20 authors pick the best crime novels of 2017
There’s no doubt about it – this year has been a sensational year for all things mysterious and thrilling. We’ve seen hotly anticipated blockbusters live up to their promise, unexpected delights from debut authors and the reissue of some forgotten classics. Old masters have returned and brand new sleuths have left us thoroughly captivated.
And who could be more qualified to pick the very best books of the year than the experts – our favourite crime writers themselves!
Here are the novels that stood out from the crowd in 2017. How many have you read?
The best crime novels of 2017:
Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad mysteries have been an extraordinary pleasure and discovery: smart, tightly plotted, psychologically acute, socially and politically convincing, beautifully written and emotionally bruising, they grab you by the scruff of the neck and don’t let go. The Trespasser, the sixth in the series, leaps over the high bar set by French (who is alas no relative).
In a vintage year for crime fiction, My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood is the novel that lingers most in my memory. Touching on issues that are both powerful and harrowing, it is a psychological thriller of the highest order. The twists – of which there are several – hit you with physical force. Clever, compelling and haunting, this is a book that deserves to be read, then read again.
The crime novel which most absorbed me in 2017 was Emma Flint’s Little Deaths. It is loosely based on the true story of Ruth Malone, who was convicted of murdering her two children in America in the mid 60s, after she wakes up to find them vanished from her apartment. This is a compelling, atmospheric story in which the truth always remains slightly out of reach. But the main reason I loved it was how it examined the way the media treats sexually active women, a subject which occupies much of my own writing. The historical context cleverly highlights how little has changed in the past 50 years.
2017 has felt like a particularly good year for crime fiction, especially for the types of novels I love most: those asking tricky questions and presenting us with strong, complex female characters. I’ve loved Erin Kelly’s He Said/She Said, Amy Engel’s The Roanoke Girls and Nuala Ellwood’s My Sister’s Bones. The book that has stuck in my mind for months, though, is Emma Flint’s Little Deaths. Based on a true story, it follows single mother Ruth Malone in the aftermath of waking up to find both of her children missing. Though set in 1965 Queens, Flint’s brilliant depiction of the way Ruth is treated and judged by her neighbours, the police and the media for being a beautiful, sexual and independent woman has felt frighteningly relevant this year.
There are so many to choose from. There’s of course The Long Drop by Denise Mina and He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly both beautifully written and subtle and compelling in their own ways. I loved Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man which won a dagger this year for historical crime fiction. But I suppose if I had to pick a book for 2017 that balances important questions of morality and does it with ease and great story telling ability I’d pick Gillian McAllister’s Anything You Do Say. It’s really two novels in one which isn’t easy to achieve but Gillian makes it look effortless.
It’s always difficult to pick just one, but one of my favourite crime reads of 2017 was Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz. It features a novel within a novel. There’s a Christie-like mystery, with a country house murder and a stuffy detective, set in the 1950s. But then there’s a shift to present day, and you remember that what you’ve been reading is the highly-anticipated novel of a publishing house’s most successful author. However the author’s been murdered and the last chapters are missing. It’s very clever and tremendous fun, and I highly recommend it. If you’re a fan of Golden Age mysteries and enjoy elegant writing and sly humour, you will absolutely love it!
Oh, this is tough. I’ve been lucky enough to read some brilliant crime novels this year – and there are loads more I still need to read! My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood is excellent. You Don’t Know Me by Imran Mahmood has an amazing narrative voice. The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd is dark, creepy and clever. Little Deaths is devastating. But I’m going to plump for The Dry. Not a word is wasted in this taut thriller. The tension is palpable and everything builds to a brilliant conclusion!
This was a great year for crime fiction. So many books! So little time! My TBR pile stretches from floor to ceiling. Tucked among those unread books might be a novel as good as The Dry by Jane Harper. Maybe. It was an incredible debut. Twisty and satisfying and dark, with achingly good prose, a thorough understanding of the human heart and a sense of place so well-rendered I felt the heat rising off the dust-caked land. It made me thirsty for more.
Trying to choose my favourite book of 2017 is like a game of whack-a-mole, every time I strike upon a fantastic candidate, another one appears alongside it. There have been some tremendous novels this year that have completely transcended the traditional fiction genre, dragging the reader into the dark recesses of the human psyche – Good Me, Bad Me (Ali Land); You Don’t Know Me (Imran Mahmood); See What I Have Done (Sarah Schmidt). But if I had to pick just one, it would be Righteous by Joe Ide — a wry and witty book with a massive heart, it’s about a brilliant African-American private detective in East Long Beach whose quest drags him into a world of loan sharks, gangsters and ghosts. Ide grew up with a Sherlock Holmes obsession and his writing is like the lovechild of Junot Díaz and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
This is such a hard decision but the thriller that stayed with me and kept me guessing was Lisa Jewell’s Then She was Gone!
This has been torture. My shortlist refused to be whittled or rationalized beyond four titles – Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips tore at every maternal fibre and I’m still having an internal debate about THAT moment; See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt, an extraordinarily visceral re-examination of an infamous killing, The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins with two wonderfully written, damaged women at the black heart of her clever thriller (and dung beetles!). But by a whisker, the book that wrenched me into its world and wouldn’t let me go was The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrère, translated by Linda Coverdale. It is a deep dive into the darkness of a human soul but unlike other serial killer noirs sitting on my shelves, this is real. And so much more chilling for that. What a year!
Two psychological thrillers really stood out for me this year. The first is The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins, which tells the story of TV historian Olivia Sweetman whose research for her latest project leads to her crossing paths with Vivian Tester, a socially awkward sixty-year-old housekeeper who looks after the Victorian diary upon which Olivia’s next book is based. Their lives become increasingly entangled with devastating consequences. What I loved most about this book, aside from Atkins’ flawless writing, is that it raises the question of authenticity and appropriation, which as an author gave me lots of food for thought. Beautifully crafted, unsettling and utterly unputdownable, The Night Visitor explores what happens when we take someone else’s story and make it our own. My next choice is I Know My Name by CJ Cooke, another compelling and beautifully written thriller. The novel begins with a young woman waking up after being washed up on a Greek island with no recollection of how she got there. The scene then switches to London where a young father reports his wife missing. What follows is a dark, multi-layered story that explores issues of motherhood, mental health and historic abuse with a deft but powerful touch.
I really enjoyed Helen Dunmore’s Birdcage Walk set in the late 18th century. The plot starts with a scene that might or might not be a crime – at least that’s the way I saw it – when a man is digging a grave for his wife. It then goes on to describe his second marriage. The premise is riveting. It’s very different from the other Helen Dunmore novels I’ve read but it bore her hallmarks: intriguing characters, wonderful descriptions and a certain way of seeing the world. I was so sad to learn of her death earlier this year when she was still comparatively young. However, Helen Dunmore has left a wonderful literary legacy. If you haven’t met her on the bookshelves, you are in for a treat.
There was a lot of good stuff to choose from in 2017 but I’m going for Danielle Ramsay’s The Last Cut as my favourite read. It was gripping with an original premise: ‘Harri Jacobs knows she’s being stalked. But it might be her only chance to get revenge…’ That alone had me hooked. DS Harri Jacobs walks the mean streets of Newcastle, always looking over her shoulder for the killer who left her for dead and has sworn to finish the job next time. Jacobs is a complex, nuanced and refreshingly strong character with a finely tuned survival instinct but you might want to read this one with your doors and windows firmly locked!
I loved The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond, which kept me guessing to the last page. Jake and Alice are newlyweds and as a present receive membership to something called the Pact, a secular club which promises to help couples keep their marriage together. Very soon, however, the Pact becomes increasingly intrusive, sinister, and unforgiving in regards to even the most minor trespasses, and it’s not clear how Jake and Alice will ever escape and get their lives back. I devoured this unique take on a dangerous, irrational cult.
I’ve read several brilliant new crime novels this the year, but I’ve picked Before The Fall by Noah Hawley because it’s the first book in a long time that I have forced my husband to read. Normally he ignores my suggestions, but this time I didn’t let up. It contains one of the most exciting scenes I’ve read in a very long time. My heart rate soared. The story belongs to struggling artist Scott Burroughs who accidentally becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving the reputations and fortunes of influential people. I loved it.
Chris Whitaker’s All the Wicked Girls gripped me from start to finish. A smouldering noir set in the suffocating heat of Grace, Alabama, (in a town that runs along the Red River. Great minds…) All the Wicked Girls is totally engrossing. Rich characters, twisting plot and beautifully written. It stands out as my favourite crime book published in 2017.
My pick would have to be The Force by Don Winslow. A brilliantly written, totally authentic tour de force about corruption in the NYPD, and centring round three detectives in an elite squad, this book draws you in from the very first line. It might be more than 700 pages long but those pages turn very fast. However, this is far more than just a thriller. It’s a powerful story of human frailty, and the search for natural justice in a world where it’s often in short supply, and it left me deeply moved at the end. I felt genuinely bereft when I’d finished it.
Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear is my pick of the year for many reasons. Not least because every single character matters. Each one of them, regardless of how minor, is painted with such care. It has been months since I read the book, yet I can still recall Maryanne’s school friends gossiping about her in the café, and the barmaid in the pub with the tattoos. DC Cat Kinsella, the protagonist, is smart, relatable, and funny, but never clichéd. The story is about a missing girl, Maryanne, whose body turns up many years later. Cat’s dad lied about knowing her and now her body has been found near his pub. As Cat pieces together Maryanne’s missing years she fears her father is involved. A great read, often humorous and always gripping. I look forward to reading Caz Frear’s next book.
James Buckler, author of Last Stop Tokyo:
The best crime novel I have read in 2017 is The Boy in the Earth by Fuminori Nakamura. It’s not exactly a traditional genre novel but it is totally unforgettable. The unnamed protagonist is a Tokyo cab driver, a kind of Japanese version of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, who spends long hours journeying around the city in a state of numbed distress. He is haunted and alienated, unable to cut the ties to a past that has left him barely able to function in normal society. The writing is stark and lean and completely unsentimental but also very revealing and truthful. Nakamura is also the author of The Thief, another title I would wholly recommend.
Have we missed any of the best crime novels of 2017? Let us know in the comments below – and click here for the chance to win a selection of our favourites!