Writers are readers, and as we head towards the holiday season some of the world’s best crime and thriller authors talk to CRAIG SISTERSON about their favourite reads during 2022.
Stephen King and Sir Ian Rankin have said, if you want to be a writer, ‘read lots and write lots’. In among crafting their own terrific tales, many novelists devour and recommend lots of others.
So, heading into the holiday season, we asked some of the world’s best storytellers about the books that really thrilled them this year. There are some real crackers to add to your wish list.
During the pandemic, S A Cosby emerged as a new superstar of global crime writing – and he’s probably had to add new shelving to his home in Virginia, for all the major awards his sublime rural noir tales Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears have racked up. Talking to Cosby soon after the Capital Crime Festival in London, he shared that his favourite read of 2022 was Real Bad Things by Kelly J Ford, ‘a brutally honest intense meditation on the nature of the truth in rural Arkansas, that I couldn’t put down.’
Something must be in the water in President Bill Clinton’s home state for, while New York, California, and Florida have traditionally provided us with plenty of great crime fiction, award-winning author Vaseem Khan has also picked a book set in Arkansas. The author of two superb series set in India (‘Baby Ganesh Agency’, ‘Malabar House’ historical mysteries), Khan chose The Dirty South by Irish maestro John Connolly. ‘The “Charlie Parker” series is a perennial favourite,’ says Khan. ‘In this one, we go back to an early Parker case, the murder of a series of young black girls in smalltown America. As ever, the prose is immaculate, the characters wonderfully drawn, and the plot tightly wound. I loved it.’
Talking with two Celtic Queens of Crime, Ireland’s Liz Nugent and Scotland’s Val McDermid, provided further fantastic recommendations. Nugent, the Grand High Witch of twisted family thrillers who’s already earning plenty of buzz for her 2023 novel Strange Sally Diamond, really loved The Belladonna Maze by Sinead Crowley. ‘It seemed to fly under the radar, but I found this history/mystery/romance with elements of the supernatural set in a big country house in rural Ireland ticked all the boxes for me.’ Nugent also really enjoyed Jo Spain’s tour de force of a thriller set in Lapland, The Last to Disappear.
For McDermid, a big advocate for new voices, who 35 years after her own debut is still raising the bar, most recently with her ‘Allie Burns’ series, 1979 and 1989 – a standout 2022 read was Better the Blood, the superb crime debut from Māori filmmaker Michael Bennett. ‘A compelling, atmospheric page-turner with an authentic insight into Māori culture,’ she says.
Closer to home, Aussie crime writing royalty Sulari Gentill and Chris Hammer also chose debuts as their fave 2022 reads. For Snowy Mountains author Gentill, who’d recently finished a US sojourn in support of her new stand-alone The Woman in the Library, it was South Australian author Nina D Campbell’s feminist revenge thriller Daughters of Eve that struck a chord. ‘A fierce and brilliant debut which speaks to the complicated nature of the mother daughter relationship,’ she says. For Hammer, whose latest novel The Tilt may threaten some best of the year lists itself, Hayley Scrivenor’s Dirt Town was a standout.
‘There is so much to like above and beyond the atmospheric setting and beguiling plot,’ says Hammer. ‘The writing is elegant and nuanced, the tone compassionate. Yet what really sets it apart are the children, particularly point-of-view characters Ronnie and Lewis, as they struggle to come to terms with the disappearance of their friend Esther.’
Heading across the Tasman, Vanda Symon, whose ‘Detective Sam Shephard’ series has been shortlisted for major awards on three continents (keep an eye out for Expectant in 2023), was enthralled and unnerved by Nikki Crutchley’s psychological thriller To The Sea, about a beautiful place with violent secrets. ‘That book made me so damned uncomfortable!’
And finally, Nordic Queen of Crime Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s fave read of 2022 is an unusual collaboration: Reykjavik (published in English mid 2023) by bestselling author Ragnar Jónasson and Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Icelandic Prime Minister who is a long-time fan of crime fiction. Jakobsdóttir wrote her master’s thesis on the Icelandic crime novel, and in 2018 told The Guardian that crime novels were good preparation for her role. ‘They’re also about not really trusting anyone,’ she said. ‘That’s generally how politics works.’ As for the book itself, which will be available for English-speaking readers in 2023, Sigurðardóttir says: ‘It’s set in the 1980s around the Reagan-Gorbachev summit and is just really well written. Highly recommended.’
Craig Sisterson is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, and, most recently, the editor of the Dark Deeds Down Under anthology, and writes about books for magazines and newspapers in several countries.