Crime by the Book’s 12 Best Crime Novels of 2019
By Abby EndlerDecember 17, 2019
Okay, you caught us... there might be 13 books in here.
Hi there, reader! 2019 has been an incredible year for new crime fiction. From debut authors to returning favorites, serial killer thrillers to psychological suspense, this year has offered up a little something for everyone. I’m thrilled to share with Criminal Element readers my picks for the Best Crime Books of 2019 by Month—aka my picks for the best new crime release from each month of 2019!
As you can imagine, this was an extremely difficult list to narrow down—we were truly so fortunate with the stellar crop of new crime novels this year, and I wish I could list every book I loved in this list. Ruthless decisions had to be made to narrow down my (lengthy) list of 2019 favorites to one book per month, but I’m so excited to share these picks with you all. The books listed below stood out from the pack for me with their gripping plots, masterful plotting, rich character development, and, of course, thrilling entertainment value. Read on for a month-by-month guide to the best crime fiction of the year!
THE HIDING PLACE by C.J. Tudor
C.J. Tudor takes readers on a twisting journey into a rural town with dark secrets in her exceptional standalone novel The Hiding Place. This psychological thriller blends rural gothic with hints of the supernatural and a healthy dose of melancholy atmosphere to create one of the most memorable and wholly unique reading experiences of my year. In The Hiding Place, a man returns to his former hometown, ostensibly to accept a teaching position at his former high school. But he has ulterior motives. Years earlier, his sister went missing—but that wasn’t the worst moment of his life. The worst moment was when she returned, and when she returned terrifyingly changed. Now, our protagonist thinks that what happened to his sister might be happening again – and he’s determined to confront the horrific truth once and for all.
THE SILENT PATIENT by Alex Michaelides
Arguably the debut crime novel of the year, Michaelides’ exceptional book The Silent Patient took the suspense world by storm in early 2019. Once you’ve read it, you’ll see why. Blending brilliant plotting with a deep-dive into the mind of its characters and a recurring theme of Greek mythology (!), The Silent Patient is the kind of ambitious story that only works in the most capable of hands—and work it does. Michaelides is a supremely capable suspense storyteller whose career will surely be one for all of us crime readers to follow closely. But I’m getting ahead of myself! In The Silent Patient, a famous painter married to a prominent photographer shatters her life in an instant when she, seemingly without reason, shoots her husband point-blank. After that act of violence, she never utters another word. Following both the painter and the therapist determined to treat her and get to the bottom of her apparently senseless crime, The Silent Patient is a masterclass in suspense writing. Stylish, unpredictable, and wholly original, The Silent Patient stands out even in a year of stellar new crime releases.
MY LOVELY WIFE by Samantha Downing
Billed as “Mr. And Mrs. Smith meets Dexter,” Samantha Downing’s deliciously dark debut crime novel follows a married couple with a unique way of keeping the spark in their relationship alive… serial murder. That’s right, this book centers around a pair of ordinary suburban spouses whose date nights involve death. Sound over the top? It is… but in the best possible way. In My Lovely Wife, Downing pushes the domestic suspense novel to its limits—and the result is a hugely entertaining, seriously sinister suspense read. Let’s be clear: this book has a wild, larger-than-life premise—there’s no denying that fact. But if and when you’re in the mood for a suspense novel that embraces its wild side and doesn’t take itself too seriously, Downing’s debut is the book for you. Narrated by a husband who just wants to keep the spark alive with his beloved wife, My Lovely Wife explores exactly how far a seemingly ordinary couple will go to keep their relationship, well, interesting.
I KNOW WHO YOU ARE by Alice Feeney
Alice Feeney is my personal Queen of Plot Twists. In her stellar sophomore suspense novel I Know Who You Are, Feeney delivers a psychological thriller that pushes boundaries and delivers a truly twisted and dark story. This book is not for the faint of heart; it’s a suspense novel with an edge that probes some genuinely dark themes. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you will love I Know Who You Are. Following an actress who has spent her life adopting identities other than her own, I Know Who You Are examines what happens when our protagonist’s real identity—the one she’s buried for so long—demands to be acknowledged. One day, our protagonist returns home to discover that her husband has gone missing. The police are immediately suspicious and begin digging into her past, and suddenly, our protagonist realizes her past might just be catching up with her. This book pulls no punches. It sounds relatively harmless, but don’t let its elegant cover and relatively tame premise fool you – this book goes places other authors might not dare to go, and it does so in riveting style.
THE ISLAND by Ragnar Jonasson
Ragnar Jonasson has become a staple of Crime by the Book, and every year I fall even more in love with his elegant, atmospheric crime writing. The Island is the second installment in the author’s series featuring detective Hulda Hermannsdottir, a woman working in the police force in Reykjavik, Iceland. (It’s worth reading this series in order; the first book is The Darkness!) Jonasson’s personal brand of crime writing has revealed itself to be a unique crossover between modern suspense and mystery writing heavily influenced by Golden Age detective novels; in The Island, his skill is on full display. Weaving together a years-old crime with a present-day “locked room mystery,” Jonasson masterfully crafts a complex story that is immersive and entertaining while remaining subtle and atmospheric at the same time. In The Island, a group of friends plans a vacation to a remote hunting lodge on an island off the coast of Iceland—but one of them isn’t going to make it out alive.
THE FIRST MISTAKE by Sandie Jones
Fans of domestic thrillers, listen up: this is the book for you. On the heels of her bestselling 2018 release The Other Woman, Sandie Jones is back—and better than ever—with her 2019 release The First Mistake. This book is all kinds of page-turning fun; it’s a domestic suspense novel that takes a familiar premise and turns it on its head. Following Alice, her husband Nathan, and her best friend Beth, The First Mistake unravels a layered story of deceit and betrayal with all the drama, secrets, and twists to thrill even the most seasoned psychological suspense reader. It’s a story about what happens when love goes very wrong, and it’s the kind of book that truly will keep you on your toes. This book is pure “popcorn reading,” as I like to call it—as in, it’s totally binge-worthy and worth devouring in one sitting. Pick this domestic thriller up for a pure pleasure read on your next vacation.
KNIFE by Jo Nesbo
Jo Nesbo is my personal favorite crime writer, so it’s no surprise that his 2019 release Knife belonged on this list. I always love Nesbo’s work, but for me, Knife was something really special. Knife has all the characteristics readers have come to expect from one of Europe’s preeminent crime writers: a layered plot, gritty atmosphere, immersive pacing, plenty of very convincing red herrings, and, of course, our beloved series lead, Harry Hole. But Knife is a departure from its immediate series predecessors, too. Knife dials back on the overt gore that defined the previous Harry Hole series installment, The Thirst, and in doing so Nesbo gave his razor-sharp prose and unparalleled character development room to shine. This is undoubtedly Nesbo’s most emotional story yet, putting series lead Harry Hole through his absolute worst, but it’s in these dark emotional moments that this book shines brightest. In Knife, Harry Hole has been kicked out of his beloved job on the Oslo police force and relegated to the cold case office. But when a villain from his past is released from prison and a series of brutal crimes begin occurring in his city, Harry fears that his old enemy is up to his old ways, and he will stop at nothing to put him back behind bars.
July Pick #2
LOCK EVERY DOOR by Riley Sager
Well, I’m breaking my own “one book per month” rule here, but you’ll have to forgive me—the July competition was just so fierce, and pitted two of the crime writers I love most of all against one another. How’s a girl to choose just one?! I’m hoping the kind folks at Criminal Element and you, reader, will allow me this little deviation from our month-by-month plan to sing the praises of the brilliant new psychological thriller from Riley Sager, whose work gets better and better with each book he releases. In this addictive story, a down-on-her-luck young woman accepts a job as an apartment-sitter at one of Manhattan’s most elite apartment buildings… and discovers she has just signed herself up for an extended stay in a building with a dark history and a penchant for making young apartment-sitters disappear. Blending horror tropes with spine-tingling suspense and juicy, just-one-more-page intrigue, Lock Every Door invites readers inside one of New York’s most exclusive addresses—a place that might never let its readers, or its residents, go. This book is everything you could want in a psychological thriller, particularly if you (like me!) love modern suspense novels that feel indebted to old-school horror. Okay, back to our regularly scheduled month-by-month programming…
THE TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth Ware
Speaking of favorite authors, high on my list of personal favorites is Ruth Ware, author of smash-hit psychological thrillers including The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Death of Mrs. Westaway. This year, Ware gave her legion of fans what I consider to be her best novel yet: a modern-day homage to Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Equal parts old-school Gothic suspense and modern psychological thriller, The Turn of the Key is an effective ode to a classic and a gripping story of surveillance, paranoia, and domestic drama in its own right. Following a young woman who accepts a nannying position at a state-of-the-art smart house in the Scottish Highlands, only to wind up imprisoned for the death of one of the children in her care, The Turn of the Key is one of the most addictive and utterly engrossing suspense. Whether you’re familiar with James’ The Turn of the Screw or not makes absolutely no difference; this book is accessible and hugely entertaining no matter what.
THE STRANGER INSIDE by Lisa Unger
Love crime novels that put a fresh spin on the serial killer thriller? Looking for a suspense book that reads a bit like an episode of Criminal Minds? I’ve got the book for you. Lisa Unger’s 2019 release The Stranger Inside takes readers inside the mind of a villain with terrifying authenticity, examining the fallout of a brutal crime through the inner lives of its survivors. Following a young mother living in suburban bliss, but harboring a dark past, The Stranger Inside doesn’t ask “whodunnit”—instead, it asks “whydunnit,” and the answer will be revealed to the reader bit by tantalizing bit over this book’s 380-odd pages. When she was twelve years old, our protagonist narrowly escaped an abduction attempt, but her best friend wasn’t so lucky. Now, our protagonist is an adult living a picture-perfect suburban life. She has buried her trauma deep. But when a string of crimes begin plaguing her town, she has reason to believe they may be connected to the terrible events of her past, and she sets out to investigate.
THE STRANGER DIARIES by Elly Griffiths (paperback release)
Okay, this one is kind of cheating, because this book released in hardcover in the US in March of this year as well… but I simply had to find a way to fit it into this blog post! The Stranger Diaries is a clever, modern take on Gothic suspense, one which weaves together fact and fiction to craft a genuinely engrossing suspense tale. The Stranger Diaries follows an English teacher who specializes in Gothic literature, with a particular focus on a fictional author, R.M. Holland. Fact collides with fiction when a colleague of our protagonist is found dead, with a line from R.M. Holland’s most famous story displayed by her body. Our protagonist, terrified and unsure who to trust, begins writing down her fears in her diary… but things take an even stranger turn when she discovers writing in her diary that isn’t her own. It seems that her favorite author’s most famous story has come to life, and if that’s the case, our protagonist knows it’s just a matter of time before things get even worse. This is an engrossing, layered story of suspense perfect for readers who want a dash of Gothic influences in their psychological thrillers.
THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS by Lisa Jewell
In Lisa Jewell’s thrilling, addictive suspense novel The Family Upstairs, a surprise inheritance sends a young woman on a journey into her own personal history—and what she discovers on that journey might be deadly. Libby Jones always dreamed of learning more about her origins. One day, not long after turning 25, Libby comes home to find an envelope waiting for her, its contents revealing the true identity of her birth parents… and the fact that she has inherited their vast mansion in a posh London neighborhood. Libby’s life suddenly seems to be changing for the better. But by claiming this inheritance, Libby is claiming a darker inheritance, too: a connection to an unsolved crime and an obscure, cult-like society, one which has been waiting, biding its time, until Libby makes herself known. The Family Upstairs is a fresh, inventive take on domestic suspense; effortlessly traversing intimate family secrets and vast, far-reaching conspiracies, Lisa Jewell’s newest release is a masterclass in psychological thriller plotting.
REPUTATION by Sara Shepard
Rounding out the year is Sara Shepard’s excellent adult psychological suspense novel, Reputation—a story that asks just how far we would go to preserve our good name. Set at a fictional university, Reputation begins with a shocking event: a hacker makes public tens of thousands of emails from staff, professors, students, and alums alike. In an instant, the secrets of the entire school are made public, and gossip begins to spread. Caught in the crossfire is a prominent local surgeon who, if his emails are to be believed, was embroiled in an affair with someone on the university campus. When this very same surgeon is found dead, tensions reach a boiling point. Sara Shepard deftly uses the alternating perspectives of women with their own personal connections to the university to provide a 360-degree view of a shocking series of events. Each of these narrators has their own personal motivations and secrets that they are equally desperate to keep, and each have possible reasons to have killed the surgeon… but who really did it? Only time will tell, and readers will be hooked on Shepard’s twisty, engrossing storytelling.