Books of the year 2019: crime & thriller

We’ve had the list of favourite sci-fi and fantasy, now it’s the turn of crime & thrillers. Again, in no particular order, here we go!

Breakers – Doug Johnstone

Rapidly becoming one of my favourite Scottish authors, Doug Johnstone is back with Breakers. A Scottish family drama. A taut crime story. Boy-meets-girl from the other side of the tracks blossoming romance. Puppies.

Check, check, check and yes, check. But take those simple ingredients and put them in the hands of Doug Johnstone and what you end up with is something truly special. If Michelin did stars for books, then Breakers would be wearing its star bright and proud.

Nothing Important Happened Today – Will Carver

Hoo boy, is this dark. I thought that Will Carver’s previous book, Good Samaritans was dark (and it most definitely is), but that’s like a little ray of sunshine on a bright spring morning compared with this, Carver’s latest. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. And I read a *lot*.

Little Siberia – Antti Tuomainen

A new book by Antti Tuomainen is always exciting, and Little Siberia is no exception. Told with Tuomainen’s signature wit, Little Siberia is another slice of brilliance from the King of Helsinki Noir. He’s got a lovely flair for character, and the inhabitants of Hurmevaara are a motley bunch, beautifully drawn. But characters alone cannot make a story, so we have a splendidly twisty black comedy to tie everything together.

The July Girls – Phoebe Locke

Just stunningly good. A serial killer story with a twist, told from the point of view of Addie, a young girl caught up in a swirl of events. I’ve deliberately cut part of the blurb from Goodreads as I think this is one of those books that you want to go into knowing as little as possible, and find out for yourself what makes Addie’s story so unforgettable.

I polished off The July Girls in a couple of hours. Impossible to put down, with a truly different spin on the psychological crime thriller.

Cold Desert Sky – Rod Reynolds

Rod Reynolds proved with his first two books that he has a deft hand at conjuring up small-town Americana. Here he turns that hand to the larger canvas of ’40s Los Angeles and Las Vegas and again we’re sucked into the murky underworld of the mob. Reynolds has a real gift for place and atmosphere, and you almost feel that should you be dropped into Yates’ world, you could find your way around. Not that the California of Charlie Yates is somewhere you’d particularly want to be, not with someone as connected as Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel on the loose…

The Puppet Show (Washington Poe, #1) – M.W. Craven

I bought The Puppet Show following a load of my bookblogger friends raving about it. Serial killer, dysfunctional detective pairing, sounds right up my alleyway.

They were right. I stayed up far too late one night on holiday powering through this book more or less in a single sitting (if you ignore the break to go get some food). A proper page-turner, this one!

Washington Poe (and what a great name *that* is) is summoned back from suspension to investigate a murder in his patch of Cumbria. The victim, as with the first two, has been burned alive. But this one has something carved into his chest. Carved when the victim was very much alive.

It’s the Poe/Tilly dynamic which makes this book shine, and speaking of which…

Black Summer (Washington Poe, #2) – M.W. Craven

A celebrity chef who definitely killed his daughter, and went to prison for it. But then she turns up, quite definitely alive (if not particularly well). And it was Poe who put him in prison for the murder. Could he have been wrong?

And then she goes missing again, and the evidence all points in one direction. Washington Poe, what have you done?

*claps hands excitedly* Shenanigans afoot! I love shenanigans. Especially when they’re as clever as this!

Worst Case Scenario – Helen Fitzgerald

I must confess that after the first dozen or so pages of Worst Case Scenario I wondered if this was really the book for me. I wasn’t sure if I could cope with Mary’s in-your-face approach to life and work. Borderline alcoholic, menopausal, obsessed with her awful clients, she’s quite the character.

I pressed on and was rewarded with a deliciously dark, delightfully un-PC, often downright hilarious tale of a Glaswegian probation officer’s last days in the job. Mary Shields grew on me with every page, and I found myself watching events unravel with a horrified cover-your-eyes what-will-happen-next sense of anticipation.

Short, sharp and not at all sweet, Worst Case Scenario is a book that’ll live with you for quite some time. Recommended.

The Furies – Katie Lowe

More magic here, of the witchy variety. I was torn between putting this in the crime/thriller section or the fantasy, but it feels right on this list.

A tightly-drawn portrait of a private girls school with secret societies and a mysterious teacher. Oh, and a murder. Though the murdered girl went missing months ago…

Splendidly creepy, The Furies is a book which will keep you up long past the witching hour trying to get to the bottom of what happened at Elm Hollow Academy.

The Neighbour – Fiona Cummins

Told over the course of a few days over the long, hot, sticky summer of 2018, The Neighbour is wonderfully atmospheric, and not a little claustrophobic in places. The cast of neighbours on The Avenue are an intriguing bunch, and you’re never quite sure who to suspect, though you’ll end up questioning what you think about pretty much all of them along the way.

Loved it from the first page to the last. Very highly recommended

Call Me Star Girl – Louise Beech

I read a lot of crime books. Some are good, some are great. This one falls firmly into the latter category. Call Me Star Girl is tautly written, cunningly plotted and twistier than a curly wurly.

Louise Beech has crafted a beautifully dark little tale, with a creeping sense of menace that leaves you wondering if you locked the doors. You might want to go and check. You never know who might be lurking outside.

Highly recommended.

The Lost Man – Jane Harper

The Lost Man is a lovely slow burn of a mystery, leaving you with the dust of the Outback under your nails. Jane Harper has a wonderful ability to evoke the essence of a place and here she really shows off that skill to magnificent effect. You really feel the atmosphere here, the dust-soaked landscape, the incessant sun, the constant knife-edge balance between life and death.

And the death here is one of those properly splendid whodunnits. A man is found next to a remote grave, a circle etched into the sand as he’s struggled to follow the meagre shade whilst slowly dying of exposure and thirst.

Why is he here? Why is a seasoned, experienced farmer, who knows the Outback like the back of his hand, miles from the safety of his car? What has brought him to this place with none of the essential survival equipment that everyone carries by default in this unforgiving environment?


And coming up in 2020, a couple of stunners:

A Dark Matter – Doug Johnstone

Three women, grandmother, mother and daughter, investigating different strands of mysteries. Doug Johnstone with another cracker of a book. Look out for a fuller review in 2020!

Three Hours – Rosamund Lupton

Words just can’t do this justice. Put it on your list, pre-order it now, but brace yourself. You are not ready. Phenomenally good.

Author: dave

Book reviewer, occasional writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, spoon carver and stationery geek.

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