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Top Ten Cold Case Mysteries

The OED defines a cold case as ‘an unsolved criminal investigation which remains open pending the discovery of new evidence’.

The beauty of the cold case is it offers a spotlight on a different time, a case that has baffled the police and has been filed away, to lay dormant until a detective with the right skills and talent comes along to solve it.

Jussi Adler-Olsen is an excellent example of an author who uses cold cases as the basis of his chilling psychological thrillers. The fourth book in his best-selling Department Q series has just been published and is called Guilt. His hero, Detective Carl Morck is the head of Department Q, a special police unit created for a type of unsolved crimes that the political establishment has deemed as deserving “special scrutiny”.

Reading Guilt got us thinking – what are the best examples of cold case crime fiction? Here’s our list…

1. Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen

We couldn’t not mention the first book in the Department Q series. This international bestseller from Jussi Adler-Olsen follows Detective Carl Morck as he is assigned to Department Q – a department of one with only Denmark’s most chilling cold cases for company.


2. A Darker Domain by Val McDermid

The main character in McDermid’s stand alone novel is Detective Karen Pirie, head of the cold case review team in Fife, Scotland. Tasked with two cases of missing persons from the 1980’s, Karen’s team struggles with two decades of secrets, violence and betrayal.


3. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Detective Cormoran Strike is scraping along as a Private Investigator with few clients when he is hired to look into the death of a famous supermodel, ruled as a suicide by the Police. J. K. Rowling’s novel is classic noir.


4. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

In this international bestseller a once-respected financial journalist must team up with a misunderstood and damaged investigator to look into a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. It’s definitely worth persevering with the opening book in this trilogy.


5. Standing In Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin’s former Detective John Rebus has joined the cold case department and his first job is investigating the disappearance of three women from the same road over a ten year period. Revenge, sin and redemption make this a gripping read.


6. After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

This tight family drama revolves around the disappearance of the enigmatic Felix Brewer and the disappearance of his young mistress exactly ten years later. Retired Baltimore detective Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez must dig deep into these mysteries to untangle the web of bitterness, resentment and greed.


7. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

The first book to introduce Private Investigator Jackson Brodie sees three different cases under the spotlight. The first is the disappearance of a little girl over thirty years ago. Compelling and addictive, Atkinson’s Brodie novels are quirky and brilliant.


8. Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

Written from the point of view of twelve-year-old Steven Peters, this book is chilling in the extreme. Investigating the disappearance of his Uncle from eighteen years ago, young Steven begins a correspondence with known child murderer Arnold Avery in prison.


9. The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

The 7th novel in Nesbo’s Harry Hole series is a masterpiece of clever plotting. Using previous cold cases Hole soon realises he’s tracking Norway’s first serial killer. All the victims disappeared after the first snowfall and a snowman was found at the scene. Perhaps one to read in the warmer months…


10. Lost Light by Michael Connelly

The 9th novel in the Harry Bosch series sees the detective out of retirement and on a wild excursion into evil, seeking the truth about a cold case that still haunts the LAPD, movie studios and Bosch himself.


So those are our top ten cold case crime novels. Which is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below!

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