My Top 5 Crime Books
Simon Van der Velde, author of The Silent Brother – reviewed on Crimeculture, July 2022
I’ll be up front about this – I’m definitely taking a broad definition of ‘crime’, because that’s what I like. The standard, off-beat detective unravelling clues chapter by chapter just doesn’t do it for me. Frankly, you can stick your cozy crime where the sun don’t shine. I need my crime gritty and powerful, and my characters vividly real – so if that’s what lights your candle – here we go:
5. Killing Floor – Lee Child – Really, I could’ve picked any of his books, possibly because they’re all the same. (Sorry, that was bitchy.) While there is something of a thematic overlap (!) – Lee gets me turning those pages at a pace no one else can match. He has that way of telling you, ‘something bad’s about to go down,’ that imbues every opening of a door, every glance and every sound, with an irresistible propulsive tension…
4. Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart – A slow burner in places, but so horrifyingly true, and so powerful. There are many books that show us what love can do. This one shows us what it can’t do. Heartbreaking, deadly, and dark as any Scottish winter.
3. Red Riding (Quartet) – David Peace – Again, you can take your pick from any of these brilliant – uber gritty, uber real, high speed novels, set in a 1970’s world of arbitrary (in)justice, abuse and terror. I was a child in the 70’s, fooled by the illusion of British justice, and the smooth lies of self-righteous politicians. David ripped all that away. He left my illusions tattered, shit-stained and snivelling in the dark.
2. The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead – Spectacular. A thrilling, terrifying and hugely important piece of work. I loved Cora from the start. Her bravery blew me away, and by God, she needed to be brave, because Colson quite rightly didn’t hold back when showing us exactly what was at stake, (burning and screaming for death, at the stake).
1. November Road – Lou Berney – Again, I could’ve picked any of his books. Every one of them is absolutely on it – with a tense hundred mile an hour plot, and the added joy of such sharp, charming, witty characters that they made me want to slide inside the pages with them. ‘I like a girl who can get the ball back over the net,’ he says. Well, me too, Lou, me too.
I wouldn’t say that I write quite like any of these guys, or even that I aspire too, but if I had a hat on, I’d take it off to them – truly, masters of our craft.
Simon Van der Velde 7th June, 2022