17 authors pick the best crime novels of 2016
Another year, another twelve months of brilliant books! 2016 has been an absolute whirlwind, with some truly fantastic new releases hitting the shelves – so many, in fact, that when it came to picking our favourites we really struggled to narrow down the list.
Instead we enlisted the help of some true experts when it comes to crime writing – the authors themselves! From the latest books by much-loved bestsellers to debut novels from fresh new voices in crime fiction, they’ve picked some wonderful titles that we think should move straight to the top of your reading list.
The best crime novels of 2016:
I thoroughly enjoyed Girl Unknown by Karen Perry. Middle class academic, David, is on the brink of promotion but is surprised when a new student introduces herself as his daughter. The young girl, Zoe, infiltrates his home, wreaking havoc on his already fragile marriage and dangerously influencing the lives of his two teenage children. Told from the perspectives of David and his wife Caroline, it is full of intrigue and incident and keeps us guessing until the very last tragic page.
One of my personal favourites was The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. I love Ruth’s writing anyway, but the isolation of the characters, and the complexity of the narrative reminded me so much of Agatha Christie that I was entirely hooked. Definitely one to read!
Stunning and lyrical, Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal is my favourite crime novel of 2016. Part mystery, part character study, this Norwegian novel transports you into a different world and is beautifully translated by Rosie Hedger.
I was thoroughly absorbed by The Widow by Fiona Barton. Having braced myself for something quite lurid, I was impressed by how sensitively the central crime of child abduction is explored. Reporter Kate Waters and detective Bob Sparkes are our ghoul and our moral compass respectively in the investigation, trial and death of suspected paedophile Glen Taylor, but the widow herself is a much more slippery creature. Jean Taylor is presented in the first person as a simple soul, at times almost simpleton. She does as she’s told and dismisses difficult issues as ‘nonsense’. But gradually her emotional complexity is revealed and you can really see the author’s compassion in the denouement. No one is a winner in this sort of story, she seems to be saying. Except the reader.
It’s so hard to pick just one, but one of the best crime reads I had in 2016 has to be Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton. Handsome surgeon Hamish Wolfe has been convicted of the murder of a number of plus-sized women. His conviction doesn’t seem to make him any less attractive to the many women who write to him. He steadfastly insists that he is innocent, and ultimately is able to enlist the help of Maggie Rose, lawyer and true-crime writer, famous for revisiting hopeless cases. It’s the fraught relationship between these two fascinatingly complex characters that makes this such a compulsive read. Is Hamish innocent or is he a master of manipulation? You won’t be able to stop reading until you know. It’s brilliant.
2016 has been a bad year for celebrity deaths, and also for my reading. Of the depressingly few crime books I did manage to read though, one stood out from the rest and that was All The Devils, by Neil Broadfoot. The third outing for his Edinburgh-based crime reporter Doug McGregor is a swift-paced page turner that takes us deep into a murky underworld of violence and corruption – my kind of place! Expertly drawn characters, both villainous and (almost) virtuous make this a book that once picked up is very hard to put back down.
I liked The Loving Husband by Christobel Kent. I bought it because the author and I were both guest speakers at Noirwich, Norwich’s crime festival, and I was intrigued by the title. The blurb also got me: how well does the heroine (Fran) know the man who shares her bed? It’s a question which many women might well ask!
Like all good books, I had to keep turning the pages from the very start. I liked the use of the prologue written in the third person without a name (only ‘she’) as a teaser. I also enjoyed the specific timelines (Monday morning 2.07) as the plot unfolded. This really made me feel as though I was there. I also admired the intelligent writing. But most of all, I was intrigued by Fran. In the tradition of the best of heroines, she has her own secrets. For me, The Loving Husband has all the right ingredients.
As a fan of the traditional action genre, one book stood out for me as the commercial thriller of the year. The relentless pace of Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz reminded me of the fingernails I left shredded as I ploughed through the Jason Bourne series of novels. Evan Smoak is the protagonist here who was picked as a lad to undergo a super-secret training programme. Years later he’s now an adult and a highly trained assassin. However the hunter is being hunted in a cat and mouse game that keeps you enthralled right until the end. Now I’m very much looking forward to the sequel in 2017.
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott is a taut psychological thriller about a brilliant teenage gymnast and the family whose lives revolve around her. It poses the question how much would you sacrifice to nurture your child’s talent – and who ultimately ends up paying the price? Like most crime writers I’m a sucker for dysfunctional suburbia and in You Will Know Me, Abbott skilfully slices open the seemingly perfect American family, laying bare its dark, diseased heart. I loved it.
I love it when a book forces you to root for a character against your will or better judgement. Caroline Kepnes did it last year with the brilliant You and this year, Sabine Durrant achieved the same feat with her compelling, complex psychological thriller Lie With Me. Her main character, Paul Morris, is vain, shallow and unprincipled, and has lived a life based on opportunism and evasion. But when he wangles an invitation to a Greek holiday villa, it gradually becomes clear that he’s not the only one being economical with the truth.
2016 has been a bumper year for crime novels but the highlight for me was Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant – a brilliantly executed psychological thriller. It is narrated by Paul, a failed author and pathological liar. One night at dinner Paul meets Alice, a widow. They become involved and Alice invites Paul to stay with her at the villa she owns on an idyllic Greek island. But the trip turns into a nightmare where the ghosts of both Paul’s and Alice’s past come back to haunt them and Paul’s lies finally start to catch up with him. I read this novel in one sitting and loved the way Durrant managed to combine beautiful, hypnotic prose with a killer plot and truly unexpected twist. Definitely my favourite read of 2016.
My favourite crime novel of 2016 is Dodgers by Bill Beverly. The world is seen through the eyes of East, a 15-year-old black guard of a crack den in Los Angeles, who is compelled to undertake a journey to the other side of the country with three others in a minivan. Their mission is to kill the judge who could imprison their boss. The narrative is dark and compelling, taking in elements of the classic US road trip, with gruesome, violent episodes and a kind of redemption, but not a sickly-sweet one. Stylistically terse in keeping with the themes, but utterly convincing, this is a dazzling, high functioning novel that I found spellbinding. There have been many excellent crime novels this year but Dodgers is my favourite by some distance.
I was taken by Fiona Barton‘s The Widow, which had a lovely creepy feel of silence and secrets, but my favourite crime thriller this year was Shari Lapena‘s The Couple Next Door. It set off at a breakneck pace, never relented, played havoc with expectations and had the confidence to ‘give away’ the plot before the half-way mark. A masterclass from a debutante.
Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts by AK Benedict. In a seriously crowded genre, this glorious crime/fantasy/ghost-story mash-up is original, quirky and enormous fun. Beautifully written, darkly funny and constantly surprising, this was definitely my find of the year.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead might not technically be a crime novel, but it’s amazing and contains enough horrific elements that I feel okay about squeezing it into the category. I loved this book for its unflinching prose and gut-wrenching story. There is one scene in particular that has stuck with me for months; I suspect it may stick with me for years. As a writer, I also really admired the structure of the novel; Whitehead made some mind-bendingly perfect choices regarding how and when to reveal information. Just an all-in-all brilliant novel.
Renee Knight, author of Disclaimer:
Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner was my favourite for 2016. It’s the first in what promises to be a great new series. DS Manon Bradshaw is a compelling creation and I was left at the end of the book impatient for the next. There’s a real richness to Susie Steiner’s writing and she succeeds in creating characters with a depth so you care, a plot that keeps you turning the page and a wry humour that makes this book such a special read.
I’m going to cheat a little and recommend a book I haven’t read yet, and that isn’t published until January! But I’ve heard so many good things about Sirens, by Joseph Knox, that I can’t wait to read it. It’s already been described as the best British crime debut in years, and sounds like a wonderfully noir-ish page turner. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in.
That is such a tough question! Several books immediately spring to mind – please can I give them a shout out? Jane Corry’s My Husband’s Wife, Claire Douglas’s Local Girl Missing, Sharon Bolton’s Daisy in Chains, Tammy Cohen’s When She Was Bad, Christobel Kent’s The Loving Husband. Was I gripped by them all? Yes. Did I enjoy them all? Yes. Would I recommend them all? Totally! So, you can see my problem. But which of these books made me think, I want to be THAT good? For the sheer quality of her writing, for the way her characters leap off the page, for the concise and yet beautiful way she creates a sense of place, for the darkness that shadows every paragraph and for the charismatic, multi-faced Hamish Wolfe, it has to be Sharon Bolton with the brilliant Daisy in Chains.
What was your best crime novel of 2016? Let us know in the comments below!