My ‘Book of The Year’ is selected from the books I have read in that particular year. This includes ALL books, not just new releases.
Winner 2016: Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker
Let’s get it out of the way: Tall Oaks is an extraordinary debut. A novel a seasoned, ‘big name’ author would be proud to have produced. The writing is carefully-crafted and assured, with not a word wasted. It provides depth and life, light and shade, to the characters and the town itself, both of which are skilfully drawn by Whitaker – Tall Oaks and its inhabitants live and breathe inside the covers of this novel, and it was a wrench to leave the place behind. This is the true test of a good book – do the characters stay with you long after the last page has been read, do you want to spend more time with them and find out what they are doing? Tall Oaks achieves this, and then some.
The novel’s diverse set of characters – from the aforementioned Jess, hurtling towards the brink, to the taciturn, damaged police chief Jim Young, to the laugh-out-loud and awfully, thrillingly profane Manny – provide richness to support the propulsive narrative, and Whitaker achieves a delicate balance (no mean feat) of the comedic and the suspenseful. It is shot through with a wonderful sense of humour, but there is darkness and profound sadness here too, often tugging at the coat-tails of the myriad jokes and funny scenes that pepper the pages. We do not forget what horror brought us to Tall Oaks, and the fate of Harry Monroe is never far from our thoughts – especially as we build towards a climax that is as moving as it is shocking.
The cover blurb for the novel states You’ll have to look twice at Tall Oaks. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long old time, and I can imagine people returning to the place again and again.