It’s that time of the year - time for me to round up my picks for the best crime novels of 2017! This is always my favorite blog post to write, and 2017 gave me a run for my money when it came to narrowing down my list of favorites. Reflecting on this past year, my favorite reads were those that pushed the envelope, breaking new ground, providing new twists on current trends, and delivering reads that were as emotionally impactful as they were chilling and entertaining.
To help you navigate this “Best Of” list, I’ve divided my selections into a number of categories:
- Crime Book of the Year
- Best Psychological Thrillers
- Best Nordic Noir
- Best Serial Killer Thrillers
- Debut of the Year
Without further ado, let’s dive in! Below you’ll find my picks for Best Crime Novels of 2017. xx A
Crime Book of the Year:
THE THIRST by Jo Nesbø
Picking my “Crime Book of the Year” was probably the easiest decision I had to make in 2017; in fact, I knew this book would be my favorite of the year from the moment I finished reading it in April. Jo Nesbø’s THE THIRST is exemplary of all that makes crime fiction - and Nordic Noir in particular - so widely appealing and utterly addictive: from its masterful plotting to its trademark-Nesbø grit and touch of dark drama, THE THIRST is the work of a writer at the top of his game. Readers will encounter a twisted killer hunting his victims on Tinder; the grim, moody atmosphere of Oslo; and (best of all), our favorite complex and brooding detective, Harry Hole. Nesbø’s brilliance lies in not only the vividness of his storytelling, but in his expert touch at balancing gritty procedurals with just a flair of the dramatic—in this case, a killer with (quite literally) a taste for blood. THE THIRST is the latest installment in Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, and I do recommend beginning earlier in the series; check out my Beginner's Guide to Jo Nesbo for my recommendations on where to start with this series!
The Verdict: an outstanding addition to my favorite crime series. THE THIRST lives up to the legacy Nesbø has crafted in his Harry Hole books. // Read CBTB's Review
Best Psychological Thrillers:
2017 was an outstanding year for psychological thrillers. We saw the continuation of the “girl thriller” trend, but readers were also treated to an assortment of books that branched out, incorporating new elements into on-trend plots.
THE GIRL BEFORE by J.P. Delaney
An early 2017 release, THE GIRL BEFORE remained a favorite for me throughout the year. This tense thriller puts a new twist on domestic drama, centering on a house rather than one particular relationship. One Folgate is an architectural masterpiece with a mysterious, demanding owner—anyone wishing to rent this home must fill out a stringent application, and (if selected) must agree to a strict set of rules while living in it. THE GIRL BEFORE follows two women who, at different time periods, moved into this house at a moment of crisis in their personal lives. Woman number two soon discovers that the previous tenant (woman number one) met an untimely end in this house, and readers observe as her life begins to mirror that of the woman who came before her…
The Verdict: THE GIRL BEFORE is tense and suspenseful, laced with just a hint of 50 Shades of Grey and brimming with inventive, addictive plotting. // Read CBTB's Review
I SEE YOU by Clare Mackintosh
One of my favorite writers returned with her sophomore thriller in 2017, and it delivered in a big way. Where Mackintosh’s debut I LET YOU GO was a suspense novel that almost defied categorization, blending character study with a jaw-dropping plot twist, I SEE YOU is a more traditional psychological thriller through and through—but I think it has actually become my favorite of her books. If you’re a commuter who takes public transportation every day like I do, you will be hard pressed to read this book and not find it totally chilling. Imagine that you were on the subway one day, and, while flipping through your morning paper, spotted an ad with your image on it, advertising a dating service. Then imagine that you begin noticing other women in similar ads… and that these women begin turning up dead. So begins Mackintosh’s outstanding novel, and it just gets better from there.
The Verdict: This is a very different kind of read from Mackintosh’s debut - don’t expect the same shocking twist as in I LET YOU GO - but I absolutely loved this new direction for her. I SEE YOU is unnerving, engaging, and pitch-perfect suspense. // Read CBTB's Review
HER EVERY FEAR by Peter Swanson
Another early-2017 release that remained a favorite for me, HER EVERY FEAR is an utterly unputdownable Hitchcockian thriller that I devoured in one sitting. When main character Kate has the opportunity to “apartment swap” with a cousin living in Boston, she jumps at the chance - a series of events in her personal life in London have left her eager for a change. But Kate’s fresh start is diverted when her new next door neighbor in Boston is found dead, and Kate’s natural curiosity in the crime soon devolves into obsession. HER EVERY FEAR is a character-driven story of quiet, steadily-building suspense; this book delves both deep into the minds of the story’s characters and deep into their pasts, weaving a web of manipulations and lies that left me with goosebumps by the story’s end. This is not an action-packed thriller; the author instead opts for steadily-building tension and a knockout ending. I quite literally read this book in one and a half sittings last year during my holiday vacation.
The Verdict: a voyeuristic suspense novel laced with tension and a chill-inducing final revelation. A Hitchcockian thriller in every sense. // Read CBTB's Review
THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS by Michael Robotham
Friendship takes a deadly turn in Robotham’s outstanding psychological suspense novel of obsession and betrayal. Grocery store clerk Agatha feels a bit lost in her life: she’s not satisfied with her job, and is pregnant by an absent boyfriend. But Agatha soon begins to notice Meghan, a woman who seems to have it all: a loving, beautiful family, a successful parenting blog, and her own baby on the way as well. Agatha determines that she wants to get to know Meghan, and sets about inserting herself into Meghan’s life... with devastating consequences. Pick this book up for its on-trend title and book jacket—stay for its hair-raising plot, gut-punch twists, and richly-developed characters. Told in dual narratives, Robotham has crafted a crime novel that's a bit like watching two trains barreling head-on towards one another: you know the outcome can only be disaster, but you just can't look away.
The Verdict: Readers looking for not just an on-trend psychological thriller, but for a story that is superbly plotted and genuinely shocking, will find an outstanding read in THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS. // Read CBTB's Review
THE WEIGHT OF LIES by Emily Carpenter
In this engaging, fast-paced psychological suspense novel, author Emily Carpenter blends the best of psychological thrillers with a unique touch of horror nostalgia. Readers follow the daughter of an infamous horror novelist as she unpacks the inspiration - and possible truth - behind her mother’s bestselling novel. THE WEIGHT OF LIES isn't a horror novel itself, but its cultural references and moments of cinematic suspense feel straight from the big screen. Love classic horror movies like Friday the 13th and Halloween, but want to read something a little less dark and gory? This recommendation is for you. THE WEIGHT OF LIES serves up a welcome dose of nostalgia for those horror classics, wrapped up in a contemporary psychological thriller package. This book is just plain fun to read, from its horror references to its atmospheric setting.
The Verdict: THE WEIGHT OF LIES might not be gory or very dark, but it serves up just the right balance of fast-paced, binge-worthy writing with lighter suspense and tension. This was the perfect summer read for me this year! // Read CBTB's Review
WHITE BODIES by Jane Robins
Every so often, readers will come across a book that’s just the right kind of offbeat—something unexpected, envelope-pushing, and perfect in its oddities. WHITE BODIES by Jane Robins was exactly that kind of read for me. This is a psychological thriller that marches to the beat of its own drum: twisted, shocking, quirky, and addictive, WHITE BODIES is an utterly unputdownable story of the blurred line between obsession and love. While this won’t be the right choice for readers looking for a crime novel grounded wholly in reality, the drama of this thriller is part of its undeniable (and disturbing) charm. Readers follow twin sisters Callie and Tilda; Tilda, an aspiring actress and social butterfly, and Callie, a more introverted young woman. When Tilda begins dating a charming - but controlling - man, Callie sets out to save her sister in a Strangers on a Train-inspired plot.
The Verdict: From its disarming first pages to its shocking conclusion, WHITE BODIES is original, inventive, and brimming with personality - a breath of fresh air in a crowded genre, and a 2017 must-read. // Read CBTB's Review
Best Nordic Noir:
My Nordic Noir reading list in 2017 was outstanding, incorporating new reads from longtime favorite authors and one absolutely stellar new-to-me author. As always, Scandinavian crime continues to deliver my favorite crime fiction—the books listed below are must-reads.
THE THIRST by Jo Nesbø
*See above! This is an outstanding Nordic crime novel that is my pick for “Crime Book of 2017" - but of course, I couldn't not mention it here, too!
THE DEVIL’S WEDDING RING by Vidar Sundstøl
Scandinavian crime fiction readers, listen up: THE DEVIL'S WEDDING RING by Vidar Sundstøl is the must-read you haven't heard of yet. One of the most fresh and original takes on the Nordic Noir genre I've read in ages, Sundstøl's exceptional standalone crime novel weaves together ancient folklore and a modern investigation to brilliant effect. Atmospheric and laced with menace, the story's small-town setting is a character unto itself, while the story's human characters are equally complex and engaging. Hearing of the death of a former colleague and friend, private investigator Max Fjellanger returns to the Telemark region of Norway to pay his respects. But Max soon suspects that his friend’s death wasn’t an accident, and teams up with a local detective-novel loving librarian to look into this case. What follows is an immersive, atmospheric, and chilling exploration of Nordic folklore and modern-day procedural.
The Verdict: THE DEVIL'S WEDDING RING is masterfully written, intricately plotted, and wholly immersive; in short, it's a must-read for Nordic Noir fans. // Read CBTB's Review
THE UNDESIRED by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
THE UNDESIRED is an outstanding standalone thriller from Iceland’s Queen of Crime—a great choice for readers looking for a bridge between a Nordic thriller and a horror story. It’s not overtly violent or graphic, but I found it completely chilling. Every step along the way of this atmospheric and slow-burning stunner is fraught with tension. In THE UNDESIRED, readers are drawn into a dual narrative exploring the history of a juvenile detention center in rural Iceland. In the present day, a government employee is tasked with investigating allegations of abuse at the center; in the past, a young woman working at the center begins to experience bizarre and menacing happenings there. Sigurdardottir has a dark and inventive imagination, and THE UNDESIRED delivers a chilling thriller that I couldn’t get enough of.
The Verdict: This unnerving, atmospheric Icelandic novel completely got under my skin, from its in-your-face opening to its utterly chilling final sentence. THE UNDESIRED might just be the perfect winter thriller. // Read CBTB's Review
SNOWBLIND by Ragnar Jonasson
Sweeping Nordic landscapes, snowstorm-induced claustrophobia, and a cast of characters reminiscent of Agatha Christie: Ragnar Jónasson's debut mystery meets all my requirements for a moody, engrossing Nordic Noir read. Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series has taken the UK by storm, and Book 1 in the series (SNOWBLIND) was released in the US in early 2017 to stellar reviews. Readers looking for Nordic Noir that isn’t as dark or violent as some of the genre’s standard fare will love Jonasson’s classic crime-inspired take on the genre. Similarly, fans of Agatha Christie will find a lot to love in SNOWBLIND. SNOWBLIND introduces readers to Ari Thor Arason, a young police officer who accepts a new post in the northern coastal town of Siglufjordur, Iceland. When a blizzard cuts off the one road connecting Siglufjordur to the rest of Iceland, Ari Thor feels the claustrophobia of winter setting in… which is only made worse when a murder occurs in the town, and Ari Thor (and the town’s residents) are isolated with a killer.
The Verdict: I completely fell in love with the landscape Ragnar so deftly describes in SNOWBLIND, and I was equally drawn in by his ability as a storyteller. The Dark Iceland series are a personal favorite for me, and this is a standout series launch. // Read CBTB's Review
ORDEAL by Jorn Lier Horst
Jorn Lier Horst’s William Wisting series has achieved massive popularity in his native Norway, and his newest US series installment ORDEAL is well worth a read for fans of slow-burning, detail-oriented police procedurals. It's important to note that this book is different in style and tone than Lier Horst's Nordic peers—readers looking for fast-paced, gritty crime fiction should dip into Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series. But there's also so much to love about the kind of crime fiction Lier Horst writes. In a crowded genre, Lier Horst stands out for his commitment to writing crime fiction grounded in reality, both in its portrayal of police investigations and in the very human characters he writes. In ORDEAL, readers focus in on Line Wisting, a journalist and the daughter of the series protagonist, William Wisting. When one of Line’s friends finds a locked safe in the home she inherited from her deceased grandfather, Line’s journalistic instincts lead her to begin investigating the circumstances around the man’s death.
The Verdict: ORDEAL is without a doubt my favorite Jorn Lier Horst book I've read thus far—its complex plotting and endearing characters make for a compelling and engaging read. The king of the Nordic Noir procedural, Jorn Lier Horst has crafted an impeccable slow-burn crime novel in ORDEAL. // Read CBTB's Review
Best Serial Killer Thrillers:
If you're anything like I am, sometimes you just want to read a really dark, shocking serial killer thriller. Serial killers are a common theme in many subgenres of crime fiction; certainly, they factor into many of my selections listed above. But there are also crime books that are best qualified as exactly that: serial killer thrillers. Below are two standouts that I absolutely loved reading in 2017!
THE FOURTH MONKEY by J.D. Barker
Sometimes you just need a seriously twisted and totally engaging serial killer thriller—and THE FOURTH MONKEY is that book. Gripping, violent, and inventive, this book pits a dutiful police officer against a truly sick killer who has crafted a game just for the police—a game that ends in the chance to save the life of the killer’s next victim. Author J.D. Barker serves up a twisty and original take on the classic cop vs. serial killer thriller in THE FOURTH MONKEY. Fans of Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs: listen up, this one’s for you. When the Four Monkey Killer is found dead, the police quickly realize he was on his way to deliver a final message - a message indicating that he has kidnapped another victim, one who may still be alive. The police find a diary on the killer’s body, and delve into the killer’s twisted personal history in hopes of finding his latest victim before it’s too late.
The Verdict: If you love thrillers that center around high-stakes police investigations, and want to be drawn into the mind and backstory of a truly disturbed killer, you will love THE FOURTH MONKEY. This book is gorgy, disturbing, and over the top in the best possible way. // Read CBTB's Review
HIDE AND SEEK by M.J. Arlidge
Arlidge's gripping crime series has been a favorite of mine ever since I first dove into Book 1 (EENY MEENY) nearly two years ago. Somehow, Arlidge manages to just get better and better; with each new series installment, he ups the ante, delivering more insight into Helen's complicated character and higher stakes for the crimes she must solve. True to form, Arlidge has outdone himself yet again with HIDE AND SEEK: this superb thriller reads like a cross between a locked room mystery and an episode of Criminal Minds, serving up one of my favorite reads of the series so far. In HIDE AND SEEK, Detective Inspector Helen Grace is incarcerated following the events of the previous book in the series, LITTLE BOY BLUE. Grace finds herself locked up with the criminals she herself has put away, leaving her isolated and friendless in prison - and to make matters worse, her fellow inmates start turning up dead. Grace realizes that a serial killer is at work within the hospital, and sets out to uncover the killer’s identity before they come for her.
The Verdict: Readers looking for crime fiction with major entertainment value, plenty of chills, and binge-worthy pacing will find their perfect match in M.J. Arldige’s Helen Grace books. I do recommend reading this series from the beginning; if nothing else, read LITTLE BOY BLUE before diving into HIDE AND SEEK. // Read CBTB's Review
Debut of the Year:
SIX STORIES by Matt Wesolowski
2017 was a superb year for crime fiction debuts, but perhaps no single debut had quite the same impact on my year in books as did Matt Wesolowski’s stellar SIX STORIES. Published by Orenda Books, this podcast-inspired thriller delivered a fiercely original and innovative debut that took the book blogging world by storm and earned Wesolowski a legion of devoted fans. SIX STORIES is based around a true crime podcast, and the author has structured it to mirror such a show: its plot is divided into six separate “interviews” with individuals with knowledge of the story’s central crime. Elusive investigative journalist Scott King uses his podcast to delve into a 20 year-old crime: the discovery of a teenager’s body in Scarclaw Fell, a remote campground in the woods. If you love podcasts like Serial or Sword & Scale, you’ll feel right at home in the world of SIX STORIES—but really, this is a book for every crime fiction reader looking to be swept up in a story that’s as addictive as it is unsettling.
The Verdict: SIX STORIES is simply a stunning debut crime novel. Its plotting, pacing, and unique content make it one of the most impressive books I’ve read recently. Wesolowski is a major new talent in crime fiction, and I cannot wait to see what he does next. // Read CBTB's Review
And with that, another year comes to a close! I'm so thankful for all the opportunities that 2017 afforded me; from traveling around Scandinavia to meeting new bookish friends to attending my first Bouchercon, I have so much to be thankful for as we say farewell to this year. At the top of my list of things I'm thankful for: you, the wonderful readers who make this blog possible! Thank you for reading along with my year in books, and for all of your support. I'm so excited to see what the new year has in store for us. Thank you for a wonderful year, and I can't wait for 2018! xx A