The best crime books and thrillers of 2017

Mark Lawson welcomes the return of George Smiley, drunken spooks and the recreation of a real-life murder trial

In literature, as in boxing, great champions have compromised their reputations by going on too long. But entering the ring for the 24th time, at the age of 86, John le Carré remained an unmatched heavyweight. A Legacy of Spies (Viking) also showed off some new punches, ingeniously recasting an earlier masterpiece, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. In stingingly topical style, the behaviours of its characters six decades ago, including George Smiley, are examined by the modern forces of political correctness.

The long and enduring power of Le Carré leaves British espionage fiction a cramped space for newcomers. Mick Herron has carved out his own distinctive territory by focusing on a squad of failed spooks whom Sir George would never tolerate. They are known as the “slow horses” ...

The Accident on the A35 by Graeme Macrae Burnet review – games within games

A Simenon-style story from the Booker-shortlisted trickster recreates a France of francs and call boxes

In an era of fake news, the Scottish novelist Graeme Macrae Burnet is experimenting with a genre that might be called “false true crime”. In His Bloody Project, shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker prize, he presented himself as the editor of historical documents relating to an ancestor apparently accused of a triple killing in the mid 19th-century Scottish Highlands. That multi-veiled tale continued a strain of tricksy fiction that began with the 2014 debut novel The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau, purporting to be Macrae Burnet’s translation of a mystery by Raymond Brunet, a late 20th-century French writer of policiers in the manner of Georges Simenon.

Now Macrae Burnet tells us that he has anglicised a second fiction from the same source. According to a preface, L’Accident sur l’A35 was sent to a Parisian ...

The best books about the JFK assassination, from Norman Mailer to Don DeLillo

Will the release of the latest cache of classified papers unleash a slew of books about the death of the charismatic Kennedy?

If Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole figure involved in the assassination of President John F Kennedy (and hundreds of books have argued that he wasn’t), then he presumably fired his rifle from the Texas School Book Depository, because of the line of sight it provided on the route of the presidential motorcade through Dallas.

The choice of a warehouse containing educational texts has proved prophetic. When Oswald fired, he unleashed a towering stack of books arguing about the events of that day.

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To Kill the President by Sam Bourne review – does fact Trump fiction?

He’s not named, but the leader of the free world looks uncannily familiar in this engaging and morally serious thriller that wrestles with contemporary American politics
Since the second world war, numerous professors of ethics or theology and several science fiction writers have fretted over the question of whether a seer or time-traveller, knowing what Adolf Hitler would go on to do, could be justified in killing him as a preventative measure. Stephen King fictionalised this dilemma in his 1979 novel The Dead Zone, in which a man sees that a rising populist politician will become an American Hitler, and agonises about whether assassination would be a patriotic act. Now Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland, after publishing 2015’s The Third Woman under his own name, has re-Bourne the pseudonym under which he previously produced five conspiracy thrillers. In To Kill the President, a White House legal aide spots a plot ...

All the presidents’ authors: how politicians have helped thriller writers

Bill Clinton’s forthcoming thriller, written with James Patterson, will likely contain unparalleled insider knowledge. But many writers have benefited from a discreet word with people in power The Starr report, the 1998 inquiry into Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, contains a slight but striking detail about life as US president. Secret service agents at one point became alarmed when Clinton failed to respond to knocks on the door of a room in which a security-tracking device in his shoe had located him. It turned out that the president, exasperated by surveillance, had left his moccasin behind and gone hot-sock elsewhere. That’s just the kind of insider detail that super-selling author James Patterson presumably wanted when he approached Clinton to collaborate on a White House thriller, which was announced this week for publication next summer. Indeed, although the plot of The President Is Missing is not yet known, the title ...

Pussy by Howard Jacobson review – quickfire satire of Trump

The ‘Jewish Jane Austen’ delves into politics for this fable, but despite wit and elegance he misses his punchesAs a writer who deals with sexuality, literature and antisemitism in novels of comic exaggeration, Howard Jacobson was inevitably tagged the “English Philip Roth”, despite offering his own preferred alternative of the “Jewish Jane Austen”. Jacobson, though, often doesn’t seem to be trying very hard to escape the long American shadow, his territory consistently more Portnoy than Pemberley. An oddity among Roth’s novels is Our Gang (1971), a rapid political satire reflecting liberal revulsion at the verbal weirdness and extremist manifesto of the 37th president, Richard Nixon. Now the ascent to the White House of another leader whose temperament and intentions are widely found to be frightening has prompted Pussy, a surprise outlier from Jacobson that is very similar in scope and tone to Roth’s. Continue reading...

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant review – history you can see, hear and smell

The latest instalment in a bravura Renaissance series offers a new perspective on two of history’s most notorious figures, Lucrezia Borgia and Niccolò Machiavelli
Recent advances in malice and technology have encouraged the new industry of “reputation management”, in which strategies and algorithms are used to burnish the public profile of a maligned character. Sarah Dunant attempts a literary equivalent by boldly basing a novel around two of the most notorious figures in history: Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519) and Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527). His surname has been immortalised as an adjective for clever and deceitful ambition, especially in politicians and diplomats, while a Donizetti opera and assorted TV miniseries have established her as a mass murderer who also slept with most of the men in her own and other leading families. Continue reading...