On the fourth day of Christmas…

This year, I’m counting down the 12 books I most enjoyed during 2015. As always, they’re books I read this year but they were not necessarily published this year. But books never go out of fashion so let’s not worry about that.

the-ploughmen-978144724778401

Let’s get this out the way: The Ploughman, Kim Zupan’s debut novel, is in my top four because I’ve forgiven it a few sins. Most significantly, I’ve forgiven the fact that it’s a little overwritten, with a few too many adjectives, a few too many flourishes. (Hey, we’re all guilty of that sometimes…)

A Montana sheriff’s deputy, Valentine Millimaki, is in a dark place: haunted by the childhood discovery of his mother’s suicide, he now spends his days traipsing the vast, wintry landscape searching for missing persons, only to find, more often than not, their frozen bodies. To make matters worse, his wife moves out and he is assigned a new job: the night shift in the county jail, currently home to calculating and violent serial killer, John Gload. As Millimaki becomes increasingly sleep deprived and isolated, his nighttime heart-to-hearts with Gload grows their relationship until Millimaki finds himself almost trusting his prisoner. But who is manipulating whom?

Despite the sins I described above, I have placed The Ploughmen fourth in my top 12 countdown and there are good reasons why it deserves that place. Firstly, because some of the flourishes I complained about are actually really good. Zupan’s prose in this novel, at its best, is almost cinematic: when Gload shifts from the shadows in his cell to appear before Millimaki, it will make you flinch like you did watching The Silence of the Lambs; when Millimaki walks down the fluorescent-lit jail corridor, you will hear the click of his boots on the lino like you did watching The Green Mile; when the final showdown comes, you will keep turning the pages, breathlessly, like any good thriller.

You also get the sense that this book is an American classic in the making. Zupan’s Montana is really the novel’s third protagonist: boundless and brutal, vast and uncompromising. It’s no wonder Millimaki finds a friend in a murderer.

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