Best crime fiction books
Best crime fiction books
Clapham author Julie Anderson reveals the best crime fiction novels to while away the winter evenings…
It’s the New Year, so how about some traditional crime fiction to while away the winter evenings as you wait for Spring to return? There’s nothing like a good crime series for entertainment across the dark, winter months. Here are a few starters, all of them by award-winners or award nominees.
Salt Lane by William Shaw (Quercus, 2018, £8.99)
This is the first of Shaw’s DS Alex Cupidi series set on Romney Marsh and the South coast. His policewoman protagonist is a newcomer to the area with a complicated, more metropolitan, history. We see her failing to fit in and her tangled personal life, but it’s her intelligence and downright cussedness which eventually cracks the case, though not without considerable danger to herself. Aside from being a first-rate crime novel Salt Lane features very contemporary problems, like immigration, people trafficking, refugees and rural poverty. The plot is grounded in modern, authentic reality as well as the unearthly landscape of the marsh. (The Alex Cupidi series runs to three books at time of writing, the latest released in 2021.)
The Crossing Places by Ellie Griffiths (Quercus, 2009, £8.99)
First in the tremendously popular Dr Ruth Galloway series The Crossing Places is strong on setting, with a very creepy atmosphere. It has an interesting twist in that its protagonist is an academic, a forensic archaeologist, rather than police. A modern, professional woman living on the edge of the Saltmarsh, an isolated, haunting spot on the North Norfolk coast, Ruth is approaching forty, overweight, single and atheist (her ‘born again’ parents don’t know which disgusts them more) and utterly committed to what she does. Then a mystery turns up on her doorstep and she meets local DCI Harry Nelson. (The Ruth Galloway series is already up to thirteen books at time of writing, the latest released in 2021.)
Laidlaw by William McIlvanney (Black Thorn, £8.99)
Written in the 1970s and now recognised as the precursor to that wave of amazing Scottish crime-writing talent which followed – Ian Rankin, Val Macdermid, Denise Mina and many others – the Laidlaw trilogy, Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch and Strange Loyalties is set in Glasgow as its old, heavy industries pass away and a new identity has yet to be forged. We see the city, from aspiring suburbs to crumbling tenements, through the eyes of Jack Laidlaw, philosopher cop and almost as hard as nails. McIlvanney is a true heir of Raymond Chandler, the prose jumps out at you and slaps you round the face, before sliding slowly away, drawing you ever further in after it. McIlvanney has written several other Glasgow set crime novels as well as the Laidlaw trilogy. The latest, The Dark Remains, is a Laidlaw prequel completed by Ian Rankin on McIlvanney’s death in 2021.
The Puppet Show by M.W.Craven (Constable, 2019, £8.99)
Mike Craven’s Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw series began with a bang (well, actually, a human immolation) as it won the CWA Gold Dagger. The ex-squaddie, recently suspended DS Poe and unworldly, super-geek analyst Bradshaw team up to solve serious crimes in glorious Cumbria for the National Crime Agency. If you haven’t yet come across this diverting pair and enjoy a good crime puzzle, with a big dollop of humour, you might take a look at this. The stories rattle along at pace, mainly classic ‘whodunnit’s with the occasional ‘howdunnit’ too. A regular cast of characters tackle fiendishly difficult and occasionally gruesome cases, in some grim and some spectacularly beautiful places. (At time of writing this series runs to five books, the latest published in 2021.)
A Litter of Bones by J D Kirk (Zertex, 2019, £8.99)
Back to Scotland and Barry Hutchison (writing as J D Kirk) gets away from the Glasgow-Edinburgh corridor and takes us, for the first time, to the Scottish Highlands with DCI Jack Logan, ex-Glasgow, ex-husband, trying not to be ‘ex’-father. The Lochs, camping sites and grouse shoots as well as some diverting and quite scary villains tax the investigative powers (and sometimes the patience) of Logan and the trusty team. The characters are well drawn and appealing and a rich vein of Scottish humour runs through these stories. They are thoroughly entertaining. (At time of writing there are currently thirteen books in the DCI Logan series.)
Julie Anderson is a Clapham-based writer. The second of her Cassandra Fortune series ‘Oracle’ (2021, Claret Press) is out now and the third, ‘Opera’, will be published in September 2022.