10 authors pick their top comfort reads
Sometimes we all need a book that’s just a little more comforting, don’t we? For us crime readers, though, it’s usually something a bit dark and creepy, with one or two murders thrown in for good measure.
Some might think us mad, but it’s all about escapism – about a book that can transport you to a completely different place – as well as retreating to an author who reassures you you’re in good hands.
So what are the best comfort reads for those who enjoy a little mystery and mayhem? We asked some top crime authors to share their recommendations…
Samantha Downing, author of He Started It:
When I’m in need of a comforting read, I turn to authors that I love. One of them is Ruth Ware. I’ve loved all of her books, including the recent The Turn of the Key. She has a way of transporting me into another world – often a creepy one – and it’s the perfect way to escape.
Eve Chase, author of The Glass House:
As a reader, it’s always a great comfort to be in the hands of a master storyteller, knowing you’re going to be played like an instrument, and haunted by a book long after you’ve turned the last page. Barbara Vine’s A Fatal Inversion does it for me. I love everything about it, from the louche setting of Wyvis Hall, with the human skeletons hidden in the pet graveyard, to the shifting, twisting plot, set in the indolent baking summer of ‘76. Flawlessly written, A Fatal Inversion manages to be both nostalgic and deliciously disturbing.
Sarah Pearse, author of The Sanatorium:
I’m a huge fan of Elly Griffiths and her book, The Stranger Diaries, is one of my favourites. It follows Clare Cassidy, an English teacher, who is writing a biography of the reclusive Gothic writer, R M Holland. The school she teaches at is partly housed in Holland’s old house, rumoured to be haunted by his wife’s ghost. When Clare’s colleague is found dead, the brilliantly sharp and spiky DS Kaur is called in to investigate and things take a dark turn for Clare. It’s got everything I love in a comfort crime read in spades – an eerie gothic house, an intricately woven plot, spooky ‘goings-on’ to give you goose-bumps and well-drawn, warm characters. Elly Griffiths’ writing has a wonderful lightness of touch and a dark humour that is so original. The twisty plotting kept me guessing until the last moment. Best devoured on a cold, dark night, snuggled by the fire!
Stephanie Wrobel, author of The Recovery of Rose Gold:
I’m not sure how comforting this creepy story is, but you can’t find better than Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It’s about the Blackwood family. Three of their members are in self-imposed isolation inside a decrepit mansion. The rest are dead. If that mystery isn’t enough to convince you to give it a read, there are also malevolent neighbors, a paranoid and obsessive narrator, and a fascination with poisonous mushrooms.
Jo Jakeman, author of Safe House:
I’d forgotten how much I loved Merricat until I re-read We Have Always Lived In the Castle by Shirley Jackson recently. It’s a gothic suspense of such beauty and humour that I always find something new in it each time I read it. Though Merricat’s sister, Constance, has been acquitted of poisoning the rest of their family she has gained a certain amount of notoriety. Their cousin Charles comes to visit them at the castle and seems very interested in Constance – and the money in the safe! One of those books that can be read over and over again.
Sam Lloyd, author of The Memory Wood:
Most people have a standout summer. For me, it was the summer of my GCSEs. I recall the music, the heat, the sense of the future rushing up. There was plenty of time for reading. The books from the period stick in my mind more clearly than any since. Perhaps, because of their connection to that standout summer, many of them are now go-to comfort reads.
At the time, I was binging on Stephen King and Dean Koontz, burning through their entire back catalogue. Of them all, Koontz’s Strangers stands apart. Not necessarily because it’s the best work, but because the characters all face a future that’s scary, exciting and unknown – exactly how I was feeling at the time. Re-reading it now, I’m immediately sixteen again.
Lauren North, author of The Perfect Betrayal:
A comfort crime read sounds at first like a misnomer. After all, a great crime book shouldn’t be comforting, it should be unnerving and hopefully a little creepy too. But when I sat down and thought about what a comfort read means to me right now, I realised it means escape from reality. And if I’m looking for a crime book I know I can lose myself in wholly and completely then I’m not going to look any further than the pace, tension and killer twists of C L Taylor. Taylor’s superb writing, flawed characters, and heart-pounding scenes is the ultimate escapism combo.
Lisa Jewell, author of The Family Upstairs:
I’ve never read the same book twice, so for me a comfort read is a book I know without any shred of doubt that I’m going to absolutely devour. Normally I put these books aside reverentially to pack for my summer holidays, but this year I’ve got stuck into them early because summer holidays currently feel like a fairy tale concept. I heard about My Dark Vanessa last autumn and got so excited about it that I pre-ordered it immediately. It arrived two days into lockdown and I read it on a beanbag in the garden in two straight days.
Nuala Ellwood, author of The House on the Lake:
Lucy Atkins is one of my favourite contemporary thriller writers. Her novels are beautifully crafted with complex yet charming protagonists and settings that enchant and repel the reader in equal measure. If you’re looking to escape into a sophisticated psychological thriller with echoes of Daphne Du Maurier then I would highly recommend Atkins’s novels. The Night Visitor and Magpie Lane are particular standouts.
Emily Koch, author of Keep Him Close:
I love to come back to Toni Morrison’s Beloved over and over again – a masterpiece dripping with tension, suspense, horror and beauty. I studied it at school and university, so I know the text inside out and enjoy returning to its familiarity. I have a copy filled with notes and highlighted sections – when I hold it I clearly remember being seventeen and reading it for the first time.
What are your favourite comfort reads? Let us know in the comments below!