The best crime novels with amateur detectives

M.R. Mackenzie Author Of In the Silence
By M.R. Mackenzie

Who am I?

For as long as I’ve enjoyed crime novels, I’ve always been drawn to the figure of the amateur detective. Something about the notion of the every(wo)man, forced to rely on their own wits and limited resources to solve the mystery and outsmart the killer (and sometimes the police!), has always appealed to me far more than that of the professional who does it for a living. When I wrote my first novel, In the Silence, I knew from the word “go” that I wanted to tap into this rich but often-overlooked vein of crime fiction with my own plucky amateur sleuth, determined to right the wrongs of the world.


I wrote...

In the Silence

By M.R. Mackenzie,

Book cover of In the Silence

What is my book about?

Anna Scavolini hasn’t set foot in Glasgow for ten years – and she’s not short of reasons. On her first night back in town, she stumbles on an old flame, Andrew Foley, stabbed and bleeding to death on the snow-clad slopes of Kelvingrove Park. With the police making little headway, Anna begins her own investigation, unearthing a trail of long-buried secrets leading back to a crime committed over a decade ago – one so unspeakable its perpetrators are prepared to take their silence to the grave.

Shortlisted for the Bloody Scotland Debut Prize and longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize, 2019.

The books I picked & why

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Garnethill

By Denise Mina,

Book cover of Garnethill

Why this book?

Before I read Garnethill, my perception of the typical Glasgow crime novel protagonist was that of the hard-drinking, rule-breaking, middle-aged, divorced male detective – in other words, the usual cliché. Maureen O’Donnell shatters that. A survivor of childhood abuse, she’s treated as an unreliable eyewitness and potential murder suspect due to her mental health history and turns detective to entrap and unmask a killer who’s been targeting others like her – women whose voices are ignored because they’re deemed to be “crazy”. Packed with colourful characters and raw, angry prose, Denise Mina’s debut novel has a rough-and-ready quality compared to her later work, but which is entirely suited to the subject matter – a defiant battle cry against both the men who abuse their power and those who look the other way.

Garnethill

By Denise Mina,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Maureen O'Donnell wasn't born lucky. A psychiatric patient and a survivor of sexual abuse, she is stuck in a dead-end job and a secretive relationship with Douglas, a shady therapist. Her few comforts are making up stories to tell her psychiatrist, the company of her friends, and the sweet balm of whisky. She is about to put an end to her affair with Douglas when she wakes up one morning to find him in her living room with his throat cut. iewed in turn by the police as a suspect -- aided and abetted by her drug-dealing brother Liam -…

1974

By David Peace,

Book cover of 1974

Why this book?

Taken together, the four novels in David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet form a sprawling, semi-fictional account of corruption and brutality within the notorious West Yorkshire Police force. Each instalment has a different protagonist, including both police officers and civilians, with the first, 1974, centred around an ambitious junior reporter who, while investigating a series of child murders, stumbles upon a shocking conspiracy involving the police and a local business magnate. Written in a terse, noir-infused style that brilliantly conjures up both its period setting and location, 1974 is one of the darkest and most unnerving crime novels ever written – one in which hope is an illusion and the ethos of the bad guys is ably summed up by the unforgettable line: “This is the North. We do what we want!”

1974

By David Peace,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Jeanette Garland, missing Castleford, July 1969. Susan Ridyard, missing Rochdale, March 1972. Claire Kemplay, missing Morley, since yesterday. Christmas bombs and Lucky on the run, Leeds United and the Bay City Rollers, The Exorcist and It Ain?t Half Hot Mum. It?s winter ,1974, Yorkshire, and Ed Dunford?s got the job he wanted. Crime correspondent for the Evening Post. He didn?t know it was going to be a season in hell. A dead little girl with a swan?s wings stitched into her back. In Nineteen Seventy Four, David Peace brings the passion and stylistic bravado of an Ellroy novel to this…

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By Stieg Larsson,

Book cover of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Why this book?

Stieg Larsson’s posthumous novel took the world by storm on its release, with much of the buzz centering around the “girl” of the title – asocial goth hacker Lisbeth Salander, rightly lauded as a breath of fresh air in a genre not always known for its innovation. For my part, though, what drew me in was disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist’s quest to solve the 40-year-old mystery of the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. I vividly remember reading it for the first time and being sucked into his investigation, my pulse quickening with each fresh revelation and breakthrough. A modern, feminist spin on the classic locked room mystery, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a publishing phenomenon that more than lives up to the hype.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By Stieg Larsson,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

***********************
The phenomenal international bestseller - 100 million copies of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series sold worldwide.

One of the Bookseller's 30 most influential books of the last 30 years.

"What a cracking novel! I haven't read such a stunning thriller debut for years. Brilliantly written and totally gripping" Minette Walters

With an Introduction by Val McDermid

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder - and that the killer is a…


Fishnet

By Kirstin Innes,

Book cover of Fishnet

Why this book?

I suspect one of the reasons I enjoy reading (and writing) about amateur detectives is that I’m instinctively drawn to stories of the dispossessed – those without a voice, forced to take matters into their own hands because the proper authorities won’t listen. Kirstin Innes’ debut novel, about a woman investigating the disappearance of her sex worker sister, is not for the fainthearted: a deep dive into a parallel world that foregrounds the voices of the women who inhabit it and challenges widely-held conceptions about them – namely that they’re all poor, pathetic victims in need of rescuing. Innes’ thorough research shines throughout, and the result is a compelling, informative, and thought-provoking novel that avoids the common tropes associated with the “dead hooker” subgenre of crime fiction.

Fishnet

By Kirstin Innes,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Twenty-year-old Rona Leonard walks out of her sister Fiona's flat and disappears.
Six years on, worn down by a tedious job, child care and the aching absence in her life, Fiona's existence is blown apart by the revelation that, before she disappeared, Rona worked as a prostitute. Determined to uncover the truth, Fiona embarks on a quest to investigate the industry that claimed her sister. Drawn into a complex world, Fiona's life tilts on its axis as she makes shocking discoveries that challenge everything she's ever believed ...
Bittersweet, sensual and rich, Fishnet is a beautifully told story of love…

The Mystery of the Secret Room

By Enid Blyton,

Book cover of The Mystery of the Secret Room

Why this book?

Though easy to mock for their repetitive plots and outdated societal attitudes, children of all ages devoured Enid Blyton’s mystery stories ravenously, and I was no exception. Blyton was an absurdly prolific writer, and it’s tough to pick a favourite from her expansive catalogue, but if you twisted my arm, I’d have to go with 1945’s The Mystery of the Secret Room. I still remember my excitement as I followed the five intrepid “find-outers” (and dog!) on their quest to uncover the mystery behind a fully furnished room in a supposedly abandoned house, all the while outsmarting the dim-witted local policeman, Mr. Goon. An unusual choice, perhaps, but this book, and indeed Blyton’s entire oeuvre, were a formative influence on me and sparked a lifelong love of amateur detectives.

The Mystery of the Secret Room

By Enid Blyton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mystery of the Secret Room as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Indian Export Edition


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