If 2017 wasn’t good for much, it was good for crime fiction. There were several stunning debuts, some decent follow-ups to bestsellers and a range of new releases from well-established authors. (Although no new Strike novel from Robert Galbraith yet). After much deliberation, I’ve chosen my five favourite crime fiction reads (stories with a crime/mystery theme) from this year. These are the page-turning, unputdownable best of the best – stories with strong characters, vivid settings and plenty of tense, thrilling moments.
1 – See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
The Lizzie Borden case is the true story of a woman acquitted for the 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother. Schmidt’s unique and visceral writing style perfectly captures the bizarre nature of this tale and of a family where there is no more love. Told from four distinct POV characters, Lizzie’s chapters feel so authentic I’m convinced that was exactly how she would have behaved. The closing paragraphs are some of my favourite writing from this year.
Standout Simile: My spine hung like a beehive, a honey fizz pushing towards my head, and I felt ready to explode.
2 – The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham
Meg and Agatha are both pregnant and due around the same time. They’re not friends, but Agatha has an elaborate plan that will affect Meg’s life in ways she could never have imagined. The expression “I could not put this book down” has been used frivolously many times, but I legitimately could not put this book down. Robotham has told Agatha’s story so beautifully that I’ve never before felt so much sympathy for the villain of a story. A must-read.
Standout Simile: I adored everything about Jack – his smile, his laugh, his looks, the way he kissed. He was like an everlasting packet of chocolate biscuits. I knew that I’d eat too many and make myself sick, but I ate them anyway.
3 – The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
The author is the main character in this fictional tale of a woman murdered on the day she was planning her own funeral. Her murder is being investigated by Hawthorne, a challenging character who hires Anthony to write a book about him. This clever literary device of author as narrator could only be pulled off by a masterful writer such as Anthony Horowitz and the result is completely engaging, using real life people such as Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson to great effect.
Standout Simile: I watched as he took out his wallet and produced a ten-pound note so limp and crumpled that but for the colour I would have been unsure of its denomination. He laid it on the table like an autumn leaf that’s been fished out of the gutter.
4 – The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey
My favourite thing about The Dark Lake is how much of a solid murder mystery it is. Gemma Woodstock is a detective in a small town investigating the murder of school teacher and old school mate, Rosalind. The investigation forces her to confront unpleasant truths from her own past. There are plenty of shady suspects, red herrings and legitimate clues to keep you guessing. A scene where Gemma faces a mother’s worst nightmare wins for my ‘most suspenseful scene of the year’.
Standout Simile: Blood surges, and it feels like tiny bugs are crawling through the capillaries in my eyelids.
5 – Wimmera by Mark Brandi
Best mates Ben and Fab are schoolboys who both become victims of violent crimes. Brandi establishes a subtle feeling of foreboding from the first pages – we know something terrible is going to happen. At one point I wasn’t sure I’d be able to continue, unwilling to read what happens to Ben, but the brilliant storytelling had me hooked. Brandi tackles a dark and disturbing subject matter, exploring the plight of these powerless young boys with great care. It’s so well written, it’d be a crime not to read it.
Standout Simile: To the east of the curve was a flat, yellow patchwork of paddocks that disappeared in a shimmer below the stony face of the Grampians, looming like a tidal wave at the horizon.