Deadly fiction: the 20 best crime books of 2017
Declan Burke and Declan Hughes on what thrillers to put on your Christmas list
The year got off to a cracking start with Ali Land’s Good Me, Bad Me (Penguin Michael Joseph, €14.99), a genuinely unsettling novel of complex motivations that tests the reader’s capacity for empathy as teenager Milly struggles to cope with the horrors perpetrated by her mother.
Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly (Serpent’s Tail, €15.99) was yet another densely plotted, blackly hilarious outing for Adrian McKinty’s protagonist Sean Duffy, a Catholic detective working for the RUC during Northern Ireland’s Troubles.
Melissa Scrivner Love’s Lola (Point Blank, €14.99) was a brilliant debut, a bleak and cynical noir set in the patriarchal gangland world of LA’s South Central, with smack-dealer Lola pulling her gang’s strings as she does whatever it takes to survive.
The Late Show by Michael Connelly (Orion, €15.99) delivered a terrific new protagonist, Renee Ballard, a hard-nosed LAPD detective who can more than hold her own with Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller.
Sabine Durrant’s Lie With Me (Mulholland Books, €17.99) was a superb comi-tragic psychological thriller set on an Ionian island, a novel that owes and handsomely repays a debt to Patricia Highsmith.
Dennis Lehane has written private eye novels, gangster novels and stand-alone thrillers. Since We Fell (Little, Brown, €16.99) offered another subgenre variation as Lehane delivered a wonderful blend of melodrama and domestic noir.
Spook Street (John Murray, €19.85) was the fourth, and arguably the best, in Mick Herron’s Slough House series of spy novels, which feature spymaster Jackson Lamb and a charming collection of has-beens and never-will-bes.
Let the Dead Speak (HarperCollins, €13.99) was the seventh in Jane Casey’s series to feature police detective Maeve Kerrigan, a variation on the locked-room mystery as Maeve investigates the whereabouts of a missing corpse in a London suburb underpinned by religious fanaticism and patriarchal sexism.
Stuart Neville published Here and Gone (Harvill Secker, €18.45) under the pseudonym Haylen Beck, delivering an adrenaline-fuelled thriller set in the badlands of Arizona. Insidious Intent (Little, Brown, €16.99) was the 10th in Val McDermid’s Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series, but there’s no sense that Val is resting on her laurels – the novel delivered one of the most shocking denouements of the year.
Michael Russell’s The City of Lies (Constable, €16.99), set in 1939, was the fourth to feature Dublin-based Special Branch detective Stefan Gillespie, with Gillespie dispatched to Berlin, a city drunk on power and triumph but already suffering from mass psychosis.
Finally, John le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies (Viking, €14.99) hauled George Smiley’s old factotum, Peter Guillam, out of his well-earned retirement, as London’s contemporary spymasters investigate the possibility that Peter, Smiley and co deliberately put civilian lives at risk when mounting the operation that led to the death of Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It may not be vintage le Carré, but it’s a marvellously evocative trip down memory lane.
Declan Burke is a crime writer and journalist
Emma Flint’s Little Deaths (Picador, £12.99), set in a heat-steamed New York in 1965, convinced as a searching exploration of sexual hypocrisy, a twisty and enthralling murder mystery and a mesmerising portrait of the glamorous, reckless Ruth Malone.
Another debut, Jane Harper’s The Dry (Little, Brown, £12.99), began with an apparent murder-suicide in the drought-stricken Outback town of Kiewarra. With the structure and momentum of a classic western, a searingly authentic sense of place and an elegiac feel for youth’s passing, The Dry makes Harper a writer to watch.
Joseph Knox’s glittering Sirens (Doubleday, £12.99) featured a disgraced detective with a traumatic backstory, a serious drink and drug problem, a tender eye for a pretty, vulnerable girl and a hard-boiled habit of getting knocked unconscious. Romantic, delirious and fiendishly complex, Sirens was a highly accomplished, beautifully written first novel.
One Bad Turn (Quercus, £12.99), the third in Sinéad Crowley’s compulsively readable Claire Boyle series, was a powerful mix of police procedural and psychological thriller with an unexpected and devastatingly dark final twist.
Maile Meloy’s “ugly Americans abroad” thriller Do Not Become Alarmed (Penguin Viking, £8.99) displayed an Ann Patchett-like eye for nuance and detail and a mordant wit that persisted through even the most gruesome and disturbing scenes; this restless, unsettling novel wore lightly its profound insights into the black comedy of marriage and the bourgeois family plot.
Thomas Mullen’s Lightning Men (Little, Brown, £14.99) was the follow-up to 2016’s outstanding Darktown, and it was every bit as successful in combining a complex, subtle and thrilling crime narrative with a meticulous, vivid evocation of racially turbulent 1950s Atlanta.
Graeme Macrae Burnet’s third novel, The Accident on the A35 (Saraband, £12.99), the follow-up to his Booker-nominated His Bloody Project, was redolent of Simenon and Camus, an immensely satisfying literary thriller: subtly observed, psychologically acute and extremely droll.
Antti Tuomainen’s The Man Who Died (Orenda, £8.99) was liberally salted with macabre, improbable incidents of violence. It was also deftly plotted, poignant and perceptive in its wry reflections on mortality and very funny indeed: Carl Hiaasen meets the Coen Brothers in the Finnish provinces.
What Remains of Me (Arrow, £7.99) by AL Gaylin was at once a superbly constructed thriller and an intoxicating dose of southern California gothic, infused with terrific energy, wicked irony, the sins of the screen idol fathers and the siren glamour of celluloid dreams.
Nine down, and my crime novel of the year was Julie Parsons’ The Therapy House (New Island, €13.95). Parsons gave us an incendiary analysis of our national history of violence in all its hypocrisy, vainglory and denial, and a devastating testament on behalf of the victims, all in the form of a gripping psychological thriller.
Declan Hughes is a novelist and playwright