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

Emma Lee-Potter
·9-min read
Our selection of tense reads is perfect for some escapism  (The Independent/ iStock)
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.

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‘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.

Buy now £4.50, Amazon

‘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.

Buy now £9.62, Amazon

‘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.

Buy now £7.49, Waterstones

‘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.

Buy now £7.49, Amazon

‘Invisible Girl’ by Lisa Jewell, published by Century

Lisa Jewell excels at writing psychological thrillers that keep you guessing till the very end. Invisible Girl is her 18th novel and focuses on Saffyre Maddox, a 17-year-old Londoner with “a dark past” and “dark thoughts”. Something “really, really bad” happened to her when she was ten and she’s carried the pain of it ever since.

Meanwhile computer science lecturer Owen Pick is 33 and has never had a friend, let alone a girlfriend. When Saffyre disappears from opposite his Hampstead flat one night neighbours immediately start pointing the finger at him. Jewell’s story of secrets and injustices isn’t quite as gripping as The Family Upstairs, her previous novel, but it’s a must read all the same.

Buy now £14.99, Waterstones

‘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.

Buy now £6.55, Amazon

‘The New Girl’ by Harriet Walker, published by Hodder & Stoughton

Uber-stylish Margot Jones appears to have everything. As well as being the fashion editor of Haute, a glossy magazine, she has a loving husband, a gorgeous house and she’s pregnant with her first child. But after the birth of her baby daughter Margot is constantly fearful. Her oldest friend doesn’t want anything to do with her, she’s being trolled and she’s worried that Maggie, the freelance journalist covering her maternity leave, will do her job better than she does.

This stylish psychological thriller brilliantly portrays female friendships and rivalries, new parenthood and the glamorous world of fashion. Harriet Walker is a fashion editor herself so this is essential reading for anyone fascinated by fashion shoots, page layouts, catwalk shows and high-end designers.

Buy now £10.59, Blackwell's

‘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.

Buy now £10.99, Amazon

‘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.

Buy now £4.50, Amazon

‘Fair Warning’ by Michael Connelly, published by Orion

Former journalist Michael Connelly has written 35 novels, with worldwide sales of more than 74 million. He’s a first-rate storyteller and his latest hooks you from the very first page. Fair Warning (named after a real-life online news site that reports on consumer issues) is his third thriller featuring Jack McEvoy, a veteran news hack.

McEvoy is drawn into a Los Angeles police investigation after a woman he had a one-night stand with is murdered. After using his journalistic skills to find out more about her he’s rapidly on the trail of a vicious killer who selects and stalks his victims by using genetic data they have shared themselves.

Buy now £20.00, Waterstones

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.