Welcome to the final part of my What the Authors Recommend 2017 – where I have asked some of my favourite authors to recommend their favourite books of 2017.
CJ Tudor: C. J. Tudor lives in Nottingham, England with her partner and three-year-old daughter.
Over the years she has worked as a copywriter, television presenter, voiceover and dog-walker. She is now thrilled to be able to write full-time, and doesn’t miss chasing wet dogs through muddy fields all that much.
THE CHALK MAN is her first novel.
The Dry by Jane Harper – Not a word is wasted in this taut thriller. Totally gripping and the plot builds to a brilliant conclusion.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough – Yes, the ending is mind-blowing! But, once you *know*, you realise how very, very clever the rest of the book is. Can’t wait for Cross Her Heart next year!
Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith – as I’m not restricted to thrillers, I’ll plump for this brilliant slice of dark fantasy from one of my favourite authors. Twisted, inventive and very funny.
John Marrs is the author of The One, The Good Samaritan, When You Disappeared, and Welcome to Wherever You Are. A freelance journalist based in London, England, he has spent the past twenty years interviewing celebrities from the world of television, film and music for national newspapers and magazines. He has written for publications including the Guardian’s Guide and Guardian Online, Total Film, Huffington Post, Empire, Q, GT, the Independent, S Magazine and Company.
This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor Adam Kay: If you’ve ever wondered what really goes on behind the scenes in a hospital, then look no further than this. Memoirs by folk you’ve never heard of can be a dull affair. But former junior doctor Adam Kay’s recollections of his career are fascinating. His mixture of hilarious anecdotes with heartbreaking stories from his years working on the frontline NHS make this a must-read.
Tin Man Sarah Winham: I loved When God Was A Rabbit but I really wasn’t sure of what to make of this at first. But once I got into it, I was hooked. It’s epic, aching, witty, warm, sad … I could easily run out of words to describe every emotion this book made me feel. The mark of a good novel is how much you think about it afterwards. Six months after reading it, and it is still on my mind.
Dark Matter Blake Crouch: I like a book that picks you up and throws you around like a rag doll midway through. That’s exactly what Dark Matter does. It’s part thriller, part adventure, part sci-fi. The narrator is reliable but his surroundings aren’t making this a novel that keeps you guessing. Truly original.
Susi Holliday: Susi (S.J.I) Holliday grew up in East Lothian, Scotland. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham prize. She has written three crime novels set in the fictional Scottish town of Banktoun, which are a mix of police procedural and psychological thriller. They are: “Black Wood”, “Willow Walk” and “The Damselfly” – all featuring the much loved character, Sergeant Davie Gray.
Her festive serial killer thriller “The Deaths of December”, featuring Detective Sergeant Eddie Carmine and Detective Constable Becky Greene is out now.
Sweetpea by CJ Skuze: I heard this book described as ‘Bridget Jones meets American Psycho’ and I knew then that I was going to love it. Rhiannon is darkly funny and full of murderous rage for just about everyone, making regular ‘Kill Lists’ while also trying hard to fit in to normal society. This book will have you craving Maoams, and wondering just how easy it might be to get away with murder.
Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land: Annie’s mother is a serial killer, which makes for an intriguing premise from the off. This is a very disturbing and often difficult read, but the characters are drawn so convincingly, you can’t help but feel empathy for them. Chilling and brilliant, albeit a bit bleak.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: Of course, Eleanor isn’t fine at all. I wanted to shake her and hug her repeatedly – willing her to find a way to deal with herself and be who she is meant to be. This book isn’t a crime novel, but on the other hand, it kind of is. My most recommended book this year.
Jo Spain: Jo Spain’s first novel, top ten bestseller With our Blessing, was one of seven finalists in the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller Competition 2015. It was named as an Irish Times crime fiction book of the year by Declan Burke. Beneath the Surface (2016) and Sleeping Beauties (2017), the second and third in the DI Tom Reynolds series followed, to further critical acclaim. Her standalone thriller, The Confession, will be released January 2018.
Three favourite books of 2017:
All the Wicked Girls, Chris Whitaker I fell in love with Chris’s writing in the stupendous Tall Oaks but this is where he gets seriously grown up and (jeez, I can only imagine the size of his head reading this) phenomenal. So evocative of place, heat, atmosphere; so fluid, so blood clever. Damn him altogether.
The Well of Ice, Andrea Carter I love a cozy mystery and nobody does them as well as Andrea. This is the third in her Inishowen series and it’s set at Christmas time so has the added delights of snow, ice and claustrophia. She keeps getting better and I want to kill her.
Without a Word, Kate McQuaile Kate shares an editor with me so I read all her work early and I knew this was going to be brilliant. The premise – a woman is on Skype to her friend, when the friend goes to answer a knock on the door. And that’s the last we see of her. Ingenious. You know that saying – everytime my friends succeed a little part of me dies. Yep. All these three writers! I’m going to kidnap them and force them to write in my attic under my name. Probably shouldn’t have said that aloud.
Erin Kelly: I was born in London in 1976 and grew up in Essex. I read English at Warwick University and began working as a journalist in 1998. My first novel The Poison Tree became a major ITV drama and a Richard & Judy bestseller, and was longlisted for the 2011 CWA John Creasy Award. The Sick Rose, The Burning Air and The Ties That Bind were all published to critical acclaim and my books have been translated into 19 languages. In 2014, I wrote the novelisation of the BAFTA-winning Broadchurch but sadly did not get to meet David Tennant. As well as writing fiction I continue to work as a journalist and also teach creative writing. I live in north London with my husband and daughters.
Exquisite by Sarah Stovell. A short, poetic, gripping psychological thriller about two women who have an affair on a creative writing retreat. We know one of them is in prison, but who? I switched sides so many times reading this book. Just brilliant.
The Intrusions by Stav Sherez. I drop everything for a new Stav Sherez. He writes with such flair and swagger but I always learn something new. This is a tech thriller about the people who stalk others through their laptops. Chilling and completely convincing.
I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. This is a really original memoir about my favourite author and her ‘seventeen brushes with death’. She writes with such wisdom and tenderness about family life. I cried twice reading this.
Laura Marshall: Laura Marshall grew up in Wiltshire and studied English at the University of Sussex. In 2015 she decided it was time to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition to write a novel, and enrolled on the Curtis Brown Creative three month novel writing course. Her first novel, Friend Request, was runner-up in the Bath Novel Award 2016 and shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2016. Friend Request was published by Little, Brown in the UK in 2017 and became a number one Kindle bestseller. Laura lives in Kent with her husband and two children.
Many books are described as gripping, but Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips is a book which grabbed me and would not let me go. Set over the course of a few hours in which the protagonist and her young son run and hide from gunmen during a mass shooting incident at the zoo, I think it’s the only book that has literally had me gasping and clasping at my throat in fear. It also features the most heart-stoppingly awful moral dilemma I’ve ever read. But more than that, it’s also a beautiful, moving portrayal of the relationship between a mother and her child.
The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne was another one I couldn’t put down. This is a thoroughly gripping (there’s that word again) thriller about a woman trying to hunt down her father (a man who kidnapped her mother as a teenager and then kept the two of them hidden away in complete isolation for years) before he finds and kills her. The relationship between Helena and her father is so finely drawn, and I was completely pulled into the world the author created.
And finally, I read Exquisite by Sarah Stovell whilst on holiday with my family. I read it in two days – it would have been one sitting if not for the pressing demands of my children to play with them in the swimming pool etc. It’s a beautifully written, twisty story about a young, aspiring writer who falls in love with a successful, married author (and mother of two) who is tutoring a writing course she is taking. Told from both perspectives in alternate chapters, I couldn’t stop reading until I knew who was telling the truth, and how it would all end. Stunning.
Will Dean: Will Dean lives with his wife and son in Sweden. He is British and, while living and working in London, travelled to Sweden twice a week to build the woodland home where he now lives. Dark Pines is his first novel and he is currently writing the second novel in the Tuva Moodyson series.
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi: This is my favourite book of the year (I read it back in January). When I finished this hugely ambitious multi-generational saga my first thought was ‘how is it possible to write like this?’ The epic begins in Ghana’s coastal Fanteland in the 1700s and ends in New York on the cusp of the 21st century. Vivid, nuanced stories are skilfully interwoven. The book deals with slavery and love and family and identity and crime. I’m in awe of Yaa Gyasi and I’m in awe of Homegoing.
All The Wicked Girls – Chris Whittaker: Chris Whittaker is a dazzlingly talented writer. I loved his debut (Tall Oaks) and I was curious to see how he would follow it. All The Wicked Girls is set in Alabama. The story is thick with atmosphere and mood and tension, and the characters are beautifully rendered. You’ll find less humour here than in Tall Oaks (Whittaker can write very, very funny scenes) and I admire the author for that. He goes deeper and darker and bleaker with his follow-up novel, and as a reader you’re transported to the small, wounded town of Grace as locals search for a missing girl. The book is like nothing else I’ve read this year. Haunting and beautiful.
You Don’t Know Me – Imran Mahmood: This book shouldn’t work. It’s a monologue. And yet it is one of the most astoundingly original (and brilliant) novels I’ve ever read. The story opens in court. Our protagonist, the defendant in a murder trial, dismisses his barrister and then proceeds to give his own closing speeches. We hear his own story in his own voice from his own point of view. The voice is addictive. I found myself invested in the characters and fully immersed in the story. I couldn’t put this book down. Imran Mahmood is a very talented, very brave writer, and You Don’t Know Me is an absolutely stunning debut.
Chris Whitaker: Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working as a financial trader in the city.
His debut novel, Tall Oaks, won the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. Chris’s second novel, All The Wicked Girls, was published in August 2017. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two young sons.
The Confession – Jo Spain: This rich, sexy Irish dude is into all sorts of dodgy dealings and then at the start he gets smashed up by this other dude who goes to the police and confesses but won’t say why he smashed him up. It’s special and awesome and I heart the Spanish.
Dark Pines – Will Dean: I totally loved this beauty. Tuva and the woods and a big old moose tick that’ll burrow into your eyeball if you let it. Will lives in a forest, he wears swimming goggles at all times, bless him.
The Devil’s Claw – Lara Dearman: Guernsey ain’t just home to tax-exiles, there’s also a devil with a giant claw and he uses the claw to claw people to death and then the police have to catch him so they line up all the people with claw hands and see which one has horns on his head. I’d so love to write this version to compliment Lara’s (arguably) better version, which sees a journo tracking a killer. A superb debut.
Emma Curtis ‘One Little Mistake’ – this domestic noir thriller is right out of my comfort zone, but it is so well done. The writing and the characters are just super. Although the plot hangs on a coincidence, I was prepared to go with it because I enjoyed the story-telling so much. If you want good writing and a gripping story, this is for you.
Katherine Web ‘The Hiding Places’ – this superb historical drama is set in 19th C Wiltshire, and centres on an old murder. The lives of the characters are drawn in exquisite detail, and the descriptions of the countryside are just breathtaking. Plus there’s a twist that you will not see coming. It deserves to be widely read.
Valerie Blumenthal ‘The Lupo Stick’ – Another hidden gem, this is self-published but available on Amazon. It’s a heady tale of betrayal, deception, and lost love set in Italy which totally swept me up in its setting. You really feel like you’re in a sun-drenched Italian seaside village, with a host of memorable, eccentric characters. Definitely worth looking out for.
Amanda Jennings: Amanda Jennings writes psychological suspense and is the author of Sworn Secret, which was published in the UK, US and Italy. It was an Amazon kindle Top 5 bestseller in the UK, a Top 100 bestseller in the US, and reached the number 1 spot in Italy. Her second book, The Judas Scar, was published in 2014 and optioned shortly after by a UK film and television production company. In Her Wake, is her most recently published book. It’s set in Cornwall, where her mother’s side of the family is from, and where she spent long and very happy childhood summers. Amanda is a regular guest on BBC Berkshire’s weekly Book Club and enjoys meeting readers at libraries, book clubs and literary festivals. She writes a blog and is active on Twitter. She lives just outside Henley-on-Thames with her husband, three daughters and an unruly menagerie of pets.
Dangerous Crossing – Rachel Rhys: I was already a fan of Tammy Cohen’s psychological thrillers and was excited to read her first historical novel under the name Rachel Rhys. Tammy writes with piercing observation and because of this her characters crackle. Mix this with a stunning portrayal of an England to Australia ship crossing, rich with sumptuous, historical detail, and an undercurrent of glamour and darkness at the hands of a brilliant writer, and you end up with a cracking read.
The Night Visitor – Lucy Atkins: Lucy Atkins manages to create an atmosphere in this book which is almost a character in itself. The book has two complex characters with interwoven lives and a creepy, insidious feel to it that stayed with me long after the final page was turned. One scene, featuring panfried pigeon breast, will ensure I never order pigeon from a menu ever again. Ambition can be a dangerous attribute and Lucy Atkins certainly knows how to show it in this original and totally enveloping novel.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman: This book took me by surprise and I loved it. Eleanor is a fabulous character and her way of looking at the world, of observing what society considers normal and flipping it through her own unique way of viewing the world is breathtaking. It’s a quirky book that covers serious topics with a light touch and insightful eye. The star of the book is Eleanor, of course. She got right under my skin and I still think about her and hope life is being kind to her. At the end, the bond she forms with a cat was one of my favourite relationship descriptions in any book I’ve read. Covering loneliness, isolation, friendship, kindness, acceptance, and understanding, this book is one I recommend to anybody I come across.
AK Benedict: A.K. Benedict read English at Cambridge and Creative Writing at the University of Sussex. She lives in Hastings and writes in a room filled with teapots and the severed head of a ventriloquist’s dummy. She did have a blow-up pirate but punctured it. Alexandra was the front-person of an underground indie band, has composed music for film and television and is currently writing her second novel. Her short stories and poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including The Best British Short Stories 2012. Her first novel, The Beauty of Murder, was published by Orion in 2013
It’s always hard to choose three books, and there were so many close runners-up – Steph Broadribb, Susi Holliday, Simon Toyne… and Luca Veste’s The Bonekeepers and Amanda Jennings’ The Cliff House are going to be huge next year – but the three books that have thrilled me most in 2017 are Slow Horses by Mick Herron, Exquisite by Sarah Stovell and The Sundial by Shirley Jackson. All three are beautifully written, shot through with dark intelligence and humour and carry delicious mysteries close to their chests. I have long been a devotee of Jackson but am now a fan of Stovell and Herron and will read everything they write from now on.