Book of the Year - Fiction: Crime & Thriller


The six authors on the Crime & Thriller shortlist range from massive brand names to début authors who entered the market with a big impact in 2020. While amateur- sleuth stories saw a rise in popularity, fan-favourite detectives held firm. All six titles were accompanied by massive digital campaigns and marketing strategies despite the impact of lockdown, resulting in record-breaking sales for the genre.


Troubled Blood

Robert Galbraith


The fifth instalment of J K Rowling’s pseudonymous crime series was dubbed “intricate”, “engaging” and “memorable” by the judges for this category.

Troubled Blood saw the captivating detective duo Cormoran Strike and sidekick Robin Ellacott head to the Cornish coast to confront a serial killer at large and tackle Strike’s first cold case. The judges commended the “extremely intelligently crafted” plot and felt the pair’s “will-they-won’t they?” relationship brought an additional layer of interest that kept readers of the novel hooked.

The Sphere team set out to build the Robert Galbraith brand with a significant pre-awareness campaign featuring a series read-along, Kindle promotions, exclusive extracts and an international influencer outreach campaign via Instagram. As well as impressing the judges, the team’s work saw commercial success: the titled received a record 93,500 pre-orders.

The judges agreed that Troubled Blood is “the best in the series so far” and readers clearly thought so too: hardback sales were up 55% on the previous book, with the title selling just over 152,000 copies through Nielsen’s TCM, excluding lockdown-era sales.

The Shortlist

  • Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith
    The fifth book in J K Rowling pseudonym Robert Galbraith’s crime series saw Cormoran Strike and sidekick Robin Ellacott head to the Cornish coast. The dynamic pair were called “one of crime fiction’s most engaging duos” by the Guardian, and their return was highly anticipated by fans of the series: according to the Sphere, the title garnered more than 90,000 pre-orders.
  • The Sentinel by Lee Child and Andrew Child
    Lee Child’s new novel saw sibling Andrew Child climb aboard the Jack Reacher train: The Sentinel is the first of four novels to be co-authored by the brothers. Bantam Press planned its biggest Reacher campaign to date, with digital advertising, a new website, a newsletter and bus-side adverts wielding the phrase: “No one tells Reacher where to get off.”
  • The Patient Man by Joy Ellis
    Joffe Books
    In this sixth instalment in the Jackman and Evans series, the duo finally confront their arch nemesis, psychopath Alistair Ashcroft. Joffe Books discovered Joy Ellis “by chance” and, after some investigative work, the publisher contacted her via a small Lincolnshire news- paper. Alongside The Patient Man, the publisher acquired the author’s previously out-of-print backlist.
  • The Guest List by Lucy Foley
    Delivered on the eve of the paperback publication of the author’s The Hunting Party, Lucy Foley’s second crime novel was set on an island off the Irish coastline, where guests were gathering for the wedding of the year. The title was a Waterstones Thriller of the Month in September, and has sold an impressive 150,000 copies through Nielsen’s TCM in the UK.
  • The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
    Viking acquired “Pointless” presenter Richard Osman’s début in an intense three- stage process, one of which was a 10-way auction; eventually, two titles were acquired for seven-figure sum. Osman’s first novel went on to become the bestselling novel of the year, and it is now the seventh-bestselling fiction hardback since records began.
  • A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin
    Orion Fiction
    With more than 30 novels under his belt, Ian Rankin’s Scottish-set novel wasn’t just a missing persons case, but fan favourite John Rebus and his daughter learning about themselves and each other. Orion Fiction created bespoke maps for Scottish indies, depicting the fictional village of Naver and Edinburgh, with local bookshops pinpointed.