A drum roll please. Or maybe some moody midnight saxophone would be more fitting, given our genre. Whatever the tune, whatever the syncopation, the moment has come to unveil the winners of the 2023 Crime Fiction Lover Awards. Go ahead and scroll down to feast your eyes on the winners, or hang with us at the top for a moment as we outline how we got here…
This is the third year we’ve hosted these awards and, as you’ll see, there are seven categories. For six of them, our shortlists were nominated by readers, and the final winners were voted by readers too. Within each of the six categories, our team have also selected an Editor’s Choice Award.
In 2023, for the first time, we’ve added a lifetime achievement award to the roster. We call it our Life of Crime Award, and it has gone to an author whose work inspired the site itself.
A lot of work has gone into these awards, so thank you to the Crime Fiction Lover team. We’d also like to thank everyone who voted, and everyone who helped to spread the word about our awards this year. When you read this article, we hope you find the list we’ve produced both interesting and useful. This selection makes a great reading list and a great Christmas list to boot.
Book of the Year Winner: The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths
Could this be the last Dr Ruth Galloway novel? If so, the series is going out with a bang. Within our readership there exists a huge community of Elly Griffiths fans and each year the author is among the nominees without fail. This final case brings forensic archeologist Ruth and her onetime lover DCI Harry Nelson together once more for an investigation that soon turns the spotlight on another series regular – the lovable Druid Cathbad. This is a series that greets the reader like an old friend, but has never become samey or predictable. It has also done wonders for the Norfolk tourist industry and Griffiths has just produced a book of photographs of the county as a companion to her most popular novels. Congratulations to our Book of the Year winner, Elly Griffiths. You can read our review here.
Buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.org
Book of the Year Editor’s Choice: Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent
Congratulations from the Crime Fiction Lover team to Irish author Liz Nugent, who has produced a book that resonates with readers from Roscommon to Reno. Strange Sally Diamond is unusual, as crime novels go, and it’s got an unusual main character that we can’t help but empathise with. It seems as though Sally has some form of neurodivergent condition, given that she follows her father’s advice literally, and when he dies she puts him out with the bins. This is what brings her to the attention of the garda. But this novel is about much more than the isolation and stigma of being different. It’s about control – the ways some parents control children and the way some men control women, and what this can lead to. Is society sympathetic to the victims of this…? Hmmm. We recommend you pick up a copy, if you haven’t already. You won’t be able to put it down. Read our review here.
Buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.org
Best Debut Winner: You’d Look Better as a Ghost by Joanna Wallace
Meet Claire. She’s a serial killer you’ll love to hate – and also learn to love – in Joanna Wallace’s blackly humorous and delightfully twisted debut chosen by readers as the winner of our Best Debut Award for 2023. Claire is a decidedly nasty piece of work and someone you really wouldn’t want to upset, but Joanna Wallace skilfully manages to make her protagonist understandable and largely sympathetic. Your rational mind won’t want you to side with her, but sometimes you won’t be able to help it. Once a lawyer, Wallace has performed a neat balancing act to produce a book packed with humour but which doesn’t shy away from tricky subjects like child neglect and elder abuse. We’re already looking forward to her second novel, the Dead Friend Project, slated for publication in 2024. Congratulations to the author! Read our review here.
Buy it now on Amazon or Bookshop.org
Best Debut Editor’s Choice: City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita
From a debut with black humour to one that enfolds its readers in an icy and unsettling sense of claustrophobia. Iris Yamashita’s City Under One Roof is set in the fictional town of Point Mettier, Alaska – based on real-life Whittier in the USA’s 49th state. From the off, Yamashita creates a disturbing atmosphere of isolation as we follow the story of Anchorage police detective Cara Kennedy, who arrives to investigate the discovery of body parts on the desolate beach and then becomes trapped in Point Mettier, where both the temperature and welcome are icy cold. Iris Yamashita was nominated for an Oscar, and in her debut novel shows off her skills by creating a sense of the walls closing in while also conveying the sheer vastness of the setting and somehow making the reader feel at home. It makes for a book that our reviewer DeathBecomesHer couldn’t put down. Congratulations to the author!
Buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.org
Best in Translation Winner: Thirty Days of Darkness by Jenny Lund Madsen, translated by Megan E Turney
Looking at the nominations for our Best in Translation Award, Scandinavian crime fiction is back with a vengeance. It’s a sub-genre where authors are changing, adapting, evolving new ideas – and our winner, Thirty Days of Darkness by Jenny Lund Madsen, is an excellent example of this. While it’s not quite metafiction, it does poke a stick at attitudes in the world of literature and publishing, with main character Hannah Krause-Bendix taking on the challenge of writing a crime novel in 30 days. That’s what takes her from Copenhagen to a remote village in Iceland, where the gloomy isolation is meant to stimulate crime fiction thoughts but actually what happens is the author become embroiled in a a crime story taking place around her as she tries to write. A brilliant set-up leads to a brilliant story! The votes piled in for this one and our congratulations go to Jenny Lund Madsen, translator Megan E Turney and the team at Orenda Books. Read our review here.
Buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.org
Best in Translation Editor’s Choice: The Sins of our Fathers by Åsa Larsson, translated by Frank Perry
While readers voted for a new voice in Nordic noir, our Editor’s Choice Award in the Best in Translation category goes to a book that picks up on the things that made this sub-genre so interesting in the first place. The Sins of our Fathers involves a 60-year-old cold case, in a cold Arctic setting, and the investigation is led by Rebecka Martinsson, a character popular both on the page and on screen. While she digs to find clues about a man who went missing in 1962 and has now been found in a freezer, the northern city of Kiruna itself is on the verge of collapsing into the caverns of the iron mine that the city was built to serve. (This actually happened.) Procedurals like this, rich in chemistry between well-established characters, don’t come along every day. Congratulations to Åsa Larsson and translator Frank Perry.
Buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.org
Best Indie Novel Winner: Scratching the Flint by Vern Smith
Ah, the Canadian city of Toronto. It’s so clean and friendly. But, did you know that behind that façade was a web of corruption that went right to the top of the city’s police force? Murder, drug trafficking, prostitution, racketeering and money laundering went on, and some top cops were in on it. Canadian author Vern Smith knows these tales and in Scratching the Flint delivers a hard-hitting, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny pulp crime novel in which an anti-fraud cop ends up acting outside the law himself in order to achieve justice. It’s a book that has driven lovers of old school pulp doollally, even though it’s set in 2001. Congratulations to Vern Smith and Run Amok Books on Scratching the Flint, winner of our Best Indie Novel Award.
Buy it on Amazon
Best Indie Novel Editor’s Choice: The Associate by Victoria Goldman
Victoria Goldman first hit our radar with The Redeemer, which made our shortlist for Best Debut Novel in 2022. This year she’s back and our team has chosen her second novel, The Associate, for our Editor’s Choice award in the Best Indie Novel category. This time, journalist Shanna Regan is searching for a missing architect who had been heading up an interfaith Jewish-Muslim charity project in East London. This is a book that holds a mirror to the times we are living in, and freelance journalist Goldman certainly has her finger on the pulse as she explores themes of racism, identity, gang culture and revenge. She’s also a dab hand at conveying realistic locations, with some mightily dark and threatening corners of London brought to alarming life. Congratulations to Victoria Goldman and Three Crowns Publishing.
Buy it on Amazon
Best Crime Show Winner: Only Murders in the Building S3
Congratulations to the cast and crew of Only Murders in the Building – season three has been a laugh a minute, it’s been extremely popular with our readers and it has landed our Best Crime Show Award for 2023. Martin Short, Steve Martin and Selena Gomez as a trio of crime-solving podcasters in The Arconia apartment block in New York ensured there would be great acting and sublime comedy from the off, and we now feel a part of that chemistry as the main characters shed their loneliness somewhat and bond as a team. Each episode puts forward different potential suspects, brings various side characters into focus and develops the story of each protagonist following the murder of a Broadway actor in the building. The mystery certainly grows convoluted, but in-between the laughs it’s a powerful driver of this fantastic, must-watch crime show. Where most crime shows are dark and atmospheric, challenging and even confrontational, this is light, funny and full of feeling. You can watch it on Disney+.
Best Crime Show Editor’s Choice: Happy Valley S3
It takes guts for a screenwriter to take a huge break between series – in this case a jaw-dropping seven years! Some pondered if Sally Wainwright was making a big mistake in waiting for a relatively minor character to grow up, but Catherine Cawood’s grandson Ryan (Rhys Connah) is pivotal to everything that goes down in explosive fashion in the third and final series of this hard-hitting series set the decaying urban sprawl of West Yorkshire. Sarah Lancashire has rightly picked up all the plaudits as Cawood, a long-serving police officer heading for retirement, but James Norton gives a stellar performance as Tommy Lee Royce, the convicted killer hell-bent on escaping and killing Cawood, who is, in a sense, his mother in law. The BBC stuck to weekly episodes on mainstream television when it aired the programme in January 2023, and that old fashioned drip-feed created a huge buzz. They’re talking about it still: the show is THAT good! Congratulations to its makers, from the editors of Crime Fiction Lover. The entire series is available on BBC iPlayer in the UK.
Best Crime Author Winner: Michael Connelly
Former Los Angeles Times crime reporter Michael Connelly has to date set most of his 38 novels in the City of Angels. While there have been the occasional flirtations with other characters like reporter Jack McEvoy and Las Vegas criminal Cassie Black, his mainstays are Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch, Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller and, most recently, LAPD late shift detective Renee Ballard. Connelly plays with the characters in his universe like a chess grand master, leading to collaborations between Bosch and Ballard and also the coming together of half brothers Haller and Bosch – most recently in Resurrection Walk. Connelly’s creations are never stuck in a time warp; they age with each book and what happens in their fictional worlds is often impacted by what has been going on in reality. You will find everything from 9/11 to COVID-19 within the pages of this author’s works. It’s what keeps his fans coming back for more, time and again – and why they voted him Best Crime Author 2023. Congratulations, sir!
Best Crime Author Editor’s Choice: Mick Herron
Mick Herron is a perennial favourite here at Crime Fiction Lover. We have followed his Slough House series from its inception and although he took a break from Jackson Lamb and company in 2023, he did stick with the shady world of spooks and spying in The Secret Hours, a standalone released in September. It’s a book that features Herron’s wry humour and trademark pitch-perfect characterisation – something that we have been lapping up in the Apple TV+ adaptations of the aforementioned Slough House (Slow Horses) novels. Mick Herron might not be on social media and apparently he doesn’t even have a smartphone or wifi, but he certainly has his finger on the pulse when it comes to what readers want. His work marks a sea change in espionage – as nuanced and meaningful as greats like le Carré, but with a deep vein of satire for an audience more cynical, more opinionated and perhaps better informed than ever before. Congratulations from the Crime Fiction Lover editorial team.
Life of Crime Winner: James Ellroy
Our Life of Crime Award recognises the achievements of a crime fiction author across their career. It’s a new one, and the first winner of the Crime Fiction Lover Life of Crime Award is James Ellroy. Congratulations, sir!
Without James Ellroy, there wouldn’t be a site called Crime Fiction Lover. It’s as simple as that. His down and dirty scat man prose is what hooked the founders of our site on crime fiction – and most of our contributors too. Novels like The Black Dahlia and LA Confidential are beyond compare for the author’s use of language and his storytelling. We see the noble and the venal sides of Ellroy’s characters, and he was unafraid of showing huge chunks of Los Angeles history, and indeed American history, that many would rather forget. Here in the world of literary criticism, we often talk about books where the setting becomes a character. With James Ellroy, the prose itself is like another character in the story, running from coarse and aggressive to gentle and empathetic in a style that is unique, and unmistakably so.
Aside from being inspired by James Ellroy ourselves, we have lost count of the number of authors we’ve spoken to over the years who cite him as an influence. He reinvented LA as a noir setting and thumped at the beating heart of American crime fiction, jarring the genre out of its easy chair and kicking it into the gutter, where it belongs. A filthy gutter described in granular detail. In the media and in person, Ellroy is outspoken, controversial, foul mouthed but also warm and personable. He says things some people don’t like and we don’t agree with him on everything. The beauty of his influence is that some writers come to the genre as a counterpoint or response to him and his approach – we’re pretty sure he loves that as much as we do.
The Black Dahlia, first in Ellroy’s LA Quartet, is the place to start. When you’ve finished the quartet, the Underground USA trilogy is a must, starting with American Tabloid. It’s a fictional rerun of America’s history in the 1960s and 70s that feels as real and as corrupt as its characters.
So that’s it. James Ellroy. The first recipient of our Life of Crime award. Thank you and bless you. (Photo: Guillaume Paumier)
Read about last year’s winners here. Using our associate/affiliate links helps support the site.