The best crime mystery books with unconventional characters

Why am I passionate about this?

As a crime author and screenwriter, I’m fascinated by the consequences of crime and how it impacts feasible characters. I try to illustrate this obsession by creating realistic stress situations for my characters, then showcasing how it affects their decision-making process. In writing the protagonist for Jack Hanger, I consulted two different psychologists to research the protagonist and to capture the severity of his circumstances in detail. For King of Sorrow, I created an unconventional antagonist, with the aim of showing readers how ambition and greed can corrupt the most rational mind. I believe it is my job to challenge conventions and entertain readers from the opening page.

I wrote...

Jack Hanger

By James Fouche,

Book cover of Jack Hanger

What is my book about?

When a criminal mastermind called Joe Taxi kills his brother, Dave Matters is forced to revisit the gritty Cape Town drug scene. However, he is no longer the ruthless Dave who ran drugs for the Wallace brothers. After a botched drug deal Dave wrestles with bouts of memory loss and an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now, to avenge his brother and uncover a mystery, he must abandon the safety of his mundane life. As the anticipation of a mass city riot mounts, Dave inches closer to a climactic confrontation with an old nemesis, as well as the pains from his past.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Silence of the Lambs

James Fouche Why did I love this book?

FBI Agent-in-training Clarice Starling is pulled into a manhunt to find a serial killer, known only as Buffalo Bill. Her best chance of finding the killer is to consult Hannibal Lecter, who is a former psychiatrist serving multiple life sentences for a series of murders.

While the main protagonist is superbly brought to life in the form of an ambitious Starling, it is Hannibal Lecter who breaks all convention as Clarice’s ‘partner’ in this tense crime thriller. He is calm, precise, clever, and, at times, unnerving, which makes this a compelling classic.

By Thomas Harris,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked The Silence of the Lambs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As part of the search for a serial murderer nicknames "Buffalo Bill," FBI trainee Clarice Starling is given an assignment. She must visit a man confined to a high-security facility for the criminally insane and interview him.

That man, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is a former psychiatrist with unusual tastes and an intense curiosity about the darker corners of the mind. His intimate understanding of the killer and of Clarice herself form the core of Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs--an unforgettable classic of suspense fiction.

Book cover of The Drop

James Fouche Why did I love this book?

After a lonely barman, Bob, rescues an abused puppy from a trashcan, his mundane world is turned upside down. He befriends an emotionally scarred woman, which puts him at odds with her ex, and unknowingly gets drawn into a con against the Chechen Mafia that uses the bar for money drops.

Lehane is masterful at creating flawed characters that pins readers to the text. As a short novel, The Drop is loaded with punchy dialogue, rapid characterisation, and off-beat humour. However, it’s barman Bob’s stoic presence that makes this such a fascinating read. He fades sublimely into the gloomy Boston crime scene in a profound way, which makes him one of the most unconventional protagonists caught on paper.

By Dennis Lehane,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Drop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times bestselling author Dennis Lehane's The Drop is a crime story, a love story, and ultimately a journey of faith, set in Boston's underworld.

"[A] gritty gem...a stark and moving short novel." - Publishers Weekly

Two days after Christmas, Bob Saginowski, a lonely bartender looking for a reason to live, rescues an abused and abandoned pit bull puppy from a trash can and meets a damaged woman named Nadia Dunn looking for something to believe in.

As their relationship grows, they cross paths with the Chechen mafia, who have taken over his cousin Marv's bar and use it…

Book cover of Headhunters

James Fouche Why did I love this book?

As one of Norway’s top recruitment specialists, Roger Brown views himself as a ‘headhunter’ extraordinaire. The fact that he moonlights as an art thief, is simply a way of dealing with his own inadequacies and his reckless spending habits. Unfortunately, his next heist goes horribly wrong. The story unfolds evenly and cleverly, with blunt bursts of murder and mayhem around every corner.

What makes this such a fun read, is the duplicitous nature of the protagonist. The absurdity of his circumstances is directly caused by his inability to refrain from committing other criminal acts. This internal struggle is brilliantly depicted throughout and creates a palpable tension for readers.

By Jo Nesbo, Don Bartlett (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Headhunters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER • A funny, dark, and twisted caper worthy of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers—about an aspiring art thief and the target who’s about to destroy his life.

“If you don’t know Nesbø, it’s time to get with it.” —USA Today

Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter, and he’s a master of his profession. But one career simply can’t support his luxurious lifestyle and his wife’s fledgling art gallery. At an art opening one night he meets Clas Greve, who is not only the perfect candidate for a major CEO job, but also, perhaps, the answer to his…

Book cover of Fight Club

James Fouche Why did I love this book?

An anonymous narrator working as a reclaim specialist for a car company, battles insomnia and severe boredom with everyday life. His mundanity gives rise to the introduction of the anarchic entity of Tyler Durden, an extremist who is the exact opposite of The Narrator in every way. Tyler coerces The Narrator into creating a club where similar-minded men can slog out their insecurities in bare-knuckle fights. Add a damaged damsel to the mix and Tyler quickly starts turning against The Narrator, who finds himself at odds when Tyler transforms Fight Club into an anti-consumerist movement that wants to bomb buildings.

While the narrator uses aliases when attending support groups to cope with his apathy, he remains unnamed throughout the novel, which creates a constant mystery for readers.

By Chuck Palahniuk,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Fight Club as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Chuck Palahniuk showed himself to be his generation's most visionary satirist in this, his first book. Fight Club's estranged narrator leaves his lackluster job when he comes under the thrall of Tyler Durden, an enigmatic young man who holds secret after-hours boxing matches in the basements of bars. There, two men fight "as long as they have to." This is a gloriously original work that exposes the darkness at the core of our modern world.

Book cover of The City & the City

James Fouche Why did I love this book?

Miéville once more challenges conventional narratives in this crime noir, with Inspector Borlú investigating the death of a young woman in the city of Beszel. However, Borlú quickly discovers that the victim was a resident of Ul Qoma, a parallel city that coexists with Beszel in the way that conjoined twins occupy the same body. They share the same geographical location, but only insofar as borders permit. The only way to cross these invisible borders is through a stringent immigration process.

What follows is a cat-and-mouse chase between two cities, where inhabitants have been taught to ‘unsee’ what is happening on the other side of the street. Borlú’s investigation is caught up in red tape, while a faceless entity is bent on starting a war between the two cities.

By China Miéville,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The City & the City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, the multi-award winning The City & The City by China Mieville is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.

'You can't talk about Mieville without using the word "brilliant".' - Ursula Le Guin, author of the Earthsea series.

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to…

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A Particular Man

By Lesley Glaister,

Book cover of A Particular Man

Lesley Glaister Author Of A Particular Man

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

About myself: As a novelist I’m crazy for detail. I believe it’s the odd and unexpected aspects of life that bring both characters and story worlds to life. This means that I try to be an observer at all times, keeping alert and using all five – and maybe six – senses. My perfect writing morning begins with a dog walk in the woods or on a beach, say, while keeping my senses sharp to the world around me and listening out for the first whisper of what the day’s writing will bring.

Lesley's book list on relationships and sexuality in post-World War II Britain

What is my book about?

This book is a literary historical novel. It is set in Britain immediately after World War II, when people – gay, straight, young, and old - are struggling to get back on track with their lives, including their love lives. Because of the turmoil of the times, the number of losses, and the dangerous and peculiar circumstances people find themselves in, sexual mores have become shaken and stirred.

But what happened after the war, in the time of healing and settling down? This novel examines the emotional, romantic, and sexual lives of three characters searching for a way to proceed.

A Particular Man

By Lesley Glaister,

What is this book about?

Love never dies in this novel by “a writer of addictive emotional thrillers” (The Independent).

Told from three perspectives A Particular Man is about love, truth and the unpredictable consequences of loss.

When Edgar dies in a Far East prisoner-of-war camp it breaks the heart of fellow prisoner Starling. In Edgar’s final moments, Starling makes him a promise. When, after the war, he visits Edgar’s family, to fulfil this promise, Edgar's mother Clementine mistakes him for another man.

Her mistake allows him access to Edgar’s home and to those who loved him, stirring powerful and disorientating emotions, and embroiling him…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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