Books of 2021 – crime & thrillers

As 2021 starts to roll to a close, it’s time to pull together the list of books I’ve loved over the year. Yes, I know that it’s not over, and there will be some more great books, but you might be on the lookout for some suggestions for a present for a loved one, or maybe yourself. Heck, even buy a book for your mortal enemy and/or personal nemesis. Everyone loves a good book, right?

I’m not doing a top ten, partly because they’re all really good and partly because there are 15 of them and OMG DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE OK.

In no particular order, I hereby present my favourite crime/thriller books of 2021 are:

When I Was Ten – Fiona Cummins

I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of Fiona Cummins’ When I Was Ten in 2020 and absolutely loved it. Alas, what with *waves hands* everything going on, it got pushed back to 2021. It’s bloody brilliant. And while you wait, go read Cummins’ other books.

Stone Cold Trouble – Amer Anwar

Last year Amer Anwar’s Brothers In Blood made it on the books of the year list, and January kicked off with more adventures for Zaq and Jags.  I settled down with a cup of tea to finish the last hundred or so pages, only to discover that my tea had gone cold.

Stone cold. (see what I did there?)

Yeah, it’s that good. I love the banter between Zaq and his best mate Jags, and it really makes this book stand out. Of course a book needs more than just a great pair of protagonists, and Anwar delivers another cracking read.

The Last Thing to Burn – Will Dean

Unforgettable. It’s a bleak book, set in a bleak landscape, but at every step of the way we’re rooting for Thanh Dao. Tiny slivers of hope keep her, and us, going.

It’s also an astonishing book, a world away from Will Dean’s Tuva Moodyson and her Swedish forest. And one where the subject may be too much for some. It’s a nail-biting, compelling, just one more page book, one where you’re willing Thanh Dao to get away from the very first page.


Slough House – Mick Herron

Mick Herron is one of those writers who make it look… effortless. He’s just got a way with a turn of phrase, a sentence dropped which is just… perfect. Slough House is full of those little gems. The gloriously foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, ever-flatulent, politically incorrect Jackson Lamb (soon to be appearing on our screens played by Gary Oldman) is back, and someone has wiped Slough House off the map and is picking off his Slow Horses.

He’s not happy about it. And you do not cross Jackson Lamb.

Far From the Tree – Rob Parker

Twenty seven bodies are found in an unmarked grave. Is this the work of a serial killer? DI Brendan Foley is on the case. Then it turns out that one of the dead is someone close to home, and what was initially ‘just’ a murder enquiry turns into something a lot more personal. I listened to the audiobook, superbly narrated by Warren Brown (DS Ripley from Luther), I loved every minute of the near nine-hour runtime. I’d plug my headphones in whilst walking the dogs, and must admit to going just once more around the block to get another chapter in.

Black Reed Bay – Rod Reynolds

A perennial favourite on my books of the year lists (don’t tell him or he’ll get a big head), Rod Reynolds has delivered a top-notch slice of contemporary American Noir on the shores of Long Island, present day.  I’m delighted to see that it’s just the first in a new series. I can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for Detective Casey Wray next. Superbly plotted, with Reynold’s customary mastery of place and character, it’s a cracking book.

Dead Ground – MW Craven

I love  Poe & Bradshaw, as I’m sure we all do. Washington Poe, the irascible detective sergeant who manages somehow to rub pretty much everyone up the wrong way.

Poe collected enemies the same way the middle class collect Nectar points

And his best friend, the inimitable Tilly Bradshaw. Suffice it to say that there are shenanigans, misdirections and twists as per usual. The case is bigger – involving not only MI5 but also the FBI, the stakes are higher, and it’s just a hugely enjoyable read.

A Numbers Game – RJ Dark

I read a lot of crime books. I assume you do too, if you’ve got this far down the list. But it’s refreshing to find one that manages to combine a lovely dark, twisty plot with a healthy dose of humour. I loved Mal and Jackie, the two leads with their long history and tenuous ‘friendship’.

The week started unseasonably warm for spring, and with my best friend sitting on top of me, threatening violence. From there it only went downhill.

Malachite Jones – ‘psychic’ medium (ably, if reluctantly, assisted by his assistant Beryl, who knows everyone and everything going on on the Blades Edge estate). Jackie Singh Kattar, respected businessman (just don’t ask what business, or you’ll find out he’s made you his business), sharp dresser and with a nice little line in motors. Best friends. And boy, do you want Jackie on your side when things go awry. And boy do things go awry. Huge fun.

Bad Apples – Will Dean

A second appearance in the list for Will Dean, and the fourth outing for our beloved Tuva Moodyson. Hoo boy is it good. I loved the first three books, so the bar was set pretty high. Bad Apples is the pick of the already very very good bunch*.

*[Sorry, enough of the fruity puns]

The Murder Box – Olivia Kiernan

I enjoyed this one enormously. It’s a clever game within an investigation that Kiernan neatly pulls off. DCS Frankie Sheehan believes that a murder mystery game sent to her is a birthday gift from a colleague. But there’s a striking resemblance between the game’s victim and the very real case of missing twenty-two-year-old Lydia Callin. Superb.

The Last House on Needless Street – Catriona Ward

The Last House On Needless Street absolutely blew me away. It’s astonishingly good. From the blurb you think you know what you’re going to get, and to a certain extent, you do. But there’s so much more to this book. It’s beautifully written, desperately tense at times, and goes to some very dark places indeed.

Brace yourself. Needless Street is a strange place, and the last house is stranger still.

My Heart is a Chainsaw – Stephen Graham Jones

A love letter to classic slasher movies, with a main character who lives and breathes the genre, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the movies, and who can spot the clues start to add up. Then the Final Girl arrives, and Jade must do whatever she can to help save the day.

It’s dark. It’s gory. It’s beautifully written, and uncomfortable to read in places. It’s also astonishingly good, though not for the squeamish!

The Christmas Murder Game – AK Benedict

This book is a huge amount of fun (though not for the characters!) A locked room (well, house) mystery where a bunch of people are stuck in an isolated manor house in Yorkshire in a snowstorm. Their aunt has left them a series of clues, one for each of the twelve days of Christmas. Each clue will reveal the location of a key, and at the end of the game, one of the family will inherit the house itself.

It reminded me of the movie Clue (and of course the game Cluedo) in that there was a lot of people who are suspects in one way or another, moving about the house trying to figure out answers. Huge fun trying to figure out the twelve clues as they’re presented to the players, though I’d have been rubbish at it as I didn’t get any of them!

The Good Thief’s Guide to Christmas – Chris Ewan

A late entry onto the list. I’ve been a huge fan of Chris Ewan’s The Good Thief’s Guide books since the start, and was delighted to get an early peek at this festive adventure. It’s a short story, but packs a lot in. Charlie Howard , mystery writer and professional thief, is in London for the holidays when his agent, Victoria, asks him to break into a jewellery shop to steal the perfect Christmas gift. Things naturally go awry. A fabulous festive caper.

Demon – Matt Wesolowski

Last, but by no means least, Matt Wesolowski’s latest episode of his superb Six Stories series. Scott King delves into the cold case of Sidney Parsons, a young boy savagely murdered by two of his classmates. Seven years later his killers are released. And now, strange things are afoot in the little village of Ussalthwaite. Six stories, six people telling their side of what happened. Wesolowski’s stories are always dark, but this is the darkest yet. It’s also the best in a very strong series.

So those were my favourite books of the year. Have you read any of them? Agree, disagree? Got any that I should have on my list for 2022?

As ever, I’d love to hear what you think. Thanks to all the fabulous authors, publishers and publicists for sharing their books with me this year.

Stay tuned for the list of my favourite science fiction and fantasy, then for the list of non-fiction and others!

Author: dave

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

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