In a vintage year for books, the best reads came from both established novelists and veteran singers who’d waited a lifetime to finally tell their story.
Loaded hit our local bookshop (and sometimes fired up its Kindle) to get lost among the pages of 2015’s finest books.
Ian Rankin – Even Dogs In The Wild
Having brought John Rebus out of retirement three years ago, Ian Rankin gave his former copper a story worthy of any of his vintage novels.
Without giving too much away, it weaves in very contemporary horrors among the lives of Rebus and his gangster nemesis Ger Cafferty. Let’s face it, when Rankin is on top form other authors have to stand and bow – and Even Dogs In The Wild is Rankin at his toughest.
Marlon James – A Brief History Of Seven Killings
So often, the phrase “Booker Prize winner” is an excuse to yawn and head for the thriller section. But, as lengthy as James’ crime saga is, he doesn’t waste a word as he describes, well, seven killings. The deaths include Bob Marley, as Jamaican author James expertly weaves in real and fictional characters – you can almost see a future HBO series of it now. Worth noting too that James is the anti-Morrissey for actually being able to write lurid sex scenes without making the reader gag.
Bridget Christie – A Book For Her
Subtitled “And for him, if he can read”, comedian Christie may not thank Loaded for including her in our favourite reads: she writes about frequently removing lads’ mags from local supermarket shelves.
Yet her book describing how she became an active equal rights campaigner is so hilarious and thought-provoking that it really should be read by everyone. Her message is serious, especially when writing about female circumcision. But Christie writes about the absurdity of sexist attitudes so well that her writing never feels preachy. Compelling stuff.
Tom Jones – Over The Top And Back
Having waited until 50 years into his career before his first memoir, Jones’ autobiography doesn’t hold back in its 500 pages. There may be nothing about his affairs, but the rest of his life is captured in vivid detail. Sections on his pre-fame life in a paper mill explain the delighted relish with which Jones takes to fame. He plainly enjoys his riches, which makes him surprisingly easy to warm to in a brilliantly written chewy rags to riches melodrama.
AP McCoy – Winner: My Racing Life
Two years on from his first instalment, McCoy has rewritten, and retitled, his life story, but the man behind the many successes stays the same. The emotive first chapter about his decision to step away from racing, and the farewell tour that follows is both honest and insightful. The central complexity of the story is McCoy’s complicated character. He is brutally honest at times which transports the reader from fan to being right there with him at the racetrack.
Emily St John Mandel – Station Eleven
Anyone who’s seen The Walking Dead or read any Cormac McCarthy will know that the idea of a post-apocalyptic USA is hardly new. But St John Mandel offers a new perspective by focusing on the lives of survivors 20 years after a devastating flu epidemic. There is something all the more heartbreaking about the idea of a world that has come to terms with having to soldier on, and Mandel’s fourth novel brings it into an eerie, humane life.
Jonathan Lee – High Dive
Possibly the most under-rated British author around, Lee writes a fictional account of the Brighton bomb that exploded during the Conservative party conference of 1984. Although he was only a baby when the IRA tried to assassinate Margaret Thatcher, Lee captures the spirit of the 1980s magnificently. Even though readers will know most of the real-life details, Lee’s page-turning approach makes High Dive is his third superb novel in a row.
John Niven – The Sunshine Cruise Company
Former Loaded columnist Niven brings the same sweary zeal to his crime novel as he does to writing about Andy Murray matches on Twitter. You could almost call his motley collection of teens to ninetysomething women chick-lit, but his tale of amorality is far earthier than the average Jodi Picoult. Niven obviously glories in seeing how splenetic he can make 90-year-old Ethel’s language, but his eye for a great yarn to place his characters in is just as strong.
Chris Brookmyre – Dead Girl Walking
The only time one of Scottish thriller writer Brookmyre’s novels ended up on TV, the resulting James Nesbitt vehicle Quite Ugly One Morning was so terrible that no channel has gone near him since. Their loss, as Brookmyre’s anti-hero Jack Parlabane is more real than so many stereotypical damaged cops. Which is impressive, given the cartoon violence Parlabane so often wonders into. Start here and work your way back through Brookmyre’s novels in time for his 20th anniversary in 2016.
John Leonard – Dub Sub Confidential
The tag line ‘Sex, Drugs and Gaelic Football….A GAA memoir like no other’ couldn’t sum up Leonard’s life better. A gifted Gaelic Football goalkeeper with top GAA side Dublin, Leonard e was also number two to talented goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton.
Leonard’s memoir has that usual Irish wit but is also a vividly honest account of his troubles in his childhood and adulthood. Leonard’s first years are brought to life through stories of his inspirational wheel-chair bound father. But his childhood was also darkened by his local priest who sexually abused him.
Leonard’s tale is heartbreaking as he details his dream to be a professional soccer player before turning to play for his beloved GAA side Dublin. The searingly honest Leonard finishes by describing how he got himself sober. A must read.