I thought crime novels and thrillers were a recent pastime for me, but the April Blogging from A to Z challenge, where I wrote about 26 crime novels, mysteries and thrillers, showed me that I have been reading them for far longer than I remembered. My reading is still very incomplete. I intend to read more crime novel classics, but the ones I have read are interesting and varied in their own ways.
A crime novel is a different and difficult beast. It must balance plot and character in a tightrope walk. Too much plot and very little character and you risk being forgotten. Too much character and not enough plot, you risk boring your binge-reading crime novel consumer.
In case you came along on this journey of crime novels and missed a few, here’s a complete list of the novels I covered. If you didn’t visit me in April and do like crime novels, you can choose from the list below, with very brief commentary on each.
You can find the complete posts with crime novel excerpts in each of the links.
American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis- American Psycho is one you’d have to decide for yourself. For me, I guess the book (and the movie) is VERY worth it for the conversations it generates, but I don’t know if I can take the roiling of gore and death any more, not when I see so much of it visited upon humanity everyday.
Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris- A psychological thriller about marriages that are explosively bad within, but Behind Closed Doors was a relatively early and great example of unsettling characters done very well. If you like pace, tension, and intrigue in your reads, pick this one up without hesitation.
Cut Like Wound by Anita Nair- Cut Like Wound doesn’t have breakneck pace, but having been written by a very talented literary writer, more than makes up for it with its luscious descriptions and insightful observations of society. Pick it up if, like me, you read crime fiction to get to know more about a place and its people, and you’ll be rewarded with an excellent story. Definitely recommended.
Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben– The novel is based on true events that occurred in Coben’s home town, and this made it all the more compelling for me. If you’ve never read a Coben novel before, I envy you the spread of his offerings. Don’t Let You Go is not a bad place to begin reading this wonderful author’s oeuvre.
Enigma by Robert Harris- Enigma is beautifully evocative of an era, the conditions under which the war was fought, not just at the battlefront, as well as the many challenges faced by those living in that time. If you are a WWII fan, by any chance, you would love the book!
Friend Request by Laura Marshall- The premise got me- the friend request from a dead friend–but this is a story about two things: about bullying, and the dangers of social media. Like a lot of other thrillers, it deals in secrets, most of them unsavory, which return to bite the secret-keepers. This is a fast read, and if you’re intrigued by how social media relates to guilt, paranoia, and real dangers like stalking, this one will keep you turning the pages late into the night.
Girl A by Abigail Dean– This debut novel is based on a real case, unfortunately–the Turpin House of Horrors saga, where a couple abused their thirteen children for more than a decade until the eldest daughter escaped her chains and alerted the police in 2018. The novel is based pretty closely on this tragic story, and Dean follows and mirrors the details of the case.
Her Perfect Life, by Hank Philippi Ryan- This book keeps you on your tippy toes, and you’re always one step behind. I loved Greer, not nice but she made me chuckle, and Lily was a smooth operator. If you like strong female characters, a wonderfully realized world, and a plot that will keep you guessing, go pick up Her Perfect Life.
In The Woods By Tana French– If you like your stories to stun you at the level of language, if you do not mind a slower pace of investigation (which is balanced out by tensions between characters), and want to delve deep into the past of a character to more fully understand his present, this is the crime novel and author for you.
Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone– This is an unapologetic revenge thriller–it is the sort of read that I’d recommend a girlfriend going through a break-up. I’m a fan of voices, as you know by now, and Jane Doe has a fab voice–a vengeful sociopath. If you like unusual characters, fascinating female leads, and are in the mood for revenge served very, very cold, but no less delicious for all that, then this is the book for you.
Killing Floor by Lee Child- In our current corruption-ridden times, where crime goes unpunished more often than not, it feels good to read about an almost-superhuman cop-detective who will stop at nothing, and has few qualms about snuffing out villains of all shapes and sizes.
Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica– In this smart and chilling thriller, master of suspense and New York Times best-selling author Mary Kubica takes domestic secrets to a whole new level, showing that some people will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.
Mr Mercedes by Stephen King- Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable. The premise grabs you–a psychopathic killer mows down 8 dead people and vanishes into thin air. Apparently astonished that he got away with it, he taunts a suicidal retired cop, who finds renewed life when he decides to accept the challenge.
Nemesis by Jo Nesbø- Nemesis is all about revenge. The plot moves from Norway to Brazil through complicated twists, and includes a varied cast of characters including bank robbers, corrupt police, gypsies, cheating spouses, addicts, prisoners, a rich executive, and so on, and somehow (I’m not quite sure how) Nesbø manages to tie it all together. There are parallel mysteries, but both feed into each other, and our tortured but smart hero manages to straddle them both.
One Step Too Far, by Lisa Gardner- Gardner has done again what she does so well: written characters you can root for, driving a story that does not let up. This thriller is taut, and not once do you feel a disconnect with a relatively large cast of characters. As Frankie gets to know the men who are searching for their missing loved one, you get to know them and her, as well. And care for them. The last reason, if you still need one, is Daisy the cadaver dog.
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter– An absolutely intriguing tale about family secrets, shared history, and relationships, especially between sisters. The twists, they keep on coming. Just when you thought the story is going one way, it goes the other. Of course a few of the twists stretch credibility, but they make for riveting reading. Very violent content, so proceed with caution.
Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh- This is a missing person’s case that turns out to be a murder, and the narrative is a slow peel of many layers of secrets kept over years. This is a long-ish novel and not a break-neck-paced thriller, but I was caught up in the story late into the night. Didn’t regret the panda eyes the next morning one bit. Pick this up if you like dense, atmospheric tales that would keep you enthralled, page after page.
Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney- Think you know the person you married? Think again…It is hard to tell you more about this thriller other than the blurb without spoiling it: it is fiendishly well-plotted. I’ll never be able to write twists like these, but I’m very pleased to be able to read them. Pick up this book if you need an escape: it is a domestic thriller about a collapsing marriage, but in a twisty, dramatic, over-the-top fashion.
Such a Quiet Place by Megan Miranda- This crime novel has three things I love in my reads: an evocative atmosphere (the community where Harper lives), the characters (Harper, Ruby, and what we learn about everyone else) and voice (all in Harper’s POV, but very expertly done.).Pick this up if you like a slow-burny tale, with plenty of intrigue and helpings of neighborhood drama. This was a great distraction during covid times, and I plan to look up other books from Miranda.
These Women by Ivy Pochoda- I picked up this book on Libby based on the cover alone–the audio version, and was immediately drawn by the women’s voices. This is not your usual mystery or thriller, though there is a whodunit aspect that does get solved. The novel questions the concept of justice, who gets it, who goes unheard, who wields power. How monsters emerge from the very fabric of our indifferent society obsessed with ultimately unimportant things.
Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey– What drew me in with this crime novel was 12-year-old Cassie’s voice, and it would not let go. You feel for her very strongly, and about the monsters she’s afraid of, the fear she feels in places where she should be most safe. If riveting narration, dark and atmospheric tales in small-town settings, and complex coming-of-age tales are your jam, pick this one up. It will swallow up a day or two of your life, but it will be worthwhile.
Virtue Falls by Christina Dodd- I picked up this romantic suspense because of the premise, and stayed because of the romance. Yes, this is a romantic suspense and I was trying to read more of the genre, because my novels contain romance elements these days. The two main characters, Elizabeth and Garik work their way through the mystery, and towards each other, and I enjoyed following their journey. I’m going to buy the rest of the series, because this is the sort of not-too-gory-but-still-dark-book that I need for escape these days.
Whisper Network by Chandler Baker– This thriller was very timely when it came out in 2019, with the #MeToo movement hitting the headlines, and sadly, it remains timely even now. There is definitely more noise about workplace harassment of women, but not nearly enough. Pick it up if you like crime novels that deal with current issues, contain a dose of dark humor and increasing suspense.
X by Sue Grafton- X is part of a series of mysteries, based on the alphabet. These mysteries are set in the eighties, so for those of us born in the last century, they bring a sense of nostalgia. Having written the detective for more than two dozen books, Grafton knows her character like the back of her hand, and that really shows in this intriguing and ultimately rewarding read. If you’ve never read Grafton, I’d suggest starting at the beginning of the series, because those were more taut.
You by Caroline Kepnes- Well, of the many reasons you choose a novel, being entertained is one. On that count, this book delivers, fair and square. Throughout, you’re in the mind of a (loyal, book-loving) sociopath, who breezily describes the many ways in which he is violating the privacy of the object of his obsession. Read it for the voice, reminiscent of Lolita and American Psycho, and though I loved hating Joe, who knows, you might even end up liking him!
Zorro by Isabel Allende- Ok, so Zorro is not a crime novel, or maybe it is–because resistance to authority is against the law, and thus a crime. Pick it up if you’d like an escape read that never settles in one place, taking place in a range of settings, each colorful and intricate. Real historical figures march on and off stage, a wide cast of characters and adventures and details keeps you turning the pages. There’s tragedy and romance, but there’s also humor and heart, and I for one needed a dose of that after all the rather dark picks I’ve made so far for the A to Z.
This brings me to the end of my April journey with crime novels and thrillers. Add the ones you like to your TBR, and tell me what made you pick them up.
What crime novel or thriller is on your reading shelf right now? Which would you recommend? If a crime novel is not your favorite genre, what other genre do you like? Recommend us a few of your favorite reads!
My own crime novel, The Blue Bar will be out this October with Thomas & Mercer. It is already available for preorders. Add it to Goodreads or pre-order it to make my day.
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