As we approach part 11 of my 20 books of 2020 series (numbers 201-220), I would like to say a big thank you to those of you who have followed me on this journey so far. This milestone means a lot to me and so, I've chosen to share something special with you. The Top 10 Best Modern Crime Novels I've Read!
I can't lie, when it comes to crime, I tend to read nonfiction more. I like Vincent Bugliosi, Jeff Guinn, Anne Rule etc. I could go on forever about my nonfiction crime books but this here is about fiction. I've read a lot of crime fiction - but I've never thought about my personal favourites ever. It took me some time to think about this because I wanted to make it absolutely correct. This is really the first time I've documented my favourite modern crime fiction novels. So please, if you will give me some time...
What is Modern Crime Fiction?
The first thing we need to define is what 'modern' crime is. Modern Crime is crime in the modern era - after the reign of Queen Victoria (sorry Sherlock Holmes, but you won't be featuring!). For those of you who do not know this, the British Golden Age of Crime was around 1930 and 1940, so you can expect some books from that era to be on this list.
I've loved crime fiction for a long time but I tend to steer clear of it and I'll tell you exactly why. When I start reading crime fiction, I don't necessarily stop for a long while. Those of you who follow my Instagram and have seen what I read will know that it takes a lot out of me to pull myself away from a modern crime binge-read. This is probably why I find it so hard to put them into a list - my binge-reads tend to go on and on forever.
If you're looking for more modern and unknown crime fiction that has slowly faded into obscurity then I think this list may be for you. I hope you get as much out of it as I did when I was reading these books. Crime fiction is about staying with the plot and characters from the beginning to the end and a good crime novel always has a twist in the narrative. It takes you one way but then, hints to another direction. As there is normally a lot going on, you don't tend to notice this 'other direction' and end up following the more obvious lead only to realise you were wrong the whole time. A good crime novel will give you hints to the ending, a great crime novel will never let you notice them.
Another thing a good crime novel does is it leads you on a trail with the characters. There are normally one or two characters following the case very closely and so, you become involved with them. You become involved in the characters' lives and relationships, their ups and downs and ultimately, you should be aware of some secrets and hatreds they have for other characters. Good crime novels will always give you this information, great crime novels will make you work it out on your own.
A Very Short History of Crime Fiction
When crime fiction was at its peak during the Golden Age, it was really at its best. From that we got a number of amazing crime novels from Britain, the USA and yes, even other European Countries. I believe that the fascination with crime fiction grew in England with the Jack the Ripper murders and the fascination grew in the States with the murder-house of HH Holmes, often referred to as the world's first serial killer. This may have also grown with the increase of organised crime in the early 20th century.
However, some of the books written in modern crime fiction have either faded into obscurity or were the only novels by those particular writers. I hope you give them a chance in the near future and I also hope that you get some ideas on your next read from this list. You can never have too much crime fiction.
So let's begin counting down from ten to one, here are my top ten modern crime novels of all time...
My Top 10 Modern Crime Novels of All Time
10. Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson
I only read this in 2020 but it slowly became one of my favourite modern crime novels. I'm not going to lie to you, I did watch the (older) film version before I read the book but I tried not to let that guide my vision of what I was reading. The language is absolutely captivating because it seems to have been written in some sort of rage. It is a brilliantly clever book with some of the best characters I've read in crime.
9. A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes
Jonathan Lethem is absolutely correct when he calls these novels of the Harlem Detectives series 'cool'. Yes, they are the epitome of cool. I read this book some time last year and I could not help but enjoy every single second of it. I love the character of Coffin Ed the most because he always seems on edge and pretty brutal in his language use. I read the entire series after this - it was one of the most incredible crime books I have ever witnessed and if you've never heard of it, well now you have. Clearly one of the coolest books ever written.
8. In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B Hughes
This book again, I only read in 2020. But again, I had already seen the film. I thought the film was good but I didn't think that it had the same impact as the book. At the end of the film, I was left with an 'okay, that's a really good ending...' feeling. Whereas, at the end of the book, I threw it against the wall, stomped my feet and fell on my bed kicking my legs in the air and shouting 'oh my god that ending what the actual hell!" So you can imagine what the other people in my house thought of that. To be honest, I'm still thinking about that ending right now.
7. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
I read this book whilst I was in school and I absolutely loved it. It's one of those books I actually read before seeing the film and I was quite young, maybe about thirteen or fourteen when I read it. I watched the film afterwards and though the film was good, the book I thought, was a lot darker. The book felt like more of a psychological terror whereas the film just about thrilled me a little. There's far more tension in the book than you can imagine and when the duplicitous nature of characters starts to unfold, you become consumed by this eerie paranoia that litters throughout the novel.
6. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Yes, I did watch the film before reading the book. This one was again, a very very long time ago. I was possibly around fourteen when I read the book and I was younger than that when I saw the film for the first time. I read the book purely because I'd seen the film and the book does not disappoint. Both the film and the book I thought were excellent advances in characterisation in crime. There is a lot of dark and intense language that tends to give you the creeps in the book and when people start turning up dead, that's when the shit gets real. I've read this book a few times over the years and well, it always just gets better with age.
5. Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate
This book I only read this year but I absolutely enjoyed myself. I was immersed from start to finish. At the beginning of the book, you meet the jury and then, in the second part, you see the case. At the end, they both come together and you get this almost "12 Angry Men" intensity where a jury is deciding what will happen to this woman who has killed her nephew (or is suspected of doing so). The twist in the story will leave you speechless because it all has something to do with the name of a rabbit. But seriously, it is a twist that was so out there, I would have never have thought of it. You will never guess.
4. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Now, I was quite young when I read this book for the first time. I then read it again at about 19, around three or four years later. But I can honestly tell you that this is one of the best books I've ever read. Now, I know it is not necessarily fiction but it is not really classed as nonfiction either because there are many embellishments upon the story of the book. This book practically invented the true crime genre and has been spinning around in my mind ever since I first read it. The language keeps you captivated like a novel but to know that the crime in the book actually took place kind of makes you feel sick. Truman Capote is one of my favourite people to ever live and this book is only one of the many reasons why.
3. Thirteen Guests by J Jefferson Farjeon
I only read this one this year but seriously it was so good that I didn't put it didn't put it down until I was completely finished with it. It is one of those books that kind of leaves you thinking 'my bloody god what?' When a man falls down a ditch and dies leaving his watch broken on the time of his death, an investigation is launched into a country house where 13 people are staying. After this, one of the guests dies in mysterious circumstances, a woman has run away with the murder weapon and a journalist is following the case a bit too closely. Whilst a painter tries to piece together why a dog was stabbed and the window to his studio broken, this book unravels into a winding tunnel of an absolute mindfuck that you'll never see coming.
2. Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay
When a woman turns up dead at a train station, it first looks like she just fell down. But upon closer inspection, someone was looking for a brooch. When a man is arrested, people think that he's the guy. But he really isn't. An inspector is sent to search through the family and their belongings. With a nephew that profits from her death and has her pearls, a niece that lives in her house and a few other shady characters each with their own motive, this story just gets more and more intense by the second. You won't find out who did it until the end and when you do, it'll become so obvious to you as to what happened that day.
- Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
- Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
- The Godfather by Mario Puzo
- Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
The Third Man by Graham Greene
My favourite crime novel and one of my favourite films of all time, Graham Greene's "The Third Man" is a brilliantly clever and delightfully dramatic crime thriller in which identities are traded, disposed of and some people don't seem to know where they stand. In a world that does not respect itself, this incredible formation will come to show you really who the third man really was.