The best crime fiction of 2018
Declan Hughes and Declan Burke round up some of the best detective reads of this year
Spy-fiction writer Mick Herron: “London Rules” is darkly satirical and beautifully written.
Jane Harper’s expertly paced and structured sophomore effort, Force of Nature, was even better than her blistering debut, The Dry, while its theme – the sins of the mothers being visited on the daughters – was culturally on point and deeply troubling. Mick Herron continued his examination of MI5 through a glass darkly in the latest Jackson Lamb novel, the darkly satirical, beautifully written London Rules. Laura Lippman’s Sunburn was an inspired reimagining of James M Cain’s fever dream intensity as contemporary feminist fable, deftly braced with ingenious twists and turns and artfully rendered in achingly cool, side of the mouth prose.
Liz Nugent’s spellbinding Skin Deep charted the progress of the monstrous Cordelia Russell as she journeys from the west of Ireland to the south of France in flight from her turbulent past, only to find it, inevitably, waiting for her. AL Gaylin’s If I Die Tonight, about the profound unknowability of teenage boys, the volatility of female desire and the ferocious power of the social media mob, was an essential primer of suburban anxiety, hypocrisy and fear. Joseph Knox’s glittering, delirious The Smiling Man was the second novel to feature Manchester-based Detective Aidan Waits, a hard-boiled hero with a dark past, a dubious future and the sensibility of a doomed poet. Domenic Stansberry had the inspired idea of transposing The White Devil, John Webster’s first great tragedy, to present day Rome, lacing it with aphoristic wit and recounting it in an eerie, shimmering flow.
Andrew Martin’s delightful The Martian Girl was an ingeniously constructed, metafictional tale of literary obsession across time, centring on two charismatic women: sexy, restless playwright Jean and the mysterious Martian Girl herself, turn-of-the-century mind-reader Kate French. While You Sleep, Stephanie Merritt’s atmospheric chiller set on a remote Scottish island, was a genuinely terrifying, unsettlingly erotic blend of supernatural and physical peril. Set in the dog days of the first World War, WC Ryan’s A House of Ghosts was an intelligent, absorbing, exquisitely spooky country house mystery that, in Cartwright and Donovan, introduced an attractive, jousting pair of will-they/won’t-they lead detectives. The highlight of 2018 was the return of Claire DeWitt, Sara Gran’s irresistible private detective, in the heady mix of classic noir, prodigious substance ingestion, legendary girl detectives and mystical self-exploration that was The Infinite Blacktop.
Declan Burke’s choices
Mick Herron’s London Rules (John Murray), the fifth in his blackly comic Jackson Lamb spy series, got the year off to a cracking start as it filleted the pretensions of Britain’s contemporary intelligence forces. Dirk Kurbjuweit delivered a gripping account of domestic terror in Fear (Orion), in which a family comes to terms with living cheek-by-jowl with its stalker. Alafair Burke’s 12th novel, The Wife (Faber), surfed the #metoo zeitgeist in a psychological thriller about a woman forced to second-guess her instincts and principles.
Set in the Australian Outback, Jane Harper’s brilliant second novel, Force of Nature (Little, Brown), proved her award-winning debut The Dry was no fluke. Olivia Kiernan’s Dublin-set police procedural debut, Too Close to Breathe (Riverrun), immediately established her as the heir to Tana French’s throne. Another debut, Cormac O’Keeffe’s Black Water (Black and White), was set on Dublin’s Grand Canal and delivered the darkest noir Irish crime fiction had to offer this year.
John Connolly’s The Woman in the Woods (Hodder & Stoughton) was the 16th in his Charlie Parker series of Maine-set private eye novels, which reliably wove supernatural chills through a classic hardboiled set-up. Meanwhile, in Memento Mori (Bloomsbury), Ruth Downie’s series investigator, the Roman medicus Ruso, sets out to disprove a supernatural element in a murder in the spa town Aquae Sulis, aka modern Bath. Megan Abbott’s Give Me Your Hand (Picador) was a gripping psychological thriller which drilled down through the genre’s conventions to get to the biochemistry of sociopathy.
Under the Night (Faber) by Alan Glynn was a thrilling ride through the darker pages of recent American history, and served as a prequel to, and sequel of, his debut The Dark Fields. Michael Connelly’s Dark Sacred Night (Orion) brought together Harry Bosch and Renée Ballard to investigate the cold case of a teenage girl murdered some decades ago. Eoin McNamee’s The Vogue was a lyrical, darkly poetic account of historical abuse and cold-blooded murder in small-town Northern Ireland. Liz Nugent’s third novel, Skin Deep (Penguin), blended reimagined Irish folktales and the contemporary psychological thriller to spectacular effect. Finally, Kevin McCarthy’s Wolves of Eden (WW Norton) was an epic account of a murder investigation conducted in the Old West as Fort Phil Kearny finds itself besieged by Chief Red Cloud.