FictionFan Awards 2019 – Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

A round of applause…

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2019.

For the benefit of new readers, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…


All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2018 and October 2019 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


Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

Literary Fiction


Book of the Year 2019


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


This has been my worst year for modern crime fiction ever. I’m simply out of tune with what’s being produced now and I’ve pretty much given up the attempt to find the occasional one I enjoy. I suspect this may be the last time it appears as an award category unless something changes dramatically in the genre, and I’m seeing no signs that it will. In total, I only gave four books the full five stars, while in comparison I abandoned eleven, including several by authors I’ve previously enjoyed. So a very short and rather uninspired shortlist this time, I’m afraid…


The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Clare Cassidy is writing a biography of the writer RM Holland, who was best known for his terrifying ghost story, The Stranger. So she’s happy to be teaching at Talgarth Academy, a school in Sussex which was once Holland’s home and where his study is still intact, giving Clare access to his papers. Clare uses The Stranger as part of her lessons, both for her school pupils and for the adults who attend her creative writing classes in school holidays. But when one of her colleagues is brutally murdered, Clare is shocked to learn that a piece of paper was found by her body containing a line from Holland’s story. And soon, as the plot thickens, it becomes clear that somehow the story holds the clue to the case…

I loved the way Griffiths gradually fed us the story of The Stranger, which in itself is a pretty good pastiche of a real Victorian ghost story. But the spookiness doesn’t stop with it – the main story has some seriously goose-pimply moments, and at least two where I gasped out loud! Lovely Gothic stuff, with the old house and all the diary-writing and mysterious messages and other things I’ll leave you to discover for yourself. Even the investigation has a rather old-fashioned feel to it, with the emphasis on suspects, motives and clues rather than on forensics.

Click to see the full review

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The Man with No Face by Peter May

When a new editor takes over at The Edinburgh Post and begins to dumb it down in an attempt to increase circulation, top investigative journalist Neil Bannerman makes his feelings only too clear. So he is swiftly banished to Brussels, to the headquarters of the EEC (as the EU was called back then), tasked with digging up some stories in the run-up to the forthcoming British Parliamentary elections. No-one is expecting quite such a big story though. Bannerman’s fellow journalist, Tim Slater, is murdered along with a rising man in British politics, Robert Gryffe. When the story is quickly hushed up on orders from on high, Bannerman’s journalist interest is only more heightened, and he sets out to discover who carried out the killings and, perhaps more importantly, why.

This is actually a re-issue of a book first published in 1981, so only barely counts as “modern”. I wouldn’t describe the book as full-on noir, but there’s certainly a noirish feel to it with lots of damaged characters and corrupt politicians. But May doesn’t overplay his hand, and allows at least some of his characters some hope of redemption, all of which prevents the tone from becoming too bleak. A very good thriller and the EEC setting gives it an added layer of interest.

Click to see the full review

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Cruel Acts by Jane Casey

Leo Stone was convicted of killing two women and sentenced to life imprisonment. But now one of the jurors has revealed that the jury broke the rules and as a result his conviction is certain to be overturned when it comes before the Appeals Court. There will be a retrial, but Superintendent Godley wants to make certain that he’s convicted again, so Detective Sergeant Maeve Kerrigan and Detective Inspector Josh Derwent are assigned to reinvestigate the case and to find more evidence if they can. In the midst of the investigation, after Stone has been released, another woman goes missing…

The eighth in the Maeve Kerrigan series, one of very few contemporary series I’m still following. In general, I’m not wild about serial killer stories and helpless females being tortured and killed, but Casey handles it with her usual sensitivity and good taste. While Maeve’s personal life might be a bit complicated, she’s no angst-ridden maverick. The same goes for her colleagues, in fact – they’re probably the most realistic police team I can think of, and while there are petty jealousies and squabbles, they behave overall like the kind of professional force I’d like to think we actually have.

Click to see the full review

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Deadland by William Shaw

When a severed limb turns up inside an urn on loan to the local art gallery, DS Alex Cupidi and the team have a real mystery on their hands. First they have to try to work out to whom it belonged and if the owner is dead, and why it was left in a place where it was bound to be discovered, all before they can even begin to investigate who put it there. At the same time, two local lads, Sloth and Tap, are starting out on a life of petty crime. They decide to steal a mobile phone, but unfortunately for them they pick the wrong victim, and soon find themselves being hunted by someone who seems willing to go to any lengths to recover his property, so they run off into hiding. While Alex is tied up in the possible murder investigation, she can’t help being worried for the safety of the boys – criminals they may be, but they’re also victims, of difficult homes, of substandard schools, of a society that doesn’t seem to care. And they’re the same age as Alex’ own daughter, Zoe…

This is part police procedural, part fast-paced thriller. Alex is another detective who avoids being angst-ridden and her relationship with her daughter is very credible. The two boys, Tap and Sloth, are great characters – Shaw makes us care so deeply about them that the tension level ramps ever higher as the story unfolds, with some real heart-thumping moments along the way. And there’s no cosiness about it, so that there’s a real feeling of fear that one or both of them may pay the ultimate price for their stupid crime. But equally their story is not too grim or gritty to be enjoyable.

Click to see the full review

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Next week: Best Literary Fiction

35 thoughts on “FictionFan Awards 2019 – Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

  1. I’m glad it’s not just me who’s kinda gone off modern crime somewhat. I think it is partly because my reading tastes and habbits have shifted quite a bit in the last couple of years, but I also reckon too many cliches and tiresome tropes are starting to appear which have prevented me from fully engaging with anything I have read from this genre for some time. Having said that, I think I might enjoy the Stranger Diaries, as I like novels within novels for some reason.


    • The more I read of vintage crime, the more I realise that modern crime isn’t really what I think of as crime fiction at all. There’s rarely a real mystery with suspects and clues and so on. Instead it’s all angst and misery and “social issues”, and is quite often sordid and even voyeuristic. Add in the often bad writing, the present tense, multiple viewpoints and split timelines, and the inevitable “I-did-not-see-that-coming” twist, and I’m actually surprised I’ve stuck with it as long as I have! 😉 However, I do recommend The Stranger Diaries – it was the first of the new Gothic crime novels I’ve read although that too has become a trope now.


  2. I want to read Deadland, FictionFan, but just…haven’t yet. This is a great reminder that I should. I’m very happy that you liked it as well as you did. And I’m not surprised to see both a Casey and a May on your list. Interestingly, all of these have a great focus on the local atmosphere, and I do like that in a novel. Some worthy reads there, that’s for sure!


    • I’ve still not read any of Shaw’s other books – still suffering from that “too many books, too little time” issue! Yes, the May and Casey novels are both very good, and the Elly Griffiths’ book is great – it was in a tense neck-and-neck race for the award and could very easily have been the winner… 😀


    • Hahaha! I probably will – the books always sound very tempting… 😉 I fear all this vintage crime has reminded me that I much prefer the traditional style of mystery, with proper clues and suspects and so on.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Modern crime is too dark for me, for the most part – not that classic crime was never dark, but there is such a bleakness to most of the recent crime novels I’ve read, without any glimmers of hope. I do like the idea (and the cover) of The Stranger Diaries, though – maybe that would be one for me.


    • Yes, I agree. They seem to want to harrow the readers instead of entertaining us, and really I always read crime fiction as entertainment, and turned to literary fiction or factual if I felt in the need of being harrowed. I think reading so much vintage crime fiction has reminded me of how entertaining the older style novels usually were in comparison to today’s. The Stranger Diaries is very good, though, and while it’s definitely contemporary there’s a kind of older-fashioned feel to it somehow…

      Liked by 1 person

    • I must admit it was a toss-up which of those two should win, and really Deadland got it because I haven’t read him before, whereas Elly Griffiths regularly appears on my Awards shortlist! I think you’d really enjoy Deadland… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s Stranger Diaries that grabs me from this group. I already love her Ruth Galloway books and hope to love her other series (have The Zig Zag Girl in my kindle). This one is tagged in my library app.


    • It really was a toss-up between The Stranger Diaries and Deadland, and Deadland got it mostly because I know far more people already read and love Griffiths – as I do! I’ve kinda gone off the Ruth Galloway books recently (present tense!), but I love her other series – the new one is just about to come out, so I’ll hopefully be reading it next week! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hmmm strange i don’t remember you reviewing this one before, but I really do like the sounds of it. Especially the fact that it focuses on two young criminals, and an entry way into feeling empathy for those who are usually framed as ‘the baddies’.


    • It seems like ages ago since I reviewed it, but it was one of those books I loved everything about, especially the way he handled the two young boys who came over as completely believable and empathetic. He also included a lot of diversity in it without great big arrows saying “Look! Diversity!” 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Elly Griffiths is really great – one of the best and most consistent writers out there at the moment, and incredibly prolific! Deadland is also excellent, especially the two young boys – I think you’d enjoy it! Thank you – yes, my break seems to be stretching longer than I originally intended, but I should be back soon! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve read several by Griffiths and found them entertaining. I haven’t come across The Stranger Diaries yet, but I’d like to add it to my TBR. The Peter May sounds good, too.


    • I think Griffiths is one of the best and most consistent writers out there at the moment, and I love how she tries different things. It was all the lovely Gothic touches in The Stranger Diaries that made it so enjoyable! Peter May is another who nearly always hits the mark for me and it was fun getting to read one of his earliest books… 😀


  7. I do find The Stranger Diaries the most intriguing of this group. I’m not sure why your Deadland description reminds me of Coen Brother movie called Blood Simple. It’s pretty grim, though, and not for the faint of heart.


    • I haven’t seen Blood Simple, so can’t compare them. Deadland did have its grim and gritty elements, but it also had a fair amount of humour and a lot of warmth from the excellent characterisation, especially of the two young boys. The Strange Diaries is also excellent, with lots of lovely Gothic elements in a modern setting – it was really a toss-up which of those two should win… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I normally enjoy Peter May and Elly Griffiths but haven’t read the ones you included here. Deadland sounds great as well. I like all the lists people are doing at the moment of modern crime. It is a bit of a jungle to find the good ones, and there are just too many bland crime novels being published. Oh, and I noticed, even when you are on a ‘break’, you post more frequently than me. 🤔


    • They are both favourite authors of mine, nearly always appearing on my award shortlists every year! I thought The Stranger Diaries was Griffiths at her best, and the May was especially interesting because it was one of his very early novels before he became a bestseller, with the result that it had been out of print for years. I was delighted to find it was just as good as his later books. But overall, I’m finding I’m enjoying vintage crime far more than contemporary at the moment so I’ve decided to just go with that flow for a while. Hahaha – yes, I think my poor readers probably needed a break from my prolific output just as much as I did… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Was The Lewis Trilogy May’s big breakthrough? I loved these books and haven’t found that his other books could quite live up to those. Coffin Road was great, but it read more like traditional crime, whereas I found The Lewis Trilogy was so much more than a crime thriller. And my comment about posting frequency related to my own rather pathetic posting schedule, I can only admire your productivity.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, the first in the trilogy, The Blackhouse, was picked by Richard and Judy (Britain’s alternative to Oprah) and so he became an overnight success after years of having a small but dedicated following. Most of his earlier books and some of the later ones are definitely more in the standard thriller line, but I think Entry Island, I’ll Keep You Safe and Runaway are more in line with the style of the Lewis books. Entry Island may be my favourite of all his books. Haha – thank you! My productivity currently seems to have stalled badly! I may have to hire an assistant… 😉

          Liked by 1 person

    • I much prefer her second series, the Stephens and Mephisto books, to her most famous Ruth Galloway series, and I particularly liked this standalone – I hope she does more of them and less of the series books, in fact.


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