My top picks for National Crime Reading Month 2022

June is National Crime Reading Month and here are six of the best crime fiction books I’ve read so far this year.

The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan is the second in his Malabar House mysteries set in post-partition India. I loved this books because it reads like a complicated puzzle that you have to solve. I also love the main character, Parsis.

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka is a fast paced thriller featuring five assassins. The best way to describe it would be it’s like reading a Quentin Tarantino film. Brilliant characters and a real page turner.

The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood is the first in a series sensitively exploring themes of homelessness and PTSD. Jimmy witnesses a murder, but will anyone believe him? Also features a wonderful dog called Dog.

I have enjoyed all four books by C J Tudor so far but I think The Burning Girls is her best. Expertly weaving horror and crime, this is a masterclass in character and plot.

Shari Lapena never fails to disappoint and Not a Happy Family is another page turner. A rich couple are found dead in their luxury home and several people are set to benefit from an inheritance. But whodunnit?

Slightly cheating because I haven’t finished it yet but The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell is absolutely brilliant! A great plot with complex characters and evocative settings. Loving all the contrasts in this book.

On the Shelf: May 2022 reads

I read a lot of books in May!

  • Keep Them Close by Sophie Flynn (proof)
  • Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
  • Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
  • Crossing the Lines by Amanda Huggins (re-read)
  • The Bad Sister by J A Corrigan
  • That Night by Gillian McAllister
  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (re-read)
  • The Burning Girls by C J Tudor

Keep Them Close is Sophie Flynn’s second novel and is due out in July 2022. It’s a gripping and intense psychological thriller, exploring the double-edged sword of anonymous internet forums. Chilling, creepy and frighteningly plausible with a clever twist. Well worth a read!

Considering there are more than 2,000 years between the publication dates of Letters from a Stoic by Seneca and Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, you might think they wouldn’t have much in common, but you’d be wrong! I was surprised how much I picked up from Seneca’s letters about handling the ups and downs of daily life. I underlined a lot of passages (sorry!) to come back to later.

I also found Digital Minimalism eye-opening in its explanation of how social media platforms and apps are designed to make sure you spend as much time as possible on them. I think we all know this on some level, but it doesn’t stop you getting sucked in. There are some good strategies in this book to tear you away from your devices. I managed to follow some, but not all, of the advice and it is recommended if you are worried about how much time you spend online.

In May, I did an event at Marsden Library with author Amanda Huggins, so I reread her novella, Crossing the Lines. This is a coming-of-age road-trip story set in the American mid-west in the 1970s. Beautifully written with wonderful descriptions of the American landscape and some unforgettable characters.

I am appearing at Essex Book Festival in June in conversation with J A Corrigan, so I took the opportunity to read her latest novel, The Bad Sister. This is a gripping thriller about the relationship between three surviving sisters from a toxic family, and a tragic event that reverberates through their adult lives. It has some parallels with Gillian McAllister’s novel That Night, in which three siblings cover up a murder in Italy. The siblings are very close, but can they really trust each other?

Jude the Obscure is one of my favourite novels of all time, but I hadn’t read it in a while. It’s always a pleasure to return to the classics as an adult because you read them so differently than you did when you first encounter them as a teenager. I remember really identifying with Jude as he struggled to achieve his ambitions of becoming a scholar, but this time I was intrigued by the women in his life and the difficult decisions they had to make. The book has such a tragic ending which still has the capacity to shock even though I knew it was coming.

C J Tudor is one of my favourite writers. I have loved all her books, but I think The Burning Girls might be my favourite so far. The main character is a vicar who moves to a country parish and soon discovers some pretty dark secrets. It has a bit of horror intertwined with a gripping thriller and I absolutely loved it!   

On the Shelf: April 2022 reads

In April 2022, I read a lot of crime fiction:

  • The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah
  • Mother Loves Me by Abby Davies
  • I’ll Never Tell by Casey Kelleher
  • The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood
  • Do No Harm by Jack Jordan (proof).

And one book for research:

  • Clay Models and Stone Carving by Irene Dancyger.

The Monogram Murders is the first in Sophie Hannah’s continuation of Agatha Christie’s Poirot series. True to Agatha Christie’s style, this is a golden-age puzzle mystery involving three apparently identical (but not in Poirot’s eyes!) murders in a London hotel. It will keep you guessing from start to finish and was a lot of fun to read.

I appeared on a Facebook Live panel for the UK Crime Book Group in April with fellow crime writers, Casey Kelleher and Abby Davies. I had already read Abby’s latest book, The Cult, so took the opportunity to read her debut Mother Loves Me. The Cult was one of my favourite books last year and Mother Loves Me is also brilliant. Both books are intense, creepy and claustrophobic. Recommended!

Casey’s latest novel I’ll Never Tell is a departure from her gangland novels and I really enjoyed it. Both writers are really good at capturing a child’s voice and creating gripping and disturbing narratives. There are some great twists in I’ll Never Tell.

I was a little apprehensive about reading The Man on the Street because I work in the homelessness sector, and I was worried about how it might be portrayed. I have to say that Trevor Wood is spot on with his empathetic depiction of life on the streets, the characters, some of the situations they end up in and the challenges they face. This was a great thriller with fantastic characters, and I particularly loved the inclusion of Dog. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

I picked up Do No Harm by Jack Jordan at Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival in Harrogate last summer, but I have only just read it. This is a high-octane thriller from the start which leaves the reader constantly asking the question ‘what would I do in this situation?’. I liked the way all the characters were flawed in some way, but you were still rooting for them.

I borrowed Clay Models and Stone Carving from the library for some research into one of my characters for book four. He is a stone mason, so I needed to understand exactly how you go about sculpting stone. It was completely fascinating and made me really think about the structures I walk past every day without noticing!

On the Shelf: March 2022 reads

In March 2022, I read:

  • The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan (The Malabar House Mysteries #2)
  • Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka
  • The House of Killers by Samantha Lee Howe
  • Kill or Die by Samantha Lee Howe
  • Lives of the Stoics by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan is the second in The Malabar House Mysteries starring Inspector Persis Wadia. Set in post-partition Bombay, this thriller revolves around the disappearance of a precious manuscript. A series of riddles sets our intrepid detective on the trail of a murderer.

I really enjoyed the historical detail in this novel and the way it is weaved around a gripping plot but mostly I just love the character of Persis and her budding relationship with forensic scientist Archie Blackfish. I’m really looking forward to the next one in the series.

Then it was all about the assassins!

I started by reading Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka. Five assassins are on a bullet train all with different agendas. The experience of reading this book was a lot like watching a Quentin Tarantino film. I loved the characters particularly the sinister teenage killer, The Prince. I read this in one sitting and was completely gripped from start to finish.

I have also been watching Killing Eve, season four on BBC One. If you’re a fan of the series, I would highly recommend The House of Killers trilogy by Samantha Lee Howe.

The first of the series, The House of Killers, was a re-read for me. It’s a twisty read featuring female assassin Neva and MI5 agent Michael who are irresistibly drawn to each other. I am now about two thirds of the way through the second book, Kill or Die and really enjoying it.

On a completely different note, I am also reading Lives of the Stoics by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. I am finding it fascinating to read about the lives of Ancient Romans and Greeks who practised Stoicism. It’s amazing how many parallels there are between their lives and modern lives. We still seem to be wrestling with the same problems!

On the Shelf: February 2022 reads

In February 2022, I read an eclectic mix of books: three psychological thrillers, a classic and a couple of non-fiction titles.

I read:

  • Two Wrongs by Mel McGrath
  • The Weekend Escape by Rakie Bennett
  • The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Monk who sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma
  • Lessons in Stoicism by John Sellars

The psychological thrillers all had very different settings – Two Wrongs is set in a fictional university and involves a spate of suicides among female students; The Weekend Escape is set on a stormy island off the coast of North-West England; and The Sanatorium is set in a creepy hotel, a former sanatorium, in snowy Switzerland. I enjoyed them all, but The Weekend Escape was my favourite as it was so fast paced!

I bought Dracula on a recent trip to Whitby. I hadn’t read it before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I particularly liked the character of Mina and the use of setting and atmosphere to add to the tension. I thought Stoker made effective use of multiple narration and I liked how the story unfolds through different perspectives.

I read The Monk who sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma after reading The 5AM Club. There is quite a lot of cross-over between the two books, but both are worth reading, particularly if you are looking for some focus in a very distracting world! At the heart of The Monk who sold his Ferrari is a rather odd allegory involving a garden, a lighthouse and a sumo wrestler (!) which is, at the very least, memorable! I have tried to adopt some of the principles Sharma advocates, but I am finding the early starts very challenging to stick to.

Lessons in Stoicism is quite a short book and very much an introduction to Stoicism. It was an enjoyable read but I would have preferred something more in-depth as I was familiar with most of the concepts in it.

I am now turning my attention to The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan, who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite writers. This is the second in the Malabar House mystery series set in post-partition India and it is really good so far! I love the main character, Inspector Persis Wadia, and all the historical details which feel meticulously researched.  

What are you reading this month?

On the Shelf: January 2022 reads

I started 2022 with some cracking reads!

In January, I read:

  • The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain
  • Call of the Penguins by Hazel Prior
  • The Survivors by Jane Harper
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

The Family Tree is a story of love, loss and family. Amjad is a single dad raising his children with the help (and interference) of their grandmother. The opening chapter is particularly poignant as Amjad cradles his baby daughter, overwhelmed by the sense of responsibility of looking after two young children while struggling with his grief.

The novel then follows the family over the next 20 years as the children grow up and become young adults, navigating the complexities of race, religion and family in a West Yorkshire city. I have worked in Bradford for nearly the entire time covered in this book, so I knew a lot of the locations and events, and I enjoyed reading about them from a different perspective. I loved the way the storylines were weaved together, and I was rooting for all the characters. Recommended.

Call of the Penguins is the sequel to Away with the Penguins which I thoroughly enjoyed last year. Octogenarian Veronica McCreedy is now the star of a TV documentary and travels to the Falklands with her charming co-host, nine-year-old Daisy. There are relationship problems between Terry and Veronica’s grandson Patrick to sort out and a journey into the past as he searches for more information about his father. I can’t get enough of this series. I hope there’s another book on the way!

The Survivors is set in a coastal town in Tasmania and Harper’s descriptions of the windswept coastline are superb. A body is found on the beach and links are soon drawn to a teenaged girl who went missing years ago. Everyone in the town has something to hide, including Keiran who has recently returned to help his parents move house. This is a classic whodunnit, but while I enjoyed the mystery, it was the setting that really made this book for me.

I think I have read A Discovery of Witches at least 10 times now! For me, it’s very much a comfort read, an escape from the real world and into one dominated by witches, vampires and daemons. The first of a trilogy, A Discovery of Witches takes us to Oxford, rural France and the Highlands of Scotland all from the perspective of ‘creatures’ who live in plain sight. I think what I love about this series is that it is unashamedly academic – there are so many details of history, genetics, religion and science that are weaved together in this parallel universe.

Another book I read was The 5AM Club by Robin Sharma but I think I need a separate blog post for that! I will see if I can stick with it for a bit longer first.

On the shelf: December 2021 reads

In December, I read:

  • Tall Bones by Anna Bailey
  • The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister
  • Explore Everything: Place-hacking the city by Bradley L Garrett (non-fiction)
  • The Switch by Beth O’Leary
  • The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

I bought Tall Bones after hearing Anna Bailey speak at the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival in Harrogate last summer. This atmospheric, haunting and chilling debut novel is set in small-town America and revolves around the disappearance of a 17-year-old girl after a party in the woods. The depiction of teenagers in a rural setting felt very authentic to me and I really enjoyed the twists and turns and the shocking reveal. However, for me, it was the characters that really made this novel special and I’m very much looking forward to her next book.

If you are an aspiring writer, I would recommend Gillian McAllister’s The Honest Authors Podcast, which she co-hosts with Holly Seddon. I really enjoyed The Evidence Against You – the protagonist’s father was convicted for the murder of her mother seventeen years ago, but was he innocent? After being released from prison, he wants to reconcile with his daughter and tell her the truth, but can she trust him? I loved the central relationship between father and daughter as they tried to come to terms with their past and discover what really happened.  

Explore Everything is a book about urban exploration that I read for research for my next novel. I found this book fascinating and it really made me question issues such as property ownership, our surveillance society, and the ethics of trespass.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary was a fairly light read, set in Yorkshire and London, and is about an urban twenty-something who swaps lives with her grandmother in the Yorkshire Dales. I preferred The Flat Share by the same author, but this was still an enjoyable read.

I’m a big fan of Joanne Harris and The Strawberry Thief matched up to my high expectations. The latest in the Chocolat series, this is about the younger daughter of Vianne Rocher, Rosette. When an old man leaves his woodland to the innocent teenager, old secrets and rivalries emerge. It made me realise that I have missed one of the books in this series, so I need to go back and read The Lollipop Shoes. I love the way Harris weaves magic into her novels and I found myself completely immersed in her world. It was an excellent book to herald the new year.

On the shelf: November 2021 reads

In November, I read:

  • Ask No Questions by Claire Allan
  • The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell (non-fiction)
  • Haven’t They Grown by Sophie Hannah
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger
  • We Can’t All be Astronauts by Tim Clare (non-fiction)

I have read all of Claire Allan’s psychological thrillers and enjoyed them. Ask No Questions wasn’t my favourite, but it was still an interesting read about a journalist investigating the death of a young girl 20 years ago. Has there been a miscarriage of justice or was the right man sent to prison for the crime? 

The Art of War for Writers has lots of great advice for writers, delivered in very short chapters (some only a page or two). It’s a book I will probably dip into again when I need some inspiration.

Haven’t They Grown has a really intriguing premise – what if you saw a friend that you had lost touch with 12 years ago and her children hadn’t changed a bit? My brain was on overdrive reading this psychological thriller and trying to guess the answer.

One of the teenaged characters in my next book is reading The Catcher in the Rye, so I wanted to make sure I got the references right. I haven’t read this book for years and I had forgotten most of it. Nothing really happens, to be honest, but it’s a great example of voice and character in action.

I have been following and enjoying Tim Clare’s podcast, Death of 1,000 cuts, particularly his ‘Couch to 80k bootcamp’ which really helped me kickstart my writing when I got stuck. We Can’t All be Astronauts follows Clare’s journey to becoming a published writer. You can’t say he didn’t pull out all the stops, from infiltrating London Book Fair pretending to be a publisher, to appearing on a TV reality show. Really funny in parts, but there is also a very serious side as Clare explores the impact of his mental breakdown and how writing aided his recovery. A lot to think about in this highly engaging memoir.

On the Shelf: October 2021 reads

In October 2021, I read:

  • The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
  • Watch Her Fall by Erin Kelly
  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara 
  • Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
  • Crossing the Lines by Amanda Huggins (proof copy)
  • The Strangeworlds Travel Agency 2: The Edge of the Ocean by L D Lapinski

I am a big fan of The Hunger Games trilogy, so I was excited to read the spin-off which takes us back to the origins of the Games when Cornelius Snow is a young man, acting as a mentor to one of the tributes. I wouldn’t recommend starting with this book if you haven’t read the others, or you weren’t a fan of the original books, but it was great to be back in this world and I am hoping this is the start of a new series.

Watch Her Fall is set in the world of ballet, and it was fascinating to get a peek behind the curtains of a professional dance school. I was a bit disappointed though that the whole book wasn’t set in this world though. A very enjoyable read and a good, twisty plot that kept me guessing.

I had come across Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line when it was appearing on the shortlists of writing competitions before it got a publishing deal. I’d always loved the title and the opening sequence, and the rest of the novel didn’t disappoint. It follows a group of street kids in India solving the mystery of the disappearance of children from their shanty town. Heart-breaking at times, and hard-hitting in its depiction of poverty, I am definitely following this series.

Confessions of a Bookseller is a non-fiction book I was given for my birthday. I enjoyed the wry humour and the ups and downs of running a book shop.

Crossing the Lines is an atmospheric and haunting coming-of-age story of a young girl escaping her fate and returning to her roots. With compelling characters and evocative prose, this is a journey of self-discovery that will stay with you long after you read the last line. Crossing the Lines was a proof copy and was published in November 2021.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Strangeworlds Travel Agency 2: The Edge of the Ocean. It’s a middle-grade book so I am not its intended audience, but I just love the world(s) L D Lapinski has created. I am definitely going to be reading the rest of this series. I’ve bought these books as Christmas and birthday presents and they always get the thumbs up from young readers.