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Posted by on 5 Dec, 2023 in Australian Crime Fiction, Bestseller, British Crime, British Thrillers, Courtroom Thriller, Crime, Outback Crime, serial killer thriller, Spy Fiction, Thriller | 5 comments



Coming up with the Best Books of the Year is always a challenging task. The idea of ranking and rating books never really sits right with me, as so much comes down to individual taste and even the mood that you are in when you read the book. There is also risk of just sticking with the familiar, and rating everything against the latest Connelly or Rankin. Then there is the pressure to follow the crowd and join in the enthusiasm for the latest bright thing, or current trend or ‘critic’s choice, and the need to ensure that your list is balanced and reflective of the genre.

This year I have gone back over the books I have read and just selected those that I enjoyed the most at the time and which have stayed in my mind, regardless of their provenance or standing. Noting that there were many more than the 13 below that I really enjoyed.

Of course, the list is affected by the number and types of books I have read. By the end of 2023, I will have read (or listened to) over 130 crime and thriller titles, not all of them new books, plus a handful of non-fiction titles. It is not a bad sampling of what is out there, but it does not come close to the more than 700 new crime novels released each year. There were a handful of books, which I was very sorry I did not get to. S A Cosby, Dennis Lehane and Tim Weaver all had new books, which I did not read for various reasons, mainly around their limited release in Australia. I have greatly enjoyed books by these authors in the past, and I suspect that if I had read them that they could have been on my lists too. I was also very keen to read Juan Gomez-Jurado’s Red Queen, but time got away from me.

I have also tried to limit myself to books that were released in Australia in 2023. For this reason Michael Robotham’s very good Lying Beside You does not appear on my list, despite featuring on lists overseas, as it was released in Australia in 2022 and featured on my list last year. Conversely, I have included Jordan Harper’s Everybody Knows and Adrian McKinty’s The Detective Up Late. Neither have been widely released in Australia yet, but are available as Audible books and can be purchased from overseas.

I try to read widely across the genre, but as with most people I am subject to my biases and I probably tend to read more at the action, spy and police detection end of the spectrum, than I do at the cosy end. I do, however, try to keep across the spread of books across the genre and 2023 seemed to have produced the usual range of crime and thriller titles, with a plethora of familiar domestic suspense and police novels. World weary police detectives with more than their share of personal problems, addictions and dark secrets still seem to be around in great numbers, and holidaying to remote locations continues to be a risk with a steady flow of books, known as destination thrillers, about groups of friends or strangers being stranded in a remote location where they are killed off one by one. Those pesky serial killers are also still around and can be found in a variety of locations from Auckland to Oslo to London and LA in the 1960s. Offsetting this sense of sameness, however, were some very original crime novels, including those by Jo Callaghan, Benjamin Stevenson (again), Jack Heath and Dann McDorman.

While it is always tempting to just read the latest book by one of my favourite authors, the number of which grows every year, I do deliberately try to allocate at least a quarter of my reading to debuts and authors which are new to me. I did slightly better than that this year and by early December had read 42 books by authors new to me, which was undoubtedly helped along by being a judge this year for the Ned Kelly Debut Crime Novel Award. In addition to the 30 odd debut novels I read, I also enjoyed discovering good established authors, such as Gary Donnelly, Mark Ellis and Tim Sullivan, for the first time.

In my first three years of reviewing in the 1980s I only got to read 2 crime novels by Australian authors and both of them were at the fringes of the crime genre. In contrast, in 2023 it was hard to keep up with the flow of new novels by Australian authors. I read over 28 novels and novellas by Australian authors and that only scratched the surface. I will again on Australia Day (26 January 2024) be presenting my favourite Australian-based crime novels of the past year, but some of them can also be found on the lists below. I was also impressed with two New Zealand crime novels by Vanda Symon and Michael Bennett, both of which deserved wider coverage and easier access at Australian bookshops, than they received.

In 2023 I thought that some of the veterans of the genre, Michael Connelly, Val McDermid and Adrian McKinty in particular, really stood up and produced outstanding books, while relative newcomers, such as Dinuka McKenzie, Michael Trant, Shelley Burr and Robert Gold built on the promise of their earlier books. It was also good seeing well established authors, such as Mark Billingham and M. W. Craven, moving in new directions with new characters. I also thought that there was a good selection of promising debuts, including Michelle Prak’s The Rush which is included below. There were also good debuts by John Byrnes, Michael Bennett and Sara Ochs, and I will be doing a list of my favourite debut novels in the next few days.

This year I am once again dividing my list into Crime Novels and Thrillers. The division between the two is rather arbitrary, but I have tended to follow the advice of George Easter at Deadly Pleasures, and applied the term thriller to books which feature a fast pace, a protagonist in danger, lots of action, usually a deadline or two and the focus is on saving someone or something. And most importantly, there are no cats! Some of the books below, such as Michelle Prak’s The Rush, Kevin Powers’ A Line In The Sand and Gabriel Bergmoser’s The Caretaker could fit in either grouping, but I have shoehorned them into the category which seemed the most logical to me.

I have tried to limit myself to 6 books in each category, but failed to do so with the crime novels and have included 7. In addition, there were also six very good debut novels, which I will be highlighting in the next couple of days.

It was very hard narrowing down my favourite books of the year to 13, and I have included a handful of Honourable Mentions at the end of each list, all of which could sit comfortably in a Top Ten listing. I have also included links to my original reviews of the books.

The order of preference is very rough, and changes every time I think about it. Ranking of books is always difficult and this was particularly the case with the books in the Crime category. I found it very hard to separate the books by Michael Connelly, Jordan Harper, David Whish-Wilson and Adrian McKinty. In the end I decided that the powerful imagery and grittiness of Jordan Harper’s Everybody Knows just got it over the line ahead of David Whish-Wilson’s I am Already Dead, Michael Connelly’s Resurrection Walk and Adrian McKinty’s The Detective Up Late. All four though, were exceptional, and the other three on the list were not far behind them.


Everybody Knows by Jordan Harper (Mulholland Books, January 2023)

Jordan Harper’s Everybody Knows (Mulholland Books, January 2023) was the crime novel that left the strongest impression on me in 2023. I only came to it late in the year, but was blown away by this gritty tale of corruption.

Harper’s dark journey through the glitz, glamour and poverty of LA is a powerful read that has a James Elroy air to it with its staccato writing and desperate characters seeking doomed redemption. The very up-to-date plot about a ‘black-bag’ publicist trying to find out why her boss was shot down on the streets of LA never loosens it grip on the reader’s attention and the final fifty pages, or so, are very hard to put down. A memorable read.

Everybody Knows is not released in Australia until early 2024, but I listened to the Audible version, which was superbly narrated by Tracie Frank and Chris Ciulla.

Here is the link to my full review:

I Am Already Dead by David Whish-Wilson (Fremantle Press, October 2023)

There is also a dark tone to David Whish-Wilson’s superbly written I Am Already Dead (Fremantle Press, October 2023).

I Am Already Dead is the second entry in Whish-Wilson’s series about trainee private investigator Lee Southern, and finds the young man drawn into a web of danger and deceit as he investigates a series of bribery attempts targeting a wealthy entrepreneur. This is a superior piece of crime fiction. The plotting contains the requisite amount of action and surprises, and is well supported by good, pared back dialogue, credible and interesting characters and some evocative descriptions of Perth in the early 1990s. In some ways it reminds me of the great Peter Temple, with the subtlety of its dialogue and storytelling. An outstanding read.

Here is the link to my original review:

Resurrection Walk by Michael Connelly (Allen & Unwin, 7 November 2023)

Michael Connelly never disappoints, and Resurrection Walk (Allen & Unwin, 7 November 2023) is another first rate crime novel.

Although billed as a ‘Lincoln Lawyer Thriller’, Resurrection Walk also features the iconic Harry Bosch in a starring role, as the pair to seek to free a woman who was jailed for fatally shooting her ex-husband Roberto, an L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy. Gradually the pair build a case for her release, but they have to fight off a determined DA’s office, an outraged sheriff’s department and some very nasty types who do not want the truth to get out.

Connelly seems to do this sort of superior crime novel effortlessly and Resurrection Walk contains his usual hallmarks of astute and interesting characters, interesting reflections on society, vivid descriptions of LA, a strong sense of suspense, an exciting conclusion and some great courtroom scenes. 

The link to my earlier review:

The Detective Up Late by Adrian McKinty (Blackstone, 8 August 2023)

The Detective Up Late (Blackstone, 8 August 2023) is the sixth Sean Duffy novel by Adrian McKinty and is set at the beginning of the 1990s. It finds Duffy looking forward to embarking on a new chapter in his life and leaving behind, to some extent, the problems in Northern Ireland. However, before he finishes up Duffy gets drawn into a missing person case, involving a fifteen-year-old Traveller girl from a seedy local caravan park and a network of sleazy middle-aged men closely connected with the girl.

The Detective Up Late contains all the elements we have come to expect from a McKinty novel. The writing is first rate, and the story commands attention from the opening pages. The plotting is tight and McKinty ably balances the action between the current missing persons case and the over-riding tension of managing an asset double crossing the IRA. There is plenty of reflection on the past, but overall the pacing is good with some very exciting set-pieces. Underlining it all is a good twisty storyline about the missing girl, that bristles with poignancy and offers a few neat surprises.

As usual, the characterisations are also very strong and McKinty seems to excel in his depiction of the period, including the sense of hope that greeted the beginning of the 1990s. 

Here is the link to my earlier review:

The Caretaker by Gabriel Bergmoser (Harper Collins, 2 August 2023)

Gabriel Bergmoser’s The Caretaker, (Harper Collins, 2 August 2023), more than fulfilled the promise of his first two books and was one of the most addictively readable crime novels of 2023.

Charlotte is hiding out with a new identity in a small ski resort in the Australian alpine region.  On the run from the police, and some very dangerous criminal associates of her former husband, Charlotte has taken a job as an off-season caretaker for a small clutch of deserted lodges. Charlotte thinks that she is safe and alone, but suddenly she is not.

There is a good sense of mystery and uneasiness from the opening pages, and an early twist quickly sets the adrenaline pumping. The pace is quick throughout, and Bergmoser skilfully shifts the action between the present and the events in the past that have led to Charlotte’s current situation.  There is suspense and surprises in both storylines, and Bergmoser steadily builds the tension as the two strands merge into a bloody conclusion. The Caretaker is one of those books which is very hard to put down.

Here is the link to my earlier review:

The Kind Worth Saving by Peter Swanson (Faber, March 2023)

Peter Swanson’s The Kind Worth Saving (Faber, March 2023) is a sequel to his much loved The Kind Worth Killing, which was a loose variation on Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers On A Train, and probably my favourite of his books.

It would be a crime to discuss the tricky plot of The Kind Worth Saving, other than to say it is a multiple viewpoint novel, with flash backs and clever twists. The story opens with a woman hiring a private detective to investigate whether her husband is having an affair with a colleague at his real estate firm, before moving in some unexpected directions.

This is a very clever book with lots of switchbacks and surprises. At one stage, I mentally applauded Swanson for the smart way he manipulated readers’ assumptions, and provided a twist which took me by me surprise. Excellent stuff.

Here is a link to my earlier review:

The Last Devil To Die by Richard Osman (Viking, 12 September 2023)

Richard Osman’s novels tend to be dismissed by some critics and connoisseurs of the genre as mere fluff or celebrity fiction, but I found The Last Devil To Die (Viking, 12 September 2023) to be highly entertaining with more than a touch of poignancy.

It is a book that I have reflected on a lot since I read it and I have come to appreciate it more. Beneath the humour, breezy storyline and the engaging characters there is quite a lot going on. The treatment of ageing, second chances and the effects of dementia is maturely and sensitively handled and resonates strongly. Like most murder mysteries the plotting requires some suspension of disbelief, but the mechanics of it are very well done, and Osman skilfully hides two vital clues in plain sight, in a way that would have impressed past masters and mistresses of the genre. Put aside your prejudices and give it a go.

As I mentioned upfront, I found it very hard to narrow down the list to seven, and there were several others that could have comfortably sat on the above list. So a shout out to the following books that were also very good: Taken by Dinuka McKenzie, Orphan Road by Andrew Nette, Kill For Me Kill For You by Steve Cavanagh, No Trace by Michael Trant and Expectant by Vanda Symon.


The Scarlet Papers by Matthew Richardson (Michael Joseph, 15 June 2023)

Deciding between the best thrillers was also very difficult. In the end, despite how much I enjoyed the latest entries by regular favourites such as Mick Herron and John Lawton, I thought that Matthew Richardson’s The Scarlet Papers (Michael Joseph, 15 June 2023) was the most consistently good of the three and had a greater breadth of vision.

The Scarlet Papers is an epic spy novel that ranges over the past seventy years. At the core of the novel are the eponymous Scarlet Papers, the recollections of renown British spymaster, and possible Russian double agent, Scarlet King, who is now in her nineties. The papers touch on key points in her career from her recruitment and capture of a brilliant German scientist at the end of World War II, to an assignation in Moscow in 1964, to her role in the analysis of the Mitrokhin Files, and other moments of deception and betrayal. Meanwhile in the present day, British academic Max Archer finds himself in possession of the inflammatory papers and on the run from British Intelligence.

The Scarlet Papers is a very clever thriller, that impresses with the breadth of its story and the intricacy of its plot. Close reading is rewarded, as the story twists and turns its way through a maze of double dealing and shifting alliances and builds to a good climax. Perhaps a fraction too long, but I was never bored. An outstanding achievement!

Here is the link to my earlier review:

The Secret Hours by Mick Herron (Baskerville, 14 September 2023)

Mick Herron’s The Secret Hours (Baskerville, 14 September 2023) was an adjunct to his Slow Horses series of books and was another masterful piece of spy fiction.

The story revolves around an Inquiry into the British Secret Service, entitled Monochrome, which unexpectantly finds something worth reporting on and takes the reader back to Berlin in the 1990s. There were some slow patches early in the book, but once the main thrust of the story kicked in it was a very exciting read that led to a typically witty and unexpected ending by Herron.

The characterisations are sharp and credible, and it is interesting to view some of the Slow Horses regulars from a different perspective. A great book that further cements Herron’s standing as one of the great spy fiction writers.

The Rush by Michelle Prak (Simon & Schuster, May 2023),

Michelle Prak’s The Rush, (Simon & Schuster, May 2023), could have readily fitted into the Crime category, or the Debut list for that matter, but its brisk forward momentum and the deadline nature of the story seemed to fit it more naturally into the Thriller category.

Set in an Australian outback beset by flooding rains, it is a gripping story told through the eyes of four well-crafted female characters. Three of them are trying to make it to a remote country pub before the potentially flooding rains hit, while the fourth, Andrea, is desperately sandbagging the pub. Alone with her sleeping son in the back room, Andrea reluctantly lets a biker in to wait out the storm.

The Rush is a cleverly constructed thriller with some good surprises and a strong sense of unease. Michelle makes effective use of the shifting viewpoints and changes in the timeline to generate maximum suspense, and the book powers along to a taut and exciting climax. It also tackles issues around misogyny, life choices and women’s safety, but these are subtly handled and do not distract from the pace and tension of the story.

Although it is a debut, the writing is very assured and Prak certainly makes an impressive entry into the world of Australian crime fiction.

Here is the link to my original review:

Moscow Exile by John Lawton (Grove, May 2023)

A new John Lawton book is always a treat and Moscow Exile (Grove, May 2023) is another engrossing entry in his Joe Holderness (Wilderness) series.

At the end of Hammer To Fall (2020), the roguish British agent was left on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall and in uncertain health. Now after a three year break we finally get the opportunity to find out what happened to him, although in typical Lawton fashion we have to wait almost half the book for Joe to make an appearance.

After a teasing opening in 1969, the book moves back to the early years of World War II, before leisurely making its way to Washington and Moscow in the 1950s and 60s. It is an intricately plotted tale, that gracefully winds its way through various machinations and surprises to an unexpected conclusion. Close of reading of the story is necessary, and well rewarded, and fans of the series will benefit from prior knowledge about the various characters and their back stories. There is not a lot of action in the opening stages, but Lawton’s stylish prose and his ability to limn a compelling sense of place and time drags the reader happily along. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Here is the link to my earlier review:

A Line In The Sand by Kevin Powers (Sceptre, May 2023)

Kevin Powers A Line In The Sand by Kevin Powers, (Sceptre, May 2023), could have also fitted in the crime category, but it is structured like a thriller and there is not a lot of mystery to its plot.

The story involves the investigation by a pair of detectives into a murder on a Norfolk beach in Virginia. The murder is linked to Arman Bajalan, formerly an interpreter in Iraq who is now on a special visa in America. Whilst in Iraq Bajalan saw something that he should not have and now some very powerful figures in the private military contractor business want him dead.

Powers does not waste any time in putting the elements of his plot in place, and he smoothly sets the story off at a quick canter, with some great action set pieces. The conspiracy plot is well worked out and meshes well with the increasingly frantic police investigation. The characters are believable and interesting and go beyond the normal thriller stereotypes. The broader themes about the war in Iraq and the impact of loss on people are also well handled, and do not intrude on the forward momentum of the book. A superior thriller.

Independence Square by Martin Cruz Smith (Simon & Schuster, May 2023)

Independence Square (Simon & Schuster, May 2023) is the tenth novel in Martin Cruz Smith’s iconic series about Arkady Renko, and finds the Moscow investigator approached by an underworld figure to find his missing daughter.

Karina is a young woman active in “Forum”, a political movement against Putin, led by charismatic Leonid Lebedev, and Renko’s investigation takes him to Kyiv, eight months before the invasion of Ukraine. From there he goes to Sebastopol and becomes a target in a dangerously escalating situation.

There is a somber mood to the book, with the pending invasion of Ukraine, and Renko’s recently diagnosed Parkinson’s disease, adding a dark undertone to the story. The descriptions of Russia, its people and politics are fascinating, as always, and the story moves efficiently along to its tense climax.

A powerful and absorbing novel about political decay and corruption.

As I noted above, it was a challenge keeping the thriller list to six and I could have easily added the following titles to it: Simon Kernick’s The First 48 Hours, Tim Ayliffe’s Killer Traitor Spy and Charles Cumming’s Kennedy 35. I also considered adding Terry Hayes’ The Year Of The Locust to my Best Of list, but while the first two hundred pages are outstanding, the final section was too weird and illogical for me. It was, however, a memorable read.

In all, more than enough good books to keep you reading into 2024.

I will be doing my list of the Best Debuts of 2023 in the next few days.


  1. Thank you, Jeff! It’s an honour to be on the list.

  2. Thanks Jeff – thrilled to be mentioned among a fine global list of authors

  3. A terrific list (some I have read, most I have yet to read). It is terrific to see so many Australian authors!

  4. Resurrection Walk signalled a change of direction which was interesting as I thought Connelly is getting a bit tired of his characters.And I couldn’t read past Duffy taking the law into his own hands in Detective Up Late.Never forgiven McKinty for having Duffy set up a young man he’d had sex with and never really explain the psychology behind such a betrayal.But going to reserve Everybody Knows.

    • Thanks for your comments. Yeah I was expecting Resurrection Walk to go in a different direction in respect to Bosch. It seems like there is going to be more in the series. The main concern I had was that Haller’s ex-wife behaved in a way, which I thought was out of character. In respect to McKinty, I think taking the law into his own hands is par for course. Don’t recall Duffy having sex with a man in any of the books. Sounds more like Dan Kavanagh’s Duffy series set in London? Everybody Knows is not a light read 🙂 – very dark

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