17 authors pick their favourite winter reads
The wind might howl outside and the rain pelt down, temperatures may plummet and spring might feel like an eternity away, but there really is no better season than winter to take advantage of a comfy chair in a cosy corner and get lost in a chilling read.
Which is why we asked some of our favourite authors for their thrilling recommendations to keep your reading lists toasty warm with their favourite winter reads. Whatever this winter has in store, this tantalising selection will keep you entertained as you weather the storm.
Ruth Ware, author of One by One:
Strange Shores is book nine in Arnaldur Indridason’s Reykjavic Murder Mysteries, and although all are excellent, this is my favourite. Really, you should start at the beginning to get the full emotional force of this novel, or at least with Jar City, which is arguably the most famous, but it’s in this book that Indridason brings the full force of the Icelandic winter to bear on his detective, Erlendur. It’s impossible not to shiver while reading!
Lesley Kara, author of The Dare:
The Killing Place is the eighth book in Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles series and is the perfect winter thriller. The remote, snowy location and the relentless suspense combine to make this a captivating read that is chilling in every sense of the word. Stranded in a remote area of Wyoming, cut off by the snow, medical examiner Dr Maura Isles and her fellow travellers are forced to give up on their planned ski trip and take refuge in an eerily abandoned village called Kingdom Come. But it soon transpires that they are far from safe here. When her friend and colleague, police detective Jane Rizzoli, realises that Maura has gone missing, she flies in to investigate her disappearance. Things soon take a very gruesome turn indeed, so do make sure you’re nice and warm before you start reading, because I guarantee you’ll be covered in goosebumps before you reach the end!
Gilly Macmillan, author of To Tell You the Truth:
If you’re looking for a thriller to chill your bones, the standalone novel The Snow Was Dirty by Georges Simenon is as bleak, dark and desperate as the worst of winters. Set in German-occupied France it’s a deft, compelling portrait of a killer. Nineteen-year-old Frank Friedmaier has just killed his first victim when we meet him at the start of the novel and his psychological descent continues as the novel progresses. Simenon draws you in with a vivid cast of characters, prose that is exquisitely rich but spare and devastatingly acute psychological insight. It’s impossible to look away from Friedmaier and his crimes, impossible not to question human nature in all its deviant forms, making The Snow Was Dirty a masterpiece of European noir. If you want an antidote to tinsel and holiday trivia, this is one of the coldest, most impressive winter reads you could treat yourself to.
Caroline Lea, author of The Glass Woman:
Both the novels I’ve chosen (yes, I’m cheating) create a perfect simmering tension for the winter darkness, reinforcing the safety of curling up with a good book while, outside, the cold world churns. The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins has been widely lauded, and rightly so: set in 1826, it tells the story of a woman who has been brought from Jamaica to London as a maid, and now stands accused of murdering her employers. Collins sets the public scandal of the courtroom against the private world of Frannie’s life with her employers, where her ideas and emotions are often subsumed and secondary to the desires and opinions of Mr and Mrs Benham. Frannie’s voice is utterly mesmerising and convincing: the opening sections on the Jamaican plantation are both evocatively beautiful and horrifying, reminiscent of Andrea Levy’s The Long Song. The novel also has shades of Margaret Atwood’s brilliant Alias Grace, with Frannie offering us a confession that feels both intimate and obfuscating: ‘They say I must be put to death for what happened to Madame, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?’ My second choice is Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton, which is set in a remote school, and begins with a bomb going off in the woods and the shooting of the headteacher. Police initially believe this to be a terrorist attack: the unfolding of the truth behind the perpetrators and their motivation is gripping and shocking in equal measure. The compression of time within the novel gives the events a riveting urgency, while the use of multiple viewpoints creates unexpected sympathies and raises important questions about refugees, social media, political power and parenthood. Told in beautiful prose, this is a book that will haunt you.
Lisa Jewell, author of Invisible Girl:
I hate skiing, but I’m still dragged along to the snow every year by my family. I read books by log fires and drink hot chocolate in comfortable clothes while they hit the slopes. So as a seasoned ‘not skier’ Ruth Ware’s intoxicating new thriller, One by One, a dazzling murder mystery set in a deluxe chalet in one of the poshest ski resorts in Europe, was the perfect winter read. I also love The Ice Twins by S K Tremayne, set in the brutal, snowy landscape of the Outer Hebrides, where a young girl claims that she is her own twin sister, who has just died in a tragic accident. Another chilling, thrilling snow globe of a read is The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar, in which Hannah moves from London to rural Suffolk in the middle of the worst snowfall in a generation and becomes trapped in her spooky new home. There are intruders, locked doors and footsteps overhead at night and her new neighbours are not as friendly as she might have hoped.
Stephanie Wrobel, author of The Recovery of Rose Gold:
My pick is The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn. Technically this story begins in April but Ravatn’s depiction of the Scandinavian setting is so chilling and bleak that it feels like the dead of winter. I read the book in one sitting with ever-growing dread. By the time I got to the end I felt like I was holding a talisman of evil. These two characters and this place – and that bird scene! – have stuck with me for a long, long time. If you can bear it, I suggest diving in without reading the summary first; the subsequent disorientation is delicious.
Shari Lapena, author of The End of Her:
One of my favourite winter crime reads – set in cold, wintry Iceland – is The Darkness, by Ragnar Jonasson. Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavík police is being forced into retirement. She gets to choose one last case before she goes, and she takes on one that stirs up an unexpected hornet’s nest. I love Hulda, with her troubled past and her interesting thoughts. Plus this book has one of the best endings I’ve ever read.
James Patterson, author of Deadly Cross:
During the winter months I love revisiting classic crime novels – anything by Agatha Christie and John le Carré. Ideally books that capture the mood of that time of year – the long, dark nights and freezing temperatures. Cold War spy thrillers are perfect for doing that.
Sarah Pearse, author of The Sanatorium:
One of my favourite winter crime reads is Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson, a chilling, claustrophobic novel packed with twists and turns – the perfect murder mystery to read on a cold winter’s day. It’s set in an isolated fishing village in Northern Iceland and follows rookie policeman, Ari Thor Arason, on his first posting. Ari’s tasked to solve a crime in the community, but things take a darker turn when an avalanche and heavy snowstorms close the only access tunnel to the village. It’s such a brilliant novel – I love the sense of claustrophobia that Jonasson evokes throughout and how the multiple viewpoints tease you as a reader, clues subtly dropped like breadcrumbs to keep you turning the pages. A must-read.
Sam Lloyd, author of The Memory Wood:
I came upon Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton entirely by chance: inside a box of books passed enthusiastically from in-law to in-law until it reached my door. I emerged from its pages days later, awed and emotionally exhausted. Lupton’s novel follows Grace, a mother who runs into a burning school to save her daughter. Later, in hospital, she battles to identify the arsonist before more carnage is wrought. The central conceit is that Grace acts during an out-of-body experience while her physical shell lies comatose. Afterwards is as brutal as it is beautiful, a literary whodunnit that’s also a treatise on love and sacrifice. It made me a Lupton fan for life.
Nuala Ellwood, author of The House on the Lake:
The Nesting by C J Cooke is a wonderful piece of gothic suspense. Set in a remote house in the depths of a wintry Norwegian forest where a woman, Lexi, finds herself looking after the young daughters of Tom: an architect and widower with a mysterious past. It is a chilling tale that combines Norse folktales with a gripping thriller plot. Perfect to curl up with on a cold winter’s night.
Merilyn Davies, author of If I Fall:
My top pick is Magpie Lane, by Lucy Atkins. Her atmospheric writing tells the story of Dee, nanny to Felicity, a child whose grief over the death of her mother renders her almost mute. Set in an Oxford College, Atkins’ subtly highlights the snobbery and toxic relationships which dominate the historic university, providing a stark backdrop to the silent child living within it. When Felicity goes missing, the police have to decide – is Dee responsible, or the deeply dysfunctional family she describes. But where is Felicity and who took her? It is only at the very end we find out and the revelation is as disturbing as it is genius.
Rosamund Lupton, author of Three Hours:
My favourite winter reads come in trilogies. First up, is the Metropolitan series by Kate London – Post Mortem, Death Message and Gallowstree Lane. A former Metropolitan police officer, Kate writes with expertise and knowledge of all the human details of being in the Metropolitan police service, creating utterly credible and compelling novels. Second, on the other side of the world, is Australian writer Jane Harper with her three wonderful standalone novels: The Dry, Force of Nature and The Lost Man. The heat radiates off the pages with her atmospheric storytelling. And to slip in at the end, because I loved it – We Begin at The End by Chris Whitaker.
Liz Nugent, author of Our Little Cruelties:
For a northern hemisphere winter read, I’d suggest you go to the hottest part of Australia at the hottest time of the year and read Jane Harper’s The Lost Man. At the heart of this story lies a mystery: why did one of three brothers leave his fully stocked, fully functional car in the murderous heat to die in the middle of nowhere? But it turns out it wasn’t the heat that killed him. The landscape is so searingly described that I’d advise you to apply factor 50 while you sit by the fire with a rug over your knees. The writing is incredibly engaging and the central character, while deeply flawed, will win your heart by the end.
Ashley Audrain, author of The Push:
How A Woman Becomes A Lake by Marjorie Celona opens on a cold day, on a frozen lake, where we learn a woman has gone missing, and a ten-year-old boy is waiting for his father. A completely gripping and emotional mystery unfolds from here in a novel that has everything I love in a book – a page-turning pace, compelling family secrets, unforgettable characters, and absolutely stunning prose. Every single chapter broke my heart. I loved Marjorie Celona’s Y, and was so excited to see what she wrote next – this far surpassed my high expectations. It’s the perfect dark, chilly, wintery read that I’ve been recommending to everyone (but you’ll never walk on a frozen pond again!).
Heidi Perks, author of Three Perfect Liars:
One of my all time favourites is The Quality Of Silence by Rosamund Lupton, a story that gave me chills. Set in icy Alaska it is about a mother and daughter who set off in search of a missing husband/father. Meeting ice truckers along the way it is set against a dramatically terrifying background, and what Rosamund Lupton does so brilliantly is capture this is in her writing so that you absolutely believe you are there. You’ll need a warm blanket in which to read this one!
Nicholas Shakespeare, author of The Sandpit:
Basil Thomson, interrogator of Mata Hari and Roger Casement, was a much-travelled police inspector who also wrote crime novels. The Milliner’s Hat Mystery was first published in 1937, but still delivers a contemporary kick. Its claim to fame is to have inspired Operation Mincement, after Ian Fleming recommended the central idea to his bosses in Naval Intelligence: ‘a corpse dressed as an airman, with despatches in his pockets, could be dropped on the coast, supposedly from a parachute that has failed’. The corpse in Thomson’s pre-war melodrama is a drug-smuggler who has been prevented from bolting to France with his loot. Set in London, Paris, St Malo and Cornwell, the story rattles along with the suave and reliable elegance of the hired Bentley that plays a chief part of the plot – a plot which snakes right to the addicted hearts of the Elysée.
What would make your pick of the best winter reads? Let us know in the comments below!