Alison Flood’s best crime novels and thrillers of 2023

<span>Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer</span>
Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

Thanks to the success of the likes of Richard Osman and Lucy Foley, this was a year when we couldn’t move for cosy crime novels or locked room mysteries (or locked island or snowed-in ski lodge, you get the picture). Celebrities turning to crime (fiction) have also been thick on the ground, with everyone from Michael Caine to Martin Kemp and Shirley Ballas dabbling in the mystery genre.

The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett (Viper)
Any lover of code-cracking and mysteries would be delighted to find a Janice Hallett novel in their stocking. The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels, told in Hallett’s trademark mix of emails, texts and transcriptions, digs into the old case of a cult whose members all took their own lives 18 years ago, and is a joy of a puzzle to crack.

Black River by Nilanjana Roy (Pushkin Vertigo)
Scratch the itch of those who love a “small community dealing with murder” tale with Nilanjana Roy’s latest, set in Teetarpur, outside Delhi, “an hour’s drive down silent, forested roads covered in powdered summer dust”. Here an eight-year-old has been hanged from a jamun tree and sub-inspector Ombir Singh is trying to prevent mob justice.

Holly by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton)
If you want to properly scare someone this Christmas, then I’d advise plumping for Stephen King’s new novel, in which detective Holly Gibney is investigating the case of a missing girl when she runs up against two elderly academics, Rodney and Emily Harris. These two are vile as can be, and we learn how they lure passersby – children, adults, they’re not discriminatory – into their van, before locking them in a cage and feeding them fresh liver. Watching Holly’s path trek ever closer to their door is utterly nail-biting – and loads of fun.

Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward (Viper)
Dark places are also visited in this chillingly brilliant read. It follows the story of teenager Wilder Harlow as he spends the summer in a New England seaside town and hears tales of the terrifying Daggerman, who visits the bedrooms of the local children while they’re sleeping. Weird, eerie and atmospheric – I loved this.

The Year Of The Locust by Terry Hayes (Bantam)
Hayes’s long awaited follow-up to I Am Pilgrim is fantastic – a super-smart rollercoaster of a spy novel, sending its protagonist on impossible journeys to save the world (and turning very wild indeed at the end). However, its predecessor (also a super-smart rollercoaster of a spy novel) is possibly even better; if your thriller-loving giftee hasn’t read it, get both for them. They’ll thank you – but probably won’t pay you much attention for days as they finish reading.

One for my stocking
I’m crossing my fingers that one of my loved ones has picked up on the fact that I’ve yet to read the second Femi Kayode novel, Gaslight. I loved his first, Lightseekers, set in Nigeria and following Philip Taiwo, an investigative psychologist, and I can’t wait to curl up with Philip’s latest investigations.

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