Top picks for crime and suspense books in 2023.
Due to the current headlines, it’s not surprising that our desire for comfortable crime stories remains strong, as Richard Osman’s The Last Devil to Die (Viking) from his Thursday Murder Club series has become a bestseller. Janice Hallett’s books, The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels and The Christmas Appeal (both Viper), which also revolve around a team of amateur detectives, have also gained enormous popularity.
Hallett’s written works, which are comprised of various forms such as transcripts, emails, and WhatsApp messages, are part of a growing trend in literature that focuses on experimentation with structure. This trend can be seen in books like Cara Hunter’s complex Murder in the Family, which is organized around the production of a cold case documentary, and Gareth Rubin’s tête-bêche novel The Turnglass. There is also a rise in books that pay homage to the classic era of crime, like Tom Mead’s cleverly crafted locked-room mystery Death and the Conjuror. The late Christopher Fowler, known for his popular Bryant & May detective series, often expressed his disappointment in the lack of creativity and enjoyment in modern literature. He would surely have praised Word Monkey, his posthumously published humorous and heartfelt memoir about his career as a writer of popular fiction.
Notable debuts include Callum McSorley’s Glaswegian gangland thriller Squeaky Clean (Pushkin Vertigo); Jo Callaghan’s In the Blink of an Eye(Simon & Schuster), a police procedural with an AI detective; Scorched Grace by Margot Douaihy (Pushkin Vertigo), featuring queer punk nun investigator Sister Holiday; and the caustically funny Thirty Days of Darkness (Orenda) by Jenny Lund Madsen (translated from the Danish by Megan E Turney).
New installments have been added to two series. AK Turner’s forensic investigator Cassie Raven now has a third book titled Case Sensitive (Zaffre), while Jonathan Ames’s LA private eye Happy Doll gains a second book called The Wheel of Doll (Pushkin Vertigo). Happy Doll seems to be evolving into the ideal hardboiled protagonist for the modern age.
Other recommended reads for those who enjoy American crime novels include Ozark Dogs by Eli Cranor, a gripping tale of rivaling families in Arkansas; All the Sinners Bleed by SA Cosby, a police procedural set in Virginia; Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott, a chilling story of nightmares; I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai, a disturbing exploration of academia; Everybody Knows by Jordan Harper, a masterful Hollywood crime novel reminiscent of James Ellroy; and The Second Murderer by Denise Mina, a fresh take on Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective Philip Marlowe.
According to Mick Herron, author of the original Slow Horses novel, The Secret Hours (Baskerville), there is a large group of spy authors who have been compared to John le Carré. Herron is likely the top contender for this title, but the espionage genre has seen many successful works this year, such as Matthew Richardson’s The Scarlet Papers (Michael Joseph), John Lawton’s Moscow Exile (Grove Press), and Harriet Crawley’s The Translator (Bitter Lemon).
Several historical crime novels have stood out recently. These include Emma Flint’s Other Women (Picador), which is based on a real murder case from 1924; Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s The Square of Sevens (Mantle), which follows a fortune teller’s search for identity in Georgian high society; and SG MacLean’s The Winter List (Quercus), a story of revenge and retribution during the Restoration period. Additionally, Jake Lamar’s Viper’s Dream (No Exit) draws inspiration from Chester Himes as it delves into the world of 1930s Harlem. Ray Celestin’s Palace of Shadows (Mantle) also offers a chillingly gothic take on the true story of American heiress Sarah Winchester’s San Jose mansion, but with a Yorkshire setting in the late 19th century.
The latest novel in Vaseem Khan’s postcolonial India series, Death of a Lesser God (Hodder), is also well worth the read, as are Deepti Kapoor’s present-day organised crime saga Age of Vice (Fleet) and Parini Shroff’s darkly antic feminist revenge drama The Bandit Queens (Atlantic).
Although there are fewer psychological thrillers available compared to previous years, the standard remains exceptional. Liz Nugent’s intricate and poignant story of abuse, “Strange Sally Diamond” (published by Penguin Sandycove), and Sarah Hilary’s unsettling depiction of a family in turmoil, “Black Thorn” (published by Macmillan), stand out as two of the top contenders.
The Penguin Modern Classics imprint has brought back their collection of crime novels, featuring distinctive green covers. Among the authors included are Georges Simenon, Dorothy B Hughes, and Ross MacDonald. Other publishing houses have also released reprints of forgotten treasures such as Celia Fremlin’s 1959 novel, Uncle Paul (Faber), which tells the story of a disastrous holiday, and Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground (Vintage). Completed in 1942 but only recently published in its entirety, the latter is a tale of an innocent man seeking refuge from racist law enforcement in the sewers of Chicago. It is both allegorical and brutally realistic, and unfortunately, still relevant today.