In my book, 2016 has been a truly fantastic year for crime fiction. This year, crime books have explored everything from the darkest secrets hidden within picture-perfect marriages, the ins and outs of police investigations, the affects of trauma on the human psyche, and much, much more.
I'm sure it goes without saying, but narrowing down this list was extremely hard—picking just 10 reads out of the entire year felt nearly impossible.
In choosing the following 10 books, I tried to focus on one thing: what books have I continued to think about, even months after I've read them? As my list developed, I realized that all of these reads had one thing in common: they did something new, something bold and memorable. Whether through their unflinching honesty, their blending of different crime subgenres, or their inventive writing styles, each of these books opened my eyes to something new. I was moved to tears, shocked, and humbled by the talent of these authors.
A huge thank-you to the publishers and authors who provided me with review copies of these brilliant crime novels. Here's to 2017, and a new year filled with new, groundbreaking crime books.
CBTB's Top 10 Crime Books of 2016
THE CROW GIRL by Erik Axl Sund
If I could read only one book for the rest of my life, this would probably be it. Bear with me while I rant about this book just one more time... THE CROW GIRL is many things: shockingly violent, relentlessly dark, utterly twisted—this book is unapologetically candid about aspects of our world we prefer to shield our eyes from. No subject is left untouched, from sexual assault to child abuse to misogyny to mental illness. But what makes this book so special isn’t its darkness, but the redemptive thread that runs through it. Erik Axl Sund (a pen-name for a writing duo) has written a story that confronts the reader with the worst of humanity, and shows the reader characters who refuse to give in to the darkness around them. Written with heart, sensitivity, and brutal honesty, this epic, 750-page Scandinavian crime novel lodged itself firmly in my heart.
MIDNIGHT SUN by Jo Nesbo
My all-time favorite author returns with a story of a hitman on the run, desperate to escape the ruthless drug lord for whom he used to work. MIDNIGHT SUN, like Nesbo's previous BLOOD ON SNOW, is a taught, sparse story of revenge and reinvention—a novel that proves Nesbo's versatility as a crime author. While I'll always love Nesbo's Harry Hole series most of all, MIDNIGHT SUN proves once again why Nesbo is #1 in my heart. His unparalleled characterization and plotting make him the master of crime fiction in my book, and MIDNIGHT SUN introduces readers to another facet of this multi-dimensional author—a sensitive, hopeful side to the man behind some of Nordic Noir's most twisted reads.
BLOOD WEDDING by Pierre Lemaitre
A shocking and utterly brilliant crime novel, translated from the French. BLOOD WEDDING is a sophisticated counterpoint to the psychological thrillers that have been so popular recently. Lemaitre’s prose is unusual and driving; his characters are lifelike and unreliable; his book contains a plot twist that made my jaw drop. Lemaitre draws the reader into the mind of a young woman with memory loss, and writes with completely immersive language, causing the reader to experience the protagonist's confusion and desperation firsthand. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill psychological thriller—it’s so much better.
THE ICE BENEATH HER by Camilla Grebe
This Scandinavian crime novel is inventive, fast-paced, and totally engaging. What impressed me most about Grebe's first standalone crime novel is its effortless combination of the best of Nordic Noir with the main facets of a “girl” psychological thriller (think THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN or GONE GIRL), most notably including unreliable narrator(s) and major plot twists. With a dark, moody atmosphere, multiple narrators, a twisted central case (involving a beheaded murder victim), and characters you’ll become emotionally invested in, this book is perfect for psychological thriller readers and Nordic Noir fans alike.
THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT by Kate Hamer
Haunting, lyrical, and emotional—Kate Hamer’s debut reduced me to tears with its beautiful story of love and loss. This is a very unusual mystery, and my favorite aspects of it were those which I never saw coming. A heartbreaking story of a kidnapped girl and her mother's desperate search to find her, this delicate and vividly-written story will tug at your heartstrings. Part mystery, part dark fairytale, this is a debut that absolutely shouldn’t be missed.
I LET YOU GO by Clare Mackintosh
What can I say except: that plot twist. I’ve been talking about I LET YOU GO for over a year now, so it’s no surprise that this book would make my list. Mackintosh’s debut floored me with its masterful plotting and “did-I-just-read-that-right” plot twist. This book reads like two unique stories: Part 1 of the book is emotional, heart-wrenching, and delicate; Part 2 flips everything you thought you knew on its head, and becomes an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Many books have come close, but Mackintosh's debut was the first to leave me utterly blindsided by its big reveal.
I’M TRAVELING ALONE by Samuel Bjork
Another Scandinavian crime novel that I felt instantly in sync with. Bjork’s debut is layered and intricate—this isn’t a book to binge-read, but one to savor. My favorite aspect of this book was its protagonist, Mia. We read about troubled male detectives all the time, and I loved that Bjork has written a female character who is unapologetically dark, troubled, and imperfect. She’s a woman Lisbeth Salander would be proud of, and I absolutely loved reading about her. Beyond the compelling protagonist, I'M TRAVELING ALONE is masterfully-plotted crime writing that draws the reader into a web of secrets; a layered procedural wrapped in darkness.
THE KILLING FOREST by Sara Blaedel
Sara Blaedel’s books are always favorites for me, and THE KILLING FOREST is my favorite book I’ve read of hers so far. Sara's books are consistently well-informed, with strong procedural angles that I can’t get enough of—her ability to write about police work in a vivid, true-to-life way always keeps me coming back for more, and was on full display in THE KILLING FOREST. Procedurals can have a reputation for being "dry" (a reputation with which I wholly disagree, for the record!), but Sara proves that a procedural can be just as engaging as any psychological thriller. THE KILLING FOREST tops off Blaedel's trademark style with a plot that's compelling and absorbing, drawing Blaedel's series characters into a twisted, generations-old mystery.
THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 by Ruth Ware
Ruth Ware just gets better and better. I really enjoyed her first book, IN A DARK, DARK WOOD, and I loved her sophomore effort even more. Ware has written a twisty, claustrophobic thriller that had me glued to the pages. Written like a modern-day Agatha Christie story, THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 is wholly entertaining and addictive, with a backdrop I couldn’t help but love (a luxury cruise through a Norwegian fjord!). It's no small feat to write a modern-day mystery that can draw comparisons to Christie's work, but Ware has fully earned that praise. This should be required reading for fans of Paula Hawkins, Gilly Macmillan, and Clare Mackintosh.
SECURITY by Gina Wohlsdorf
A stunning debut from a huge new talent in crime writing. SECURITY reads like a cross between a horror film, a Stephen King novel, and Big Brother-like surveillance. Dripping with opulence and steeped in gore, this book is as cutting-edge as the hotel that provides its setting. Combine a shocking yet self-aware plot with unique page structures and storytelling methods, and I was totally hooked. Wohsldorf completes the picture with an unexpected, tragic love story. SECURITY is intentionally over-the-top and completely imaginative, and not for the faint of heart.
With that, a year of reading comes to an end—and what a great year it's been. I know I'll be thinking about these books well into the new year, and I can't wait to see what 2017 has in store for us. A huge thank you to each and every one of you who has taken the time to discuss books with me and share your opinions this year. It's been an absolute pleasure, and I can't wait for many more bookish conversations in the new year!