Sonja van der Westhuizen: Top five books of 2023

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It’s been an interesting year for crime fiction trends. We’ve had it all, whether it’s the closed circle mystery novels with hen parties set a remote islands or mountain tops, the return to the gothic crime mystery a la Daphne Du Maurier, or crime fiction with true crime podcasters as the main protagonists.

We’ve also seen a surge of notable books by American crime writers. That’s not to say there weren’t spine-chilling reads from other parts of the world – the list below proves otherwise – but the Americans nailed hardboiled, LA and rural noir this year. Pick up any book written by Eryk Pruitt, Jordan Harper, SA Cosby or Lee Goldberg to see what I mean. And let’s not forget a firm favourite, Michael Connelly.

There were many favourites this year, but here are five that I reviewed for Crime Fiction Lover.

5 – The Girl in the Eagle’s Talons by Karin Smirnoff

The Girl in the Eagle's Talons by Karin Smirnoff front cover

When Quercus announced that Karin Smirnoff would take over the Millenium series from David Lagercrantz, I knew the Swedish author would deliver something different than Stieg Larsson fans had come to expect. The Girl in the Eagle’s Talons is a seamless fusion of Larsson’s two beloved characters, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, with Smirnoff’s distinct writing style. The strong social commentary that Larsson is known for is still present, but Smirnoff has a more literary style that is sometimes descriptive and other times brims with short, abrupt sentences that create an uneasy feeling. A worthy heir to Larsson’s throne. Read the full review.
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4 – The Acapulco by Simone Buchholz

The Acapulco by Simone Buchholz front cover

Simone Buchholz’s Chastity Riley is without a doubt one of my favourite main characters in crime fiction. The Acapulco once again features the deadpan remarks of the Hamburg state prosecutor, the German city’s gritty red-light district, and a gruesome series of murders. Riley couldn’t care less what the rest of the world think of her, and she has the attitude to back it up. Her tough persona and sharp one-liners make for a quick and enjoyable read with a decidedly hardboiled edge. If you like your crime fiction dark and bitter like your coffee, you can’t go wrong with anything by Simone Buchholz. Read the full review.
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3 – Something Bad Wrong by Eryk Pruitt

Something Bad Wrong by Erik Pruitt front cover

Something Bad Wrong checks two boxes for trends seen in 2023. In this a police procedural set in South Carolina in the present and early 1970s. The author casts a true crime podcaster, Jess Keeler, as the main protagonist. Corruption, police incompetence and family secrets are thrown into the mix, resulting in a slow, simmering brew that requires patience but rewards in the end. Blood Red Summer, the second book in the Jess Keeler series, will be released in May 2024. If you like SA Cosby, Gabino Iglesias and James Lee Burke, this is a must-read. Read the full review.
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2 – Yule Island by Johana Gustawsson

Yule Island by Johana Gustawsson front cover

This French-Swedish crime queen certainly knows how to pull the rug out from under her readers. And we all love the unexpected in our crime reads, don’t we? In Yule Island she again delivers a jaw-dropper with all the elements Nordic noir lovers enjoy and a liberal dash of gothic thiller. A remote island, a rich family with secrets, weird Viking rituals and a creepy mansion – what could possibly go wrong. Add two main protagonists with their own emotional baggage and you get an atmospheric and twist read. Read the full review here.
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1 – A Death in Denmark by Amulya Malladi

A Death in Denmark by Amulya Malladi front cover

Who doesn’t like an enigmatic detective? In her debut crime fiction novel, Amulya Mallad, an Indian-born Los Angeles resident, introduces us to the charming Gabriel Praest, a sharp-dressed, Kierkegaard-quoting jazz musician and private eye. Despite the fact that it is set in Denmark, neither the main protagonist nor the story are gloomy or brooding. On the contrary, this is witty noir story. The topics covered are heavy: the horrors of war, the treatment of women who were involved with German soldiers, the refugee crisis, nationalism and Danish identity. A lighthearted undertone guarantees a perfectly balanced crime novel. We look forward to what Gabriel Praest will get up to next. Read the full review.
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Click here for my favourite crime books of 2022.

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