DeathBecomesHer: Top five books of 2023

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It’s been a busy old year, and as a consequence reading has had to take something of a back seat. Which means that I’ve been concentrating on quality over quantity in 2023, while topping up my longing for a cracking good tale by sampling a fair few audiobooks too. But reading is my first love, and I’ve been fortunate indeed to cast my eye over some brilliant books in the past 12 months. After much deliberation, these are my five favourites – and they make quite an eclectic grouping!

5 – When We Fall by Aoife Clifford

When We Fall by Aoife Clifford front cover

Aussie crime has become quite a thing in recent years, with authors from Down Under cornering the market in books set in dusty and desolate areas of the Outback. Which is what makes When We Fall stand out from the crowd. Aoife Clifford’s story unfolds in a little seaside place in southern Australia, where the locals are trying – and failing – to attract new tourists. At its centre is the fractured relationship between a mother and daughter, and this is beautifully wrought in a book that engrosses and entertains. It’s a murder mystery that takes a long look at dementia – but manages to conjure up light amid all the darkness. One that will stay with me. Read our review here.
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4 – Voices of the Dead by Ambrose Parry

Voices of the Dead by Ambrose Parry front cover

Jumping into a well established historical crime series at book four could be a mistake – but not with Voices of the Dead by husband and wife team Chris Brookmyre and Dr Marisa Haetzman, AKA Ambrose Parry. The pair deftly introduce newcomers to Edinburgh-based Dr Will Raven and would-be medic Sarah Fisher without over-egging the pudding – and the result is a cracking read that opens with a dramatic scene in an old theatre and just keeps on entertaining and confounding its readers. This writing team deftly weaves historical fact in amongst the fiction, bringing the 1850s to life in the process. A great companion for a dark winter’s night. Here’s our review.
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3 – Other Women by Emma Flint

Other Women by Emma Flint front cover

More recent history is the jumping off point for Emma Flint’s Other Women, which is set in 1920s London and Sussex and is based on a real-life murder case. What makes this book a little different is that the narrative is told through the perspectives of two women – the mistress and the wronged wife – with both handled sympathetically and cleverly by an author who excels in characterisation and creating an authentic sense of time and place, using contemporaneous newspaper articles to great effect to evoke a period in which women were generally treated as second-class citizens. This is an immersive read that pulls you in and doesn’t let up until the final page is turned. Read our review here.
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2 – City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita

City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita front cover

Claustrophobic psychological thrillers are right up my street, and they don’t come more closed-in than Iris Yamashita’s City Under one Roof, set in the fictional town of Point Mettier, Alaska. It’s cold and forbidding – and so are the locals when a detective from Anchorage arrives through the only access tunnel to investigate the discovery of body parts on the desolate beach. Settle back for a cleverly plotted, engrossing book that deftly manages to combine a sense of overpowering vastness with a cloying claustrophobia. A fantastic debut from an author who was nominated for an Oscar for her screenwriting work on the movie Letters from Iwo Jima. Find out more in our review.
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1 – Calico by Lee Goldberg

Calico by Lee Goldberg front cover

Calico by Lee Goldberg is unlike any other book I’ve ever reviewed for Crime Fiction Lover – and it is that uniqueness which made it unhesitatingly my book of the year for 2023. It’s a police procedural… or maybe a Western. It’s historical crime fiction… plus a time travel tale. To sum up, this novel is remarkable! With a narrative switching between the present day and the 19th century, Goldberg creates a wholly believable tale about a pragmatic cop whose work on a missing person’s case forces her to rethink everything she ever held true, plus a food blogger in the wrong place at the wrong time who soon has more on his plate than he can possibly handle. I’m a big fan of realism in my crime fiction, but this one has convinced me that nothing is impossible. Thank you, Lee Goldberg, for a book I will never forget! Read our review here.
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Click here to see my picks for 2022.

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