And for the final instalment of my crime fiction faves, here’s my PERSONAL favourite type of story: a female protagonist, up against it: a crime is committed, pulling our characters into a cat and mouse game and/or down a rabbit-hole of skullduggery.
1) Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes (stalking / domestic abuse/ OCD).
When young, pretty Catherine Bailey meets Lee Brightman, she can’t believe her luck. Gorgeous, charismatic, and a bit mysterious, Lee seems almost too perfect to be true. But of course he IS: a vicious psychopath, he doesn’t just plumb the depths of physical violence, but mental anguish too … He even turns all her friends against her. This is in my Top 20 because the plotting and characterisation is just so rich; the two different timelines suit each other perfectly! Very often I find myself only interested in one of the time threads, but that’s not the case here. What’s more, Haynes’ depiction of OCD is so authentic and on-point. Had a serious book hangover after this one!
2) In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings (child abduction /disappearance).
A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella’s comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where she unpicks hidden truths and past betrayals. This made my Top 20 because I loved the rural storyworld here, plus the topical nature of it: what if, say, Madeleine McCann, ‘came back’ from wherever she’s been? What would she reveal about her life? But most of all, I loved the characters. Every single one here, primary of secondary, is memorable – from Bella/Morveren, through to her beach bum, boyfriend and even her dead mother. An absolute feast of a story that will stay with you.
3) Untouchable by Ava Marsh (sex work/ political corruption).
Stella is an escort, immersed in a world of desire, betrayal and secrets. When a fellow call girl is murdered, Stella has a choice: forget what she’s seen, or risk everything to get justice for her friend. I loved this because Stella is not your ‘average’ protagonist: she is an escort for her own reasons that are complicated and layered. This is refreshing when more often we see sex workers as drug addicts and victims. What’s more, Marsh shines a light on the sex industry and the double standards women face, without pearl-clutching or moral outrage. There’s fantastic characterisation all round, but ultimately it was the plot that really grabbed me. Fab story – but not for the faint-hearted as it’s VERY sexually explicit!
4) The Liar’s Chair by Rebecca Whitney (psychological thriller / domestic abuse/ self-harm).
This story follows the fates of Rachel Teller and her husband David. They appear happy, prosperous and fulfilled. The big house, the successful business . . . They have everything. However, control, not love, fuels their relationship and David has no idea his wife indulges in drunken indiscretions. When Rachel kills a man in a hit and run, the meticulously maintained veneer over their life begins to crack. This made my Top 20 because I just LOVED the writing: it reminds me of Gillian Flynn’s – quasi literary, cracking open some of our less admirable feelings and traits. Rebecca is not a ‘good’ woman, but we can understand this, without condoning her behaviour. Excellent ‘warts and all’ characterisation. Recommended!
5) Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (courtroom/ revenge / corruption). Another sexually explicit story – if you’re sensing a theme here you’d be right!!! Yvonne Carmichael sits in the witness box. The charge is murder. Before all of this, she was happily married, a successful scientist, a mother of two. As Yvonne faces hostile questioning, she must piece together the story of her affair with an unnamed figure who has charmed and haunted her. This made my top 20 because I was totally ADDICTED to it … I couldn’t put it down!!! I had to know what had happened, but most of all WHY. This hardly ever happens to me – not because the books aren’t good, but because, as a script editor, I am always breaking down the storylines into sections to analyse, I can’t help it. Here I got swallowed up wholesale – I even brought the book to the dinner table! There’s going to be a mini series of this on BBC next year, so READ IT QUICK!!