It’s been another bumper year for crime fiction, with fresh new voices and old favourites hitting the bestseller charts with brilliant new books. With 2019 just around the corner, now’s the perfect time to look back and celebrate the novels that left us glued to the edge of our seat, desperate to find out what would happen next.
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 crime novels they think stood out from the crowd in 2018. How many have you read?
The best crime novels of 2018:
This is a tough question, because crime fiction just keeps on getting better and better. But if you hold a gun to my head and force me to choose, I’ll say The Intrusions by Stav Sherez. It’s immaculately written, crafted and plotted, but more than anything it feels like something new, as if it could be “Book Zero” for a whole new sub-genre.
My favourite crime book of 2018 would have to be The Chalk Man by C J Tudor. Set in the 1980s and focusing on a group of teenage friends, it initially brought to mind twisted tales of suburban Americana such as Stand by Me and Carrie. However, by weaving in authentic and evocative period detail, C J Tudor manages to create a story that tells of the darkness at the heart of small-town life that is, like the rotten pastoral in a M R James ghost story, uniquely English. Unsettling, taut and skillfully plotted, The Chalk Man grabbed me by the throat from the very first sentence and didn’t let go until the final, heart-stopping page.
Renée Knight, author of The Secretary:
I’m choosing Lullaby by Leila Slimani as my favourite crime read of 2018. It was published back in January and kept me awake into the small hours – not the best way to begin the New Year. I think it’s stayed with me because of its haunting atmosphere and the delicacy with which the author delivers her blows. The hideous crime is revealed in the first sentence so we know what’s happened but not why. What follow are pages filled with dread and tension as the point-of-view switches between the nanny and the couple who entrusted her with the care of their children. The writing is precise and lethal, and offers a brilliant portrait of class, the fragility of the human condition and the oh-so-easy complacency we can all fall into when we choose to see what we want to see to make our lives more comfortable. A thought-provoking and beautifully written tale of every parents’ worst nightmare.
My crime novel of 2018 has to be Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin. It’s a stunning page turner of a book which kept me gripped throughout. Pretending to be his daughter, a young woman takes a suspected serial killer with dementia on a road trip through Texas hoping he’ll lead her to her sister’s body. It’s a book that has stayed with me beyond the last chapter and I’m recommending it to everyone.
I like crime books that do something different with the genre, so I’m going to pick two that stayed with me for that reason. In Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin, an acquitted killer with dementia is taken on a road trip by the sister of one of his ‘victims’ to try and force him to remember what happened. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton takes a classic Agatha Christie set-up and then mashes it up with Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day. Nuts and very clever. What’s not to love?
Lee Child’s Past Tense had me shouting at my husband, who’d read it first, about the answer to its central mystery about what is in store for a pair of weary travellers taken hostage at a remote motel in New Hampshire. Reacher was as ultra-violent as usual, but newly contemplative about his father and a little more smart-mouthed with his adversaries than usual, much to my amusement. A read humming with the kind of tension that’ll make you grind your teeth.
I came to Luke Jennings via the terrific Killing Eve TV series and it was love at first sight. Killing Eve: No Tomorrow, the latest instalment in his Villanelle series, continues the duel between his painfully human MI6 agent Eve Polastri and Villanelle, a psychotic high-end assassin, who is the best twisted villain created since Ian Fleming was sitting in Goldeneye. Beautiful, brilliant stuff that deserves all the success coming its way.
Trying to pick one book which stands out from 2018 is a painful task, but in the end I think the real stand out for me was I Invited Her In by Adele Parks. It’s the story of Mel, a happily married mother, who hears that a friend from university – Abi – has found herself single and without anywhere else to turn. Without much thought, Mel welcomes Abi into her family. But (as you might guess) things don’t exactly work out the way Mel plans. So often as a reader it’s hard to fathom why a character lets themself be so vulnerable, but in I Invited Her In Adele uses a something totally familiar: the automatic instinct to help a friend. As well as the intense, pacy plot, the book is about friendships, the dynamics between women and the way that power shifts over the course of a friendship. If you love domestic noir then this is certainly one for you – all the hallmarks of a classic thriller, but with the added joy of complex female characters and a totally relatable premise.
This has to be Anatomy Of A Scandal by Sarah Vaughan. From the first sentence, I knew this was going to be an intelligent read with a gripping premise. It’s sometimes too easy to use phrases like ‘this made me sit on the edge of my seat’ but Sarah Vaughan’s book did exactly that. I later lent it to my daughter and also an elderly friend who both devoured it. Can’t wait to read her next novel.
I can’t possibly pick out one novel as I read some absolute crackers in 2018, but Louise Candlish’s Our House was definitely among the cream of the crop. It’s got an enviably simple premise (what if you returned home to find a stranger had bought your house?) which spirals out into a nightmarishly complex mystery, finishing up with a great twist in the tail.
Araminta Hall’s Our Kind of Cruelty stuck with me long after the final page. A chilling tale of obsessive love, power play and society’s mistrust of female sexuality, the writing is slick and fast-paced, the narrator a modern-day Patrick Bateman you are both appalled and enthralled by. For true crime fans, Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a lyrical exploration of the author’s fixation on one of the biggest unsolved cases of the 21st century – the Golden State Killer – made all the more compelling by the author’s untimely death, and the discovery of the killer’s identity just a few months after publication. I pride myself on being hard-as-nails, but McNamara’s electric prose left me double-checking the locks and sleeping with the lights on.
Since the early summer, I’ve been reading a lot of true crime, partly for research, and partly because I’ve been trying to finish my new book and reading too much crime fiction in the final, stress-packed 3-4 months of a deadline (especially if that crime fiction turns out to be brilliant) tends to feed my anxiety! So I’ve had my flag firmly planted on the real-life side of the fence since about June, and one of the best books I’ve read this year, published back in March, was I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, a brilliant and obsessive attempt to unmask the Golden State Killer, who – between 1974 and 1986 – killed 13 people, raped more than 50 women, and committed 100 burglaries in California. What makes McNamara’s book even more compelling is the tragedy of her own journey and the fact that, a month after the publication, the GSK was finally identified and arrested, in part through the extraordinary nature of McNamara’s research.
Soren Sveistrup, author of The Chestnut Man:
One of the most compelling books I have read this year is Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. It’s not fiction – though I wish it was. McNamara’s obsessive search for the killer she named The Golden State Killer drew me in immediately. In a book that echoes Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, McNamara studies the cases one by one and in such detail that you can only be thoroughly impressed by her determination to solve the crimes. The book is well-written, thrilling, suspenseful and horrific. It is a milestone in true crime journalism and an impressive tribute to those detectives and forensics who never give up.
2018 was full of great crime reads but one in particular stood out for me: Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves, the eighth and, sadly, the last book in the Shetland series. Ann Cleeves never disappoints. If you like your settings remote and atmospheric, look no further. Add a family of outsiders to an insular, claustrophobic community awash with secrets and lies and rumours (which clearly I have a thing for) and it isn’t long before DI Jimmy Perez has a murder to investigate. If you’re new to the Shetland books, I envy you, because now you have eight of them to read. Not to mention the brilliant TV series to watch with the wonderful Douglas Henshall!
D B John, author of Star of the North:
My favourite crime novel of the year was Need to Know by Karen Cleveland. I found this short, tightly-written, psychological nail-biter chillingly plausible: how many ordinary Americans have any idea that their loving, caring spouse is a sleeper agent working for a hostile regime?
Robert Goddard, author of Panic Room:
The crime novel I most enjoyed reading in 2018 was Manda Scott’s A Treachery of Spies, which pulled off the trick of a dual-time plot in which both strands are equally compelling. It kept this reader as foxed as her indomitable detective, Captain Picaut, right to the end – which was as thought-provoking as it was satisfying.
Simon Kernick, author of We Can See You:
Veteran American crime novelist John Sandford is one of the most prolific, and in my view, criminally underrated writers out there. This year he’s published two novels in his long-running Prey series, featuring hardbitten detective Lucas Davenport, both of which vie for my book of the year. In Golden Prey, he’s chasing down an armed robber who inadvertently killed a six-year-old girl during his last job, and in Twisted Prey, he’s trying to bring down a corrupt, psychopathic female senator who’s destined for the very top. The thing about Sandford’s books is they are brilliantly written, hugely page-turning, full of twists and turns, and feature characters you can immediately identify with. I very rarely read books twice. I’ll be reading both of these again. If you haven’t found Sandford, then you’re really missing out.
I really loved A House of Ghosts by W C Ryan. The desperation and despair of the parents and survivors of World War I made them easy targets for suspect spiritualists and opportunists. The secrets at the centre of this novel have a most unexpected explanation. Reminiscent of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, A House of Ghosts is also a fun, befogged, country house mystery.
It’s been an excellent year for crime fiction but if I am forced to single out one title it will have to be Beautiful Liars by Isabel Ashdown, which had me hooked from the beginning. It’s an expertly plotted and compelling story, with friendship at its core and an intriguing mystery that has haunted its characters, blighting their lives for years. A first-rate read.
I read and loved The Man Who Didn’t Call in 2018. It has the emotional heft of women’s fiction but the pace of a thriller and a twist that I genuinely didn’t see coming. I loved it.
There you have it – the best crime novels of 2018, as chosen by crime authors! What books would make your list? Let us know in the comments below…