15 crime books perfect for a winter’s day

The nights are drawing in and there’s a chill in the air. A fire is crackling in the grate and you can’t think of anything better to do than curl up with a frosty novel and scare yourself senseless. Whether you’re looking for a chilling thriller or some warming cosy crime, there are plenty of great stories to choose from.

We’ve polled the Dead Good team and compiled a list of all of our frosty favourites. Here’s our selection of the best books to read when the nights are long.

The best crime books for a winter’s day

1. The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

‘The night the first snow falls a young boy wakes to find his mother gone. He walks through the silent house, but finds only wet footprints on the stairs. In the garden looms a solitary figure: a snowman bathed in cold moonlight, its black eyes glaring up at the bedroom windows. Round its neck is his mother’s pink scarf.’

Let’s face it – you could read this book in the tropics and a shiver would still bring you out in goosebumps. Previously voted the best Norwegian crime novel by readers, The Snowman gives Inspector Harry Hole his first serial killer. Don’t expect to see Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman in the same light again.

2. Hold the Dark by William Giraldi

‘At the start of another pitiless winter, the wolves have come for the children of Keelut. Three children have been taken from this isolated Alaskan village, including the six-year-old boy of Medora and Vernon Slone. Stunned by grief and seeking consolation, Medora contacts nature writer and wolf expert Russell Core. Sixty years old, ailing in both body and spirit, and estranged from his daughter and wife, Core arrives in Keelut to investigate the killings. Immersing himself in this settlement at the end of the world, he discovers the horrifying darkness at the heart of Medora Slone and learns of an unholy truth harboured by this village.’

Released in the US and heading our way in 2015, this novel gives a new definition to the word ‘chilling’, showing us the terror of being caught alone in the wilderness when it’s minus 40 degrees and you’re faced with a crazed killer. The icy tundra of Alaska is an important part of this book and really comes across as the final frontier.

3. Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg

‘One snowy day in Copenhagen, six-year-old Isaiah falls to his death from a city rooftop.The police pronounce it an accident. But Isaiah’s neighbour, Smilla, an expert in the ways of snow and ice, suspects murder. She embarks on a dangerous quest to find the truth, following a path of clues as clear to her as footsteps in the snow.’

This classic Scandinavian crime novel is a frosty thriller and a beautiful and atmospheric whodunit. Smilla is half Kalaallit and half Dane, a quiet and withdrawn woman who opened her heart to her young neighbour Isaiah. This book is an excellent place to start if you are new to Scandinavian crime.

4. The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin

‘It is bitter mid-winter on the Swedish island of Oland, and Katrine and Joakim Westin have moved with their children to the boarded-up manor house at Eel Point. But their remote idyll is soon shattered when Katrine is found drowned off the rocks nearby. As Joakim struggles to keep his sanity in the wake of the tragedy, the old house begins to exert a strange hold over him.’

Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room is a skilful mix of ghost story and crime thriller. The atmosphere of Eel Point is electric, with the book written in such a way that you’ll almost be able to hear the banging and clattering of an old isolated manor house in high wind yourself. Creepy, very creepy – but truly unputdownable.

5. The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner

‘Something very bad happened to Dani Lancing. Twenty years later, her father is still trying to get her to talk. Her best friend has become a detective, the last hope of all the lost girls. And her mother is about to become a killer…’

Viner has crafted a deeply textured psychological thriller which reveals, layer by layer, the damage wrought by a single act of murder. This is Viner’s début novel, and as he jumps from character to character he reveals a confident deftness that will leave the reader wanting more.

6. The Lake District Murder by John Bude

‘When a body is found at an isolated garage, Inspector Meredith is drawn into a complex investigation where every clue leads to another puzzle: was this a suicide, or something more sinister? Why was the dead man planning to flee the country? And how is this connected to the shady business dealings of the garage?’

The sixth book in the British Library Classic Crime series (which sure are beautiful to behold), this thriller was first published in the 1930s. Inspector Meredith works to uncover the underlying crimes in a quiet rural locale which turns out to be a nest of deceit and double-dealing. Old fashioned in a charming way but with perennial themes.

7. The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg

‘Returning to her hometown after the funeral of her parents, writer Erica Falck finds a community on the brink of tragedy. The death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning. Her wrists slashed, her body frozen in an ice cold bath, it seems that she has taken her own life. Erica conceives a memoir about the beautiful but remote Alex, one that will answer questions about their lost friendship. While her interest grows to an obsession, local detective Patrik Hedstrom is following his own suspicions about the case.’

The first book in Lackberg’s series, The Ice Princess is a slow burn. The characters have depth and reality that make them simply jump from the page. When reading, you feel invested in their lives and want to delve deeper into the mysteries of Alex’s disappearance.

8. The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

‘March 1928. The Great War has been over for ten years, but Freddie still hasn’t recovered from the loss of his brother. Even now, on holiday in south-west France, he cannot escape his grief. When his car crashes, Freddie stumbles down from the hills to a village nearby. There he meets Marie, a beautiful young woman who is also mourning a lost generation. Her story of the fate of her family moves him deeply. But it will also lead Freddie to the caves above the village – and to the heart of a shocking secret. Thrilling, poignant and haunting, this is a story of two lives touched by war and transformed by courage.’

This is another beautiful book – and we’re not just talking about its cover. Haunting and wonderful, this tale is evocative of Victorian ghost stories and Mosse’s use of language and description will soon transport you right to the middle of the action. A stunning read that is perfect for when you’re wrapped up warm on a cold winter night.

9. Watson’s Choice by Gladys Mitchell

‘One of Sir Bohun Chantrey’s great passions in life is the stories of Sherlock Holmes. To celebrate the great man’s anniversary, he throws a party at which the guests are instructed to come as characters from the detective stories. But several of the guests are more interested in Sir Bohun’s money, and when he announces that he is to marry a poor governess, things take a turn for the worse, not least when the Hound of the Baskervilles turns up…’

There’s no one quite like Mrs Bradley, especially when she’s traipsing round a frosty landscape asking seemingly innocuous questions and being incredibly clever and devilish. Entertaining, light-hearted and rife with references and allusions to the work of Conan Doyle, this book is sure to appeal to die-hard Holmes fans. Vintage crime at its best!

10. Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason

‘One cold autumn night, a woman is found hanging from a beam at her holiday cottage. It seems like a straightforward case of suicide; María had never recovered from the death of her mother two years previously and she had a history of depression. But then the friend who found her body approaches Detective Erlendur with a tape of a séance that María attended before her death and his curiosity is aroused. Erlendur begins an unofficial investigation into María’s death. But he is also haunted by another unsolved mystery, and by his own quest to find the body of his brother who died in a blizzard when he was a boy.’

Set in Iceland, this slow-paced, psychological story is the sixth to feature the absorbing Detective Erlendur. Rather than focusing on the plot, the narrative here is primarily concerned with the characters who are so intricately built that you feel as if you really know them. Interesting and engaging, this is the perfect book for a quiet night in by the fire.

11. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

‘In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men. Agnes is sent to wait out the months leading up to her execution on the farm of district officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed her spiritual guardian, will listen to Agnes’s side of the story. As the year progresses the family’s attitude to Agnes starts to change, until one winter night, she begins her whispered confession to them, and they realize that all is not as they had assumed.’

Burial Rites is the début novel from Hannah Kent, and once you’ve read it you’ll certainly be craving more. Based on a true story, and again featuring beautiful, atmospheric descriptions of the bleak Icelandic landscape, this is a moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we’re told.

12. Snowdrops by AD Miller

‘Nick has a confession. When he worked as a high-flying British lawyer in Moscow, he was seduced by Masha, an enigmatic woman who led him through her city: the electric nightclubs and intimate dachas, the human kindnesses and state-wide corruption. Yet as Nick fell for Masha, he found that he fell away from himself; he knew that she was dangerous, but life in Russia was addictive, and it was too easy to bury secrets – and corpses – in the winter snows…’

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011, this psychological drama will chill you to the bone. It is taut, intense and has an irresistible momentum that will grip you from start to finish. The novel has a strong sense of place and provides real insights into Russian atmosphere, culture and society.

13. Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

‘Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life – so when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. With four others, he travels to Gruhuken, the remote bay where they will camp for the next year. But the Arctic summer is brief. As night claims the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice: stay or go. Soon he will reach the point of no return – when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible. And Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark…’

Dark, brooding, scary, haunting – none of these words do this book justice. At times horrifying and at times beautiful, if it weren’t for your need to continue reading, you’d be hiding behind the sofa. Incredibly atmospheric and very eerie, this is a must read for anyone who loves to be spooked.

14. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

‘When Inspector Wallander responds to what he believes is a routine call out o an isolated farmhouse, he discovers a bloodbath. An old man has been tortured and beaten to death, his wife lies barely alive beside his shattered body, both victims of a violence beyond reason. The woman supplies Wallander with his only clue: the perpetrators may have been foreign. When this is leaked to the press, it unleashes a tide of racism. Wallander must throw himself into a battle against time and against mounting racial hatred.’

This is the first novel in Mankell’s fantastic Kurt Wallander series, and one which will immediately hook you and pull you in. Not only will you find yourself immersed in the beautiful, bleak landscape and setting, but you will easily enter into the mind of Wallander himself. It is often said that Wallander is an example of a truly human, everyman detective – and the empathy this evokes makes this book incredibly absorbing.

15. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

‘During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath. During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale. What if there were second chances? And third chances? An infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?’

We had to sneak this one in here. It’s not technically a crime novel – although there is more than one crime committed during the many lives of Ursula Todd – but it is utterly wonderful. This book finds warmth in even the bleakest moments, making it the perfect read for a chilly winter evening.

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17 Comments

  1. Richard Latham says

    Snow Angels by James Thompson is another great book and Winter Prey (Lucas Davenport #5) by John Sandford is a scary story set in snowfields and well worth reading.

  2. Jason says

    Silence from the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason is the best book in his Erlendur collection, truly evocative and emotional.

  3. judith cooper says

    loved miss smilla’s feeling for snow. Have to say some of these I havn’t heard of before. Hannah Kent and John Bude new to me.

  4. Christine Furniss says

    Gosh I have only read half of these books! Just finished Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – thoroughly recommend – extraordinary! fireside Michael Ridpath’s series Fire & Ice make good fireside reading also, but they need to be read in order for the best effect.

  5. Andrew Lone says

    The snowman by jo nesbo is a brilliant book and makes you wonder about snowmen

  6. Chris Parfitt says

    Dark Matter is a book that has stayed with me since I first read it.
    Wonderfully written and a page turner despite being very spooky.
    I don’t usually read this type of book but it was recommended to me and I loved it.

  7. Teresa O'Halloran says

    Three of these The Ice Princess, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing and The Snowman I have on my book shelf waiting to be read, and two of these Burial Rites and Dark Matter I have read. I’ve now added two more from the list and two that Richard suggested to my wishlist. So many books and so little time! But I really love winter books set in the ice ice cold as I sweat beside the fire on a cold winters evening.

  8. Catherine Lee says

    Burial Rites (Hannah Kent) and Life after Life (Kate Atkinson) stayed in my mind long after I’d put them down. Good writing techniques -quite un-putdownable. Gritty, sharp and great story-telling.

  9. Serena Standing says

    What a wonderful list. Gives great pleasure just to read it. Life after Life and Miss Smilla are my favourites. Thank you for taking the trouble to compile it.

  10. Rachel A Hyde says

    I’m not a fan of Scandi Noir so most of the titles on this list leave me cold (pardon the pun)..However, Dark Matter by Michelle Paver is a brilliant novel, reminiscent of M R James and sure to appeal to a wide range of readers. Most modern ghost stories fail because we know that the scariest entity on earth is a live and evil human being, and surely if a person is a ghost and died violently then whoever killed them is more scary? This novel manages to neatly get around this and I look forward to whatever she comes up with next.

  11. The best crime novel I have read ecently was “The Disappeared” by Kristina Ohlsson and I thoroughly recommend that. But my favourite is still Elmore Leonard.

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  14. John Seeley says

    Murder on Ice (aka The Killing Cold) by Ted Wood. A terrific, pacy crime thriller that takes place on one snowy night. It’s thiry years since I read it but it’s always stuck in my memory, a tightly plotted gem.

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