It’s that time of year again when everyone starts issuing their best books of the year lists, and I’m going to add my two-pennyworth through two ‘top reads’ lists – one for crime novels and one for thrillers.
Today is crime day, and I’ve picked my favourite books from the many fantastic crime novels I’ve read over the course of the year. It’s been hard, but I’ve managed to whittle the list down to my ten favourites.
So here they are, told in no particular order – quite frankly, it’s been difficult enough to get to ten, let alone rank them!
THE SILENT ROOM by Mari Hannah
“One Fugitive. A deadly conspiracy. No rules. A security van sets off for Durham prison, a disgraced Special Branch officer in the back. It never arrives. En route it is hijacked by armed men, the prisoner sprung. Suspended from duty on suspicion of aiding and abetting the audacious escape of his former boss, Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan is locked out of the manhunt. Desperate to preserve his career and prove his innocence, he backs off. But when the official investigation falls apart, under surveillance and with his life in danger, Ryan goes dark, enlisting others in his quest to discover the truth. When the trail leads to the suspicious death of a Norwegian national, Ryan uncovers an international conspiracy that has claimed the lives of many.”
This standalone crime novel from Mari Hannah has a great cast of characters and I was quickly drawn into their world through the narrative. DS Matthew Ryan is a highly compelling character – he’s determined, driven and, as events take a tragic twist, uses his moment of vulnerability and personal grief as fuel to continue his investigation. The combination of Ryan and O’Neil (from Professional Standards), both looking for answers but coming from different sides of the investigative coin, makes for a great dynamic and the scenes they share have a real zing of electricity.
Gritty, authentic and utterly engrossing, The Silent Room is a real seat-of-your-pants read from the dramatic opening through to the explosive ending.
To find out more about Mari Hannah and her books hop over to her website here and follow her on Twitter @mariwriter
THE DOMINO KILLER by Neil White
“When a man is found beaten to death in a local Manchester park, Detective Constable Sam Parker is one of the investigating officers. Sam swiftly identifies the victim, but what at first looks like an open-and-shut case quickly starts to unravel when he realises that the victim’s fingerprints were found on a knife at another crime scene, a month earlier. Meanwhile, Sam’s brother, Joe – a criminal defence lawyer in the city – comes face to face with a man whose very presence sends shockwaves through his life. Joe must confront the demons of his past as he struggles to come to terms with the darkness that this man represents. Before long, Joe and Sam are in way over their heads, both sucked into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to change their lives for ever …”
THE DOMINO KILLER is the third instalment of Neil White’s Parker brothers series and it fully delivers on pulse-pounding tension, twists, and page-turning action with the perfect balance between procedural detail and high intensity action. There’s a real immediacy to the writing and a chilling sense of jeopardy right from the outset that carries all the way through the book to the show-stopping finale. As the story develops, and the brothers’ cases become increasingly intertwined, the tension rises ever higher – making this one of those books that has you reading well into the early hours, desperate for sleep but unable to resist reading just one more chapter.
But this book isn’t just about the action. There’s a real emotion kick too, delivered as the brothers get closer to identifying the man who was responsible for their sister’s murder back when they were teenagers. As the stakes ramp up, they are forced to decide just how far they’re willing to go in order to get justice – putting their careers, their friendships, their families, and their lives on the line. Utterly authentic and captivatingly compelling, this story grabs you by the throat and keeps you pinned right from the first page to the last.
To find out more about Neil White check out his website at www.neilwhite.net and follow him on Twitter @neilwhite1965
HEARTBREAKER by Tania Carver
“After years of abuse, Gemma Adderley has finally found the courage to leave her violent husband. She has taken one debilitating beating too many, endured one esteem-destroying insult too much. Taking her seven-year-old daughter Carly, she leaves the house, determined to salvage what she can of her life. She phones Safe Harbour, a women’s refuge, and they tell her which street corner to wait on and what the car that will pick her up will look like. They tell her the word the driver will use so she know it’s safe to get in. And that’s the last they hear from her. Gemma Adderley’s daughter Carly is found wandering the city streets on her own the next day. Her mother’s mutilated corpse turns up by the canal several weeks later. Her heart has been removed. Detective Inspector Phil Brennan takes on the case, and his wife, psychologist Marina Esposito, is brought in to try and help unlock Carly’s memories of what happened that day. The race is on to solve the case before the Heartbreaker strikes again …”
HEARTBREAKER is the seventh book in the Brennan & Esposito series by Tania Carver. As you’d expect it has a fabulously twisty turny plot, a disturbing set of crimes at its core, and a tough emotional struggle for the two lead characters that threatens to destroy both their careers and their life together. What I found especially chilling in this book is the way the killer selects their victims – targeting vulnerable women who have made the decision to seek refuge. Somehow the killer is gaining access to confidential information in real time, and until they are caught every woman seeking sanctuary is a potential victim. Through the storyline, the book looks at domestic violence through the eyes of the perpetrators, the victims, and those working to help the victims, and it doesn’t hold back from showing a violent and brutal truth.
Gritty and compelling HEARTBREAKER is a tense and suspenseful page-turner of a read.
You can find out more about Tania Carver (aka crime writer Martyn Waites’ alter ego) over on www.martynwaites.com and follow Martyn on Twitter @MartynWaites
THE DEFENCE by Steve Cavanagh
“Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turned out the two weren’t that different. It’s been over a year since Eddie Flynn vowed never to set foot in a courtroom again. But now he doesn’t have a choice. Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, has strapped a bomb to Eddie’s back and kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter, Amy. Eddie only has forty-eight hours to defend Volchek in an impossible murder trial – and win – if he wants to save his daughter. Under the scrutiny of the media and the FBI, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and every con-artist trick in the book to defend his ‘client’ and ensure Amy’s safety. With the timer on his back ticking away, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible? Lose this case and he loses everything.”
THE DEFENCE is a fabulous legal thriller. Eddie Flynn – con artist turned lawyer – is haunted by the last case he took to trial. He’s turned his back on the legal profession, taken up drinking and become estranged from his wife and child. Things seem pretty bad, but as the reader discovers from the very start of The Defence, things are about to get much, much worse for Eddie Flynn.
With his daughter abducted, and a bomb strapped to his own body, Eddie is forced to represent Olek Volchek – a man he has no doubt is guilty of murder. In order to buy enough time to figure a way out of the terrifying situation he’s in, Eddie has to draw on all his skills – both legal and criminal – and his friends on both sides of the law, as he gambles against increasingly higher risks in his attempt to get his daughter safe. Smart, courageous and driven by the need to protect his young daughter, Eddie makes for a dynamic character – and someone you can really root for. This rapid-paced, page turner of a legal thriller has bucket-loads of action and piles of sky-soaring tension.
To find out more about Steve Cavanagh hop over to his website at www.stevecavanaghbooks.com and follow him on Twitter @SSCav
BLACK WOOD by SJI Holliday
“Something happened to Claire and Jo in Black Wood: something that left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars. But with Claire suffering memory loss and no evidence to be found, nobody believes Jo’s story.
Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for vengeance. And at the same time, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a balaclava-clad man who is attacking women on a disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun.
But what is the connection between Jo’s visitor and the masked man? To catch the assailant, and to give Jo her long-awaited justice, Gray must unravel a tangled web of past secrets, broken friendship and tainted love. But can he crack the case before Jo finds herself with blood on her hands?”
Banktoun might at first appear to be a small, quaint village with a low crime rate that leaves Sergeant Davie Gray wishing for a bit more police work, but scratch the surface and the secrets simmering just below the surface soon start to threaten the uneasy peace. When a spate of attacks by a balaclava wearing man jolt the villagers from their usual calm, tensions start to rise and after a visitor from the past makes an appearance at the local bookstore where Jo works it’s not long before she begins to unravel. With the flood of memories and questions arising from that fateful day in the woods over twenty years ago threatening to overwhelm her, Jo decides to try and uncover what really happened all those years ago to her and Claire.
Jo is an unpredictable, and at times unreliable, narrator who makes for an interesting and flawed heroine. Sergeant Davie Gray is an altogether more solid and reliable narrator, and as such is the perfect counterbalance to Jo. From the small village location, to the cast of engaging and interesting characters, many of whom seemed to be hiding something, I found BLACK WOOD a really ‘moreish’ read. I loved the twists and turns, and – although I’m usually pretty good at figuring out who did it – this book had me guessing to the end. It also features some pretty creepy masks!
Find out more about debut author SJI Holliday over on her blog at www.sjihollidayblog.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @SJIHolliday
SNOWBLIND by Ragnar Jónasson
“Siglufjörđur: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by the snow, and with a killer on the loose.”
Ari Thór Arason relocates to the remote costal village of Siglufjörđur to take up his first job in the police. He’s thorough and tenacious, keen to learn and enthusiastic to do a good job in a community where no one locks their doors and the crime rate is virtually zero – until now. When the seemingly accidental death of an elderly writer is followed by what seems to be a vicious attack on a young woman the community is thrown into chaos – is a killer among them? And how, in a place where everyone knows everyone’s business, can there be no witnesses? Determined to get to the truth, Ari presses for answers, and as he does Siglufjörđur is covered in ever deepening snow – becoming cut off from the rest of the country and trapping the inhabitants together. As darkness descends, and Ari takes increasing risks to lure out the killer, the claustrophobic suspense ramps up to the max.
Snowblind uses its stunningly beautiful yet brutally remote setting to create a chilling, atmospheric locked room mystery. It’s a fantastic read with great writing, engaging characters and an expertly crafted plot filled with twists, turns and slight of hand. Ragnar Jónasson is an outstanding new voice in Nordic Noir, and Snowblind is the first in what promises to be a fabulous new series.
To find out more about Snowblind and Ragnar Jónasson visit www.orendabooks.co.uk/book/snow-blind. You can follow Ragnar on Twitter @ragnarjo and translator Quentin Bates @graskeggur
BLOODSTREAM by Luca Veste
“Social media stars Chloe Morrison and Joe Hooper seem to have it all – until their bodies are found following an anonymous phone call to their high-profile agent. Tied and bound to chairs facing each other, their violent deaths cause a media scrum to descend on Liverpool, with DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi assigned to the case.
Murphy is dismissive, but the media pressure intensified when another couple is found in the same manner as the first. Only this time the killer has left a message. A link to a private video on the internet, and the words ‘Nothing stays secret’. It quickly becomes clear that more people will die; that the killer believes secrets and lies within relationships should have deadly consequences …”
This third book in the Murphy and Rossi series is a real page-turner of a read. The strong sense of place and vivid descriptions bring Liverpool to life, and Murphy and Rossi make for a great crime-solving duo.
The story brings into sharp focus how the media, and social media, feed into and off violent crime, and how the amount of media coverage, and the way individuals are portrayed, is dependent on the perceived value of that person and their death to ratings and circulation figures.
BLOODSTREAM is a dark, gritty and disturbingly sinister police procedural that I found utterly unputdownable.
Learn more about Luca Veste at www.lucaveste.com and follow him on Twitter @lucaveste
TELL NO TALES by Eva Dolan
TELL NO TALES cover image
“The car that ploughs into the bus stop early one morning leaves a trail of death and destruction behind it. DS Ferreira and DI Zigic are called in from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit to handle the investigation but with another major case on their hands, one with disturbing Neo-Nazi overtones, they are relieved when there seems to be an obvious suspect. But the case isn’t that simple and with tensions erupting in the town, leading to more violence, the media are soon hounding them for answers.
Ferreira believes that local politician Richard Stotton, head of a recently established ring-wing party, must be involved somehow. Journalists have been quick to acclaim Stotton, with his Brazilian wife and RAF career, as a serious contender for a major political career, despite his extremist views, but is his party a cover for something far more dangerous?”
TELL NO TALES is the second book in the DS Ferreira and DI Zigic series. In it, Ferreira and Zigic are assigned to investigate the hit and run, but what at first seems a fairly straightforward case soon turns out to be far more complex than they’d originally thought. Alongside the hit and run, they’re still struggling to find suspects in a chain of recent murders. The brutal, racially motivated attacks have already claimed two victims, but Zigic’s boss wants the motive for the murders downplayed. The attackers are well prepared and ruthless, beating their victims to death and even playing up to the CCTV cameras they know are filming them. But even with video and forensic evidence, the detectives are no closer to identifying the killers. And things are going to get worse, a lot worse, before they get more leads. With tensions rising, and violence escalating, the two investigations begin to blur, and Ferreira and Zigic find their skills, and their resolve, tested to their very limits.
As in the first book, Ferreira and Zigic make a great duo, with Ferreira’s bold ‘tell it as it is’ attitude perfectly off set by Zigic’s more steady, measured, but no less determined approach. As the investigation progresses they deal with the challenges and try to cope with the shocking brutality of the cases in their own individual ways, but despite their differences, and Ferreira’s reservations about the additional officers assigned to Hate Crimes to support them, they work well together to unravel the complex and interwoven connections that have led to these extreme acts of violence taking place in the town.
A compelling story, beautifully crafted, TELL NO TALES has tension crackling off every page.
To learn more about Eva Dolan hop over to her author page at www.randomhouse.co.uk/authors/eva-dolan and follow her on Twitter @eva_dolan
STASI CHILD by David Young
“East Berlin, 1975: Questions are dangerous. Answers can kill. When murder squad head Oberleutnant Karin Müller is called to investigate a teenage girl’s body found riddled with bullets at the foot of the Berlin Wall, she imagines she’s seen it all before. But when she arrives she realises this is a death like no other: it seems the girl was trying to escape – but from the West.
Müller is a member of the People’s Police, but in East Germany her power only stretches so far. The Stasi want her to discover the identity of the girl, but assure her the case is otherwise closed – and strongly discourage her asking questions. The evidence doesn’t add up, and it soon becomes clear that the crime scene has been staged, the girl’s features mutilated. But this is not a regime that tolerates a curious mind, and Müller doesn’t realise that the trail she’s following will lead her dangerously close to home.
The previous summer, on Rügen Island off the Baltic Coast, two desperate teenage girls conspire to escape the physical and sexual abuse of the young workhouse they call home. Forced to assemble furniture packs for the West, the girls live out a monotonous, painful and hopeless life. Stowing away in the very furniture they are forced to make, the girls arrived in Hamburg. But their celebrations are short-lived as they discover there is a price on freedom in the DDR …”
STASI CHILD is David Young’s debut novel and the first in the Oberleutnant Karin Müller series. Striving for justice whatever the cost is second nature to Müller. She’s a determined, strong and courageous detective, following the evidence and questioning anomalies even when warned off by some very powerful and threatening people. Defying instructions, she leads her team to find the truth hidden beneath the propaganda and cover-ups. But despite her hard-line stance in her job, in her personal life her relationships are imploding and as she juggles the conflict at home with an increasingly tense situation at work, it’s not long before Müller herself could be in danger.
Set in our chillingly authentic recent-past, this pacey page-turner of a police procedural is filled with fear, power struggles and intrigue making it one hell of a debut novel.
To find out more about David Young follow him on Twitter @djy_writer
TIME OF DEATH by Mark Billingham
“The Missing: Two schoolgirls are abducted in the small, dying Warwickshire town of Polesford, driving a knife into the heart of the community where police officer Helen Weeks grew up, and from which she long escaped. But this is a place full of secrets, where dangerous truths lie buried.
The Accused: When it’s splashed all over the press that family man Stephen Bates has been arrested, Helen and her partner Tom Thorne head to the flooded town to support Bates’ wife – an old school friend of Helen’s – who is living under siege with two teenage children and convinced of her husband’s innocence.
The Dead: As residents and media bay for Bates’ blood, a decomposing body is found. The police believe that they have their murderer in custody, but one man believes otherwise. With a girl still missing, Thorne sets himself on a collision course with local police, townsfolk – and a merciless killer.”
TIME OF DEATH, the latest book in Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne series, takes Tom out of his usual city surroundings on a visit to the countryside for a romantic break with his partner Helen Weeks. But it doesn’t stay a relaxing holiday for long. When Helen recognises the wife of the man accused of the abduction of two schoolgirls from a small Warwickshire community, their holiday is cut short as they head to Polesford for Helen to support her old school friend.
Taking Thorne out of his London comfort zone is genius move. He hates the countryside, especially the thought of antiquing and walking, so he starts his own (unofficial) investigation. This forces him to embrace everything the area has to throw at him – floods, pigs, a lot of characterful locals, and the kind of claustrophobic environment where everyone knows each other’s business. Being the outsider, and not officially involved in the case, he’s able to follow his instincts unchecked, and starts to find he’s actually rather enjoying his holiday. He even manages to entice his friend, and talented Pathologist, Phil Hendricks, out from the city to help him. They still haven’t really spoken about what happened on Bardsey Island (in the previous book The Bones Beneath) and the personal cost to Phil (and Thorne) that resulted, but their friendship is a strong as ever and their banter is, as always, a joy to read.
TIME OF DEATH is filled with mystery and intrigue from the abduction case Tom is investigating, it also layers on a growing sense of unease that coming back to the place she grew up has unearthed some deeply buried secrets that Helen has kept well hidden.
Masterfully written, this is another fabulous instalment in what I think is the best police procedural series around today.
Learn more about Mark Billingham by checking out his website at www.markbillingham.com and follow him on Twitter @MarkBillingham
So there they are – my top crime reads of 2015.
Pop back next week to see my top thriller reads of the year.