Books of the past, present and future. My top reads of 2020 (and early 2021).

As we gladly say goodbye to 2020, the good news is that we should be able to meet up in more normal circumstances at some point in 2021. My reading this year has been a little different as I’ve relied on well-loved authors such as PD James and Josephine Tey and also read widely outside the crime genre. However, I’ve also enjoyed some outstanding crime novels which were published in 2020 and have discovered four exceptional reads for 2021.

First up my top five crime reads of 2020 (in alphabetical order).


1. The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves: Vera, snow and family secrets. What more could you want from a crime novel?

2.  The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths The welcome return of Ruth Galloway to Norfolk and a genuinely creepy tale.

3. The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel Not a traditional crime novel but a powerful story of a Bernie Madoff style figure and the impact of his crimes on family and victims.

4. The Wayward Girls by Amanda Mason Reminiscent of the Essex poltergeist hauntings, I loved the strong characterisation and atmospheric setting.

5. Sorry for the Dead by Nicola Upson The combination of Josephine Tey and Charleston makes for a rich narrative and there’s an intriguing historic murder to solve.

And what are the books you really want to read for 2021?

First up is the fabulous Body of Stars by Laura Maylene Walter. Set in a world where women’s skin is mapped with markings which predict their future, Celeste reaches the age where her markings change from temporary to permanent. She finds her changing body an object of fascination and she, along with other changelings, becomes an abduction target. The story is both compelling and menacing and bursts with originality.

Body of Stars is out on the 18th March

If you love alternative realities, another book I’ve read which pulled me into its worlds was The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley. Joe Tournier receives a postcard with an etching of a lighthouse on the front. It has been in the sorting office for 91 years but Joe discovers the lighthouse has only recently been built. Joe is a British slave in the French Empire. It’s a world where the French won the Napoleonic Wars. Or is it? Joe can remember a world where English is spoken and in his quest to discover if his memory losses are down to epilepsy or a more shadowy truth, he travels to Scotland to visit the lighthouse in the postcard. Brilliantly inventive with a plot designed to enthral, I didn’t want to leave the world Pulley created.

The Kingdoms is out on 27th May

The Last House on Needless Street is an atmospheric, creepy thriller reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Lulu disappeared aged six, the supposed victim of a predator. Dee, her sister, is haunted by the disappearance and rents a house near one of the suspects at the time. Ted lives with his daughter Lauren and cat, Olivia.  A loner who takes trips only to visit a dubious therapist,  is Ted responsible for Lulu’s disappearance? Unusual, sad and ultimately redemptive, it’s a book to surprise and delight.

The Last House on Needless Street is out on 18th March.

Finally, The Drowned City is the first in a series by K J Maitland. Set in the year following the Gunpowder Plot, a conspirator, Daniel Pursglove, is set free in exchange for entering Bristol and spying on the Catholic conspirators there. The city is recovering from a drenching by a River Severn wave which killed thousands. In the middle of mayhem, Daniel finds himself hunting for a killer. Beautifully written with a dark heart, Maitland knows how to pull you deep into the early Jacobean period.

The Drowned City is out on the 1st April.

So, some great books to look forward to. What were your outstanding reads for 2020?


New books by my Favourite Writers

It’s always very exciting when one of my favourite writers publishes a new book. The summer and autumn of 2020 has brought a raft of new titles, some delayed because of COVID, and here are four of my favourites.

First up is Margaret Murphy who I first read in back in 2005, I think. Her thought-provoking psychological thrillers were enthralling and I particularly loved the Liverpool settings. Murphy went on to write thrillers under the name of AD Garrett and Ashley Dyer.  I was delighted to see that Joffe books are now publishing her backlist along with a new book, Before He Kills Again featuring Detective Cassie Rowan. Cassie is working undercover on the streets of Liverpool to capture a predator known as the Furman who is killing women sex workers. As I’ve come to expect from Murphy’s books, this new thriller combines a compelling plot along with a keen eye on life for the working girls and the subtleties of Cassie’s relationship with her colleagues.

Marnie Riches is a versatile writer whose crime series have been published to rave reviews.  She’s written a series of historical sagas about the early days on the NHS under the name of Maggie Campbell, the first of which is Nurse Kitty’s Secret War. It has a Manchester setting,  Park Hospital which is now the Trafford General. It’s just after the war and Kitty Longthorne is a nurse juggling a family unsupportive of her career, a romance with a doctor and the stresses of nursing in a new regime. There’s plenty of suspense, especially in relation to Kitty’s love life and I personally loved the insights into the birth of the NHS and it’s impact on ordinary lives still reeling from the effects of war. Meticulously researched this book is a perfect celebration of the early days of the NHS.

Elly Griffiths is one of my favourite writers. The Lantern Men is the latest outing for DCI Harry forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson. A man convicted for killing two women is prepared to reveal the location of other bodies but only if Ruth will do the digging. Ruth has relocated to Cambridge but is unsettled personally and professionally. I love how Griffiths keeps the will they/won’t they drama going for Ruth and Nelson and there’s a nice touch of folklore about the existence of the lantern men in the marshes. Possibly my favourite in the series, I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

Jane Bettany is a debut writer who I met at one of my writing workshops and was lucky enough to get a glimpse of the early chapters of the book which became In Cold Blood. DI Isabel Blood investigates a body in the back garden of a house she once lived in as a child. The forensic team think the body has been in the ground for forty years which coincides with the date of Isabel’s father’s disappearance. In Cold Blood won the 2019 Gransnet and HQ writing competition and it’s easy to see why. It’s a tightly written police procedural with a very relatable protagonist and a compelling plot. If you like Elly Griffiths, I’m sure you’ll love this book.