16 crime authors share their summer reads
For many of us, summer will look a little different this year – but whether you’re staying at home or loading up the car and setting off for a holiday on British soil, it’s the perfect time to make a dent in your ever-growing reading list.
If you’re looking for the perfect crime novel to kick off the holiday season, look no further than these summer reading recommendations from some of our favourite crime writers. From big bestsellers to undiscovered gems, here are some brilliant books guaranteed to transport you elsewhere this summer!
Shari Lapena, author of The End of Her:
My recommended read to everyone right now is Gilly MacMillan’s To Tell You the Truth. This one is just out in the UK, and it’s a stunner. Lucy Harper is a bestselling thriller writer. It has made her rich and famous. Her husband Dan, a failed writer himself, enjoys her money perhaps too much. When Dan suddenly vanishes, attention turns to Lucy. It’s not the first time someone has disappeared from Lucy’s life. A long time ago, her little brother Teddy went missing and was never found. Lucy, a young child at the time, was the only witness, and she couldn’t tell the detectives anything concrete. As they pressed, she spun story after story about what had happened. Now, Lucy is under intense scrutiny… This book was an absolutely delicious read.
Alex North, author of The Shadow Friend:
I really loved Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi, which manages to be both a fascinating, metafictional commentary on detective fiction and an ingenious, compelling crime mystery in its own right. It contains seven apparently separate stories, interwoven with an eighth in which an ambitious editor visits the reclusive author of those tales to work on them. As the two read and discuss the stories, Pavesi teases out connections and discrepancies that increasingly seem to reference a real-life unsolved murder. The discussion becomes a battle of wits between the editor and the writer, with the truth about what’s really happened emerging gradually from the fiction. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything so intricate and original, and the ending – which I didn’t see coming – works so beautifully that I wanted to applaud when I was done.
Gillian McAllister, author of How to Disappear:
My summer reading recommendation is My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. It’s a taut drama about a woman who had a relationship with her teacher when she was fifteen, and how she comes to terms with what that means when, decades later, he is accused by other women. Uncomfortable, important, and ultimately life affirming. It’s beautiful and has a great ending.
Tony Parsons, author of #taken:
I just read My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell and was completely blown away by it. Like all the best books, it does not sit easily into any genre, but it is certainly about a crime – a teacher’s sexual relationship with a 15 year old student – and it is certainly a thriller – the girl thinks she is involved in a great love affair, and it is only 20 years later, when other victims of the teacher come forward, that she is forced to confront the reality of what happened back at her boarding school. My Dark Vanessa feels shockingly contemporary – it is very much a post-#MeToo novel, and it will appeal to anyone who likes their thrillers to be about the great issues of our time. A brilliant debut novel that nobody who loves great story-telling should miss.
Claire Douglas, author of Just Like the Other Girls:
I’ve just finished reading The End of Her by Shari Lapena and I loved it. It’s about Patrick and Stephanie who appear happily married with four-month-old twins when a woman from Patrick’s past comes into their lives claiming that he killed his first wife. Shari is so clever at addictive plots and complex characters and twists that you don’t see coming. This was tense and pacey all the way to the end. I also loved Emma Curtis’ Keep Her Quiet – out later this summer – which is about a baby stolen from a hospital and is so gripping that I read it two days. One I haven’t read yet but am looking forward to in late August is C J Tudor’s The Other People which sounds brilliantly creepy.
Julia Heaberlin, author of We Are All the Same in the Dark:
“He broke her jaw to get at her tongue. His pulse never got over eighty-five even when he swallowed it.” That’s the quiet terror of Thomas Harris. But there’s so much more to his work. I recently performed an autopsy of The Silence of the Lambs as my own private pandemic master class while sheltered in place in Texas. I wanted to soak up a few lessons. I remember exactly where I was when I first read this classic – on a blanket in the summer sun, children laughing down the street and, me, chilled to the bone. This second time was no different even though I knew the end. I silently shouted at Clarice Starling, our beloved heroine. Don’t open that green body bag! Don’t look in that dead girl’s mouth! More than thirty years later, this thriller towers over others with brilliant dialogue, brutal pacing, a deep dive into human psychology, a thrilling climax, and an ode to feminism. Also, fascinating moth facts. Did you know some moths survive only on tears? If you’re a first-timer to this book, I’m jealous. And if you’re a second-timer, it’s still very much a thriller meant for summer chilling.
Nicholas Shakespeare, author of The Sandpit:
Berta Isla by Javier Marías, one of Spain’s leading novelists, is the best thriller I have read for several years. A knock-out spy/love story set in Oxford and Madrid, with not one word out of place, it bows to familiar masters. Homer, Conan Doyle, le Carré are voices that can be heard in the background, but Marías is in command utterly of his own haunting world.
Simon Lelic, author of The Search Party:
Since his debut Lies in 2017, T M Logan’s books have for me become an annual summer treat. Usually I try to save them until I am actually lying on a beach somewhere (I have vivid memories of battling for reading rights of The Holiday with my wife last summer – at one stage we were reading simultaneously), but as there was very little chance of that happening this year, I dived right in to The Catch the minute the advanced proof landed on my doormat in April. I finished it in just a few sittings. Taut, tense and compelling, it is everything you could want from a summer thriller.
C C Macdonald, author of Happy Ever After:
The Wych Elm by Tana French is about a year old now, but if you didn’t catch it then, load it onto your to-read list because it’s an incredible novel. It has twists and turns, it has original and intriguing family relationships but more than that it’s a meditation on the psyche of a privileged, charismatic white male and how fragile his sense of himself is when he’s the victim of a seemingly random act of violence. Although it had nothing in common in terms of plot, it reminded me of The Secret History. Every character is richly drawn and engaging and the journey the protagonist goes on, from living in the Platonic cave of his own self-satisfaction bred by a life of being untouchable out into a world of pain, despair and, most satisfyingly, consequences, is a wonder to imbibe. In a world where most of us are starting to examine our privilege and the way in which it blinds us to the plights of others and suffocates our capacity to empathise, The Wych Elm gives us a man who learns the hard way how damaging that self-centred mind-set can be.
Alex Pavesi, author of Eight Detectives:
Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg is an affecting, mournful novel about the murder of a young woman. It’s the perfect summer read, if you’re more of a winter person. A fresh take on a familiar tale, we’re told the story by friends, relatives and casual acquaintances. It’s a reminder that when someone is killed they’re reduced to a collection of memories, never quite adequate, never entirely consistent. We learn the details of the murder early on, but this is a different kind of crime novel: instead of trying to spot the killer we strive to make sense of something so needless and tragic. A powerful depiction of loss and a thoughtful meditation on violence.
Lisa Jewell, author of Invisible Girl:
I would recommend Platform Seven by Louise Doughty as the perfect summer read. It’s one of those slightly claustrophobic books that sucks you entirely into another world – in this case, Peterborough railway station! – and doesn’t let you go for a second. It’s the story of a young woman called Lisa who we meet as a ghost trapped on Platform 7. Slowly in flashbacks we learn the tragic story that led up to her death, discover the why she’s in limbo and what she needs to do to escape. It’s a slow burn of a book, intense and chilling, with multiple layers to be unpeeled. Lisa encounters other characters in her netherworld, trapped in Peterborough station, just like her and their stories unfold alongside hers, holding the answers to many of her questions. It’s just such a clever, atmospheric, unexpected book, impossible to pigeonhole and gripping from the first page to the last.
Kimberly McCreight, author of A Good Marriage:
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is the riveting and moving account oflate journalist Michelle McNamara’s tireless pursuit of the madman she dubbed the Golden State Killer – and it’s the perfect summer read for anyone who loves mysteries of any kind, but especially true crime. It’s non-fiction that reads like the very best fiction – richly drawn characters, edge of your seat suspense and meaningful themes. You’ll puzzle over haunting details and be shocked by the twists and turns, plus there’s even an astounding real-life epilogue you can read about afterwards (no spoilers here). It’s particularly good for those not afraid of thrillers that include some genuine frights like the TV series The Fall.
Gilly Macmillan, author of To Tell You the Truth:
Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins is a perfect summer thriller. Lose yourself in the densely atmospheric Oxford college setting and try your best to figure out how you feel about the disturbingly erratic narrator who works as a nanny for a high profile family with a vulnerable child. She’s a fish out of water, with her own complex past. It all makes for a read that’s fresh, chilling, claustrophobic and extremely compelling.
Cara Hunter, author of All the Rage:
I’ve loved Nicci French all the way back to The Memory Game, and House of Correction has all the qualities we’ve come to expect – great writing, razor-sharp plotting, and powerful characterisation. It opens with a woman waking up in prison, with absolutely no idea why she’s there, and facing the fight of her life to find out, and get out. I was 100 pages in before I even drew breath, and I defy anyone to see the ending coming. Out in September.
S J Watson, author of Final Cut:
A really great book I read recently is Louisa de Lange’s Nowhere to be Found. A missing wife, a dead body found floating in a lake, but how are the two connected? DS Kate Munro has to piece it together before it’s too late. I’m also half-way through Will Carver’s Hinton Hollow Death Trip and loving it. Will’s on a roll at the moment, and this is another masterclass in darkness, narrated this time by evil itself. You could do a lot worse than either of these for your summer read.
James Brabazon, author of Arkhangel:
I’ve chosen The Man Between by Charles Cumming as my summer pick because it’s a great thriller to read on holiday. A lot of the action is set in Morocco – and it’s fun, furious and doesn’t disappoint. I like the story because it’s a fascinating exploration of why people choose to work in the secret world. Are they motivated by honour and patriotism, or driven by ego, or love and loyalty? When the personal stakes are high, sparks start flying. That’s what happens when Kit Carradine, the central character in The Man Between, makes a leap of faith into a word about which he really knows nothing at all. The consequences are electrifying – with neither Kit nor the reader ever sure who to trust until the final page is turned…