FictionFan Awards 2017 – Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

A round of applause, please…

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2017.

For the benefit of new readers, and as a reminder for anyone who was around last year, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…


All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2016 and October 2017 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.


The categories tend to change slightly each year to better reflect what I’ve been reading during the year.

This year, there will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories:

Vintage Crime Fiction/Thriller


Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

Literary Fiction


Book of the Year 2017


For the winners!

I guarantee to read the author’s next book even if I have to buy it myself!

(NB If an author is unlikely to publish another book due to being dead, I will read a book from his/her back catalogue…)

For the runners-up!




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So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in…


By modern, in this context, I mean published fairly recently rather than being about contemporary subjects necessarily. I’m still reading far less modern crime than usual as the march of the first-person misery-fest novel continues its relentless rampage – we’ve done Girls, Wives, Twins, even Husbands, but sadly we’ve still got Aunts, Mothers-in-Law and Second Cousins, Twice Removed to go. Happily, though, there have still been some great books that rely on excellent writing, good characterisation and a strong story rather than on the dubious merit of having more twists than an entire ’60s disco…


The Dry by Jane Harper

Kiewarra has been suffering from drought for a couple of years now with no sign of rain coming soon. The farmers are worried, many having to kill their livestock for lack of water, and the knock-on effects are being felt through the town. As tensions rise, a tragedy occurs – Luke Hadler shoots his wife and young son, and then kills himself. Or so it seems, but Luke’s parents can’t accept that their son would have done this awful thing. So when Luke’s childhood friend Aaron Falk turns up for the funeral, they ask him to look into it. Falk is now a police detective working in the financial crimes section in Melbourne. It’s twenty years since he was last in Kiewarra, when he and his father left the town under a cloud of suspicion after another death. Many of the townsfolk are unhappy to see him back…

Aaron Falk is an excellent character and the plot is strong and well executed. Add in great writing and one of the best and most original thriller endings I’ve read in a long time, and it’s hard to find anything to criticise in this first-class début.

Click to see the full review

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Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton

A hot-air balloon is drifting over Northumberland, carrying the pilot and twelve sightseers. Jessica and her sister, Bella, now better known as Sister Maria Magdalena of Wynding Priory, are two of the party – a treat for Bella’s birthday. As they silently pass over an isolated farmhouse, Jessica sees a man killing a young woman – and then the man looks up and spots Jessica. By this time everyone in the balloon is watching the man. He only has one option – to kill them all…

Sharon Bolton appears so regularly in the FF Awards that she really deserves a category all to herself. No-one writes more entertaining thrillers than she when she’s on top form – and yet again, she’s on top form with this standalone. The secret is in the writing. Once you reach the end and look back, it’s so much fun to see how cleverly Bolton has misled and misdirected all the way through – never cheating though! She never once says anything that is inconsistent with the solution – she just says it in such a way that you don’t spot it at the time. Delicious!

Click to see the full review

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You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Devon Knox has spent all her young life becoming a gymnast, her eyes firmly fixed on the ultimate prize of reaching the elite levels in her sport, perhaps even the Olympics. But a hit-and-run accident that kills a young man connected to the gym disrupts her training schedule, and when there begins to be suspicion that Ryan’s death might not have been accidental after all, the repercussions ripple out to threaten the stability of her family and of the whole community of budding gymnasts and parents attached to the gym.

Yet again, Abbott takes us to the murky heart of teenage girls, where hormones play their twisted games, where innocence and sexuality crash head on, where everything is so intense it can feel like euphoria and despair are the only two possible states of being. Here, though, the main focus is on Devon’s mother Katie and on the pressure young athletes are under from well-meaning parents and ambitious coaches alike. A dark plot wonderfully executed, that kept me reading into the wee sma’ hours…

Click to see the full review

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His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

One day in 1869, young Roderick Macrae walked along the tiny street of his village and brutally murdered three of his neighbours. He is now in custody awaiting trial, and his defence lawyer is trying to get at the root causes that led him to commit these horrific crimes. This Booker-nominated novel is presented as if it were a true crime book with witness statements, medical examiner reports and so on. The first half gives us Roderick’s own account of what led to the murders, while the second half lets us read reports from experts and then takes us into the courtroom for the trial.

The book creates a completely convincing picture of crofting life at this period – a life of hard work and poverty, where the crofters’ living was entirely dependant on the whim of the local laird. Burnet shows the various authorities who held sway over the crofters and how easily these people could browbeat, bully and abuse those under their power, who had no rights to assert and no power to protest. The book also gives a thoroughly researched and fascinating look at how questions of criminality versus insanity were viewed at the time. And Burnet does an excellent job of showing us Roderick’s crimes from all angles and then leaving us to decide for ourselves his level of culpability. Excellent writing, well researched, interesting story, fascinating characterisation – it could so easily have won…

Click to see the full review

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The Long Drop by Denise Mina

William Watt wants to clear his name. His wife, sister-in-law and daughter have been brutally murdered in their home, and Watt is the chief suspect. But convicted rapist and burglar, Peter Manuel, recently released from prison, claims he knows who did the murders and can lead Watt to the murder weapon, a gun which has passed from hand to hand through the criminal underworld of Glasgow. So one December evening in 1957 the two men meet and spend a long night together drinking and trying to come to some kind of deal – a night during which the truth of the killings will be revealed.

This book is based on the true story of Peter Manuel, one of the last men to be hanged in Scotland, in the late 1950s. Mina has largely stuck to the truth, but has taken a few fictional liberties that give it an element of suspense even for people who may remember the real story. The writing is fantastic, conjuring up an utterly authentic feel for the city and its people at that time period, from the buildings still soot-blackened from the furnaces of the industrial revolution, to the hard-drinking, masculine society where violence is an ever-present threat, to the children playing in the streets. Its clear-sighted truthfulness reminded me of William McIlvanney’s portrait of the city in Laidlaw, so I was delighted when it won the McIlvanney Prize for best Scottish Crime book of the year for 2017. A worthy winner then for the even more prestigious FF Award for Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller of the year!

Click to see the full review

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Next week: Best Literary Fiction
Book of the Year 2017

42 thoughts on “FictionFan Awards 2017 – Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

  1. I waited for this announcement, Fiction Fan. Since it’s been a long time since I read crime fiction, I am certainly going to read ‘The Long Drop’. And I am eager to know the winners of the next categories. Waiting. 😊


    • I haven’t been reading much mainstream crime fiction for the last couple of years, but there are still some great books out there if only you can find them amid all the rest. This one is great – and very Scottish! I hope you enjoy it… and there are some goodies in next week’s finalists too… 😀


  2. I thought I was safe here as it’s not a genre I read much of, but no, my TBR has been added to yet again… His Bloody Project and your winner are definitely on there (admittedly they have been since you reviewed them but still 😉 )


    • Ha – gotcha! 😉 Both of those could just as easily count as “literary” fiction, I think – the quality of the writing in both is great and each has somehting to say about the “human condition”. I hope you enjoy them – I’m sure you’ll enjoy His Bloody Project. The Long Drop is very Scottish which may have swayed my decision a bit, but I think it will work for non-Scots too…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Those really are noble contenders, FictionFan. You had a good year of modern crime fiction, methinks. Not surprised you went for the Mina as the winner. What a talent she is! In fact, I’d bet you’d be interested in her next novel, even if that weren’t your commitment to the winner.


    • Yes, I’ve read far less of it this year because of all my vintage crime reading, but there’s still been some great stuff. Aha – you’ve spotted my secret plan – it’s actually me who wins all the prizes because I get to read all the next books! Cunning, isn’t it? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • His Bloody Project would have been an equally worthy winner. The deciding factor was that the Mina was set in my hometown of Glasgow – always a pleasure to give the prize to a local! But both are great – I hope you enjoy His Bloody Project. 🙂


    • I’d like her to resurrect Lacey too, but I’ve enjoyed most of her standalones. They’re simply light entertainment though – I don’t find they have any depth or much to say about the world, etc. But sometimes I like a book that’s just a fun thriller, and she does that so well…


    • Indeed! Seems to me most of the Scots crime writers are staying well away from the dreaded domestic thrillers and sticking either with police procedurals or going for a slightly more literary take on crime – suits me! I think you’ll enjoy the Mina…


  4. I rate The Dry as one of my top reads this year. I enjoyed the calm writing style and clever revealing of the truth, which was mostly all available as clues through out the book. A story line driven page turner rather than a high drama led one.


    • Absolutely, and I loved the sense of place she created and the portrayal of how the drought was affecting the area. I like an occasional high-action thriller but generally speaking I prefer either a cleverly plotted book or one that’s more thoughtful – this one achieved both.


  5. Although I’ve never read one of her books, I’ve heard great things about Denise Mina. I must admit though, the story about the hot air balloon sounds awfully unique and intriguing…


    • This was only my second Mina, I think – quite often the subject matter of her books doesn’t appeal to me, but this one was fascinating on a lot of levels. Sharon Bolton is the mistress of entertaining thrillers – I’d highly recommend this one for sometime when you just want a fast, enjoyable read… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m surprised you read Megan Abbott. Her books sound like they would tick all the boxes for pet your peeves. Dead Woman Walking has me intrigued simply because that is a lot of people to bump off–a whole balloon load.


    • Ha – but I’m nothing if not inconsistent! I love the way she writes about teenage girls – she’s one of the writers that I find gets classed quite often as YA because of the age of her protagonists, but I think she’s writing for adults about teenagers rather than writing for teenagers. Hehe – I know – only Sharon Bolton could make mass murder quite so entertaining… 😉


  7. Like Madame Bibi, I thought I was going to be safe… but no, these are now all on my list!
    I think it’s great that the winner is from your hometown!


  8. Wonderful as you can imagine i’m still weighing up my choices for my top ten but Dead Women Walking is a contender as is the wonderful The Long Drop which in part was responsible for me seeking out other books based on real crimes – Denise Mina did such a fantastic job of creating the atmosphere of the time and place I’m delighted she won your prestigious award.


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