Here are my favorite works of fiction published during 2015.
“The Cartel” by Don Winslow (Knopf, 623 pages, $27.95)
This sprawling fictional account of the ongoing drug wars between rival Mexican cartels is mainly the story of two men, the head of the Sinaloa cartel, and a former DEA agent. “The Cartel” is the sequel to the author’s novel “The Power of the Dog.” The numbing, beastial, out of control violence it depicts is sadly, quite accurate. As the book opens Adan Barrera, the head of the Sinaloa cartel, is about to be transferred from a U.S. prison to one in Mexico. He had been captured after his former friend the DEA agent Art Keller tricked him into coming across the border. There are many scores to be settled here, revenge to be exacted, and millions of dollars in illicit profits at stake as rival cartels battle over territory. The mounting human toll from this savage trade continues to rise.
“Her” by Harriet Lane (Back Bay Books, 261 pages, $15.99)
Two women in the London suburbs form an unlikely friendship. The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of these two women, Emma and Nina. Nina strikes up a friendship with Emma after she spots her on the street. They had known one another as children. Nina never mentions this, and Emma is unaware of previous contact between them. We feel a sense of unease. As the story spins out Nina is plotting and Emma is blithely going along with whatever. I cannot reveal any more about this clever, creepy story.
“The Great Swindle” by Pierre Lemaitre (MacLehose, 442 pages, $24.99)
As World War I draws to a close, French soldiers are waiting on the front lines for hostilities to end. Their commanding officer sees his chances for glory dwindling. He orders his men to attack. Two of the soldiers under his command are almost killed. The war ends and these two men have been inextricably linked. One was grievously wounded. The other takes care of him. These men are forgotten, eking out an existence in the shadows of stone monuments to dead heroes. Their corrupt, glory-seeking officer is now a war profiteer. These two men know his dark secret. “The Great Swindle” is a lacerating indictment of the evils of war.
“Flood of Fire” by Amitav Ghosh (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 616 pages, $28)
Amitav Ghosh wraps up his magnificent Ibis Trilogy with this dazzling third book. In the previous books readers were introduced to an astonishing array of characters and a number of them are featured in this final volume. The first two books reveal how the opium trade between India and China developed during the early part of the 19th century. Merchants from Great Britain, India, and the United States made enormous profits by shipping opium to China. When the Chinese government tried to put a stop to the importation of opium the British responded with massive force. The title “Flood of Fire” could refer to the manner in which the Chinese opposition was crushed during the Opium War. The history is precise. The language is marvelous. The intrigues never end.
“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead Books, 325 pages, $26.95)
The hottest fiction title of 2015 was “The Girl on the Train.” Rachel is our unreliable narrator. She is overweight, unemployed, and has a drinking problem. She’s also the girl on the train. She spends her days peering out the windows of commuter trains. She witnesses something which disturbs her. Can she believe her own eyes? This book is freaking fabulous.
Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.