Five must-read crime thrillers

Ann Cleeves – the queen of crime and creator of Vera and Shetland – chooses her top crime scenes


1. The Silence between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe


This novel features a crime – one of the worst crimes that most of us can imagine and particularly chilling after the terrorist attacks that occurred earlier in the year – but readers shouldn’t expect a traditional whodunnit. In each of her stand-alone novels, Staincliffe poses a dilemma. She prompts us to consider if we would have the courage or the humanity displayed by her characters.

The Silence between Breaths follows the everyday preoccupations of passengers on a train from Manchester to London. At the same time, in an ordinary home in Manchester a bright young woman discovers, by stumbling across information on her brother’s laptop, that he is planning to detonate a bomb on the train. The book charts the actions of the day, from the moment the train sets off, and considers how the events impact on the individuals we’ve come to know very well.

2. Little Deaths by Emma Flint

This year seems to have been particularly fine for crime debuts and Little Deaths is a tour de force. The book is set in Queens, New York, in 1965 in the middle of a shimmering heatwave. Ruth Malone comes home one morning to find the window open and her two children missing. Ruth defies the expectations of what it is to be a “nice woman”. She works nights in a bar until the early hours of the morning, she drinks too much and takes lovers. For the police officers who come to investigate the crime, Ruth is a natural suspect. After all, she doesn’t behave in the way that a grieving mother should.

Pete Wonicke, a tabloid journalist, becomes obsessed by the case; his investigation of Ruth starts off in the hunt for a good story but takes over his life. Little Deaths is based on a real case and Flint’s research of the time and the place is impeccable. It’s hard to believe that she grew up in northern England: the dialogue is pure New York and the details of domestic life take us immediately to that over-heated, fraught and small-minded neighbourhood. Usually I can see a surprise ending from miles off, but this one took my breath away.

3. Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear

Another writer to have come up with an outstanding debut recently is Caz Frear. Sweet Little Lies won the Richard and Judy competition for a new bestseller and it’s easy to see why. This is a police procedural, with a team of credible and interest1ing detectives, a great sense of place and a brilliant central character in Cat Kinsella. A murder close to the London pub owned by Cat’s father takes her back to childhood holidays in Ireland and the disappearance of another woman, Maryanne Doyle. Could her father be involved in both cases? Sweet Little Lies is a book about identity and about families, the ones that work and the ones that are destructive and dangerous. Frear has an astonishingly confident voice for a new writer and there’s a dark humour that lifts the storytelling to a different level. I hope this is the beginning of a series.

4. Spook Street by Mick Herron

Spook Street is the fourth in Mick Herron’s series of spy novels featuring the appalling and magnificent Jackson Lamb. I came late to the books, immediately fell in love with them and binge read them all. The misfits and disasters of the spying world are gathered together in Slough House. They’re known as the slow horses, but sometimes, under Lamb’s leadership, they come into their own. From the blistering start in a London shopping mall to the rather moving ending, this novel pulls us in to a strange, addictive world.

There are some books I wish I’d never read, just so I’d have the pleasure of coming to them for the first time – Spook Street is one of those.

5. Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin

My last choice is inevitable. I’ve enjoyed Ian Rankin’s Rebus books since they first appeared and Rather Be the Devil is as compulsive as all the rest. Rebus is retired, ill and bored. He’s given up smoking (almost) but still can’t quite see the point of exercise. His means of relaxation is to study a cold case – the murder of glamorous Maria Turquand. Rebus might have retired and Scotland’s police service might have been reorganised, but the cast of characters we’ve come to know in other books is still here, working their magic. This is classic Rankin and I enjoyed every word. 


To pre-order Ann Cleeves’ latest novel, The Seagull, or to order any of Ann Cleeves’ top five, call 0344 245 8092 quoting RTBOOKS33