1. The Deuce. So often the things I look forward to most are overwhelmed by my expectations and don’t meet those expectations. With HBO’s The Deuce, it didn’t happen like that. The Deuce was better than I could have hoped for. With writers like George Pelecanos, David Simon and Megan Abbott involved, this look at the birth of an industry and a neighbourhood is perfectly slow moving, patiently creating layers of detail and character, and I can’t wait for the next season.
2. Patrick de Witt, The Sisters Brothers. I’ve been immersed the past two years in the 19C, and this book is a great recapitulation of some of the stories of the American west, told with an eye for the telling detail and a black humour that reminded me of Voltaire’s Candide.
3. Ian McGuire, The North Water. Still in the 19C, this tale of whale fishers in the North Sea is a brutal and fast-paced reflection on masculinity and commerce in an age when absent the eyes of the law all kinds of mayhem ensue.
4. Kingdom, Season 3. It’s always sad to see a great television series come to an end. This 40 episode, three season look at an MMA gym in California uses the backdrop of a fierce sport to examine the complexities of family, love and loyalty – a clear-sighted look at human behaviour in extremis.
5. Tom Franklin, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Set a poet loose on a crime story of ancient racial divides and small-town secretiveness and what you get is Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Beautifully written and carefully structured, this bestseller deserves all of its accolades.
6. Staying in the realm of southern gothic, I also loved Jedidiah Ayres’ Peckerwood, which is soon to be made into a film. This is Ayres’ second novel and it’s a cracking read – bent sheriffs, old-school rural gangsters and various peckerwood miscreants make for a volatile mix in this noir gem set in Missouri. Oh, and you should check out Ayres’ blog Hardboiled Wonderland too, for acute readings of everything interesting that’s going on in noir film and fiction right now – http://spaceythompson.blogspot.com.au
7. Kim Scott, Taboo. Kim Scott is one of Australia’s great writers, and this novel set in South Western Australia builds on his earlier work to examine the consequences of old racial policies and practices as they play out in a modern Australian town. As skilfully and beautifully written as you would expect from a two-time Miles Franklin Award winning writer.
8. Alan Carter, Marlborough Man. This is Australian crime writer and my Fremantle Press stablemate Alan Carter’s first novel set in New Zealand, bringing forth an entirely new character in Nick Chester. Using Carter’s characteristic dry wit and clever dialog to chug the story along, rural New Zealand has never seemed so dark, weird and dangerous.
9. Don Winslow, The Force. I’ve long been a fan of Winslow’s quiet novels but also the scope and pacing of his blockbusters such as The Cartel. This novel is somewhere in between, painting a broad and deep picture of NYC cop life while focussing on a smaller cast of characters. A great novel to read in one sitting.
10. Luc Sante, Low Life. I was recently in New York to research a mid-19C escaped Irish Australian convict who ended up in the Gangs of New York milieu. What better primer to read on the subject than Sante’s Low Life? Comprehensive, acute, humane and written in an engaging style, this is a gritty and fascinating look at the birth of urban American street culture.