Literary Hub

The Best Crime Books of 2017

Favorite Crime Reads 2017

After all the reading we’ve been doing, it’d be a crime not set out a list of our favorite reads of the year. From a serial killer in mid-century Glasgow, to a Texas Ranger taking on white supremacists in the backwoods, to the deaths of hundreds in the Guyanese jungle, it was a hard-hitting, provocative year in crime literature, a genre well-suited to the messy brutality of modern times. We present to you our idiosyncratic selection of favorites from 2017. With crime and mystery books, the taxonomy is always open for debate (and half the fun), but we decided to break down our year’s best into three categories: International Crime Fiction, US Crime Fiction, and True Crime. (And yes, we’re thinking of crime as a big tent—this is, after all, CrimeReads…) Selections come from Lit Hub criminologists (editors) Molly Odintz, Dwyer Murphy, and Lisa Levy. Check back in a few weeks for an even longer list, with contributions from Lit Hub and all over the crime and mystery world: 2018’s Most Anticipated Crime Books.


long drop

Denise Mina, The Long Drop

The short length of this brilliant, vicious send-off of mid-century Glasgow belies its thought-provoking complexities. Mina’s fresh take on the case of Peter Manuel, a serial killer symbolizing all the grotesque violence of a brutal city, sends Manuel on a pub crawl with the father and husband of some of his victims. As they get drunker, the lines between killer and mourner blur along with their vision. The Long Drop is reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s film M, contrasting the compulsions of a serial killer with the deliberate decision to do wrong, made by those around him.

(Read Denise Mina on telling the true crime stories of gritty Glasgow.)

behind her eyes

Sarah Pinborough, Behind Her Eyes

Sarah Pinborough wins the award for year’s best twist ending in Behind Her Eyes, and I can assure readers that they will never, ever guess what it is. At the start of the story, a woman goes out to celebrate getting a new job and hooks up with a handsome stranger, only to discover the next morning that (gasp!) he’s her new boss and (double gasp!!!) he’s married. The story takes a turn for the strange and twisted as she becomes friends with her boss’ wife, which fails to quench her attraction to her boss. Secret agendas are slowly revealed and compete for most disturbing, in a mystery which should be read and re-read.

easy motion tourist

Leye Adenle, Easy Motion Tourist

From high society on a tourist island to neighborhoods police dare not enter, Adenle takes us on a sprawling tour of his beloved Lagos. A web journalist heads to Lagos, ostensibly to cover the elections, but really to continue to mope over his recent breakup. He goes out for a drink the night of his arrival only to witness a mass roundup of Lagotian prostitutes after a sex worker is found dead, sans organs, and to get rounded up himself by several irritable police. A human rights activist and protector to Lagos’ large population of vulnerable sex workers bails him out of jail and recruits him to assist in her investigation of the disappearances of multiple women. Multiple perspectives and finely tuned fight sequences give Easy Motion Tourist a 70s action film feel.

among the ruins

Ausma Zehanat Khan, Among the Ruins

After the traumatic events of The Language of Secrets, Khan sends her series detective, Esa Khattack, to Iran, for what he thinks will provide some much-needed R&R. His vacation is soon interrupted by a group of fresh-faced activists, eager for Khattak to investigate the death of an Iranian-Canadian filmmaker in an Iranian prison. Khattak recruits his partner Rachel Getty for the Canadian half of the investigation, as she works on a separate case involving stolen jewels. Khan regularly draws on human rights concerns as part of her inspiration, and Among the Ruins, which explores the Iranian crackdown against the Green Movement in 2009, is no exception.

six four

Hideo Yokoyama, Six Four

When Yoshinobu Mikami is transferred over from homicide to press liaison, he can’t help but think of it as yet another thing that’s gone wrong with his life. His daughter is missing, after a small lifetime of arguments, and his first task as press liaison is to ask the father of a murdered kidnap victim to participate in a publicity tour by a high-ranking policeman, when all he can think about is his own failure to solve the crime over a decade before. In Six Four, Yokoyama grapples with institutional allegiances, the public’s right to know, small mistakes, and vast coverups. Fans of James Ellroy and David Peace should enjoy this sprawling novel.

state counsellor

Boris Akunin, The State Counsellor

Boris Akunin’s series featuring secret agent and worldly aristocrat, Erast Fandorin, is the perfect way to immerse oneself in late-Imperial Russia and to cheer for the revolutionaries attempting to dismantle it, even as Fandorin tracks them down and they succumb to the ordinary human foibles of love, greed, and exhaustion. In The State Counsellor, Fandorin is tasked with tracking down an anarchist assassin known only as Green, who’s earned his ire through impersonating Fandorin to gain access to one of his victims. The State Counsellor is one of the best in the series, with tightly packed twists and plenty of intrigue. (Also, SUCH a good bathhouse scene. Seriously.)


Kanae Minato, Penance

With echoes of fairy tales and a RashomOn-like narrative structure, Minato’s Penance is as ethereal and literary as it is a sharp, tight crime novel. When a stranger comes to a Japanese rural school, five schoolgirls greet him, failing to see the danger, and one ends up dead. When the survivors reach adolescence, the murdered girl’s mother puts a curse on each; by the age of 25, they must do penance for the murder of their friend and their failure to identify her killer. Each woman’s youth is warped by this mandate, and each ends up taking her own bloody vengeance for the terrible actions of men.

shadow district

Arnaldur Indridason, The Shadow District

The first in a new series, The Shadow District elegantly illustrates the Scandinavian twist on a classic crime fiction trope; when two seemingly unconnected cases turn out to be connected all along, in Scandinavian crime fiction, one takes place in the past and one in the present. This stretches the timeline out for a region that registers few murders a year in the present day, yet has an endless potential for past crimes. Indridason splits his narrative between a World War II-era investigation of assaults blamed on a fairy-tale figure, and a modern-day inquiry into the death of an aging policeman still obsessed with the unresolved investigations of his youth.

return to the dark valley

Santiago Gamboa, Return to the Dark Valley

Gamboa is one of the most ambitious novelists at work today, in noir or any other genre. In Return to the Dark Valley, he weaves together a disparate series of life stories, alternating between the madcap, the abstract, and the shockingly violent. There’s a priest turned para, a mystical orderly with a claim on the Pope’s bloodline, a young Colombian woman in self-imposed exile, and most affectingly of all, the poet Rimbaud, whose trajectory seems to both reflect and haunt the others. And of course there’s also the story of Santiago Gamboa, the author’s longstanding fictional avatar, here beat to a pulp outside a beer hall in Madrid, only to be himself arrested on charges of attempted murder. Gamboa’s plots are too bizarre and brilliantly sprawling to describe in detail. Just know that with him, you’re reading a master storyteller.

legacy of spies

John le Carré, A Legacy of Spies

More than a half century into his writing career and le Carré is somehow still producing fiction of the very highest order—emotionally intricate novels that peer behind the curtain of international intrigue and spycraft to reveal something fundamentally human in each and every characters. A Legacy of Spies is a coda to the epic that began with le Carré’s breakout hit, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. The actions of the unforgettable Alec Leamas are still at the fore, but now we’re in modern-day Britain, and the bold (read: reckless) games of yesteryear’s spies are under review. One of le Carré’s long-standing favorites, Peter Guillam, tells the story this time, with Smiley a kind of Third Man, waiting off in the distance. A Legacy of Spies is another brutal lesson in the callousness of bureaucracy and the way sins pass from one generation to another.


Leonardo Padura, Heretics

Padura, already an icon of Latin American crime fiction, seems to be getting more adept and more ambitious with each novel, as his hero’s investigations take on an ever widening swath of history. In Heretics, Mario Conde is approached by a man from Miami named Kaminsky with an exceedingly complicated family history—driven by Nazis and WWII from Europe, a Jewish family sets sail to the Americas, only to be turned away. Their son, who traveled ahead, is absorbed into Cuban society, then later the Miami Jewish community; the family is possessed and later robbed of a priceless artwork, the treasure that was meant to secure their future in the new world. Kaminsky and Conde’s investigation into what happened to that painting manages the usual Padura feat—at once a complex portrait of contemporary Havana, and also a look at the country’s traumatic history. There are few reading experiences as enjoyable and rewarding as a Conde story.

(Leonardo Padura on cooling US-Cuba relations and a lost generation.)

police at the station

Adrian McKinty, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly

Murder by semiautomatic would be common enough in 1980s Northern Ireland, but murder by crossbow? That’s worthy of an investigation by Sean Duffy, who in between half-hearted attempts to curb his worst habits and more dramatic attempts to restore his relationship (without having to move to the countryside), tracks the strange death by crossbow to the nasty origins of the vendetta that inspired it.

(Adrian McKinty on crime fiction and representations of the working class.)

insidious intent

Val McDermid, Insidious Intent

Val McDermid’s books are full of perfectly plotted loneliness; in her latest, she introduces a killer who plays havoc with the romantic expectations of single women at weddings, picking them up, romancing them, then strangling them. A subplot involves a teenager blackmailed over photos he thought he was sending to an online girlfriend, and Tony Hill and Carol Jordan continue to act as more than friends, less than lovers, to paraphrase Tony, unable or unwilling to bridge the gap to true companionship. A shocking ending brings a paradigm shift to the series.

(In conversation with Val McDermid.)

prussian blue

Philip Kerr, Prussian Blue

Kerr’s latest Bernie Gunther novel continues to fill out the mid-century world, one visit by Gunther to occupied territory or post-war wasteland at a time. In Prussian Blue, Gunther encounters Nazis on meth (dare I say, the scariest Nazis of all?) when he visits a sleepy skiing town in the midst of transitioning to a mountain stronghold of Nazi palaces. Hired to foil an assassination attempt on Hitler, Bernie takes the occasion to (as always) step on as many high-ranking toes as possible. Prussian Blue is further proof that a series of length need not decline in quality.

he said she said

Erin Kelly, He Said/She Said

There’s plenty of crime novels based on the violent delights and violent ends that occur at moments of crisis, but what of the dark deeds hidden by vast celebrations? Kelly’s latest has at its heart a terrible act witnessed at the height of an eclipse, followed by decades of deceit and reversals. Like Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, the first half of this twisty novel of psychological suspense is very different from the second half. Also like Groff’s novel, Kelly’s latest is an uncompromising and unforgiving take on the differing weight assigned to male and female stories.

scarred woman

Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Scarred Woman

Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series is both serious and slightly goofy, centering on a Copenhagen cold case squad headed by the gruff detective Carl Mørck and featuring his émigré assistant, Assad, their eccentric administrator, Rose, and a hapless cop named Gordon. This installment is a particularly well plotted and executed novel and a good place to jump into the series. Like other popular Nordic noir writers, Adler-Olsen explores social issues as well as spinning crime yarns, and Woman offers a terrifying villain in the guise of a female, misogynistic social worker.


the blinds

Adam Sternbergh, The Blinds

After having the details of their past crimes wiped from their brains by a controversial medical procedure, state’s witnesses can reside in (relative) freedom in the small Texas town of the Blinds, located in the second-least populated county in the United States. After assuming a new name composed of mishmashed vice presidents and hollywood stars, the residents of the Blinds have for the most part settled into a life of bland security. Sternbergh’s creative take on memory, justice, and community is much more than its wildly creative setup, and just happens to include one of my favorite shootout sequences ever.

(Adam Sternbergh on why the printed book will last another 500 years.)


Joe Ide, Righteous

It’s hard to think of an early career crime novelist generating more excitement than Joe Ide right now. His 2016 debut, IQ, was a breakout hit, with a protagonist (Isaiah Quintabe, aka “IQ”) who bridges the gap between Sherlock Holmes and Elmore Leonard, all within a setting (South Central LA and Long Beach) much deserving of literary attention. In his sophomore effort, Ide delivered again, bringing IQ back for more casework, this time with an even richer backstory and a worthy foil in the West Coast offshoot of a Hong Kong-based triad. Ide has a knack for madcap action but also manages to infuse his stories with deeply felt emotion. Readers are no doubt already looking forward to the next installment—hopefully another fall IQ release in 2019.

(Lisa Levy profiles author Joe Ide.)

bluebird bluebird

Attica Locke, Bluebird, Bluebird

Not only was Bluebird, Bluebird one of the timeliest books of the year—touching on the scourge of white nationalism and the widening social gap between urban and rural—it was also one of the most sharply written. Locke has proven herself a master of finely wrought human drama, exploring the nuances of family and communal bonds under the weight of history. In Bluebird, Bluebird, Darren, a black Texas Ranger, goes deep into southeast Texas to investigate the murder of a young man from Chicago, last seen with a white waitress at the local ABT (Aryan Brotherhood of Texas) hangout. The story is about generational conflict, race, and identity. Locke weaves these themes together with compassion, insight, and some truly chilling suspense.

(Attica Locke on Texas, code-switching, and the rise of white nationalism.)

dinner at the center of the eart

Nathan Englander, Dinner at the Center of the Earth

Nathan Englander is not a genre writer, but his latest falls firmly into the espionage category. It’s possibly the most depressing novel of espionage gone wrong and the failure of international friendship since John le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy. (Although, unlike le Carré’s longest masterpiece, Dinner at the Center of the Earth can be read in a day). A former secret agent in an desert secret prison, known as Prisoner X, thinks back on his mission to gather intelligence on Palestinian smuggling networks, his growing friendship with his target, and his decision to share Israeli intelligence with his target, landing him in the no man’s land of his current situation. Meanwhile, the former Israeli Prime Minister, and the only man who can pardon Prisoner X, lies in a coma, stuck in a memory loop of his own traumas and his toughest decisions. Filled with the tragicomedy of modern-day geopolitics, and a human dimension that defies the mandate to take sides.

(Nathan Englander on the never-ending heartbreak of Israel and Palestine.)

the child finder

Rene Denfeld, The Child Finder

Rene Denfeld helps traumatized children, professionally and personally. She herself was once a traumatized child, a subject she’s written about before and explored in her work. In The Child Finder, Denfeld’s third novel, a woman who professionally seeks kidnapped children looks for answers in the disappearance of a seven-year-old girl named Madison and a baby. The story cuts back and forth between Madison’s tale of captivity, a wildly imaginative rendering of herself as the “snow girl,” experiencing the beautiful solitude of nature as she endures brutal treatment from a silent captor, and the story of the finder, both her searches for children in the present and her avoidance of her own obscure, unbearable past.

(Rene Denfeld on the way we write about rape and trauma.)

city of saviors

Rachel Howzell Hall, City of Saviors

The fourth in Howzell Hall’s Eloise “Lou” Norton series begins with the death of a hoarder. A harrowing description of a house full of rotten food, dead cats, and so many creepy-crawlies is just the start of an investigation that takes us into one of the more disturbing tales I’ve read recently (I say this as a compliment), and my favorite in the series thus far. Lou’s investigation of the hoarder’s death leads her to institutional corruption in a mega-church and a story of twisted friendships stretching back to the Vietnam War.

little deaths

Emma Flint, Little Deaths

From Bunny Lake Is Missing all the way up to the film Changeling, there’s a long tradition in crime fiction (and in real life) of doubting women’s stories, and blaming the suffering of children on bad mothering. Little Deaths may be the best of all these stores. When a beautiful and poised woman’s children go missing, only to be found murdered soon thereafter, authorities immediately suspect the mother of the crime. After all, she seems too attractive, too well-put-together, too unwilling to grieve in public, too interested in physical connection, to go undoubted in her grief in a mid-sixties America obsessed with appearance. The mother does grieve—in private, through intimacy with strangers, through a delicate repair of her relationship with the children’s deadbeat father. A detective obsessed with her as object of sympathy and subject of investigation serves as the voice of judgement, his suspicion increasing with his sense of romantic rejection.

august snow

Stephen Mack Jones, August Snow

After winning a case against the city of Detroit for $12 million and traveling the world, ex-policeman August Snow returns to his struggling hometown, determined to help restore the city to its former glory. After swearing off dangerous work, he (of course) immediately becomes involved in investigating the murder of a socialite, uncovering a twisted tale of institutional corruption and family secrets. The first in a new series, August Snow does a fine job of introducing a cast of supporting characters, including quirky neighborhood figures, that should populate the pages of Jones’ series for what we hope are many more books to come.


Joseph Kanon, Defectors

Like the rumpled spies of le Carré’s Smiley series, Kanon’s characters are the perfect antidote to the glamor of espionage. Kanon’s latest, with its cast of defectors to the USSR, who’ve exchanged their quality threads for rough Soviet apparel, is the most rumpled of all. Defectors is carefully plotted as both a moody thriller and an introspective meta-examination of the spy genre as a whole—a publisher’s visit to the USSR to interview his defector brother kicks off the narrative, and as we learn more about his brother’s real story, versus what he is willing and able to write down, a layered, shadowy tale emerges that will mesmerize espionage aficionados.

(Joseph Kanon on the beauty of writing in the New York Public Library.)


Meg Gardiner, UNSUB

Meg Gardiner’s new take on the Zodiac case was my favorite thriller of the year, with its heart-pounding action and twisted kills, UNSUB will have readers tearing through the pages as we follow a San Francisco killer and the father and daughter who’ve tried to stop him, twenty years apart. There’s a sense of madness in UNSUB, both the madness of the killer and the crazed nature of obsession with an unsolved crime. A quirky and heroic supporting cast of characters fills out the narrative, as online communities obsessed with the killer aid police in solving the crime.

(Lisa Levy looks at daughters and bad fathers in Meg Gardiner’s fiction.) 

fall of lisa bellow

Susan Perabo, The Fall of Lisa Bellow

Two girls, one at the top of the social ladder, and one at the bottom, go to pick up a quick bite at the same place after school. A masked man enters the shop, and takes one of the girls with him, leaving the other behind. What happens after is a meditation on friendship, beauty, the dangers of girlhood, and “there but for the grace of god” lamentations, as the girl left behind has vivid dreams of the girl who’s been taken, and attempts to process her complex mixture of relief and jealousy of the other girl’s plight.

for time and all eternities

Mette Ivie Harrison, For Time and All Eternities

Harrison’s mysteries create a many-layered portrait of modern Mormon America, each tackling a different issue in the community. Her third is her first locked-room mystery (or, should I say, locked-compound mystery) and explores the ups and downs of plural marriage when Harrison’s amateur detective goes to meet her son’s fiancee’s family, including a patriarch, his several wives, and his many children. Soon after her arrival, a body is discovered on the compound—lucky for the family, they’ve got a soon-to-be-mother-in-law to call upon to investigate before they get the police involved.

obama inheritance

Ed. Gary Phillips, The Obama Inheritance

This collection of short stories has a clever premise: each tale seizes on one of the many wildly implausible conspiracy theories about President Obama and takes it to its logical, irreverent, and pulpy conclusion. The first story in the collection is a thrilling tale of undercover social justice, wherein Michelle Obama is part of a group of women who secretly enforce affordable drug prices for children’s medicines. In another story, a conspiracy theorist finds out that the true lizards in human skin are his bosses at his conservative radio station. My favorite story has Obama and Biden traveling back in time to save humanity from conservative space monsters. This book has everything.

the force

Don Winslow, The Force

Winslow followed his widely acclaimed narco-epic, The Cartel, with another monumental work. This time his sites were trained on another web of drugs, power, and international corruption, only this time it was inside the NYPD. In The Force, Winslow looks at a coterie of detectives inside an elite uptown unit, men who live the suburban Staten Island dream off hours, and on hours convince themselves that to be effective police, they must embrace the swaggering machismo and brutal violence of the criminals they’re chasing. Winslow is a master of hidden economies and one of our era’s foremost chroniclers of the drug wars. In powerful fashion, he shows that New York City, prosperous as it now seems, is an important hub in those very wars.

(Don Winslow on police abuse and the opioid epidemic.)

wonder valley

Ivy Pochoda, Wonder Valley

In her third novel, Pochoda goes deep into the seldom seen communities of Los Angeles, far away from the glitz of Hollywood and the well trodden streets of PI fiction. Wonder Valley starts on the 101 (with a naked man running through traffic) but its focus quickly shifts to new zip codes: Skid Row next to downtown LA, a desert commune east of the city. The story weaves together dozens of fates and manages, amidst the thrills and mysteries, to offer a clear-eyed portrait of mental health, homelessness, and the disenchantments of modern urban living.

(Read an excerpt from Wonder Valley.)


Julia Dahl, Conviction

You can read about having drinks with Julia Dahl here, but you should read Conviction even if drinking with crime writers isn’t your thing. Conviction is the third book in Dahl’s series about newspaper reporter and amateur sleuth Rebekah Roberts, who has a knack for inserting herself into crimes involving New York City’s Hasidic community. Dahl’s story of the murder of an African-American family is set against the backdrop of the Crown Heights riots in 1991, when African-Americans clashed with their Hasidic neighbors. Dahl deftly paints the story of an innocent man sent to prison for the murders while chronicling Roberts’s efforts to find the real killer.

(On Julia Dahl and writing crime fiction among the pious.)

since we fell

Dennis Lehane, Since We Fell

Lehane’s masterful noir tells the story of a couple who alternately cleave to and betray each other as the novel follows the sinuous path of their relationship. Narrated from the point of view of Rachel Childs, a former journalist who had a breakdown while covering the earthquake in Haiti, Fell combines the musings of a woman trying to put herself back together with the suspicions of a wife who fears her happy marriage might not be as solid as she thinks. As Rachel gets closer to the truth about her husband, she finds surprising reserves of resourcefulness in herself.

(The significant books of Dennis Lehane’s life.)


fact of a body

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, The Fact of a Body

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich blends memoir and true crime in The Fact of a Body, for a work as empathetic and messy in its conclusions as life itself. When Marzano-Lesnevich tries to find compassion for a child-murderer, she struggles, prompting her to look into unresolved traumas from her own past. This book is lyrical, haunting, and a strong statement against the assumption of objectivity, in favor of taking personal experience into account when writing fact.

(Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich on living with trauma.)

down city

Leah Carroll, Down City

Leah Carroll’s parents were both dead by the time she reached 18—her mother, murdered by mafia figures after a struggle with drug addiction, and her father, obliterated by alcoholism. Carroll writes blunt, beautiful prose about her parents’ short lives and her lingering grief at their loss. Down City manages to be a touching family portrait and also a scathing look at a specific time and place, Providence in the 1980s and 90s, one of the more deeply corrupt cities in recent American history.

killers of the flower moon

David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon

David Grann’s investigation into the systematic murder of the Osage Indians serves as a brutal reminder of our country’s many and diverse injustices visited on native peoples, and of the insidious evil that lurks beneath the values of certain small-town American communities. The Osage, owners of mineral rights that made them some of the early century’s richest people in the world, were picked off one by one, as local law enforcement did little to nothing (or perhaps worse). Scouring the historical record, Grann comes up with a new theory as to who perpetrated the crime, who covered it up, and who benefited most (and most suspiciously) from the massacre.

(On the dogged investigations of David Grann.)

death in the air

Kate Winkler Dawson, Death in the Air

Against the background of the deadliest smog event of post-war Britain, a serial killer stalks the streets of London. Winkler’s structure is ingenious—she puts a new twist on the “small crime within the larger crime” genre by comparing the vicious murders committed by a serial killer to the human actions that led to thousands dead from one of London’s worst pea-soupers. Both killers were enabled by the willful ignorance of those around them, and both were exacerbated by the conditions caused by post-war austerity measures.

Kate Winkler Dawson on being a parent and writing true crime.)

crime in the family

Sacha Batthyany, A Crime in the Family

Batthyany’s memoir of family and the Holocaust is another stunning example of the “small crime within the larger crime” subgenre. So frequently audiences today are inundated with heroic actions in stories of the Holocaust, despite the paucity of such heroic acts during the time period. Batthyany’s memoir is not one of those stories. Batthyany’s aunt, a steely Hungarian aristocrat obsessed with horses and strength, held a raucous dinner party for Nazi soldiers near the end of the war. Her guests concluded their festivities by shooting a number of Jewish prisoners in the family’s barn. Sacha Batthyany first learned of this event when one of his coworkers showed him a newspaper clipping describing the horrific celebration, and he decided to learn as much as he could about his family’s actions during the war, turning much of his family against him through his research efforts.

(Sacha Batthyany on discovering his family’s Nazi past.)

city of light city of poison

Holly Tucker, City of Light, City of Poison

While Tucker’s history of the great poisoning scandals of 17th-century France is certainly not the only book to discuss the subject (as evidenced in her detailed bibliography), it must certainly be one of the most entertaining. Holly Tucker takes us into the Paris of muddy streets, overworked police inspectors, back alley abortions, and fiendish poisoners as she delivers the shocking details of one of history’s greatest scandals. As Louis Quatorze wills his Sun Palace into being, friends and courtiers drop like flies as the Parisian elite employ subtle poisons to gain money, power and influence, or simply to cast away unwanted relatives.

hot one

Carolyn Murnick, The Hot One

Carolyn Murnick’s childhood best friend, Ashley, was savagely murdered at the age of 22 after spending several years as an LA party girl. Author Carolyn Murnick was wracked with guilt over the distance that grew between the two friends prior to Ashley’s death, and when a serial killer was apprehended for Ashley’s murder plus the deaths of two other women, Murnick decided to attend the trial of Ashley’s killer and seek answers and closure in her matured grief. Ashley’s life, coupled with the manner of her death, gives rise to an uncomfortable yet essential discussion about how young women are punished for their behavior, and how friendships are torn apart by the extreme spotlight and danger that comes with being “the hot one.”

american fire

Monica Hesse, American Fire

Hesse’s investigation into a string of dozens of fires on the Eastern Shore of Virginia morphs somewhere along the way from hard-hitting true crime into a twisted romance, then back into a dark tale of psychological games, as well as a captivating social history of setting things ablaze. American Fire is one of the most intriguing true crime stories in years. Hesse manages to capture the strange human drama unfolding (itself worthy of a Greek play, or maybe several) and to say something profound about the place of rural America in our modern imagination.

(Monica Hesse on writing true crime and YA.)

road to jonestown

Jeff Guinn, The Road to Jonestown

The People’s Temple, led down the primrose path from San Francisco to death in a Guyanese jungle, remains one of the most macabre and fascinating of American crimes. While many have told some version of the Jonestown story, Guinn’s ranks among the best and most thoroughly researched. Armed with new documents and interviews, Guinn provides fascinating context about the place of the People’s Temple within progressive West Coast society and shows how the erratic and paranoid atmosphere inside the church led to an ending more grisly than anyone could have foreseen.

after the eclipse

Sarah Perry, After the Eclipse

At the age of twelve, Sarah Perry lost her mother, a single parent, to a brutal murder. Her mother’s killer was not caught for over a decade. Many years later, Perry revisited her mother’s life and death from the perspective of an adult, and wrote this beautiful, affecting eulogy to the most powerful figure in her life. Those who are experiencing the initial shock of grief may find themselves turning to the self-help section, but a blend of true crime and memoir seems to me to represent the enduring effects of loss and the long shadows of memory infinitely better.

(Sarah Perry on misogyny, violence, and writing a new kind of crime memoir.)


Melissa del Bosque, Bloodlines

Bloodline is the result of years of investigative work and the efforts of a supremely talented reporter and storyteller. Del Bosque’s subject is the flow of cartel money across the borderlands and into the American horse racing industry. She follows the efforts of two FBI agents as they build a case against the Treviño brothers of the Zeta cartel. Among the many other shadowy and highly complicated financial instruments employed to hide their narco-earnings, the Zetas used quarter horses, backed up by a string of shell companies and straw buyers. Following that money trail, while also maintaining the suspense of a good crime story, is a truly impressive feat.

lady killers

Tori Telfer, Lady Killers

The roll call of history’s most famous serial killers is answered almost exclusively by men, but Telfer’s Lady Killers makes a case for recognizing and studying the women who joined that grisly club. In a series of provocative, learned, and lively profiles of history’s female killers, Telfer looks beyond the gory details (there are plenty) and investigates what role women have played in the social history of crime—how they were portrayed, punished and ought to be remembered.

(Tori Telfer on why we have such a hard time imagining murderous women.)

anatomy of innocence

Eds. Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger, Anatomy of Innocence

It’s difficult to imagine a project in crime literature more powerful in conception or execution than Anatomy of Innocence, which asked fourteen exonerated men and women to tell their stories, and in turn to have their stories told to the world by a group of talented (and well known) authors, including Lee Child, Sarah Weinman, Gayle Lynds, Gary Phillips, and Jamie Freveletti. The stories they share include women who kept their families together while unjustly imprisoned, self-taught DNA specialists, and a string of people who fought against the system in the most difficult of circumstances. This book represents the promise, the potential, and the necessity of crime writing.

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Literary Hub3 min citite
From the Diaries of Helen Garner: The Trials of Daily Life, c. 1979
1979 I’ve found a workroom I can rent, over a dress shop in Moonee Ponds. It looks north towards a low mountain very far away. In a corner, a hand basin. Its drain is clogged and it’s full of old brown water. Maybe mozzies will breed in it. I don’t c