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7 books to darken your day

First of all, a health and safety notice. Whatever your psychological make-up, reading these books could leave you feeling down, depressed or otherwise diminished. They are all excellent, but they are also very dark. Many of them dig down to a primordial level, shining a light into the corners of the human psyche, or soul, or whatever, and down there the blackness will swallow you.

However, if that sort of thing excites you, then read on. I won’t say that you’ll be overjoyed with these recommendations – because they are a melancholy bunch – but perhaps solemnly satisfied and quietly fulfilled.

dark crime novelsHold the Dark by William Giraldi

Nature’s power juxtaposed with the true nature of man – deep themes that William Giraldi delves into here, writing in his assured and rock-solid style. Frozen Alaska is the setting, and Medora Slone claims that her son was eaten by wolves. When expert tracker Russell Core arrives from Montana to kill the offending animals, he finds Medora’s strange behaviour is more than pure grief. Core ends up tracking not the wolves but Medora and her violent husband Vernon on a chase across the Alaskan hinterland where any sense of civilisation is stripped from their lives, one visceral murder after another.

dark crime novelsGalveston by Nic Pizzolatto

Roy Cady is a mob enforcer in New Orleans with two problems. One – his employer is about to sell him out. Two – he has lung cancer. But he manages to sidestep the suicide mission he’s been sent on and, with a young prostitute in tow, heads for Texas. Becoming a father figure to the girl, and to her daughter, he’s conflicted. Should he protect them, or should he cut loose and save his own skin… not forgetting, of course, the cancer. Intense, dramatic, atmospheric, character-driven and with the shadow of a dark past frowning down at it, Galveston is about fate and fear. Its author, Nic Pizzolatto, also wrote the screenplay for True Detective.

dark crime novelsThe Healer by Antti Tuomainen

Set in a near-future Helsinki, we look at this story through a rain-pelted window rather than frosted glass. The city and the wider world are in chaos as climate change makes water levels rise. Floods of refugees from places on the equator flee north and Finns themselves head to the Arctic. Helsinki is gripped by a pestilence, and Tapani Lehtinen is searching for his wife Johanna. He thinks she’s been kidnapped by a dangerous activist, and is investigating a link between his wife and ‘The Healer’ as the city disintegrates around him. It’s a desperate and anguished search, which comes to an ambiguous end which is tinged with poetic sadness.

dark crime novelsAvailable Dark by Elizabeth Hand

By creating a main character who is a photographer, Elizabeth Hand brings a visual element to her storytelling that raises it far above the everyday variety of crime fiction. Cass Neary sees the world through the lens of an artist and knows the torments of the creative soul. She’s visiting a frozen island off the coast of Maine, intent on interviewing Aphrodite Kamestos. The woman is now a recluse but, like Cass, was once a celebrated New York photographer. Two unusual things come to Cass’s attention. Firstly, youngsters from the area have been disappearing and nobody’s doing anything about it. Secondly, she finds some photos that advance on the Kamestos style in unusual ways. Dark, ritualistic visuals point to a twisted belief system. And, the interview with Aphrodite Kamestos doesn’t go to plan…

dark crime novelsThe Son by Jo Nesbo

Here Jo Nesbo tells a story without Harry Hole to drive it, and the results are, well, pretty dark. Sonny Lofthus is deeply troubled by the suicide of his father, a disgraced Oslo detective. Today the boy is in prison, strung out on heroin, and by hiding from the world among people whose lives are equally messed up. In strange, Christ-like moments, he hears the confessions of other inmates, and this is how he learns that his father wasn’t a mole and that the man’s death wasn’t suicide. He escapes the maximum security prison and sets out for vengeance, all the while carrying the agony of a son who has lost is father.

dark crime novelsCapture by Roger Smith

South African noir isn’t something you hear much about, but Roger Smith writes the genre as dark as anyone. Six-year-old Sunny Exley wanders down to the sea while her over-privileged, over-entitled parents aren’t paying attention. Her father Nick is getting high on the deck, her mother is fooling around with a fellow in the kitchen. Sunny drowns and Nick is crushed by his grief. He’s a motion capture 3D animator, and he recreates Sunny using his computer but even then she is just out of reach. Vernon Saul, the ex cop who tried to rescue Sunny, befriends Nick and helps him through one scrape after another. Knowing that Nick is wealthy, Vernon watches the man disintegrate, biding his time. Nick’s grief is so real you can feel it, but be assured of this: Sunny’s death isn’t the only one.

dark crime novelsI Can See in the Dark by Karin Fossum

Ever seen the Facebook group entitled ‘I secretly want to punch slow walking people in the back of the head’? It’s an expression of those verboten thoughts everyone has from time to time. For Riktor, such thoughts are not so verboten and every now and then he crosses the line. Riktor likes to abuse the residents of the care home he works in – the more helpless they are, the more he enjoys it. When he feels slighted, he’s at his most dangerous. The way Karin Fossum takes us inside a dark and troubled, criminal mind is astounding. So much so that this book will leave you feeling queasy.

Have we missed any seriously dark crime novels? Let us know in the comments below!

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Garrick Webster

Garrick Webster is the co-founder of the Crime Fiction Lover website and enjoys the work of James Ellroy, Nordic crime writers and almost any other good noir-ish mysteries. By day he is a journalist, editor and copywriter.

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1 Comment

    One book I would definitely add to this list is The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund. A very dark Swedish psychological crime novel, long and impossible to put down.

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