The best crime novels for all of you who say, "I don't read crime fiction": must reads before you die

Why am I passionate about this?

In my career, first as a screenwriter for film and TV and now as a crime writer, I learned early on that you must never bore your audience. I want to entertain my readers, so my stories should always keep them glued to the pages. However, the reader should also be left with new reflections after finishing the book. Crime fiction is often perceived as nothing but plot, action, and blood, without any depth or character development at all. I beg to differ. My list presents five books proving that crime fiction can be both intriguing, nerve-wracking, and mind-blowing while simultaneously serving as the perfect mirror of the world we're living in today.

I wrote...

Victim Without A Face

By Stefan Ahnhem,

Book cover of Victim Without A Face

What is my book about?

The premise behind the book is that the pain of social exclusion can be as severe as psychical pain. 

Criminal investigator Fabian Risk is moving back to his hometown to start fresh. He has barely sent away the moving van when his new boss from the Homicide Department in Helsingborg interrupts his vacation and asks him to investigate the brutal murder of one of his former classmates, a notorious bully. The only clue left at the crime scene is a class photo from 1982. Soon the bodies of more old classmates are found. Seemingly they are being killed for the sins of their childhood. The race is on when Risk becomes a potential suspect: Will he catch the murderer before the entire class is killed?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of One Step Behind

Stefan Ahnhem Why did I love this book?

The first book I read by the Swedish master of suspense.

There's nothing like being caught by a good book: Just one more chapter, even though it's the middle of the night and work starts in three hours.

Almost like getting kidnapped with a small but significant difference: you don't want to be released.

Without Mankell, there would be no Millennium series, and this book is one of the reasons I started to write in the same genre. It's a long but, at the same time, quick read.

The characters are portrayed as real human beings with multiple flaws and shortcomings. I don't want to reveal the plot here, but I promise you: this murder case is like nothing else.

It was Nordic Noir before the genre got its name.

By Henning Mankell, Ebba Segerberg (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It is Midsummer's Eve. Three young friends meet in a wood to act out an elaborate masque. But, unknown to them, they are being watched. Each is killed by a single bullet.

Soon afterwards, one of Inspector Wallander's colleagues is found murdered. Is it the same killer, and what could the connection be? In this investigation Wallander is always, tantalisingly, one step behind.

Book cover of Perfume

Stefan Ahnhem Why did I love this book?

You've probably heard about it, but maybe you never read it. I think you should.

The story plays out in 18th-century France, where an unloved orphan is born with an exceptional sense of smell. He becomes a perfumer constantly searching for scent above all other scents, which he finds in young girls who are still virgins.

But to get the scent out, he needs to kill them. I read it in one sitting, and apart from the character arcs, the well-told story, and the suspense, this novel made me understand that a good idea can be both crazy and unbelievable and still work if you craft it correctly.

Since then, instead of digging at the place where I stand, advice many aspiring writers get, I started to let the big "impossible" ideas get some oxygen in my writing.

By Patrick Suskind,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Perfume as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An erotic masterpiece of twentieth century fiction - a tale of sensual obsession and bloodlust in eighteenth century Paris

'An astonishing tour de force both in concept and execution' Guardian

In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and if his name has been forgotten today.

It is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succinctly, wickedness, but because his gifts…

Book cover of The Secret History

Stefan Ahnhem Why did I love this book?

This is one of the best debuts I have ever read.

It is often described as an inverted detective story narrated by one of the six students, who, years later, reflect upon the situation that led to the murder of a mutual friend. For me it was much more about the characters and the dense atmosphere.

I read it when it was published, so it was a long time ago, but I still remember some scenes as I’ve actually been there myself, and I think it’s in all the small descriptions and details you'll find genuine gold in this modern classic.

By Donna Tartt,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked The Secret History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together---my future, my past, the whole of my life---and I was going to sit up in bed like a thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh!'

Under the influence of a charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at a New England college discover a way of thought and life a world away from their banal contemporaries.…

Book cover of Gone Girl

Stefan Ahnhem Why did I love this book?

Maybe you have seen the film. If not, or even if you have, I suggest you read the novel.

Throughout the story, we follow the two narratives of a married couple. The wife mysteriously disappears on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, and the husband becomes the prime suspect.

While he is the main narrator, her point of view leading up to the disappearance is told through her own diary. I don't want to reveal too much, but the way Flynn uses the two narrator voices to unfold the story in this psychological thriller is nothing but brilliant.

One could almost think that it was from here I got the idea to my own diary-narrator in my debut novel, and I’m sure that it would have been the case if it was published a couple of years earlier.

By Gillian Flynn,

Why should I read it?

27 authors picked Gone Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Who are you?
What have we done to each other?

These are the questions Nick Dunne finds himself asking on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy's friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn't true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they weren't made by him. And then there are the persistent calls on…

Book cover of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Stefan Ahnhem Why did I love this book?

There is no way around not adding this book to the list.

You cannot overestimate how much this single crime novel has done for the Nordic Noir genre. If you haven't read it, you probably wonder if it is as good as everyone says. The answer is 'yes'.

The subject is deadly serious: 'Men who hate women,' which is also the original Swedish title. At the same time, you can sense that Larsson had a lot of fun writing the book.

So much fun, in fact, that he penned down ideas that no established writer would consider good writing at that time, such as creating Lisbeth Salander, a character inspired by Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking.

One of the big publishing houses even turned him down twice. No other Swedish novel has instated a before and an after like this one did.

By Stieg Larsson,

Why should I read it?

23 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?

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 member of his own tightly-knit but dysfunctional family.

He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet's disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history.

But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and…

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Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."

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