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10 best crime and thriller novels of 2020 that you won’t be able to put down

From murder mysteries to gripping police investigations, these books will hold you in suspense  

Emma Lee-Potter
Thursday 09 July 2020 15:45 BST
Our selection of tense reads is perfect for some escapism
Our selection of tense reads is perfect for some escapism (The Independent/ iStock)

From Agatha Christie to Val McDermid, crime fiction is the most popular literary genre of all. There’s nothing better than a gripping crime novel or a tense psychological thriller to keep you turning the pages to discover “whodunit”.

Not surprisingly, the genre soared in popularity during lockdown. Research has shown that as well as an increase in the overall number of crime novels and thrillers in the bestseller charts, a growing number of 18 to 44-year-olds have become hooked on the genre over the past four months.

July is an important month for crime fiction. The winner of the 2020 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year prize will be announced in a virtual awards ceremony on July 23.

The six shortlisted books, which were all published in paperback between May 2018 and April 2019, are My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald, The Lost Man by Jane Harper, Joe Country by Mick Herron, The Chain by Adrian McKinty and Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee.

If you’re looking for a brilliant crime novel that has been published in hardback or paperback this year you’ll be spoiled for choice. Our selection below is based on originality, readability and the books’ ability to keep us on the edge of our seats.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘Remain Silent’ by Susie Steiner, published by The Borough Press


If you love crime fiction and haven’t discovered Susie Steiner’s superb Manon Bradshaw series you’re in for a treat. Remain Silent is the third book and follows the story of Manon, a detective inspector in the Cambridgeshire police, after she discovers the body of a young migrant hanging from a tree in a local park.

There are no signs of a struggle and no indication that his death was anything other than a tragic suicide – except for a note pinned to his trousers, written in Lithuanian and saying “the dead cannot speak”. Manon is a larger-than-life character – often impetuous and chaotic but brilliant at her job. Steiner is a wonderful writer and her books combine compelling plots with astute social commentary.

  1. £4 from Amazon
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‘The Lies You Told’ by Harriet Tyce, published by Wildfire


Former criminal barrister Harriet Tyce soared up the bestseller charts last year with her first novel, Blood Orange. Now she’s back with her second book – and it’s equally addictive. Barrister Sadie Roper has moved back to London so her 10-year-old daughter Robin can go to the ultra-competitive school she attended herself. But as she tries to get Robin settled and navigate the fraught politics of the school gate Sadie has also started work as a junior brief on a case involving a male teacher and his teenage student.

As if that wasn’t enough to contend with, Sadie’s estranged husband is clearly up to no good and she and Robin are living in her dead mother’s house – a place that holds poisonous memories. With lots of twists and turns along the way, this psychological thriller, out on August 20, is impossible to put down.

  1. £9 from Amazon
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‘Cry Baby’ by Mark Billingham, published by Little, Brown


Mark Billingham has built up a huge following for his crime novels starring detective inspective Tom Thorne – and rightly so. Cry Baby is a prequel to Sleepyhead, the first Tom Thorne Story, and sees the detective investigating the disappearance of a seven-year-old boy. It’s 1996 and two little boys are playing hide and seek in a London playground.

They run into the adjoining woods and to their mothers’ horror only one comes out. The case becomes even more sinister when two people connected to the missing child are found murdered in grisly circumstances. As always with Billingham’s books, this is a snappily-written and superbly-crafted read and we loved the 1990s detail – like video recorders, smoking in pubs and “yuppies” brandishing brick-like mobile phones.

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‘The Other Passenger’ by Louise Candlish, published by Simon & Schuster


Louise Candlish’s new novel is set in London’s docklands. Forty-something barista Jamie lives in a swanky house on the river with his partner Clare, a partner in a firm of estate agents. After they strike up a friendship with the charismatic Kit and his girlfriend Melia, Jamie and Kit start commuting to work together by riverbus.

But one morning Kit doesn’t turn up for the boat and an unknown passenger says they saw Kit and Jamie arguing the night before. Before he knows it, Jamie is in the frame for murder. He vehemently protests his innocence but what is the truth? Yet again, Candlish – who’s dubbed the queen of domestic noir – has produced a clever, pacy novel that we read in one sitting.

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‘The Never Game’ by Jeffery Deaver, published by Harper Collins


When it comes to writing thrillers with dizzying plot twists Jeffery Deaver is second to none. The Never Game is the first of a new series featuring enigmatic investigator Colter Shaw. He’s from a survivalist family and makes his living as “a reward seeker”, travelling around the country to solve crimes and find missing people. When a distraught father hires Shaw to find his teenage daughter, who’s vanished in the Silicon Valley, the case looks straightforward.

But when a second victim is kidnapped Shaw realises the crimes are connected to a sinister video game where victims are abandoned in the middle of nowhere with five random objects. If they want to survive they must use the objects to get out alive. This is an ingenious thriller with an unusual lead character. The follow-up, The Goodbye Man, is out in hardback now.

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‘Little Disasters’ by Sarah Vaughan, published by Simon & Schuster


Sarah Vaughan’s third novel, Anatomy of a Scandal, is being turned into a six-part Netflix series, telling the story of a high-flying politician whose marriage unravels when he is accused of rape. Her fourth book, Little Disasters, focuses on the complexities and demands of motherhood and is equally enthralling.

Liz is a senior registrar in paediatrics at a London hospital and has always regarded her friend Jess as a woman with boundless patience, energy and love for her three young children – the perfect mother in other words. But when Jess brings her 10-month-old daughter Betsey into A&E one night Liz starts to question everything she thought she knew about her friend. An insightful story of every mother’s nightmare.

  1. £10 from Amazon
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‘Blue Moon’ by Lee Child, published by Bantam


Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels have sold a staggering 100 million copies around the world – and we can’t get enough of them. In the 24th Reacher story the 6ft 5in ex-US army cop is on board a Greyhound bus when he spots an old man across the aisle. The man is fast asleep but he has a fat envelope of cash sticking out of his jacket pocket – and it’s clear that another passenger has spotted it too.

When the bus stops and the mugger makes his move Reacher rushes to the rescue. He discovers that the petrified pensioner owes thousands to loan sharks and before long he’s mixed up in a bitter vendetta between two deadly criminal gangs. Sentinel, the next Jack Reacher thriller, is co-written with Child’s younger brother Andrew and will be out in October.

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The verdict: Crime and thriller novels

Fans of crime fiction and psychological thrillers have a host of titles to choose from this summer but for its superb writing and stand-out lead character Remain Silent by Susie Steiner gets our vote. Blue Moon is Lee Child at his brilliant best andLouise Candlish’s The Other Passenger is a pacy read that kept us on our toes till the very last page.

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