19 authors pick the best crime novels of 2019
The past twelve months have been an absolute treat for crime and thriller fans. We’ve seen outstanding new books from reliable big hitters and exciting debut thrillers from fresh new voices, surprising runaway bestsellers and unforgettable award-winning novels – and if you’re anything like us, you’ll have found your reading list getting longer and longer by the second.
But with so many brilliant new page turners to choose from, how on earth do you find the cream of the crop? We turned to the experts – our favourite crime writers themselves. Here are the crime novels they read and loved in 2019.
How many have you read?
The best crime novels of 2019:
It’s been another great year for crime fiction, and for crime fiction written by women, which is especially gratifying. It’s tough to choose one among so many fabulous books, but I’m going to go for Someone We Know by Shari Lapena. She is brilliant at pinpointing those tiny but dangerous chinks in the smooth suburban façade through which terror and turmoil gradually seep. She’s a writer at the top of her game and this was another fabulous read.
2019 was a feast of crime novels for me, and it’s so hard to choose from all the delicious novels I read. For me, I think the novel that really had me up all night, wanting to read it at every moment – with my breakfast, in the bath – was The Turn Of The Key by Ruth Ware. It’s a smart, classy contemporary epistolary thriller about a nanny employed in a ‘smart house’ who is accused of a terrible crime.
Craven’s follow-up to his smash hit debut, The Puppet Show, is a delicious mix of crime, mystery and forensic pathology. Unravelling how a dead woman has seemingly come back to life gives the compelling duo – detective Washington Poe and his brilliant, if socially awkward analyst, Tilly Bradshaw – a case which will leave papercuts on your skin as you race to turn the page. It is clear to see why Craven won this years CWA Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel. He is a standout talent and Black Summer is a binge read to rival the best TV dramas out there.
The best crime novel I read in 2019 was Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman. It was a high profile debut with a ton of hype attached so I was simultaneously excited and slightly unsure when I started to read. But within a few pages I’d cast aside any doubt and was swept away completely by this confident, glittering, dark and gripping story of a newly married couple finding themselves inadvertently embroiled in an international crime cartel whilst on holiday in Bora Bora. The twisty, wide-ranging plot moves at the speed of light but Steadman never once drops the ball. Brilliant to the very last page.
It’s been a cracker of a year for crime fiction, but my favourite read of the year has to be Joe Country, by the inimitable Mick Herron. It’s the latest in the Jackson Lamb series, set amongst the MI6 screw-ups of Slough House. This time the Slow Horses are searching for a missing teenager, the child of one of their own dearly departed colleagues. It’s a wild, often laugh out loud funny ride, and there are few authors today who can hold a candle to Heron’s combination of fantastic characterisation, beautiful prose, twist of plot and wry sense of humour. I can’t wait for the next one.
I’ve read so many wonderful books in 2019, which makes it unbelievably hard to choose just one. In the end, I’ve selected one that is as full of heart as it is full of tension: Caroline Lea’s The Glass Woman, which I keep describing to people as a 16th-century, Icelandic Rebecca that twists in a new direction. This is one of those books that stays with you for weeks after you’ve finished reading it. The characters and setting are a huge part of that. It’s impossible to read and not imagine yourself in the isolated Icelandic winter, and Rosa and Jon are deep, satisfying and complex enough to make you think back to them. And throughout it, the absent figure of Ana haunts every twist and turn. A book with so much to say about love, in all its complexities, as well as the inescapable nature of our past sufferings.
There have been some amazing crime and suspense novels published in 2019, so choosing my favourite has been hard, but I’m going to go for Natalie Daniels’s debut Too Close. I’m picking it because of Connie, the main protagonist. Daniels has written a gripping page turner, but it’s Connie’s acerbic wit and irreverence that makes this a stand-out book for me. This is the story of two young mothers who meet in the park and become close, and then closer still, until the friendship becomes suffocatingly claustrophobic and bad things start to happen… Well worth a read! I absolutely loved it.
I wasn’t able to read as much crime fiction in 2019 as I normally would because I’ve been deep in the dark world of my second novel. But I made a point of rushing to my local Waterstones for the new Ann Cleeves novel, The Long Call. I loved the sense of place in Cleeves’s Shetland series so couldn’t wait to be transported to rural Devon for this new series opener. I wasn’t disappointed. Lead detective Matthew Venn is a brilliant, complex character and the story is riveting. A twisty and intriguing plot, chock with interesting characters. A body is discovered on a beach, a murder investigation unfolds and we’re treated to front row seats as our detectives uncover the complicated pasts and motivations of the local residents. At the same time Venn must revisit his own troubled past, bringing the investigation inexorably closer to home. Brilliant!
There have been so many amazing crime books released this year so it’s hard to pick just one. But if you twisted my arm… it would be The Lost Man by Jane Harper. This book has stayed with me all year. There are few writers who have Jane’s knack of making the environment leap off the page. The way she writes about the landscape, the isolation, and the hardship of trying to make a living off the land, all adds to the sense of foreboding. Complex, beautifully written, it’s an absolute masterpiece of a book. It explores small town mentality, fractured family relationships and – at the heart of it all – unravels a seemingly impossible mystery.
I absolutely adored The Bus on Thursday by Shirley Barrett. It’s part mystery, part horror, part romance, all set in a creepy Australian village. Barrett writes like a dream. The whole thing is savagely funny and kind of bonkers. I was either laughing out loud or had my hand over my mouth. Do read it. It’s wonderful.
Tana French, author of The Wych Elm:
My crime novel of the year has to be Jamie Mason’s The Hidden Things. When fourteen-year-old Carly fights off an attacker in her home, the home security video goes viral. But there’s something in the corner of the footage that shouldn’t be there: an Old Master painting, stolen years earlier in an art heist that went wrong. Very dangerous people come looking, lives carefully rebuilt after the heist start to unravel, and Carly has to find new sides of herself in order to keep herself and her family alive. I love crime books that do something original with the genre, and Jamie Mason always does. This is what you’d get if you took apart an art-heist novel, a domestic noir, and a coming-of-age story and put all the pieces together at off-kilter angles: a smart, startling, vivid book about the intricacies of family relationships and how we shape our own identities.
It’s tough to pick just one, but I think my favourite crime read of 2019 was The Family Upstairs, by Lisa Jewell. I’m a sucker for stories about dysfunctional families and this one really fit the bill. It’s a very intriguing and original story about a family being taken over from within by some overstaying houseguests. The dynamics at play and the aftermath of it all—well, I couldn’t put it down.
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell was one of my favourites this year. Everything about this sinister family drama, from the chilling concept to the menacing prose, kept me fully immersed from start to finish. I love it when two timelines collide and when connections between multiple stories and characters gradually reveal themselves. This is story-telling at its creepiest and finest!
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell got me with the title. Then it wouldn’t let me go. There’s something about near neighbours and quirky domestic setups that always grabs me. I’m also fascinated by the way in which a previous generation shapes the next one. Lisa’s book is a great example of craftsmanship in all these areas.
It’s always really hard to pick just one favourite book of the year but I am going to go for On My Life by Angela Clarke. This might not be the first novel to focus on a character jailed for a crime they did not commit but the big twist here is that the innocent party is a woman and she is pregnant. This ordeal is faced by Jenna, whose stepdaughter is murdered and her partner missing, while the blame is firmly pinned on her. Jenna has to clear her name, save her baby then find the real killer and do it all from behind bars. On My Life is a vivid but realistic portrayal of a nightmare scenario and it’s bloody good.
I loved a debut by Julia Phillips called Disappearing Earth. The novel begins with a chapter in which two young sisters on Russia’s remote Kamchatka Peninsula are apparently kidnapped. Subsequent chapters, each of which introduces us to a new character, reveal other pieces of the mystery methodically. By the book’s end, I felt emotionally invested in both the place and the people I’d met, and I was on tenterhooks as I waited to learn the fate of the little girls.
There have been so many amazing crime thrillers out in 2019 but one of my favourites is The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. It is so chillingly brilliant in every possible way with an ending that will go down as possibly one of the best I’ve read. Perfectly executed, this one is great if you’re after a novel that portrays the darker side of psychological crime.
My favourite crime thriller of 2019 was The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. I loved the concept of a silent perpetrator and a psychiatrist determined to unlock the secrets she holds. It was the best kind of whodunit: one that keeps you guessing until the end and delivers a delicious surprise.
Trying to select my favourite crime novel of the year always reminds me of trying to name my favourite chocolate. There are just so many worthy candidates! This year, a single book stands out: The Last Good Guy by T Jefferson Parker. To start, I believe any decent suspense novel must have a clever, twisty plot. Parker has that covered in spades. A missing troubled teenager, a desperate—and mysterious—older sister. Add in a charismatic preacher, a sinister white supremacist group, questionable activities at a fig farm and yeah… I raced from chapter to chapter desperate to know what was going to happen next. But the icing on the crime thriller cake? The main protagonist, PI Roland Ford. Talk about compelling. A former boxer who has no problem using brute force to get the job done, but who also loves to ballroom dance. A self-described loner who’s somehow managed to collect a ragtag household of Irregulars. A widower who fiercely guards the memory of his beloved wife. A vulnerable middle-aged man, trying to move forward. With the Roland Ford series, Parker has breathed new life into outdated PI noir, and the resulting novel proves good guys can come in first, and make for some of the best reading around!
There you have it – the best crime novels of 2019, as chosen by crime authors! What books would make your list? Let us know in the comments below…