Crime Fiction Lover: Top five books of 2023

4 Mins read

Outsiders and othering, control freaks and narcissists, extremes of wealth and poverty – these are some of the themes I picked up on in crime fiction over the course of 2023. A reflection of today’s world? Well, Cosy crime fiction was huge, too, as it usually is when everything feels unstable. However, escapism for me usually involves finding a book with a unique and interesting atmosphere. That has driven my selection this year, and not the usual green colour palettes used on the covers, which I’ve only just noticed!

If you like books that envelop, intrigue and put you a little on edge, you’ll enjoy these a lot.

Or, click here for our most wanted crime novels of 2024.

5 – Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorley

Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorely front cover

The mean streets of Glasgow await in this debut by Callum McSorley – a brutal yet sympathetic tale in which young carwash labourer Davey Burnett is drawn into the clutches of menacing gangland boss Paulo McGuinn. Trapped by the criminal, Burnett schemes his escape, hoping it won’t bring harm to his five-year-old daughter and her mother. Meanwhile, DI Allie McCoist, the last cop who tried to put McGuinn away, has also seen her life come crashing down around her but senses an opportunity to redeem herself following the weird goings on at the carwash. The phonetic Glaswegian dialogue aside, Squeaky Clean is superb for both story and characters. It feels like pulp fiction at first but runs much deeper and McSorley brings something fresh vitality to the Scottish crime fiction scene. Read the full review here.
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4 – Killing Moon by Jo Nesbo

Killing Moon by Jo Nesbo, Harry Hole thriller, front cover

The Norwegian author Jo Nesbo has been taking time-outs from writing his Harry Hole series but in 2023 the former investigator is press ganged into helping an Oslo property magnate prove his innocence when two young women go missing after attending one of his parties. Nesbo is as devious in his plotting as ever, bringing Hole back together with old friends and foes, and giving us a killer with an MO that is certainly the most inventive I’ve seen this year. Killing Moon has a superb climax during which you’re never sure who is in peril nor who the killer is, with a late summer lunar eclipse adding atmosphere to the gripping and violent final scenes. Do not read after eating. Seriously. Read the full review here.
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3 – The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis

The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis front cover

My top three are very hard to separate – each is superb. I really looked forward to the return of Bret Easton Ellis, and The Shards will take you back, somewhat, to the feel of American Psycho. Here, the author fictionalises his own coming of age as a senior at an expensive Los Angeles private school in 1981. The 17-year-old Bret has a beautiful girlfriend, a couple of secret boyfriends, a talent for writing and a theory that he and his friends are being hunted by a serial killer called The Trawler. He begins conducting his own investigation, of sorts, when someone close to him is murdered and learns about the strange messages, rearranged furniture, missing pets and other terrifying things around each killing. Bret lives life as much in his head as in the real world, leading to an intense, disorientating and captivating read. The terror dials up gradually all the way towards The Shards’ ambiguous ending. Read the full review here.
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2 – Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward

Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward front cover

Like three and four on my list, Looking Glass Sound is a serial killer story. This time, the year is 1988 and we are looking at the world through the bulbous eyes of Wilder Harlow, a misfit teen from New York whose family holidays at his uncle’s in Maine. Befriending Harper and Nat, he spends most of his time by the sea and becomes part of their deep, almost mystical friendship. For a while, women have been going missing in the area and someone has been breaking into cottages and watching children as they sleep. But then, author Catriona Ward throws us the biggest twist of all as it seems the tale and its outcome might not be Wilder’s story at all. He becomes the victim of other writers who take over. Murder, metafiction, that woodsy New England atmosphere and a brilliantly clever story are all present. The ending doesn’t sit comfortably, but we live in a world where everyone wants to seize the narrative, as they say… Read the full review here.
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1 – Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott

Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott front cover

Beware the Woman also takes place in the wild woods of America. Recently married and newly pregnant, Jacy heads to upper Michigan with her husband Jed to spend time with his father Dr Ash over the fourth of July holiday. It’s thousands of miles from New York to the backwoods cabins where he lives and where Jacy soon feels trapped. She has a displaced placenta and is ordered not to travel, so she can’t readily leave and, as Dr Ash grows increasingly controlling, Jacy starts to learn more about Jed’s deceased mother. Something is very wrong around the place, with the stern housekeeper Mrs Brandt observing everything and a mountain lion lurking nearby in the woods. Layering in the Cornish culture of the state’s early settlers and a modern take on classic gothic novels like Rebecca, Megan Abbott creates a scary, suffocating air of rising panic as well as a commentary on how women are often treated in today’s society. Beware the Woman is first class. Read the review here.
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See my top picks of 2022 here.

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