CrimeFictionLover: Top five books of 2016

Was 2016 a good year for crime fiction? I’d say so. Yes, lots of the series books came out and stuck to a certain formula, but most of the top writers have kept their plots fresh and the new authors we came across delivered titles that were varied and daring. Just have a look at what we wrote about in New Talent November, for instance. It’s fantastic to see indie publishers crashing through and championing their writers, and you should check out Orenda Books, Bloodhound, Hard Case Crime and Saraband… if you haven’t already.

Nordic noir proved to be a powerful force, and here too new authors are coming to prominence. Domestic noir became the buzzword in crime fiction, a sub-genre sometimes wanting to be gothic, sometimes psychological and sometimes just good old noir but in the kitchen and with a dark past.

You can find out what we think 2017 will bring here, but for the moment let me tell you about my top five crime books of 2016…

5 – Hellfire by Karin Fossum
As with her 2015 book The Drowned Boy, Karin Fossum writes movingly about the untimely death of a child in this beautifully example of psychological crime fiction. Five-year-old Simon is viciously murdered, alongside his mother, in a decrepit old trailer on a farm. Inspector Sejer is saddened and confused by the murder, and seems to have no suspects. While on the one hand telling us about what the victims were like, Fossum also introduces a fellow called Eddie Malthe, a troubled young man who seems to have Asperger’s syndrome and is completely obsessed with finding out more about his biological father. Meanwhile, his mother and his pet dog are growing old and frail, adding to his frustration. Fossum lays bare the hopes, dreams and fears of her characters and it’s a whydunnit that will move you to tears. Read the review here.
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4 – Cut Me In by Ed McBain
Like Karin Fossum, Ed McBain never wasted a word and this early standalone novel from 60 years ago – reprinted by Hard Case Crime – is a must-read not just for McBain fans but for anyone who appreciates the crime genre. Literary agent Joshua Blake’s partner has been gunned down in their office. Police detective Di Luca suspects him of the crime, but in truth too many other people out there hated Del Gilbert more than Blake. Start with his wife, his mistress, authors he ditched, TV executives he stiffed… the list goes on. When Blake sets out to clear his name the plot McBain puts him through has more twists than the cap on a whisky bottle and the author is on intoxicating form. A captivating dip into post-War New York that you won’t want to put it down. Here’s my review.
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3 – Nowhere by Roger Smith
South Africa isn’t a country known for its gritty, neo noir authors but the fast-changing politics, vast inequalities, and myriad racial and ethnic groups in his homeland give Roger Smith plenty of inspiration. The Zulu detective Disaster Zondi is given one last job before his department is wound up and its to arrest a white supremacist leader in the Western Cape for the murder of a young black man. But Magnus Kruger won’t come quietly. Meanwhile, in Cape Town the president of the rainbow nation has a problem, and blood, on his hands. He’s stabbed one of his wives with a ceremonial spear. Luckily, his fixer Steve Bungu is on the case and has dug up a down-and-out cop to exonerate the president. Smith weaves these plotlines together, mixes in plenty of brutality, dark desperation and social commentary, before baking it under a searing desert sun. We demand more Zondi and we demand more Bungu, Roger! Read the full review.
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2 – Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty
Ronseal would approve of this book because it does what it says on the tin. It is set in Northern Ireland and therefore has 20 kinds of rain. And, it has dogs too – sniffer dogs, and even a magnificent wolf. The case turns out to be another locked-room mystery for DI Sean Duffy, the only Catholic RUC detective in Carrickfergus, and likely the only one in the entire province. Promising English journalist Lily Bigelow has been found dead in Carrick Castle and there’s no way she could have got in there because the place – literally a fortress – was all locked up at the time of her death. Does it have something to do with a trade junket visiting from Finland? Or even with a nearby young offenders institution supported by none other than Jimmy Savile? McKinty recreates 1980s Northern Ireland with wit and ire, and his writing is delightful as he starts turning Duffy from cynical cop to responsible adult… sort of. Here’s my review.
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1 – Darktown by Thomas Mullen
Norway, New York, South Africa, Belfast – yeah, I travel the world by reading crime fiction. I’m going to touch down with my number one book in the city of Atlanta, in the beautiful peach tree state of Georgia. But it isn’t peachy in 1948 for the city’s negro population. Yes, racial integration has begun, but the first eight black officers recruited by the city aren’t even allowed to work at police HQ. They can only patrol black areas of town, and can’t arrest whites. That makes it tricky for officers Smith and Boggs when the young black woman they saw in the car of a white man that they stopped turns up dead. The man was an ex-cop and the city’s white investigators are going to pin the killing on the girl’s father, so Smith and Boggs start their own, secret investigation. It’s going to rub some people the wrong way, but they end up with an unlikely ally in the form of a white rookie called Rakestraw. Fierce racism, action, tension, conspiracy, and a proper mystery too – Darktown has it all. If you’ve read James Ellroy’s excellent Dudley Smith quartet, this book provides an entirely different perspective on 1940s American policing but is no less rich in quality. Here’s my review.
Buy now on Amazon

See my favourite books of 2015 here, or discover which books my colleagues chose for 2016 here.

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2 Comments

  1. Mary B. Reply

    How on earth has it taken me, someone who loves crime fiction, so long to find this excellent and informative site? I’ve already downloaded three of your “best of 2016 and 2015” recommendations that I somehow missed. Darn, this is going to get pricey…

    1. crimefictionlover Reply

      Hi Mary, thank you so much for your kind words about our site. We really appreciate it and we’re glad you find it useful.

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