When my publisher told me I’d written a psychological thriller with my second book, The Mountain in my Shoe, I was surprised but very proud. I wasn’t sure I knew anything about such things. And now many people have asked me what crime novels I’ve liked, and I’ve tended to say that I don’t really read crime. Until I realised, when looking at my bookshelves and Kindle, that I do. Quite a lot of it. And the only reason I didn’t know is that I’m very genre-unaware. That is, I read for the story. I’ll read any category in the world if the story is there. If the beautiful writing and engaging characters are there. And in the following seven novels, all were present; while each had a different thing I love in my psychological thrillers…
The Murder Wall by Maria Hannah
A strong lead character
This novel stood out for me because of the strong lead character – DCI Kate Daniels. She’s complex; both direct yet private, a risk-taker yet a woman who wants to help others, confident yet insecure, torn between career and love. I adore character-led stories and Kate truly leads this book. Much seems to be made in reviews of her being a lesbian - and the central lesbian relationship - but for me this is incidental. Mari Hannah writes exquisitely, and Kate is a character I’d be proud to have created.
Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah
Masterly twists and turns
I first discovered Sophie Hannah four years ago when I read Kind of Cruel. The title intrigued me; the double meaning and play on words. These words are something Amber Hewerdine comes out with under hypnosis, words that mean nothing yet are somehow familiar. As a result of saying them aloud, she is then arrested. I was utterly hooked, with no clue how Hannah would resolve the mystery. And so I devoured the other books in the Spilling series, each one more addictive then the previous, each hook more bizarre and seemingly impossible. But Kind of Cruel was my first, and another I wish I could have come up with.
In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings
With Jennings, you get ‘the feels’. She has an extraordinary way of touching you while terrifying you. (I just read that sentence again and it does sound rather creepy, which is perfect for a piece like this!) I’m not sure what her trick is, but I sure wish I’d written In Her Wake. In the novel, Bella is on a personal journey to discover her own identity, and the shocking crime that happened twenty-five years earlier. Because Jennings gets you under the skin of her characters, you care for Bella, you care what happens, and so you personally feel every shock discovery, which makes this book truly a thriller on all levels.
Exclusion Zone by JM Hewitt
A strong sense of place
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with such a strong sense of place as this one. Set in Pripyat, Chernobyl, it follows the disappearance of a teenager, Afia, during 1986 and the famous reactor explosion. Hewitt deftly uses the backdrop - the horrific fallout, the dying land, and the freakishly altered creatures - to create an added sense of dread. I learned a great deal from this novel about the importance of the where as much as the who and the how.
Stasi Child by David Young
Era is everything
In Stasi Child, David Young has captured not a long-gone time, for 1975 really isn’t that far in the past, but certainly a very different time. By setting this incredible thriller during the Cold War in East Berlin, Young cleverly brings into play all the restrictions of the time, the strict regime, the power of the Stasi. This lends a dark, claustrophobic, big brother is watching kind of feel, and makes it one of my favourite crime novels of the year.
A Suitable Lie by Michael J Malone
Close to home is just as chilling
While far-flung lands and eras gone by make for fantastic fiction, so too do places quite close to home. And in A Suitable Lie - which is perhaps what people are now calling Domestic Noir - the setting is an everyday marriage, in the modern world. The difference is that there are dark secrets within this marriage, ones you might not expect. Malone cleverly manipulates your emotions, but with truth. The bare and honest prose grabs you roughly by the collar and doesn’t let you go until the final sentence. Another top read of 2016 for me.
Before It’s Too Late by Jane Isaac
Time running out
Tension is key in a good crime novel. And what better cause of anxiety than someone being abducted, while detectives search desperately for the truth, and for their whereabouts. In Before It’s Too Late, Isaac does it all. There’s the sharp writing, the relentless pace, the shocking twists, and above all - for me anyway - the sublime characters. An abductee we really care about, and an interesting detective, means this great novel is the whole package.
The Mountain in My Shoe by Louise Beech is out now and published by Orenda Books (£8.99)
A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself. On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.
You can find more information about Louise Beech on her website. You can follow Louise Beech on Twitter @LouiseWriter.