FictionFan Awards 2021 – Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

Drum roll, please…

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2021.

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


All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2020 and October 2021* regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.

(*my reviews have been running late recently so some drifted into November this year)


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


Short Story Collections & Anthologies

Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

Literary Fiction


Book of the Year 2021


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!




* * * * * * * * *

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


I’m still out of synch with most modern crime fiction and have abandoned several this year, including some from authors I’ve previously enjoyed. However, happily there have also been some that I’ve loved, proving that it’s still possible to win the judge’s approval with a good story, written well! I gave a total of seven the full five stars, and have selected my shortlist on the basis that these five were all new releases within the last eighteen months or so…


The Final Twist by Jeffery Deaver

In the third and final part of Deaver’s Colter Shaw trilogy, Shaw has come to San Francisco on the trail of the conspiracy which he believes led to his father’s murder, finishing the story arc that has been running in the background of the previous two books. Here, he’ll find he is both hunter and prey, as the people behind the conspiracy try to stop him from getting the evidence he needs to bring them down.

Although it’s essential to switch off one’s credibility monitor, I enjoyed this one just as much as the other two in the trilogy. There are conventions to this kind of thriller and Deaver is a master of them, so that when he goes over the top, the reader is quite happy to go along with him. There is hardly any swearing, remarkably little gruesomeness and gore, and no graphic sex, so it’s all very tasteful despite the constant violence! I’ve enjoyed spending time with Deaver after a long gap away from his books.

Click to see the full review

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The Silence by Susan Allott

In 1997, in her flat in London, Isla Green gets a phone call from her dad in Sydney. He’s worried. He tells her that the police have been looking into the disappearance of Mandy Mallory, who used to be their next-door-neighbour back in 1967 when Isla was a very little child, and they seem to have him in their sights as a suspect in her possible murder. Isla has always been close to her dad, so she decides to go home to Sydney to support him through all this – the first time she has been home in years. At first she is convinced her father could never have killed anyone, but once she’s home old memories begin to resurface and she sees the people she thought she knew through different, more experienced eyes, and suddenly she’s not so sure any more…

The writing is terrific, the pacing is perfect, and Allott handles the subject of race and forced separations in the Aboriginal community with a great deal of subtlety, showing the differences in society’s attitudes between the two timelines and indeed with our current attitude too. The story itself is straightforward, never stretching credulity, and told with deceptive simplicity – all the complexity is in the excellent characterisation. A great début!

Click to see the full review

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The Pact by Sharon Bolton

It’s the night before A-level results and a group of six friends have gathered together as they’ve done most nights of this gorgeous summer. They’re confident they’ll get the results they need for their chosen Universities, for they’re the cleverest group in their expensive, academically-renowned school. But drink and drugs and youth are a dangerous combination, and they all agree to one last mad escapade that results in the death of a woman and her two young children. Panicked, they flee the scene, but they’re sure the police will soon trace the car they were in. And then Megan, the quiet one, the outsider, offers to take the rap for them all on one condition – that when she gets out, they’ll each do her one favour, whatever she asks. Fast forward twenty years… Megan is back, and she’s ready to call in the debt…

Goodness, when Bolton’s on form there’s no one to touch her for truly thrilling thrillers! This one grabbed me right from the start as I watched these six kids – selfish, yes, but also programmed to be high achievers by pushy parents and ambitious schools – do one stupid thing and then follow it up with another, even stupider. Even though the blurb reveals this early part of the plot, the tension that Bolton creates is irresistible, the definition of page-turning!

Click to see the full review

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The Less Dead by Denise Mina

When Margo Dunlop decides to seek out her birth mother, she discovers she’s too late – her mother, Susan, died shortly after giving Margo up for adoption. But the counselling service puts her in touch with her mother’s sister, Nikki, and they arrange to meet. Nikki has a strange story to tell, and a request to make. Like Nikki herself, Susan was a street prostitute on the Drag – Glasgow’s red light zone – back in the late1980s. Susan was brutally murdered and left lying naked in the street – one of a spate of murders of prostitutes over the course of a few years. Nikki is convinced the murders were carried out by one man, although the police disagree. The man in question had an alibi for the time of Susan’s murder, but Nikki hopes that Margo will be able to use her privileged position as a doctor to help break the alibi. At first, Margo thinks Nikki is some kind of fantasist, but events soon convince her that there may be some truth in her story…

This was a time of huge change for Glasgow, dragging itself out of the poverty and gang violence of the post-war era and recreating itself as a modern, vibrant cultural centre. Mina’s story straddles this transformation, Susan a product of the old times and Margo of a new, more affluent and perhaps more hopeful future, but still saddled metaphorically as well as literally by the city’s past. Mina’s knowledge of Glasgow appears to be encyclopaedic and this is a far more accurate depiction of the city than in the vast majority of contemporary crime fiction, written, I feel, with unromanticized affection, and the strength of the story of these despised and disregarded women well outweighs the slight weakness of the mystery plot.

Click to see the full review

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The Last Trial
by Scott Turow

Despite the quality of the shortlisted books, there was never any doubt over the winner this year. Not only is this an excellent novel in its own right, it represents the finale for one of modern crime fiction’s most brilliantly drawn characters – Sandy Stern.

Lawyer Alejandro “Sandy” Stern is old now and beginning to fail both physically and mentally, but when Kiril Pafko finds himself in trouble, Sandy agrees to defend him. Facing his own mortality, Sandy finds himself thinking back to the people who have been important in his life – his family and friends. Kiril is one of those friends, a brilliant Nobel prizewinner, who has developed a drug that combats cancer with spectacular results. Too spectacular – Kiril is on trial for suppressing negative studies into the side-effects of the drug, and for the murder of patients who, the prosecution claims, had their lives shortened by taking it. Kiril is also accused of having made a fortune by selling shares in the drug just before the negative studies became public. Although for Sandy the main aim is to have Kiril legally acquitted, Kiril is just as concerned about the damage to his reputation in the scientific community, and Sandy finds that their differing objectives mean that his client often impedes his attempts to argue the case on legal grounds.

Sandy Stern first appeared in Presumed Innocent in 1987 and Turow has used him over the series to present a thoughtful and realistic picture of how the law works in the US, slowly and not always achieving true justice, but an essential part of the democratic system of ensuring the rights of the individual. The books are always billed as legal thrillers which I think does them an injustice. To me, these long ago crossed the line into literary fiction – they are far more about the human condition in all its frailties and strengths than about exciting courtroom drama, and the writing is of the highest quality. A wonderful finale to what has been a superb series.

Click to see the full review

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Next week: Best Literary Fiction and
Book of the Year 2021

35 thoughts on “FictionFan Awards 2021 – Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

  1. The only one of these I’ve read is The Pact, which totally gripped me even though I found the plot as a whole difficult to accept and the ending wasn’t really believable. Now I think I must read The Last Trial. I haven’t read any of Turow’s books – why is that??

    Liked by 1 person

    • I rarely find modern thrillers believable but if they’re fast-paced enough I can switch off my credibility monitor for a while and go with the flow! Turow’s books tend to be so long and rather slow reads, but they are worth it…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Some excellent choices here, FictionFan! I’m not surprised to see the Mina and the Bolton; both are such talented writers, I think – they really are. I’m very glad to see the Turow as your winner, though. His legal novels are so multi-layered and rich, and of course, filled with interesting legal perspectives. Yes, I’d say it’s been a solid reading year for you! Oh, and thanks for reminding me of the Allott; that’s one that I want to read, but hadn’t quite put on the wish list yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It would have been a harder choice if the Turow wasn’t there. Bolton, Mina and Allott would all have been contenders for different reasons – Bolton for the fast-paced entertainment, Mina for the authenticity of her portrayal of Glasgow, and Allott because of the great characterisation and interesting storyline. So it’s just as well Turow made the job easy for me!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. At least you have still been able to find a few standout pieces of modern fiction among all the abandened ones. A few of these look quite appealing actually. I remember your reviews of the Pact and the Silence, and the Denise Mina one looks intriguing also. She is brilliant when on form, and her depictions of Glasgow always seem very authentic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m getting more brutal about abandoning books quite quickly rather than ploughing on even when I know they’re not working for me. Most of these are from authors I’ve loved before except the The Silence, which is a debut. Both Bolton and Mina are authors I sometimes enjoy, sometimes don’t, but I felt both were on top form in these books!


    • I’m reading less and less of it myself and finding I’m sticking more to authors I’ve loved in the past than trying new ones. Bolton can go either way for me – there have been a few that just haven’t hit the mark. But when she’s on form and we click, there’s no one like her! The Pact was great!


  4. I’ve only read The Pact and thought it was quite good, too. *sigh* You’re determined to convince me to catch back up with the Scott Turow books! (and it would be a lot of catching up)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved The Pact – when she’s on form I’m happy to switch off my credibility monitor and go with the flow! Hahaha, you know I’ll just keep going on about Turow until eventually you give in… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Similar in story but totally different in style! The Pact is simply fast-paced entertainment and doesn’t pretend to be at all deep and meaningful. Switch off credibility monitor and go with the flow time!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so odd that books seem to be taking so long to make their way across the Atlantic these days – I can only assume it’s Covid-related! Hope your library gets it – it’s a truly entertaining thriller!

      Liked by 1 person

    • There are a few of these that I’d say are at least as much fiction as crime – The Less Dead, which is really a look at the sex trade back when it was still mainly local women plying their trade on street corners, The Last Trial which is about ageing and ethics, and The Silence, which is mostly about the forced separation of Aboriginal children from their parents. The other two are more traditional thrills and spills.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You’ve got some big names on here!!! I read a few different reviews of Susan Alott’s book, and it seems to be a hidden gem that’s been discovered by book bloggers only – unless it’s big in Australia? I haven’t seen it here in Canada but I’m sure I could do some hunting, it really intrigues me!


    • Although The Silence is set in Australia, I have a feeling it was first published here in the UK so it’s probably British bloggers who’ve been reviewing it. I do hope it achieves the success it deserves – I think its story is relevant to what’s happening in lots of the former colonies and dominions at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

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