The best novels for learning how to write crime fiction

Thomas Perry Author Of The Left-Handed Twin: A Jane Whitefield Novel
By Thomas Perry

Who am I?

Thomas Perry is a 74 year old writer who is working on his 30th novel. His books have won a number of honors and awards, including the Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America for The Butcher's Boy, the Gumshoe for Pursuit, the Barry for The Informant, and again for Eddie's Boy. Metzger's Dog was voted by NPR's listeners one of "100 Killer Thrillers--Best Thrillers Ever." He has always believed that a writer's most important job is learning to be a better writer.


I wrote...

The Left-Handed Twin: A Jane Whitefield Novel

By Thomas Perry,

Book cover of The Left-Handed Twin: A Jane Whitefield Novel

What is my book about?

Jane Whitefield helps people disappear. Fearing for their lives, fleeing dangerous situations, her clients come to her when they need to vanish completely—to assume a new identity and establish a new life somewhere they won’t be found. And when people are desperate enough to need her services, they come to the old house in rural western New York where Jane was raised to begin their escape.

The books I picked & why

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A Legacy of Spies

By John Le Carré,

Book cover of A Legacy of Spies

Why this book?

I’ve loved Le Carre’s books since The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and I’ve learned from each of them. I chose this one for several reasons. It was published in 2017, and I believe it was the last one published during his lifetime. One of his contributions is that he wrote the best interrogation scenes ever done, and this book is all interrogation. A favorite character, Peter Guillam is under investigation for his role in the events of the Cold War spying and those of George Smiley, Alec Leamas, et al. The book shows us in detail the deadly game of asking and answering, trying to give a questioner a sense of how things felt at a moment in the distant past without revealing deep personal feelings or criminal failings. 

A Legacy of Spies

By John Le Carré,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

The undisputed master returns with his first Smiley novel in more than twenty-five years--a #1 New York Times bestseller and ideal holiday gift.

Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, is living out his old age on the family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London. The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London, and involved such characters…


Thirteen Hours: A Benny Griessel Novel

By Deon Meyer, K.L. Seegers (translator),

Book cover of Thirteen Hours: A Benny Griessel Novel

Why this book?

I picked Thirteen Hours partly because it’s a good sample of the work of a major writer born, raised, and living in a part of the world different from ours. This book is probably the most suspenseful novel I’ve read in recent years, and it’s the novel I recommend to people who ask me how to write suspenseful books. Meyer is South African and writes in Afrikaans. It features Meyer’s great character Benny Griessel. The action is an American tourist running for her life from the people who killed her friend, and it’s one desperate chase that takes thirteen hours. 

Thirteen Hours: A Benny Griessel Novel

By Deon Meyer, K.L. Seegers (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Thirteen Hours as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Sunday Times '100 best crime novels and thrillers since 1945' pick!

Shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger Award 2010

They killed her best friend. Now they are chasing Rachel Anderson through the streets of Cape Town. The young tourist doesn't dare trust anyone - except her father, back home in America. When he puts pressure on the politicians, they know that to protect their country's image, they must find Rachel's hiding place before the killers.

So Benny Griessel - detective, maverick and father of teenagers himself - has just 13 hours to crack open a conspiracy which threatens the…


Every Man a Menace

By Patrick Hoffman,

Book cover of Every Man a Menace

Why this book?

This is only Patrick Hoffman’s second book, but it is a wonderful model of how to write a complex and controlled work without leaving loose ends, lingering too long in one phase, or letting the reader lose interest. The novel presents us with a drug cartel that stretches around the world like a giant organism. A single disturbance in one location causes violent and self-protective reactions in each of the other locations, like reflexes of the giant organism’s body. The novel is a brilliant study of cause and effect. Hoffman portrays a world that is dangerous and dark, but every bit of it makes sense.

Every Man a Menace

By Patrick Hoffman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Every Man a Menace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Patrick Hoffman burst onto the crime fiction scene with The White Van, a captivating thriller set in the back streets of San Francisco, which was named a Wall Street Journal best mystery of the year and was shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award. Hoffman returns with Every Man a Menace, the inside story of an increasingly ruthless ecstasy-smuggling ring.

San Francisco is about to receive the biggest delivery of MDMA to hit the West Coast in years. Raymond Gaspar, just out of prison, is sent to the city by his boss - still locked up on the…


Pure

By Jo Perry,

Book cover of Pure

Why this book?

This is a risky choice because the author is my old university colleague and later television writing partner, to whom I’ve been married for 41 years. I feel comfortable about it because of the number of fine British and American writers who have recommended this and her earlier books. I picked it because it’s the first novel I’ve read that makes a credible artistic attempt to grasp the experience of the current Pandemic. It’s a murder mystery that takes place during those first few months, when what was happening in the world seemed unthinkable, going out meant breaking a lockdown, and contact with anyone might be fatal. The amateur investigator, a young woman with an aimless and undisciplined past, takes a deep expedition into death, and it galvanizes her into taking charge and being really alive. 

Pure

By Jo Perry,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Faultlessly imagined and beautifully written, this is one of the best novels I've read all year." –Timothy Hallinan, author of the acclaimed Simeon Grist series

Caught in a pincer movement between the sudden death of Evelyn (her favourite aunt) and the Corona virus, Ascher Lieb finds herself unexpectedly locked down in her aunt’s retirement community with only Evelyn’s grief-stricken dog Freddie for company.

As the world tumbles down into a pandemic shaped rabbit-hole Ascher is wracked with guilt that her aunt was buried without the Jewish burial rights of purification.

In order to atone for this dereliction of familial duty,…


Gorky Park

By Martin Cruz Smith,

Book cover of Gorky Park

Why this book?

This novel is now forty years old, but it’s such a marvelous piece of mystery writing that it’s still worth recommending to any aspiring novelist who hasn’t read it. This is the introduction of Cruz’s wonderful Russian cop, Arkady Renko, one of the best characters in crime fiction. Smith’s writing carefully and skillfully invokes for us a sense of Soviet-era society, the dangers lurking in it, both unique and universal, and shows us how Renko navigates his way through it all to find out what has happened and why. What this book should teach a writer is how well it pays off to really learn your craft and practice it in every word on every page.  

Gorky Park

By Martin Cruz Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Don't miss the latest book in the Arkady Renko series, THE SIBERIAN DILEMMA by Martin Cruz Smith, 'the master of the international thriller' (New York Times) - available to order now!

THE NOVEL THAT STARTED IT ALL - ARKADY RENKO NOVEL #1

'One of those writers that anyone who is serious about their craft views with respect bordering on awe' Val McDermid

'Makes tension rise through the page like a shark's fin' Independent

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Three bodies found frozen in the snow. And the hunt for the killer begins...

It begins with a triple murder in a Moscow amusement center: three…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in private investigators, Russia, and atheism?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about private investigators, Russia, and atheism.

Private Investigators Explore 196 books about private investigators
Russia Explore 258 books about Russia
Atheism Explore 28 books about atheism

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like My Sister, the Serial Killer, 1984, and A Thief of Time if you like this list.