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Best crime fiction of 2023

From psychological thrillers to gothic mysteries and everything in between

Set in Hackney in 1978, Joe Thomas’s White Riot weaves fiction and historical fact – think James Ellroy or David Peace – as the Metropolitan Police infiltrate the National Front and a loose coalition of anti-Fascist groups.

Dennis Lehane’s Small Mercies opens in 1974 as Boston’s public schools desegregate, and sets the “tough Irish broad” Mary Pat Fennessy against the cops and Marty Butler’s crew of Boston-Irish gangsters as she tries to find her missing daughter, Jules. A nuanced investigation of racism, class and cultural identity.

A great crime novel offers not just a mystery to be solved, but explores the culture and society in which the crime occurs. Nilanajana Roy’s Black River begins in the tightly-knit rural Indian village of Teetarpur with the murder of a young girl, and taps into the region’s simmering Hindu-Muslim tension to deliver an unsentimental novel of modern India.

A superior psychological thriller, Olivia Kiernan’s The End of Us is a Highsmithian affair in which an ostensibly prosperous London GP starts thinking the unthinkable when his new neighbours hatch the perfect insurance-fraud murder at a dinner party. Best known for her police procedurals, Kiernan crafts a stand-alone of style and substance.


A blackly comic account of literary plagiarism, cultural appropriation and accidental homicide, Rebecca F Kuang’s Yellowface ironically rails against publishing’s belated celebration of diversity as the failing novelist June Hayward seeks to defy “outdated preconceptions about who can write what”. The result is a deliciously savage satire on contemporary publishing.

Una Mannion’s Tell Me What I Am centres on the disappearance of Deena Garvey, whose husband Lucas is a violent man who not only wants to control women physically but to erase who they are. A nuanced account of a brutal man and indefatigable women, this is a beautifully written and vital novel.

A massacre during the Iraq War provides the historical backdrop to Kevin Powers’ A Line in the Sand, a slow-burning thriller in which an apparently random murder leads to congressional hearings and billions of dollars in “war start-ups”.

Finally, Mick Herron’s The Secret Hours is a post-Cold War spy thriller set largely in Berlin that provides some historical context for the hopeless “slow horses” of his Slough House series. A deliciously cynical comedy of manners that is probably Herron’s most mature spy novel to date. Declan Burke


Liz Nugent never disappoints, and Strange Sally Diamond is among her best, a plot-driven psychological thriller and a moving character study.

A school shooting forces Sheriff Titus Crown to confront his hometown’s Confederate legacy in All the Sinners Bleed, where SA Cosby confirms his gift for crafting characters with nuance and empathy.

John Brownlow brings unabashed delight to the dour world of professional killers in the fast-paced Assassin Eighteen.

The energy of 1970s Harlem is intricately woven into Colson Whitehead’s Crook Manifesto, a glorious, noir-drenched novel of small-time fences and crooked cops, and a biting satire of that tumultuous decade.

Ongoing series had several standouts. In The City of God, Michael Russell again captures wartime Europe’s uncertainties through his richly drawn Garda inspector Stefan Gillespie. Ben O’Keeffe returns in Andrea Carter’s affecting Death Writes, investigating a local writer’s sudden death. Val McDermid’s exquisite Past Lying sees DCI Karen Pirie navigate Edinburgh’s murderous literary world during the Covid lockdown. Elizabeth Mannion


True crime took the spotlight in several 2023 standouts, including sharply entertaining novels such as Catherine Ryan Howard’s The Trap and Daniel Sweren-Becker’s Kill Show, along with nonfiction such as Mark O’Connell’s impressive A Thread of Violence.

Noir offered much, too. Gothic unease builds throughout Megan Abbott’s claustrophobic Beware the Woman as pregnant protagonist Jacy slowly finds herself trapped by her husband and his father. Set against the pandemic, Laura Lippman’s Prom Mom gleams with barely dormant secrets and the lies people tell themselves to get by. Jordan Harper’s terrific Everybody Knows charts a deadly Hollywood populated by conflicted characters who test (and sometimes earn) readers’ empathy.

A regular highlight of Irish crime fiction, Jane Casey takes her London cops on assignment to cut-throat suburbia in The Close, deftly moving Maeve Kerrigan and Josh Derwent through their gratifyingly long-simmering arcs.

Finally, among the year’s most inventive mysteries is Francis Spufford’s Cahokia Jazz, set in an alternate-timeline 1920s America where native populations largely survived colonisation. Grounded (like Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union) in hard-boiled characters and a what-if plot, it’s darkly lyrical and memorably original. Brian Cliff

Declan Burke

Declan Burke

Declan Burke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a novelist and critic