18 authors pick their favourite winter reads
As much as we love a lazy summer’s day in the park or by the sea, there’s something magical about watching the seasons change from the comfort of a cozy armchair with a good book in hand.
So we asked some of our favourite authors to recommend their favourite crime novels to help keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the colder months. With picks from Shari Lapena, James Patterson, Lisa Jewell and many more, there’s something to suit every taste and make your winter reading more chilling than ever.
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 Apartment Upstairs:
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 The Long Weekend:
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.
Ashok Banker, author of A Kiss After Dying:
Crime fiction has never been more popular, the genre richer or more diverse, than it is now. I enjoy reading so many wonderful, diverse authors shining spotlights on untold stories, settings and cultures. Delightful books by Vaseem Khan, Abir Mukherjee, Steph Cha, Naomi Hirahara, Madhulika Liddle, Sujata Massey… I’m spoiled for choice. But at times, I like to wander back a ways, through the oevres of past masters. My current obsession is Ruth Rendell, the author of the bestselling Inspector Wexford detective series, who also wrote psychological thrillers under her own name as well as under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. I recently reread her Dark Corners, her final published novel. Dark Corners is a masterwork of economy, simplicity, following a handful of totally believable, relatable characters down a slippery slope as they slide deeper and deeper into the pitfalls of their own making. It’s absolutely brilliant and is short enough to be read in a single day. If you only read (or reread) one thriller this winter, make it this extraordinarily accomplished short novel, and follow these hapless people into some truly dark corners of human misbehavior.
Heather Darwent, author of The Things We Do to Our Friends:
The Wych Elm by Tana French doesn’t immediately summon visions of winter – there are no snowy peaks. But for me it is the perfect seasonal read. It’s a delicious slow burn of a mystery that begins with a vicious attack on the protagonist Toby, who ends up returning to his lavish ancestral home to care for his dying Uncle Hugo. There, a body from long ago is uncovered, and everyone is a suspect. As both characters wrestle with their health, The Wych Elm delves into what it means to be family, and also made me think a lot about rest and recuperation, states I always associate with the colder months. The book forms a penetrating character study that you’ll be thinking about long after the final page…
Claire Douglas, author of The Girls Who Disappeared:
A perfect winter chiller that I read recently and couldn’t put down is Nobody But Us by Laure Van Rensburg. A young woman and her professor boyfriend head to an isolated cabin for a romantic weekend away but from the prologue it’s obvious something has gone very wrong after the police make a grisly discovery. This is a sophisticated cat and mouse thriller brimming with tension and filled with well-executed twists. There is a powerful message at the heart of this compulsive and clever story that left me thinking about it for a long time.
Andrea Mara, author of All Her Fault:
One of my favourite recent reads was Invite Me In by Emma Curtis. Eliza has what looks like a perfect life – not even her closest friends know how controlling her husband is. She walks on eggshells all the time, and this is brilliantly played out in the book – the tension is palpable throughout. Eliza is doing a good job of keeping things together and hiding her many secrets until she takes on a charming new tenant, Dan. Dan turns her world upside down and seeps into every area of her life – in a good way, at least at first. Layer after layer is uncovered and the final reveal caught me completely by surprise. Yet, as is the way with the best thrillers, the denouement made perfect sense – everything fell immediately into place. It’s clever and compelling and I couldn’t stop reading; desperate to curl up under a blanket and find out what would happen next. I loved it.
Shari Lapena, author of Not A Happy Family:
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.
Vera Kurian, author of Never Saw Me Coming:
Caleb Carr’s The Alienist is the perfect winter read. It’s a long book – almost 500 pages – with an immersive setting of New York at the very end of the 19th century. The body of a young boy discovered after a horrifying murder and the novel centers on a reporter and his friend, Dr Laszlo Kreizler, attempting to find what increasingly looks like a new type of killer, and one who will strike again. Kreizler is an alienist, a practitioner of this newfangled thing called psychology and in the world of the novel is the first to apply it to the solving of a murder case. The Alienist is pleasantly hefty, perfect for curling up by the fireplace, but you will thoroughly be immersed in a gritty, filthy New York filled with interesting characters and dark alleyways.
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. 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.
Emily Koch, author of Keep Him Close:
Winter thrillers don’t get much better than Ruth Ware’s One by One, a chilling locked room mystery set in a ski chalet in the French Alps. Being on holiday with eight co-workers would be bad enough, but when an avalanche hits, cutting the chalet off from civilisation, everything gets a whole lot worse. Ware is just as brilliant at conveying the setting – the pristine slopes, the cosy chalet (before power cuts out), the breathtaking views – as she is at hooking us in with the unbearably tense plot.
Lisa Jewell, author of The Family Remains:
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 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.
James Patterson, author of Triple 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.
Amy McCulloch, author of Breathless:
When I’m looking for a winter thriller, I want something spooky, supernatural and chilling to read under a blanket. That’s why Ally Wilkes’s All the White Spaces is the perfect choice for me. It takes place post-World War I alongside Jonathan, a young man dreaming of adventure who stows away on board a ship bound for Antarctic exploration. But there’s a malevolent presence haunting the ship, picking off their fellow sailors one by one. My follow-up novel to Breathless – Midnight, coming summer 2023 – is set on Antarctica, so I had a personal interest. Ally brings the horrors of the ice – and genuine risk from the environment – to life in a brilliantly creepy way, while also exploring gender and identity in an insidious horror novel that really got under my skin. Perfect for fans of The Terror and North Water.
Nuala Ellwood, author of The Perfect Life:
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.
Howard Linskey, author of The Inheritance:
If you are searching for a crime book that is both an atmospheric winter read and an, almost literally, chilling experience, then look no further than Isabel Ashdown’s Lake Child. When 17-year-old Eva Olsen awakes following an accident, she finds herself bedbound in the attic room of the family home, deep in the snow-covered forests of Norway. Who better to take care of her there than her devoted parents? Because they love her, right? But Eva has lost her memory in the accident and doesn’t know what happened or who to trust anymore. Eva soon realises that not everyone wants her to discover the truth. Lake Child is a compelling and evocative winter tale. You can almost see the snow on the pine trees while reading this one.
Malin Stehn, author of Happy New Year:
Set in the north of Sweden, The Last Snow by Stina Jackson is a perfect winter read! I just love the creeping unease and how she uses the barren landscape to amplify the frosty relations between the characters. Despite the lack of snow I would also like to recommend the DCI Jonah Sheens Series by Gytha Lodge – the books are well-written, twisty and the DCI and his staff are a very agreeable company. Last but not the least: don’t miss the fantastic psychological thriller A Nearly Normal Family by Mattias Edvardsson, a brilliant book which is being released as Netflix limited series in 2023.
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.
What would make your pick of the best winter reads? Let us know in the comments below!