Best debut crime novel of 2023 shortlist

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Crime Fiction Lover Awards 2023 Shortlisted logo

The Crime Fiction Lover Awards 2023 are underway and as a reader you’re invited to vote on which books will win the accolades this year. Here we look at the six novels nominated by readers for our Best Debut shortlist.

For all the shortlists, and for information on voting, follow this link. When you’re ready to cast your votes, use the link at the bottom of this article to go to the voting form. The winner will be chosen by popular vote, and our team of contributors will also choose an Editor’s Choice award.

This shortlist is a great way to discover some new crime fiction talent if you’re looking for suggestions, so let’s check out the debuts…

City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita

City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita front cover

Sense of place is a vital part of many a crime novel and readers of Iris Yamashita’s debut City Under One Roof felt they were being transported to the fictional town of Point Mettier, Alaska. The setting is based on real-life Whittier and on this showing it feels a dismal and inhospitable place to eke out an existence. It’s the depths of winter as Cara Kennedy, a detective from Anchorage, drives through the only access tunnel after body parts are found on the desolate beach. Soon the weather turns and she’s trapped – and so are we as the inhabitants close ranks and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Yamashita employs her not inconsiderable crime writing skills to create an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia and dread while keeping her readers on their toes and the pages quickly turning. In January 2023, DeathBecomesHer gave this novel a five-star review.
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Lies After Death by KJ Dando

Lies After Death by KJ Dando front cover

Lies After Death comes from former soldier KJ Dando, and the author’s profession certainly informs his lead character, Tom Crane. Readers have praised the author’s attention to detail – particularly in the combat sequences – and since its release in October this page-turning action thriller has been hard to ignore. Now a fixer working in the Cardiff area of South Wales, Crane lost his wife five years prior to this story in a fatal car accident. She was run off the road and when Crane receives a message about how she died all his focus turns to hunting down the culprit, or culprits. Welsh crime fiction now has its own tough, lone wolf action hero and you can read our full review here.
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You’d Look Better as a Ghost by Joanna Wallace

You'd Look Better as a Ghost by Joanna Wallace front cover

The dark humour, dark twists and dark themes of Joanna Wallace’s You’d Look Better as a Ghost have captivated readers since this debut novel was released in September 2023. Claire is an artist in so many ways – with paint brushes, with claw hammers… you name it. Grieving the death of her father, serial killer Claire is motivated to kill again by a faux pas committed by one of her art world contacts, and she doesn’t stop there. Trouble is, someone’s onto her and Wallace beautifully walks the tightrope between Claire’s charm, wit and humour, and her dark side, which nearly always involves blood and gore. This novel received a five-star review from Erin Britton, here.
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Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorley

Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorely front cover

Scottish author Callum McSorley and his novel Squeaky Clean have the qualities a best debut shortlist needs. There’s a youthful irreverence in McSorley’s writing, a touch of naivety in his characters, and sense of street-level realism in his storytelling. The setting is a Glasgow carwash – similar to where McSorley worked while he honed his crime writing skills. While Scottish crime fiction has plenty of big names, the hitherto unknown McSorley scooped this year’s McIlvanney Prize but, just as importantly, readers have attached themselves to his down-and-out protagonist, Davey Burnet. When Davey crosses drugs and prostitution kingpin Paulo McGuinn, he finds himself more or less owned by the gangster and the target of the big man’s enemies. Meanwhile, failed DI Allie McCoist is sniffing around the carwash, hoping against hope that she can catch a big fish and reinvigorate her career. It’s wild. It’s sweary. It’s brutal. And sometimes, it’s funny.
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The Peacock and the Sparrow by IS Berry

The Peacock and the Sparrow by IS Berry front cover

American debut author IS Berry has produced one of the hottest hits in espionage fiction and we hope to see it on bookshelves around the world very soon. Berry was a CIA operations officer for six years, working in locations across the Middle East, including hotspots such as Baghdad. That experience underpins this tale of the Arab Spring. Tasked with monitoring Iranian involvement in Bahrain, washed out agent Shane Collins is caught up in the local revolution. Through his lover and an informant’s role in a death we get to examine the America’s role in the region and the unfolding situation. This is not the spy novel we have become accustomed to. With its literary feel and a touch of noir, The Peacock and the Sparrow gives us a different view on the region, while its finely drawn characters reveal how big shifts in world affairs always come down to the lives of ordinary people. Sharp and intelligent, espionage for grown ups.
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The Trial by Rob Rinder

The Trial by Rob Rinder front cover

Criminal barrister and TV personality Rob Rinder – AKA Judge Rinder – is the latest celebrity to find a spot on the crime fiction shelves, and he’s taken the old adage of writing about what you know to heart with The Trial. Think Rumpole meets John Grisham as Rinder introduces us to trainee barrister Adam Green, thrown in at the deep end to defend a career criminal accused of poisoning hero police officer Grant Cliveden in the Old Bailey, no less. Rinder employs his experience in the British legal system to take readers behind the scenes at trial and in chambers via a legal thriller with an in-depth investigation, a fascinating look at what really happens in chambers, and some light touches of humour as we see the legal system at work. The Trial has enjoyed huge sales and book two is promised next year.
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