15 authors pick the best crime novels of 2020
2020 has certainly been a year we’ll never forget and between the highs and the lows we’ve been treated to a raft of brand new crime fiction that has captured our imaginations and given us opportunities to escape whenever we need to.
With ever-chilling characters and ever-thrilling plots, we’ve seen new releases from old and new voices, chart-topping bestsellers and fantastic fan favourites, keeping our bookshelves jam-packed and our reading lists constantly growing.
With so many great reads to choose from you might not know where to start, so we’ve enlisted the help of some of our go-to writers to recommend the best crime novels of 2020. Enjoy!
The best crime novels of 2020:
Jane Corry, author of I Made a Mistake:
This has to be The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. I was lucky enough to be given a proof copy during the early days of the first lockdown. I was feeling a bit down because of the world situation but my spirits rose before the end of the first page! I’ve always loved older people (my grandmother lived us for many years) but the residents of this exclusive retirement home made my heart sing! They are tenacious, bright, determined and have pasts which make your heart swell with sympathy, nostalgia and admiration. This is a crime thriller with a difference. In my view, it should be available on prescription for all age groups!
Sarah Pearse, author of The Sanatorium:
One of my favourite crime reads of 2020 is The Kingdom by Jo Nesbo. I’m a huge fan of Nesbo’s Harry Hole series but I loved being immersed in the dark and disturbing new world of this standalone. The Kingdom follows two brothers, Ray Calvin Opgard and Carl Abel Opgard, as Carl plans to build a spa and resort on land the brothers inherited in a rural village deep in the Norwegian mountains. But Carl’s return to the village after living away for many years unearths some long-buried secrets about their family and the close-knit community around them. The Kingdom quickly propels you into the small town, rural world that Nesbo evokes so well but the simmering darkness of the novel isn’t explicit – it builds slowly, page by page revealing secrets about the characters that begin to shift your perception of the brothers and the book as a whole. Nesbo excels at character development and The Kingdom features two morally ambiguous, flawed protagonists who he uses really cleverly to prise apart the dynamics of a family and the bond between brothers, exploring love, loyalty, betrayal and the innate tensions that often exists in these relationships. A must-read slice of rural noir that I couldn’t put down.
Ragnar Jonasson, author of The Mist:
There were so many great crime novels in 2020, so it’s very difficult to choose. I absolutely loved Eight Detectives (Alex Pavesi) and Rules for Perfect Murders (Peter Swanson) – both so uniquely original and clever – and the Queen of Icelandic crime, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, had one of her best books released in the UK this year, Gallows Rock, but I think I’ll go for the fantastic Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz, as he is one of the most creative voices in modern crime fiction, pushing the boundaries of the format and constantly surprising his readers.
Tana French, author of The Searcher:
One by One by Ruth Ware. In an upmarket ski resort, the directors and shareholders of hot music app Snoop have gathered to decide on the company’s future. Tensions are high, alliances are being forged and broken – and then the chalet is cut off by an avalanche, and people start to die… It’s a classic locked-room mystery with echoes of And Then There Were None, but with a sharp, glossy, twenty-first-century upgrade. Ruth Ware is wonderful with atmosphere and sense of place, and the way she gradually, mercilessly lets nature and desperation transform the resort from a luxurious retreat to a terrifying prison is gripping.
Lisa Jewell, author of Invisible Girl:
2020 was a year when my all my go-to authors completely delivered. My favourite thrillers of the year are all from well inside my comfort zone, which could be a pandemic thing, or could just be that all my favourite writers are at the tops of their games. Louse Candlish scored another in a long line of winners, with The Other Passenger, a super-slick thriller set in deepest south-east London about two mismatched couples who meet and become friends on a riverboat commute, ending in one of them being murdered. Her first person male narrative is one of the best and most compelling I’ve read in ages. Ruth Ware does it again, with One by One, an old school Agatha Christie style locked room whodunnit with an incredibly modern setting; a five star deluxe ski chalet in France, a group of hipster tech entrepreneurs on a corporate ski trip and a dark secret that ends in murder. And finally Adele Parks brought us another brilliantly conceived, twisty-turny tale of human foibles with Just My Luck, the gripping story of a family who wins big on the lottery the week after their lottery syndicate with a group friends decides to disband. The subsequent fallout brings some shocking, didn’t-see-it-coming secrets to the surface.
Tim Weaver, author of No One Home:
I was a big fan of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch but, for me, Recursion was even better. A mash-up of thriller and science-fiction, it’s not only a lightning-paced page-turner but also a quite profound, and sometimes really beautiful, exploration of memory. The epic scale of the plotting – the invention of technology that will help us preserve and relive our most precious moments – never comes at the expense of the smaller, more human scenes. In fact, for me, those were the parts that worked the best. I absolutely loved this book.
Gregg Hurwitz, author of Out of the Dark:
Since the start of his career, Blake Crouch has delighted and astounded. In Recursion, he lays claim to being our modern day Philip K Dick. Twisting and turning themes of memory, grief, love, and time to form a kaleidoscope of emotions, he propels the reader across a psychological landscape contoured with shadow and light. I read it compulsively in a few giant gulps, unable to shake the story free to focus on my own writing or much of anything else. It’s a marvel of a book, a time machine that took me back to my early memories of reading, when every turned page felt like a plunge into a brave new world.
Sam Lloyd, author of The Memory Wood:
Ask any of my friends: I’m becoming a bore for my admiration of Rosamund Lupton. Just as I thought she couldn’t get any better, along came Three Hours. This story is so much more than the sum of its premise (a school siege in rural England). I wanted to read it slowly, savouring every word. But the writing is so compelling I ripped through it in two frenzied sessions. Three Hours transports you to a place of unbearable tension and holds you there, unblinking, until the end. Along the way it shows you humanity and compassion in the very worst of circumstances. And leaves you far richer for the experience. Unmissable.
Cara Hunter, author of The Whole Truth:
Just about the only good thing about 2020 was the number of cracking crimes books published this year Special mentions to Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton, Playing Nice by JP Delaney, The End of Her, by Shari Lapena, and Imperfect Women by Araminta Hall, but my favourite has to be The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard. Years after his crimes, a serial killer who was never caught finds himself reading his own story, as told by the only one of his victims left alive. Wonderfully clever, with multiple viewpoints and complex layers of narrative. I loved it – go read it!
Rosamund Lupton, author of Three Hours:
My favourite thriller of 2020 is Chris Whitaker’s We Begin at The End, an utterly compelling book that resonates long after you finish reading. Set in a coastal Californian town, it is dominated by thirteen-year-old Duchess Ray Bradley, a tour de force of a character. We follow her story and that of Walk, chief of police, as their lives intersect with that of Vincent King, a man recently released from prison. It is a wonderfully evocative book, Chris has that rare gift of bringing a landscape and characters so vividly to life. I recommend it to anyone looking for a beautifully written and immersive more-than-a-thriller.
Heidi Perks, author of Three Perfect Liars:
Chris Whittaker’s We Begin at The End has to be one of the best books I have read all year. It is a crime book with a massive heart that had me sobbing through the pages. A clever mix of a plot with secrets I did not see coming, and characters that were beautifully flawed and yet so achingly real. You’ll be surprised who you end up rooting for.
Rebecca Reid, author of Two Wrongs:
My favourite thriller of 2020 was You Can Trust Me by Emma Rowley – it’s a fascinating insight into the world of ghost writing and the smoke and mirrors that keep social media personalities at the top of their game. I love the way it combines a peek into these hidden worlds with good old fashioned suspense. It’s tense, twisty and just the thing to keep you distracted – quite an achievement given how much we’ve all had on our minds this year.
Lauren North, author of One Step Behind:
Believe it or not, 2020 has been the year of plenty. Plenty of impulse buys, plenty of over-eating, plenty of tears and what-the-hell-nows. But 2020 has also brought us plenty of amazing thrillers too. Of course Dead Good are twisting my arm and asking me to choose just one, and so here it is: my favourite thriller of 2020 is All In Her Head by Nikki Smith. It’s a masterful and clever debut, filled with so much misdirection that it will have you questioning everything you think you know about the book. If you’ve felt at times like you were losing your mind this year, then All In Her Head is the book to read.
Tony Parsons, author of Your Neighbour’s Wife:
Neil Lancaster is a real-life Jack Reacher. He served three decades in military and law enforcement – and it shows. Lancaster is – by some distance – the most authentic voice in thriller writing. Other crime writers – even the good ones, even the great ones – tell their stories about people traffickers, psychopathic murderers and the criminal class but with his long service in both army khaki and police blue, you know that Lancaster has looked them all in the eye. That makes all the Tom Novak thrillers something special – because the author’s real-life experiences shine through every page. In Novak, Lancaster has created a mean-streets-walking hard man whose exploits resound with wisdom of a writer who has actually walked those mean streets. Going Back, the third book in the series, finds Tom Novak undercover in the Balkans of his worst nightmares. And you will believe every word. Lancaster is the greatest crime writer who you have never heard of.
Jorn Lier Horst, author of The Inner Darkness:
As the year draws to an end, I tend to look back on my best reading experiences. Among my top favourites from 2020, two of them are from the same writer Michael Connelly. Both books were like pleasant reunions with well-known crime fiction characters: the defence attorney Mickey Haller in The Law of Innocence and journalist Jack McEvoy, who never backs down, in Fair Warning. The Law of Innocence is a pulsating and supremely constructed legal thriller, while Fair Warning is an equally realistic news reporter story with contemporary issues weaved into a solid plot. Two new, powerful crime novels from a bestseller veteran.
There you have it – the best crime novels of 2020, as chosen by crime authors! What books would make your list? Let us know in the comments below…