My Musings

My Favourite Books of 2020: crime, thriller and horror.

I mainly read fantasy and thrillers and while I dabble in other genres they are my two ‘go-to’ genres. I usually only do a single favourite books of the year blog post, but I have decided to change things up slightly for the books that I read in 2020 and split the post into two, one blog post for fantasy and one blog post for thrillers.

These are my favourite crime, thriller and horror books of 2020 in the order that I reviewed them:

The Other People by C. J. Tudor.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

Since that fateful night, where Gabe’s world fell apart he has given up on his old life, abandoning his home, his job and everything that he was. He is heartbroken, shattered into a million pieces,  tormented by the loss, stricken and he can’t let go. The loss is consuming him, like an illness sapping his body of its vitality and he now spends his days, his nights, every hour available to him lost in an eternal nightmare and in his camper van searching. His entire being, his sole purpose revolves around the only thing that matters, finding out what happened to Izzy as he drives endless miles, travelling the M1 motorway over and over again in search of the car, in search of his daughter and in search of the truth.

The story unfolds through three perspectives, that of Gabe and then two others, Fran and Katie. Fran is accompanied by Alice, her seven-year-old daughter who suffers from narcolepsy and is plagued by visions. Fran is on the run and has spent years trying to stay safe, moving from place to place and running from dangerous people. And, Katie who works as a waitress at a service station that Gabe often visits, who knows him in passing due to serving him, who refers to him as ‘the thin man‘ due to his gaunt, emaciated and hollow look, like he is stretched too thin, like his essence is being consumed. And, who shares an affinity with him as she too knows the pain of loss, the heartbreak of tragedy and has also lost someone.

The mystery surrounding Izzy is compelling and makes The Other People impossible to put down as you begin to delve deeper, falling further down the rabbit hole and as you start to see connections sparking to life. There is a sense of menace that is palpable throughout The Other People and a feeling of unease as the story unfolds. There is a desperation to Gabe, a sense of urgency to his search as he clings to the hope that Izzy is alive like a drowning man clutching at a straw.  The sense of grief that Gabe feels is tangible and felt through the pages. The characters are fully-fleshed, damaged and flawed. They have their faults, they are fallible, they have made mistakes, they have motivations for their actions and as you read about them they feel real.

I Am Dust by Louise Beech.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

As the main character, my heart broke for Chloe, she is damaged, real, scarred and, sadly, for many, certain aspects of her will be easy to relate to. The daily and never-ending battle that they have to face, that never goes away and that is always there. There’s a sense of sadness to reading about Chloe, how you find a way to take away the pain even if only for a moment, hurting physically to forget the mental torment that you are suffering. Even if that isn’t the case for you, as a character she is easy to connect with, likeable with someone who you care about.

There are themes of ambition, greed, love, loss, obsession, jealousy and betrayal to be found in the story. A feeling of tension runs through the unfolding story in I Am Dust, a disquiet and unease for what is yet to come and, for what will come to pass. It is a captivating story that is saturated in atmosphere and is highly atmospheric throughout. In places it is sinister, sinistrous in a grounded, understated and subtle way that crawls, that creeps under your skin with some sublime imagery that sets you on edge. The Dean Wilson theatre and the old church are both characters and more than the mere locations where the story takes place. There’s no overembellishment or added dramatics to the haunting of the theatre or when the trio are sat in the darkened church, simply, they aren’t needed. Within the theatre, the ghostly occurrences are spooky with, if you will pardon the pun no theatrics. For the church, the minimal and sparse setting, the three candles flickering in the dying light of the day upon the stage where the Ouija board is set is all that is needed and it is chilling as they commune with the dead.

I Am Dust is beautifully written, evocative and powerful. Humour also has a place in the story thanks to Chester, a co-worker of Chloe’s at the Dean Wilson Theatre and a terrible gossip. There is an emotional undercurrent to the story, the type of emotion that ignites, that sparks, that courses through the pages like electricity, that is charged and the words are layered with depth and significance. They are the base, the core, the foundation, the heart and the soul and they mean everything. With Beech, there is magic at play in Chloe, in the story and in the words that she has written. You aren’t just reading a story, you are transported, you are with the characters living their story. There is something heartbreaking about the story, that rends, that tears at you, that moves you, that touches your soul and that leaves you brittle from what you have just experienced. I’m not going to lie, as I turned the final page of I Am Dust I had a tear in my eye.

The Memory Wood by Sam Lloyd.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

The Memory Wood is told through three perspectives. Those of Elijah, Elissa and Detective Superintendent Mairead MacCullagh who is in charge of the investigation into Elissa’s abduction. For all three they are more than just names on a page they are real and you feel for them. For Elissa and her horrifying predicament. Elissa is bright, clever and resourceful. She is also determined. She doesn’t want to be weak and let the ordeal break her. There is a strength inside to survive, a will to live, to see her mother again. She is scared and terrified. But, she has to try and not let it show, no matter how frightened she is, she has to control her fears and not fall prey to the terror of her situation. Elissa uses her knowledge of chess to help her, to calm her and to settle her as it is something that she knows and that is comforting in the living nightmare that she finds herself. For Elijah who seems brittle and broken with a decaying mental state, a naivety and a sadness surrounding him. But, at the same time as there is that fragility to him, he also radiates a weirdness and there is a feeling of something being off about him, a disquiet over his contrary actions, his choices, his evasive answers and the secrets that he keeps. And, finally, for Mairead who has her own issues Her priority is the case and finding Elissa, no matter the cost to her own health. The fate of Elissa, her safe return seems to be inexplicably linked to Mairead’s own well-being, if she rescues, saves her and if she lives then, Mairead hopes that a part of her will live, will be saved too.

The story is fast-paced and intense with some disturbing and dramatic twists. The three different perspectives weave together well and serve to form a compelling and sinister whole. There is something insidious that burrows, that crawls under your skin and a menacing shadow like a looming spectre that haunts the pages of The Memory Wood. A lingering unease and an ominous trepidation for what will come to pass and for what will be revealed that is felt from one perspective to the next, that keeps you gripped and that finds you relentlessly turning the pages.

There is something darkly enchanting about the Memory Wood, an allure to the setting, the cottage and the interactions between Elijah and Elissa. The use of fairy tale characters to describe the people and the locations involved adds a layer of the fantastical to the story. The ghoul, the witch, Hansel and Gretel, the Gingerbread House and, of course, that fairy tale staple a dark and eerie forest. It is, in fact, at times like you are reading a dark fable, the darkest of fairy tales. Only, it is reality, the monsters are real and they are human.

We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

The two main characters in We Begin at the End and who we see the story unfold through are thirteen-year-old Duchess Day Radley and Chief Walker/Walk the Chief of Police in Cape Haven who are ably supported by a cast of believable, well-drawn, colourful, fractured and flawed characters. Duchess looks after her younger brother, five-year-old Robin and mostly, she takes on the role of mother as their actual mother Star isn’t really up to the job of motherhood as she is in a constant battle with her demons. Duchess is protective of Robin and Whitaker has crafted such a brilliant relationship between the two siblings with the barbed wire of Duchess being blunted with Robin and her softer side, her vulnerability coming through towards him. Duchess classes herself as an ‘outlaw’. She is determined, tenacious, tough, resilient and far older than her years as she had to grow up very young. She is spirited, stitched together and there is an intensity to her, she is a storm and a fire burns inside her. Walk is the opposite he is calm, measured, set in his ways and staid. Walk is a good person, honest, Vincent and Walk were childhood friends, the best of friends, not born of the same blood but brothers and for thirty years he has carried the weight of the past around with him.

Whitaker has a poetic way with words and We Begin at the End is a beautifully written and masterful display of storytelling. There are deep sadness, drama, intrigue and moments of humour that are laugh-out-loud funny with plentiful sentences and passages throughout that are packed with emotion, pain and meaning. Cape Haven and Montana are the settings where the story takes place and both are vivid and evocative with some picturesque descriptions of the locations on display by Whitaker.

We Begin at the End is a dark and evocative book that features a mournful, poignant and emotionally charged story of broken people living broken lives. The story told shows the struggle to survive and that life is full of hardship and pain. It is a story of actions and their consequences, of love and loss, of sadness and sorrow, of bad choices and second chances and of remorse and regrets, revenge and redemption. There are also motes of hope, of compassion and of light penetrating the darkness included. As you reach the end Whitaker leaves you with a warm feeling that even fractured souls can mend, that you can find what you’ve been missing, what you’ve never had, what has been lost to you and of colour returning to the lives of some of those involved in the tragic events that you have witnessed.

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

Eve hopes that finding Jim will close the wound and let her look to a possible future rather than spend the rest of her life looking at the past and living a life full of hurt and sorrow. She has spent the last eighteen years in a half-life, existing and not ‘living‘ and to move on first, for closure she needs to go back to the past and confront the Nothing Man. Eve wants to catch the Nothing Man, wants to make him face justice and pay for his crimes. She wants to know his identity, who he is, why he did what he did and ask him why he targeted her family? She wants to look at the man who has been free to live his life while her family had their lives snuffed out by him, for her mother, her father and for Anna, taken away like a candle in the wind, flickering and then gone. Eve is playing a mind game with the Nothing Man, a game of cat-and-mouse, using her book and taking the chance that he will read it to draw him out from the shadows where he has been hiding.

One morning, while at work Jim is watching someone that could be a shoplifter when they accidentally drop a copy of Eve’s book, Eve’s book with Jim’s other name emblazoned upon the cover. Until then, Jim had no idea that the book existed, but now that he knows, he gets his own copy and he can’t stop reading. He needs to know what Eve knows, what she has managed to uncover and find out over the last eighteen years and he needs to know if he is in jeopardy of finally being discovered. Paranoid, Jim hides the book, but as he reads he becomes obsessed, transfixed and the clouds start to converge. Dark and stormy, with the turning of each page, his anger and his rage builds. Eve is telling her story, the story of her experience and that of the victims and the terrible aftermath of the Nothing Man’s crimes, but it is also Jim’s story, he was, he is the Nothing Man. When he retired from being the Nothing Man it is a name that he put aside, but now, the fire is being stoked and the flames are beginning to burn bright. Shaken by the book, Eve has stirred something in Jim that had lain dormant and she has awoken the monster. Jim realises that he will have to kill Eve, eighteen years ago he should never have let her live and now, his decision has come back to haunt him. The Nothing Man will return for one final killing, the death of his most famous survivor to allow him to keep his freedom and to allow him to fade into legend.

The dark and disturbing story in The Nothing Man is filled with a tension that is almost tangible and unfolds through a gripping dual narrative with Jim in the present and then, by Eve in the past with a ‘book-within-a-book‘ format through the excerpts of her own book. Jim isn’t a likeable person, but his part of the story is fascinating as you get inside his calculating and slowly unhinging mind. Eve is brave, resilient, scarred and strong and her part of the story is harrowing and moving. The writing in The Nothing Man is crisp and clear, elegant and sharp, there is a strength to the storytelling and it is perfectly plotted for maximum thrilling effect.

Fifty-Fifty (Eddie Flynn #5) by Steve Cavanagh.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

Both sisters paint a picture for their innocence and the sister that is the killer does a good job of hiding the monster, the evil within. Maintaining the mask of a human as she plays her deadly game sure that in the end she will be found not guilty, walk free and claim her inheritance while her sister goes to jail to wither away for the rest of her days.

The story in Fifty-Fifty is told through three main perspectives which are those of Eddie, Kate and ‘she’ with occasional journal entries from Frank Avellino spread throughout. The Eddie and Kate chapters move both their investigations and the trial forwards. The ‘she’ chapters focus on the killer and give you insight into their manipulative and twisted mind and the lengths that they will go to in order to bring their master plan to fruition. But which sister is it? Alexandra or Sofia? That is the conundrum that you are faced with and that you will be constantly trying to figure out. During the ‘she’ chapters there are many clues, hints and breadcrumbs laid out by Cavanagh, the master of misdirection as he toys with his reader leading you on a trail that makes you think that one sister is the murderer. Then you will read mention of something else that piques your attention, alters your perspective and that makes you think that no, you were wrong and it isn’t the sister that you originally thought but the other who is the murderer.

Cavanagh writes with flair and a compulsive and easy to read style that has you gripped to the pages. Fifty-Fifty is cleverly constructed and structured with the multiple perspectives used to keep the levels of tension high throughout keeping you on the edge-of-your-seat and continually guessing as to which of Alexandra or Sofia is the murderer. There are some descriptive passages that have a depth to them and moments of emotion and humour included too along with many intense and dramatic courtroom scenes as the trial unfolds and you see the cross-examinations of the experts, the witnesses and their testimonies as both Eddie and Kate fight to prove that their client is the innocent party.

Thirteen Storeys by Jonathan Sims.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

The residents and workers aren’t connected, they don’t know each other, only, for some their paths have crossed in passing and none of them has ever met or even seen Tobias Fell. The only connections that they have are the dinner party invitations that they receive and that they have all felt the cold embrace and the ghostly caress of strange and unexplained occurrences in Banyan Court. The chosen have all been tainted by the evil that is woven into the fabric of the building, the skeletons in the closet of Tobias Fell that have been burnt, left to crumble, to turn to dust, but that are reaching from the beyond, clawing to be let out and the sickness that is seeping out of the walls and infecting them.

The characters are an interesting and eclectic bunch of personalities who are all human with the diversity and flaws that being human entails. The stories in Thirteen Storeys are saturated in an eerie atmosphere with a creeping sense of unease and a sinister undertone. Some are insidious and offer a grounded and measured approach, are cerebral and use the adage of ‘less is more’ leaving your imagination to run wild. While others are far more visceral with sections that include some full-blown grotesque and macabre vivid imagery that aid in raising the creep factor and chilling the blood in your veins to ice-cold. With the differences in both the stories and the hauntings, Thirteen Storeys is a varied collection of immersive and unsettling tales. The one constant in the stories and this is where, for me, the true terror lies is that they are all written in such a way that you are left with a niggling doubt over whether what the characters are experiencing is psychological and they have fallen down a rabbit hole of delusion, their own fears, obsession and paranoia or if there is actually a hostile and malevolent supernatural force at play that has touched, corrupting and is influencing them.

Without going into detail, some favourite stories of mine were The Knock about a renowned art dealer who acquires a painting and becomes obsessed with it. Smart about a tech apartment which is a fascinating and frightening look at technology, our reliance upon it and how it can take over and control our lives. A Foot in the Door which is about a character researching the history of Banyan Court and Tobias Fell. Bad Penny about a child on the rich side, her always hungry imaginary friend and the games that they play. Round The Clock about two concierges working the rich half of Banyan Court. Old Plumbing about a plumber who is investigating the pipes in Banyan Court and the discoloured liquid that is flowing out of them. And finally, The Builder which is the last story gives reader’s their first glimpse at Tobias Fell and features the dinner party, all of the convened guests and the true events that transpired in the penthouse.

Deity (Six Stories #5) by Matt Wesolowski.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

Each new episode and interview goes further beneath the surface and there’s nothing shallow or superficial about the story told in Deity as Wesolowski plumbs the depths of Zach Crystal. Wesolowski keeps the waters murky and tenebrous, obscuring the picture and making you question if Crystal is someone whose legacy has been tainted by people with a vendetta against him. People who are out for nothing more than to make money and a name for themselves at the expense of a dead man as the dead can’t speak and they can’t defend themselves or their actions. If he is simply different and misunderstood, an eccentric musician who wanted nothing more than to help damaged teenagers from disadvantaged upbringings by giving something back to those who have nothing in life but scars from a troubled childhood. Or, if he truly is guilty of the heinous and horrific accusations against him and that he used his fame, fortune and name to coerce, manipulate and seduce his fans into doing things that they shouldn’t as they worshipped at the altar of their musical idol.

As you fall deeper down the rabbit hole you find yourself turning the pages with ominous dread, a sense of foreboding for where the story will lead. After all, it’s Six Stories, it’s Wesolowski and you know that there will be no sunshine, kittens and lollipops waiting for you as you reach the end of the story. However, it’s only with the last guest and the last part of their interview that the water truly becomes clear, chillingly so and any lingering shred of doubt that you might have had over whether or not Zach Crystal is guilty of the accusations against him finally vanishes. You are nearing the end, the page count is fast dwindling, there are only a few pages left, you think that all the cards have been dealt and that you know where they have fallen, but no, Wesolowski has one last trick up his sleeve as he pulls out THAT shocker of a revelation and jaw-dropping denouement, stunning, absolutely stunning.

The plotting in Deity is devilish by design, tension-filled and keeps you gripped throughout. The writing is the same high standard that we have all come to expect from Wesolowski and that he consistently delivers in his Six Stories series. The sense of setting that Wesolowski manages to convey is, once again terrific with the forest where Crystal Forest is located feeling menacing and highly atmospheric. Even five books into the series the interview transcript format still feels fresh and unique. There are distinctive characters in Deity, all with their own voice who come to life and feel like real people, while they may not be likeable, they are human.


10 thoughts on “My Favourite Books of 2020: crime, thriller and horror.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.