing, abducted outside her school gate and she manages to connect the cases. Her journey takes her into very dark places as a most sinister set-up eventually comes to light involving bone collecting and a series of fraying relationships mined by the weight of time and society. Cummins is particularly adept at portraying characters whose lives are on the verge of falling apart and generates a prevalent mood of gloom well in harmony with her creepy subject. ~ Maxim Jakubowski
From one of the SF and fantasy & horror field's most urbane - and much under-appreciated- writers, the first in a series of lightweight and terribly witty Victorian adventures to feature the cases of Miss Aphrodite Lane and Mr Jasper Jesperson of 203A Gower Street. The nod to Sherlock Holmes is self-evident, but what Tuttle (who once collaborated with Game of Thrones George R R Martin) brings to the table is a gossamer touch of fantasy and tongue in cheek thrills that sets her investigative duo apart. Miss Lane is a Scottish psychic investigator still recovering from the fact that her initial employer, Miss X, was actually a fraud. Moving to London she teams up with Jesperson, a consulting detective and their initial case plunges the reader into a smog-laden Dickensian London where psychic energy, mediums and whole levels of trickery and obfuscation reign, when they are soon confronted by stolen jewels, a sleepwalking acolyte and a vanishing medium. The two investigators' talents and personalities complement each other's nicely and the intrepid duo soon establish a solid working relationship as the case progresses beyond sheer mystery and lunacy. Both comical and exciting, this is a delight of a read, and when a new case emerges on the horizon of the final page, it makes you want to urge the author to write the duo's second set of adventures faster so we can feast on it as soon as possible.
Welcome to Maxim Jakubowski's world of books...
It is commonly thought in the book trade that summer is a time for light reading, books that entertain but don't overly disturb our holidaying grey cells. However, there are so many great novels this month that achieve so much more than that and I will not apologize for presenting a selection of tales that will prove challenging, scary, thoughtful and even at times dangerous. Ranging from the Bosnia war crimes to Havana on the eve of revolution and venturing as far as the Galactic edge and somewhat busy beds in North London and way beyond, our novels this time around will tantalise, please, intrigue and keep your senses and imagination on edge. Is there any better excuse for reading?
Maxim Jakubowski is the chair of the judging panel for the Crime Writers' Association John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger for the best first time author.
A veteran publisher and once owner of the Murder One bookstore, Maxim Jakubowski has won awards for his writing in not only crime & mystery, but also in science fiction & fantasy and erotic writing. He was for two decades the crime columnist for Time Out and then the Guardian and, under a pen name, makes regular appearances in the Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller list.
One of the leading world experts in all forms of popular fiction, he has published over 100 anthologies and, for many years, has been editing annual anthology series presenting the best stories of the year in British Crime and Erotica. You can find out more about Maxim on his website or facebook page.
You can also find more about Maxim Jakubowski here.
Author photo © Marco Del Comune