The Sunday Times 50 Best Crime and Thriller Books

The Sunday Times has pulled together the best 50 crime and thriller novels of the past five years. From Lee Child to Gillian Flynn, Gerald Seymour to C. J. Sansom, these are the books that have made our hearts race and our pulses jump.

Split into the twenty-five best crime books and twenty-five best thrillers, the list below has been compiled by The Sunday Times‘s regular crime fiction and thriller reviewers, Joan Smith and John Dugdale.

See the list online at www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/book, or you can view it on their digital special edition which has the first chapters of all the books on the list.

We wanted to celebrate this fantastic selection of crime books and have collected them together here for you to enjoy.

In no particular order:

Best crime books:

1. Heartstone by C. J. Sansom
It’s Summer, 1545. England is at war. Henry VIII’s invasion of France has gone badly wrong, and a massive French fleet is preparing to sail across the Channel…

2. The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths
Strongly plotted, fast-paced crime fiction with a quirky, engaging heroine – third in a terrific series featuring forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway.

3. The Death of Lucy Kyte by Nicola Upson
When bestselling crime author Josephine Tey inherits a remote Suffolk cottage from her godmother, it comes full of secrets.

4. Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor
1934, London. Into the decaying cul-de-sac of Bleeding Heart Square steps aristocratic Lydia Langstone fleeing an abusive marriage. However, unknown to Lydia, a dark mystery haunts the place.

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5. Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves
Murder can strike more than once…

6. The Frozen Dead by Bernard Minier
When it comes to crime, France is the new Scandinavia – an isolated, snow-bound valley and a series of strange murders set the scene in this gripping French besteller.

7. Splinter by Sebastian Fitzek
What if we could permanently erase our most terrifying experiences from memory? And what could go wrong?

8. Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas
Commissaire Adamsberg takes a case far outside of his jurisdiction: the disappearances of evildoers who have been visited by a band of ghostly horsemen.

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9. The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach
For thirty-four year, Fabrizio Collini has worked diligently for Mercedes Benz. He is a quiet and respectable person until the day he visits one of Berlin’s most luxurious hotels and kills an innocent man. Young attorney Caspar Leinen takes the case.

10. Bed of Nails by Antonin Varenne
The side of Paris the tourists don’t see…

11. Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason
One cold autumn night, a woman is found hanging from a beam at her holiday cottage. At first sight, it appears like a straightforward case of suicide. Maria had never recovered from the death of her mother two years previously and she had a history of depression. But then the friend who found her body approaches Detective Erlendur.

12. Cell 8 by Roslund & Hellstrom
A capital crime. A chilling conspiracy.

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13. Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdadottir
Chilling Icelandic crime from the internationally bestselling author of Last Rituals and Ashes to Dust.

14. Mercy / The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Copenhagen detective Carl Morck has been taken off homicide to run a newly created department for unsolved crimes. His first case concerns Merete Lynggaard, who vanished five years ago. Everyone says she’s dead. Everyone says it’s a waste of time. He thinks they’re right. The voice in the dark is distorted, harsh and without mercy.

15. Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder
One cold morning in December, in a small rural town on the Swedish coast, Ake Melkersson is on his way to work when his car breaks down. Luckily he spots a garage nearby, but as he approaches he realises something is wrong.

16. The Vault by Ruth Rendell
Chief Inspector Reg Wexford has retired. Wexford takes great pleasure in his books, but, for all the benefits of a more relaxed lifestyle, he misses being the law. But a chance meeting in a London street, with someone he had known briefly as a very young police constable, changes everything.

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17. Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky
The sixteenth V.I. Warshawski thriller from one of America’s greatest female crime writers, combining contemporary issues, the fight against injustice and fast-paced suspense.

18. W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton
Two dead bodies changed the course of my life that fall. One of them I knew and the other I’d never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue. The first was a local PI of suspect reputation. The other was on the beach six weeks later. No identification only a slip of paper with Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone’s name and number in his pocket.

19. August Heat by Andrea Camilleri
The tenth novel in Camilleri’s engrossing mystery series featuring the irrepressible Inspector Montalbano.

20. Hour of the Wolf by Hakan Nesser
The master of Swedish crime fiction returns with the winner of the prestigious Scandinavian Glass Key Award.

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21. Night of the Mi’raj by Zoe Ferraris
A compelling page-turner with a wonderful central character, which also gives a fascinating insight into the closed world of Saudi Arabia.

22. Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer
They killed her best friend. Now they are chasing Rachel Anderson through the streets of Cape Town. The young tourist doesn’t dare trust anyone – except her father, back home in America.

23. Dogstar Rising by Parker Bilal
The launch of a major new detective series set in modern-day Cairo – moving between its labyrinthine back streets, and its shining towerblocks – and featuring Makana, an exiled Sudanese private investigator, escaping his own troubled past.

24. Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
On a dark night, out on the Houston bayou to celebrate his wife’s birthday, Jay Porter hears a scream. Saving a distressed woman from drowning, he opens a Pandora’s Box. Not the lawyer he set out to be, Jay long ago made peace with his radical youth, tucked away his darkest sins and resolved to make a fresh start.

25. Darkside by Belinda Bauer
It is freezing mid-winter on Exmoor, and in a close-knit community where no stranger goes unnoticed, a local woman has been found murdered in her bed. This is local policeman Jonas Holly’s first murder investigation. But he is distracted by anonymous letters, accusing him of failing to do his job.

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Best thriller books:

1. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
Paris, 1895: an army officer, Georges Picquart, watches a convicted spy, Alfred Dreyfus, being publicly humiliated in front of a baying crowd. Dreyfus is exiled for life to Devil’s Island; Picquart is promoted to run the intelligence unit that tracked him down.

2. A Delicate Truth by John le Carré
A counter-terror operation, codenamed Wildlife, is being mounted in Britain’s most precious colony, Gibraltar. Its purpose: to capture a high-value jihadist arms-buyer. Its authors: an ambitious Foreign Office Minister, and a private defence contractor who is also his close friend.

3. A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming
Winner of the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger 2012 for Best Thriller of the Year.

4. The Expats by Chris Pavone
Kate Moore is an expat mum, transplanted from Washington D. C. In the cobblestoned streets of Luxembourg, her days are filled with play dates and coffee mornings, her weekends spent in Paris or skiing in the Alps. Kate is also guarding a secret – one so momentous it could destroy her neat little expat life.

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5. A Deniable Death by Gerald Seymour
An epic novel of high courage and low cunning, of life and death in the moral maze of the post-9/11 world.

6. Gone by Mo Hayder
Night is falling as murder detective Jack Caffrey arrives to interview the distraught victim of a car-jacking. What he hears horrifies him. The car was taken by force, and on the back seat was a passenger. An eleven-year-old girl. Who is still missing. Before long the jacker starts to communicate with the police.

7. 61 Hours by Lee Child
It’s winter in South Dakota. Blowing snow, icy roads, a tired driver. A bus skids and crashes and is stranded in a gathering storm. Jack hitched a ride in the back of the bus. A life without baggage has many advantages. And crucial disadvantages too, when it means facing the arctic cold without a coat. But he’s equipped for the rest of his task.

8. Alex by Pierre Lemaitre
In kidnapping cases, the first few hours are vital. Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven has nothing to go on: no suspect, no leads, no hope. But as he begins to understand more about Alex, he starts to realise she is no ordinary victim…

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9. Truth by Peter Temple
A teenage prostitute is found with her neck broken in an apartment in a wealthy area, three men are found tortured and murdered… Head of Homicide Stephen Villani faces the moral decline of a society and of himself.

10. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
The instantly riveting Doctor Sleep picks up the story of the now middle-aged Dan, working at a hospice in rural New Hampshire, and the very special twelve-year old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

11. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Nick Dunne’s wife Amy suddenly disappears on the morning of their 5th anniversary. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren’t his. Then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone.

12. The Last Child by John Hart
A thirteen year old boy turns vigilante to investigate the abduction of his twin sister.

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13. The Dispatcher by Ryan David Jahn
The phone rings. It’s your daughter. She’s been dead for four months.

14. Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
The stunning new Penn Cage thriller in which a shocking murder from the 1960s finds new life – and victims – in the present.

15. Norwegian by Night by Derek B Miller
He will not admit it to Rhea and Lars – never, of course not – but Sheldon can’t help but wonder what it is he’s doing here… Eighty-two years old, and recently widowed, Sheldon Horowitz has grudgingly moved to Oslo, with his grand-daughter and her Norwegian husband.

16. The Carrier by Sophie Hannah
An overnight plane delay is bad. Having to share your hotel room with a stranger is worse. But that is only the beginning of Gaby Struther’s problems. Gaby has never met Lauren Cookson. So how does Lauren know so much about her? How does she know that the love of Gaby’s life has been accused of murder? Why is she telling her that he is innocent? And why is she so terrified of Gaby?

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17. The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton
Prize-winning crime author Steve Hamilton’s hugely commercial mainstream breakout tells the extraordinary story of a safe-cracker trying to unlock the key to his past.

18. Innocent by Scott Turow
The eagerly anticipated sequel to the huge bestselling landmark legal thriller Presumed Innocent.

19. Ghostman by Roger Hobbs
In a daring operation, two crooks-for-hire rob an Atlantic City casino. But their heist goes horribly wrong, and only one of them makes it out alive.

20. Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson
Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love – all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story. Welcome to Christine’s life.

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21. Dead Lions by Mick Herron
When a Cold War-era colleague is murdered far from his usual haunts, a team of disgraced MI5 spies under the leadership of irascible Jackson Lamb uncovers a shadowy tangle of secrets that lead to a man who hides his dangerous powers behind a false identity.

22. Dare Me by Megan Abbott
There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls. Coach said that once. She said it like she knew, and understood.

23. The Litigators by John Grisham
The Litigators is a tremendously entertaining romp, filled with the kind of courtroom strategies, theatrics and suspense that have made John Grisham the world’s favourite storyteller.

24. Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen
Andrew Yancy–late of the Miami Police and soon-to-be-late of the Monroe County sheriff’s office–has a human arm in his freezer. There’s a logical (Hiaasenian) explanation for that, but not for how and why it parted from its shadowy owner.

25. Djibouti by Elmore Leonard
‘The 85-year-old writer reminds us just why his critical standing is so high … Leonard has found his mojo again, and has us in the palm of his hand’ – The Independent.

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Is your favourite book in there? How many have you read? Let us know!

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21 Comments

  1. Dick olsthoorn says

    i can’t find NicciFrench can you tell me way?
    dick Olsthoorn
    utrecht, The Netherlands

  2. Mike Lewis says

    No Agatha Christie! This must be a biased list based on snob values.. Also, what about the two Peters, James and Robinson; Val McDermid. I could go on and on. Very disappointing to someone who has read thousands on crime novels in my 70 years.

    • Lynsey says

      Hi Mike,

      These books are just from the past five years so unfortunately Agatha Christie couldn’t qualify. When we do a top 50 crime novels of all time, I’m sure she’d feature very heavily. Can’t say why the others weren’t included – the list was created by The Sunday Times.

      Thank you

  3. Susan Gelinas says

    I can’t believe not one of Ian Rankin’s books are included in this list. Has nobody even read him? What about the Inspector Rutledge novels? Can’t remember author right now, but to me, these 2 are the best of the best. But I am going to start taking your list into consideration – maybe I will prove myself wrong.

  4. Mimi says

    Jo Nesbo. I have read many but the king of crime is Nesbo with Harry Hole series. Never dull!!

  5. Fionn Maye says

    Where is Mr Mercedes for God’s sake?! That should surely be on the list!

    • Rhiannon says

      Hi Fionn! Mr Mercedes was published after this list was created – but we love it too!

  6. Francis Payne says

    I have been reading Hidden Casino a Ryan James Casino crime thriller gripping read on amazon kindle

  7. Nick Falk says

    Only read 5 but now can look out for others.unfortunately here in Zimbabwe we are limited to the quantity and choice which is imported.
    I live in a retirement village and “I AM PILGRIM” was sent to me by my daughter in Singapore.

  8. Patrick Roche says

    I tend to stick to certain authors, but this list wll encourage me to try others.
    MJ Arlidge and Michael Robotham are my favourites, always reliable.

  9. Pingback: The thrill of crime | The National Rust

  10. P Francis says

    Look at a new author on Amazon Kindle Frank Kaye. It’s perhaps not the best ever written book but the plot and the detail is a gripping read.

  11. Jo Cameron says

    No Ian .Rankin! Can’t believe it. Looks like some good ones though.