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Winter Crime: 5 Books to Read This Christmas

By Ananya Roy

With every passing second and the sun’s planetary movements favoring the South, our days descent into darkness and a bone-chilling cold sets in. To get through a winter of snow and eternal darkness blurring our world between days and nights, as well as a Christmas vacation around the corner, what better productive activity to pursue than to spend your time reading books? This time let’s do something different: since the spooky season has just receded back to its cove of magic and Valentine’s Day is ages away, why not dip your nimble fingers in the grime of crime, murder, and mystery?! Crime fiction has continued to charm and bewitch (considering how cool our perps and investigators are) us through generations and in winters as the temperatures drop, and the world around us gets eerily silent- grab that book that spells MURDER and TROUBLE! Grab a cup of coffee and snacks (because I don’t want you ending up dehydrated and hungry with all the pumping, fast-paced jamboree going on) as you leaf through the pages, working out the intricacies of crime, the underbelly of city politics, human psychology and many more.

This Christmas, warm yourself up with simultaneous attacks of chill down your spine with some of the most celebrated book recommendations.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (2015)

Writer Leonora is invited to the English countryside to her ex-best friend’s hen party. Her confrontation with people from the past and memories lead her down a sliding slope of death and doom, the only key lies in remembering the truth and not what her trauma-stricken mind had induced her to fabricate.

Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood does so much more and goes way beyond the generic realm of crime alone. This debut novel of the British writer has elements of horror as well, and if my memory were something to go by, I’d warn you - the imageries are strong in this one. They'll instantly transport you right to where the act unfolds, the woods. Yes, you heard me right. Aren’t the forests the singular epitome of calm and pristine solitude? Sure. But when murder is afoul in the air, those same trees becoming intimidating, a perfect site for a hush-hush burial.

Ware is an expert at toying with not only her characters’ but our minds as well; memory plays a fundamental role in the plot. In fact, the plot is not only driven by memory, but also by duplicity of the same.

The Shadow Bird by Ann Gosslin (2020)

Ann Gosslin is a newcomer, but her debut novel has proved that her writing is indeed a force to be reckoned with. The Shadow Bird is unputdownable until you’ve figured out the 'who-dunnit'.

Yet another, psychological thriller, set in a high-security mental asylum, where a man has been wrongfully implicated in a crime of murdering his own mother and sister. Though found not guilty, his life is no different from a prisoner behind bars. Erin Cartwright, the psychiatrist entrusted with counselling him, is confronted with her own fears and past - a place which bears mutual connection between her and the wrongly accused. With a botched-up investigation and the stink of injustice high up in the winds, Erin must collect evidence to help Timothy Stern dig into his own memory - the night of rain, thunder and anxiety-induced amnesia - to amend the wrongs and solve the charred jigsaw of memorial labyrinth.

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell (1990)

I bring to you Cornwell’s magnum opus: Postmortem. Postmortem was the beginning of an era, the Kay Scarpetta series, that which begins with an unhinged serial killer on the loose in the heady summers of Richmond. The kills are singularly motivated by an aggressive urge to kill without any harm done to the property, the victims always being young working women found alone. Left with no trace or fingerprints but only a faint sweet smell at the scene of the crime sets off Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner, hot on her heels and the killer’s radar.

If you're intrigued by Richard Ramirez a.k.a. the Night Stalker who had terrorized the Bay Area of San Francisco in the 1980s with his burglaries, break-ins, and horrifying sexual assault, you’d want to read this piece. Cornwell’s own career as a coroner and her long streak as an autopsy specialist allows readers a chink into the minds of the brutal killers in society. Additionally, these tough-female lead led crime novels are more than eye-candies proving wrong to the society since there are deeper cross-sectional analysis of power-struggle between men and women and the patriarchal toxicity induced female subjugation harshly prevalent.

The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen (2001)

Boston is hit by the rippling waves of a serial killer lurking in the murky shadows of the city, preying upon vulnerable women and ripping them apart. The killer (and surgeon) strategically and systematically slaughters those women who are mentally traumatized and sexually scarred, gathering information on them from a place that neither you nor I could have ever given a thought. Women across the city, stretching from all the corners and cardinals in Boston, are murdered one by one. The killer first sedates the victim using Rohypnol, and then continues with the final act of utter monstrosity - taking their wombs for souvenirs.

How dastardly a perpetrator must be to be this inhumane as he finally delivers the coupe de grace with a final slash along the neck severing the jugular forcing the heart to run out of blood, finally to drop them dead! A similar set of killings is traced to have begun in Savannah two years from the inception of the ones in Boston only to have an eerie resemblance to the procedure of the harvest.

The Surgeon has all the elements of a leviathan-masterpiece, so find out for yourself how two women, Jane, and Maura, in a field dominated by men catch the killer amidst battle of the sexes and judo-administrative red-tapism.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø (2007)

The last on our list is truly deserving of its place and position, especially with the level of brutality palpable in the intensity of the crime but also because it’s winter! This is not your typical snowman, but rather a terrifying nightmarish entity akin to Pennywise and Chucky, only difference being a human.

Yet another serial-killer novel, The Snowman introduces us to detective, Inspector Harry Hole, who just like other upholders of law and justice has turned their own lives upside-down. The ones who witness madness from afar are safe, but those who’ve got to deal with it on a regular basis are one step from insanity (cue Will Graham and Clarice Sterling from Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter series). Norway has been eclipsed by a string of cold cases scattered across a long timeline, which bothers Harry. The cases bear an eerie pattern, and all the murdered women had been involved in two-timing their lovers. A different version of vigilantism evolves and with the bodies piling up and Hole’s reputation at stake the clues lead to an unfamiliar yet known face.

All the novels listed above have one feature in common, the authors are not merely concocting theories out of thin air, instead they are heavily based on true crime cases. Cases that had shaken the very foundation of our society, the most terrifying being the serial-killer. Both a figure of awe, horror, inspiration, and an icon of pop culture-sensation. Psychiatrists and true crime analysts have forever puzzled over their psychosis through cultural and social facets but have succeeded only in name. Motives that are both equally sudden, meticulously pre-meditated and unconnected will certainly intrigue your curiosity this season of cozy crime!


About the Writer:

Ananya Roy is perpetually an anxiety-induced, silently-loud writer of contemporary, pop, and grey-cell stirring intellectually riveting topics. A student of literature, independent scholar, and virtual detective, the majority of her time is occupied by summoning the dead, spooky, and gory out of books and sites, that are further anatomically analysed to suit her lust for the uncanny and terrifying! Give her some dough and she will make you a thing, since there’s always some Halloween waiting to be decoded and decrypted 'round the corner!

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