CrimeFictionLover: Top five books of 2021

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The year 2021 ends in the same way it began: with a great deal of uncertainty. For many, it was a tough 12 months and though you may be tired of hearing it, this was the case for us as well. In fact, Crime Fiction Lover nearly didn’t make it and we might have had to close the site. Fortunately, we’ve found a way of sustaining it with a slightly more commercial approach – hopefully it will pay off as we continue to build a community of crime fiction lovers around the site and work with a wider range of authors and publishers in 2022. Our first ever Crime Fiction Lover Awards were a massive highlight of the year for us, bringing everyone together.

Like so many of our readers, books are what helped us get through the doldrums of 2021 and below you’ll find my favourites in year when I tried to change up my selections and fill the gaps between the other contributors on the site. Yet somehow I seem to have gravitated back to my normal groove – Nordic noir and atmospheric mysteries…

5 – Silenced by Sólveig Palsdottir

Silenced by Solveig Palsdottir front cover

In Icelandic author Sólveig Palsdottir’s second novel, police detectives Gudgeir Fransson and Elsa Gudrun start off investigating the apparent suicide of an inmate at a women’s prison outside Reykjavik. However, as the layers are peeled away they find that it may not have been a suicide and Kristin’s death may be linked to the disappearance of a young man 20 years ago and a series of rapes they’re investigating. Silenced gets you to look beyond the crimes themselves and at how wealthy and influential people are able to manipulate the vulnerable – in this case an unstable young woman – while others stand by. In the real world, stories like this are being uncovered all the time in the media, and it’s become a major theme in crime novels too. This is a great example of it from Iceland. Read our review here.
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4 – The Fine Art of Invisible Detection by Robert Goddard

The Fine Art of Invisible Detection by Robert Goddard front cover

Cleverly plotted and elegantly written, The Fine Art of Invisible Detection is memorable most of all because of its main characters. One is Umiko Wada, secretary to a Tokyo private detective who is so small and quiet she’s almost invisible. The other is Nick Miller, a London schoolteacher whose life is about to be turned upside down. Umiko’s been tasked with going to London to meet a third man called Martin Caldwell, who is linked to Nick. But then Umiko’s boss is murdered, and Martin disappears… It’s a wonderful mystery that moves at its own pace, leading to a global conspiracy and an explosive conclusion. Very enjoyable throughout, as mentioned in our review.
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3 – The Darkness Knows by Arnaldur Indridasson

The Darkness Knows by Arnaldur Indridason front cover

Arnaldur Indridasson’s The Darkness Knows is as gloomy and melancholic as 2021 was for many of us. It’s a tale of guilt, regret, inner turmoil and dark secrets as retired Reykjavik detective Konrad consults on a cold case that has been warmed up again by the discovery of a body. Konrad was never able to find Sigurvin after the businessman disappeared 30 years ago but now he has the chance to make up for it when his former colleague Marta asks for his assistance. Then a woman called Hérdis asks for his help as well – her brother was killed in a hit and run some years back but the driver was never apprehended. She thinks it may have been linked to Sigurvin’s death. As well as the mood and atmosphere of the book, The Darkness Knows is a great window on what life is really like in Iceland, a country that is remote and underpopulated while its society can feel a little claustrophobic. Read our review here.
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2 – The Edge of the Grave by Robbie Morrison

The Edge of the Grave by Robbie Morrison front cover

This debut is one of the most exciting reads of 2021 – particularly if you like historical crime fiction and books that put you into the moment through an immersive atmosphere. We find ourselves in Glasgow in the interwar period, and while hammers fall in the mighty shipyards of the Clyde, the police are pulling the body of a solicitor from its waters. Charles Geddes, son-in-law of shipbuilding magnate, has had his throat cut from ear to ear. World War I veterans James Dreghorn and Archie McDaid are put on the case for the curious reason that Geddes’ wife requests it. In fact, Dreghorn and Isla have history. At the same time, a gangland boss has asked Dreghorn to help find his missing sister. Poverty and wealth, Catholic and Protestant, law abiders and law breakers – The Edge of the Grave juxtaposes the many faces of Glasgow at a time when the police force was reforming. We’re looking forward to book two, and you can read our review here.
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1 – The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen

The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen front cover

For me, The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen was head and shoulders above any other book I read in 2021. It’s a crime novel that has everything – mystery, comedy, romance and tragedy – which is why it’s being turned into a film with Steve ‘The Office’ Carell as the actuary Henri Koskinen. Henri’s life is in a moment of flux. He has lost his job at an insurance company and his brother has died suddenly, leaving him an adventure park to run in the middle of Helsinki. Two problems arise straight away. Firstly, the park was in debt and the loan sharks want their money back. Secondly, the park wasn’t particularly well run and the existing team of staff all have an angle on how things should work. As a rider to the above points, Henri falls in love for the first time in his life with the artist Laura, whose plan to redecorate the park astounds him. While on the surface this novel is about the unique way in which a probability mathematician might deal with threats from Helsinki’s underworld, it’s about much, much more. A touching and inspiring read. To find out more about the rabbit read our review or, better still, grab a copy of the book.
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Click here to read about my picks for 2020, or here to see what my colleagues on the site chose this year.

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