There’s nothing better than curling up with a good crime novel, especially one that’s intelligent and believable. I’m quite partial to police procedurals, but they have to be free of cliche, well plotted and far from predictable — I don’t want to be able to guess the ending. It helps if they have a strong sense of place, which might explain my preference for crime in translation (Iceland and Japan, in particular), and focus as much on the why as they do on the how.
Here are five of my favourite police procedurals. The books have been arranged in alphabetical order by author’s name — click the title to see my full review:
‘Prime Cut’ by Alan Carter (2010)
The first in the Cato Kwong series, this story follows the Detective Senior Sergeant’s investigation into a torso found washed up on the West Australian coast during the height of the mining boom. Meanwhile, more than 1,400 miles away, police in Adelaide are investigating a murder in which the victim was electrocuted and bludgeoned to death, a crime that bears striking similarities to one that occurred in the UK in 1973. These two storylines eventually come together in an unexpected — and ultimately — shocking way.
‘In the Woods’ by Tana French (2008)
Tana French’s first novel (she has written five more since), this one introduces us to Rob Ryan, a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad, whose traumatic childhood past comes flooding back when he investigates the murder of a 12-year-old girl whose body was found in the local woods. Is this crime linked to a similar one Rob survived when a youngster? Is it the same perpetrator? This is a clever story that marries the police procedural with elements of the psychological thriller as well as giving great insight into the emotional life of police doing harrowing jobs in difficult circumstances.
‘The Dry’ by Jane Harper (2016)
A gripping crime novel set in a remote rural town during the height of the great Australian drought, this is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It focuses on what appears to be the murder-suicide of a man, his wife and young son, found shot dead in a farmhouse, but which may in fact have been carried out by an outsider. The ensuing investigation, carried out under-the-radar by a federal police officer who knew the dead man, and the local police sergeant, is full of twists and turns, but it’s the claustrophobic atmosphere of small town life painted here that makes this an extraordinarily compelling read.
‘The Devotion of Suspect X’ by Keigo Higashino (2011)
This cult crime thriller doesn’t follow the normal conventions of the genre. We know from the outset who committed the murder, but we don’t know the detailed steps taken to cover it up. The resultant cat-and-mouse game between the investigating detective and the mathematician who covers it up is one of the most intriguing and well-plotted books I’ve ever read. Unravelling this giant riddle is almost impossible — perfect for anyone who tends to guess the ending of crime books.
‘Tainted Blood’ by Arnaldur Indriðason (2005)
The first in Reykjavik Murder Mysteries series, Tainted Blood (also published under the title Jar City) introduces us to one of contemporary literature’s most morose (and intriguing) detectives, Detective Erlendur, whose troubled family life forms a fascinating backdrop to the bleak cases he investigates. In this story he investigates the murder of an elderly man found dead in his flat. The man had a rather nasty reputation and had been accused, but never convicted, of horrendous crimes in the past, so is this someone wreaking revenge for past wrongs? The atmospheric location, complicated characters, a little bit of science, a lot of detective work and some unexpected twists and turns, makes this book a winning one.
Have you read any of these books? Or can you recommend another unmissable crime novel or police procedural?