Drawn to a life of crime

There’s a certain segment of the reading population who eat up crime novels like the buffet is about to close. They get on hold for a library copy of the next Tess Gerritsen or Sue Grafton the moment the title is announced.

I am not one of those people. But in the last few years I’ve tried out a few crime novels and was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked them. If, like me, you are new to this genre and want some suggestions of where to start, here are a few mini-reviews on some of my favorites.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)

If you think you ever want to read this, get on hold now. It’s the top requested book in the Minuteman Network at the moment, and with good reason. This deeply psychological novel about a man suspected of foul play in the disappearance of his wife takes many turns, and you may never think about marriage the same way again. A brilliant novel, but proceed at your own risk if you are emotionally fragile.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (2008)

Set in Soviet Russia, this novel is terrifying on two levels. A serial killer is targeting children, disemboweling them before leaving them near train tracks. But this is happening in a society where crime is considered a Western phenomenon, and any suspicion of disloyalty to the government can cost you your life. Leo Demidov puts himself and his family at risk investigating a crime that the government claims doesn’t even exist. It’s almost dystopian, until you remember that this is what life was actually like under Stalin. The possibility of being doomed by as little as a poorly chosen word increases the tension in this novel exponentially.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2008)

Maybe you missed all the hubbub of a few years ago, but this Sweden-based series by Stieg Larsson took the world by storm, escalating the popularity of all Scandinavian crime fiction. The series is graphically violent, but stars a brilliantly smart and capable young woman who is fascinating both for her technical smarts and her social handicaps. Seriously, this is a woman you don’t really want as a friend. Until, of course, you need to get out of a jam.

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman (2007)

Lippman is best known for her series starring Tess Monaghan, but sometimes you really just need to read a stand-alone and be done with it, and Lippman has written several. This novel takes place twenty years after two sisters went missing in a shopping mall. A women involved in a hit-and-run accident claims to be one of those sisters, but her story – and her unwillingness to share it – raise many doubts. Not as action-focused as many crime novels, the well-developed story line and characters would appeal to readers who don’t normally read crime.

One For the Money by Janet Evanovich (1994)

Maybe you’re looking for something lighter, a bit less violent. The long-running series centering on bounty hunter Stephanie Plum will fit the bill. The heroine stumbles onto her career out of desperation, but finds that she really likes hunting down the bad guys. She is feisty and funny, and these books, starting with One For the Money, are a whole lot of fun. The audio books are a great choice if you want something to listen to in your car that isn’t so complicated you can’t pay attention to your driving.

These are just the tip of the iceberg, of course, and vary from fairly to wildly popular. Do you have recommendations for any hidden gems? What are your favorite crime novels? Let us know in the comments!

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2 Responses to Drawn to a life of crime

  1. Jenny says:

    Tana French’s books may be more “psychological thriller” than crime, but they do feature detectives on the (fictional) Dublin Murder Squad, and they are excellent. Jennifer McMahon’s books – perhaps more “mystery” than “crime” – are also spooky and suspenseful. And for those who want a local author, there’s Dennis Lehane – try Gone Baby Gone.

  2. linda says:

    I should have included some Dennis Lehane! I really liked Mystic River and Shutter Island. I’m honestly not sure where to draw the line between crime/thriller/mystery and sometimes I know I use them interchangeably.

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