THE YEAR’S BEST: MY FAVOURITE THRILLERS AND CRIME NOVELS OF 2022
March 2022 represented the fortieth anniversary of my career as a paid crime fiction and thriller reviewer. My first review, of Ted Allbeury’s The Secret Whispers, was published on 20 March 1982 in the Canberra Times and since then I have reviewed non-stop for a range of newspapers, magazines, journals and internet sites. I have also been lucky enough to meet and talk with some of the best and most influential crime writers of the past five decades, including Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly, Sue Grafton, Ian Rankin and Peter Temple, just to name a few. Needless to say I have enjoyed every minute of it!
I have never lost my enthusiasm for crime fiction and I thought that 2022 was another stellar year, with a host of good books that could have easily matched it with the best of years past. My reading has increased in recent years, as I am no longer working full time, and I have also started supplementing my reading with audio books. By the end of 2022, I will have read in the order of 130 crime and thriller titles, not all of them new books, plus a handful of non-fiction titles. While that does not come close to covering the over 700 odd new crime novels published in a year, as calculated by Mike Ripley for 2021, it is still a reasonable sampling.
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 2022 seemed to produce the usual range of crime and thriller titles, with a plethora of familiar domestic suspense and police novels, and a surprising number of books involving a group of friends or strangers being stranded in a remote location where they are killed off one by one. Intelligent serial killers seem to back in vogue and there was also the usual selection of action thrillers where the emphasis is on technical hardware other plot. Offsetting this, however, were some very original crime novels, including those by Benjamin Stevenson, Sulari Gentill and Sascha Rothchild.
While it is always tempting to 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 this again this year and was astounded by the quality of the debut books being released and also enjoyed discovering Ruth Ware, Jeremy Brown and Neil Lancaster 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 2022 it was hard to keep up with the flow of new novels by Australian authors. I read over 25 novels and novellas by Australian authors and that only scratched the surface. I will again on Australia Day (26 January 2023) be presenting my favourite Australian-based crime novels of the past year, but some of them can also be found on the lists below.
In 2022 I thought that some of the veterans of the genre, Michael Connelly, Michael Robotham and Ian Rankin in particular, really stood up and produced outstanding books, while relative newcomers, such as Margaret Hickey built on the promise of their earlier books. It was also good to see the continued emergence of books which had older characters in central roles, such as Richard Osman’s The Bullet That Missed, Deanna Raybourn’s Killers Of A Certain Age and J M Hall’s A Spoonful Of Murder. Probably the most pleasing aspect of 2022, however, was the number of outstanding debuts, especially by Australian authors. I will be doing a separate post on the Best Debuts of 2022 in the next few days, but I thought that the books by Shelley Burr, Dinuka McKenzie and Matthew Spencer were the equal of most of the novels produced by more experienced authors below.
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 Deon Meyer’s The Dark Flood and John Connolly’s The Furies, could fit in either grouping, but I have shoehorned them into the category which seems the most logical to me.
I have tried to limit myself to 6 in each category, but failed to do so with the crime novels and have included 9. 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 12 or so, and I have included a handful of highly commended books at the end of the 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. This was particularly the case with the books in the Crime category, and I found it very hard to separate the books by Michael Connelly, Deon Meyer and Benjamin Stevenson. In the end I decided that the originality of Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson just got it over the line ahead of Michael Connelly’s Desert Star and Deon Meyer’s The Dark Flood. In general anything in the below lists is well worth reading.
Without doubt the wittiest and most original crime novel I have read this year was Benjamin Stevenson’s Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone (Penguin).
It is a witty, clever and very funny novel, that plays homage to the classic British murder mystery in a very original way. I will not attempt to describe the plot other than to say that it revolves around a strange family reunion in a snowed-in resort in the Australian alps and involves several killings, in the past and the present. It is a top notch read and one which has stayed in my mind during the year: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/everyone-in-my-family-has-killed-someone-by-benjamin-stevenson-penguin-29-march-2022/
It seemed that we were left waiting a long time for a new Deon Meyer novel, but fortunately it was worth it.
The Dark Flood (Hodder & Stoughton) was another stunning book by Meyer in his series about Cape Town detectives Benny Griessel and Vaughn Cupido of the Hawks elite police unit. The pace was a little slower than in his previous book, The Last Hunt, but the suspense steadily built as the dual plots twisted their way to a surprising and bloody conclusion, and a witty final turn of the screw.
As usual the characterisations were rich and convincing and Meyer displayed his usual good ear for dialogue, which seems to accurately capture the tone and rhythm of the conversations between the various characters. The descriptions of life in South Africa are also vivid, but do not overwhelm the book: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/the-dark-flood-by-deon-meyer-hodder-stoughton/
Michael Connelly can not write a bad book and Desert Star (Allen & Unwin) was another outstanding novel that saw the iconic Harry Bosch once more teaming up with LAPD Detective Renée Ballard, as they try to track down a pair of cold case killers. Well plotted and full of Connelly’s usual sharp eyed observations on LA and American society, it was an entertaining read that was given extra poignancy by the evident ageing of Bosch and his somber reflections on life.
Desert Star could have easily been at the top of my list: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/american-crime-wrap-up-michael-connelly-c-j-box-and-alaina-urquhart/
Also full of poignancy and featuring an ageing protagonist, was Ian Rankin’s latest Rebus novel A Heart Full Of Headstones (Orion).
It opened with the former Edinburgh police detective in court and about to face trial for an unspecified crime. It was a great opening, and from that point on Rankin kept a tight grip on the reader’s attention as the book moved back in time to cover the events that led to Rebus’ arrest. Another outstanding novel from Rankin: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/a-heart-full-of-headstones-by-ian-rankin/
Emma Viskic’s Those Who Perish (Echo) came out early in the year, but apart the Benjamin Stevenson novel was not bettered during the year as one of the best Australian based crime novels of 2022. The fourth novel in Emma’s award winning series about deaf Melbourne private eye Caleb Zelic, it opens in dramatic fashion and maintains a strong sense of suspense throughout.
The plotting and characters are superb and enhancing the story are some vivid descriptions of Muttonbird Island, sharp-eyed reflections on modern society and credible dialogue. There are also flashes of wry humour: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/those-who-perish-by-emma-viskic-echo/
Michael Robotham’s books also float between crime and thriller and he has won both the CWA Award for Best Crime Novel and Best Thriller.
LYING BESIDE YOU (Hachette) is the third book in his series about forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven and troubled young adult, Evie Cormac, and finds Cyrus dealing with problems on several fronts. It is a well written and gripping read that really held my attention until the final page. I think it is probably the strongest of the Cyrus and Evie novels to date: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/lying-beside-you-by-michael-robotham/
I never know whether to position John Connolly’s novels in the thriller or crime category, but unlike last year’s The Nameless Ones this one seemed to be more of a crime novel. The Furies (Hodder & Stoughton) is actually two linked novellas and, as always, they demonstrate John’s rich writing style and his great gift for creating memorable characters. Not as briskly paced as his last two novels, it is nevertheless a very entertaining read with a touch of the supernatural: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/the-furies-by-john-connolly-hodder-stoughton/
This is another one that you could shift between the crime and thriller categories. Regardless of where it sits, however, for pure enjoyment it is hard to go pass Steve Cavanagh’s whirlwind crime thriller The Accomplice (Orion).
The seventh novel in Cavanagh’s series about New York lawyer Eddie Flynn, it is an addictive read. From the opening page this is a rollercoaster of a ride that speeds up with every twist in the plot, until it reaches the explosive conclusion. The courtroom scenes are engrossing and Eddie’s maneuver’s and tricks are fantastic, and often quite funny: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/british-crime-releases-new-books-by-steve-cavanagh-ruth-ware-and-mark-mills/
I could not leave Garry Disher’s Day’s End (Text) off my list.
Day’s End is the fourth in his series about struggling South Australian rural policeman Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen and once again it sets the standard in rural Australian crime. Although it is a little slow to start with, the book builds to a terrific climax and holds interest throughout. The underlying story is intriguing and engaging, and Disher makes good use of the pandemic to examine current issues, such as the rise of extreme right wing groups and the influence of social media. It was another impressive novel by Disher: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/days-end-by-garry-disher-text-publishing/
As I mentioned upfront, I found it very hard to narrow down the list to nine, 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: The Tilt by Chris Hammer, The Botanist by M. W. Craven, The It Girl by Ruth Ware and The Woman In The Library by Gentill Sulari.
I never got to review the latest instalment in Mick Herron’s stellar Slough House (Slow Horses) series, Bad Actors (John Murray), but it was another great read. Good mixture of wit, satire and spying thrills, it was another delicious read. A must for fans of modern spy fiction.
Tom Bradby’s historical spy thriller Yesterday’s Spy (Bantam) was a dark tale that painted a convincing picture of Iran in the early 1950s. Combining interesting historical detail with rich characters and an engrossing plot, it is a stand out spy thriller: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/old-cold-war-spies-new-books-by-tom-bradby-and-patrick-worrall/
Another very good historical spy novel was provided by Paul Vidich, who really deserves wider recognition. His The Matchmaker (Pegasus) was an intelligent, atmospheric, richly written and quietly gripping spy novel, which steadily built up the layers of complexity, deception and suspense. Set in 1989 and the chaotic days surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is an outstanding spy novel: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/spies-and-moles-new-spy-fiction-from-matthew-richardson-and-paul-vidich/
Dan Fesperman’s Winter Work (Head of Zeus) is set in the same time period and location as Vidich’s The Matchmaker.
I was reading this book when I was in Berlin earlier this year and it was fascinating to see some of the buildings and locations. I never got around to reviewing it, but it was a superior piece of spy fiction. The plotting was credible and tense, and although there was not a lot of pyrotechnics and bloodshed, there were some very suspenseful set-pieces. The background detail was excellent and Fesperman is very good at weaving a wicked web of office politics and betrayals. The ending was also tough and exciting.
Offering a change of pace from the above spy novels is Lisa Gardner’s One Step Too Far (Century).
Set in the rugged back country of Wyoming it is a gripping mix of cold case and wilderness adventure. Frankie Elkin, a recovering alcoholic and expert finder of missing people, sets off with a mixed bag of compatriots to find out what really happened to Tim O’ Day when he went missing in Popo Agie Wilderness five years before. After a slightly slow start, the pace really picks up and the final half is very exciting with plenty of twists and a good dose of violence. It also has an ending that I did not see coming. A great thriller read: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/february-thrillers-new-books-by-barclay-gardner-and-ewan/
Cold Fear (Bantam) by Brandon Webb and John David Mann slipped a bit under the radar this year, but was a very good action thriller.
Webb and Mann’s debut, Steel Fear, was one of my favourite thrillers of 2021 and Cold Fear certainly maintained the momentum of the first book. Set in Iceland Cold Fear was a fast moving mix of crime novel and action thriller, and kept me eagerly turning the pages till the end. The story was interesting, and benefited from having two strong central characters: the enigmatic and flawed former SEAL, Finn, and the local female detective in charge of the investigation into a young woman’s supposedly accidental drowning. A thoroughly enjoyable thriller. I am really looking forward to the next one in the series, Blind Fear, which is due out in mid-2023.
It was a challenge keeping the thriller list to six and I could have easily added the following titles to the list: The Foot Soldiers by Gerald Seymour, Run Time by Catherine Ryan Howard, Goering’s Gold by Richard O’Rawe, and Stay Awake by Megan Goldin.
In all, more than enough good books to keep you reading into 2023.
Here is my pick of the best debuts of 2022, including some great Australian debuts: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/best-debut-crime-novels-and-thrillers-of-2022/