My debut novel, Vendetta, is about a 16-year-old girl called Sophie, whose life changes dramatically when five mysterious brothers move into her neighbourhood. Irresistibly drawn to one of them, she finds herself falling into society governed by dangerous crime dynasties, where she soon discovers the dark secrets in her own family. Set against the murky morality of the criminal underworld, it's a story about love and family, revenge and passion, and some very dangerous lies.
When it comes to YA crime, I want to be intrigued, thrilled, terrified. You know when you’re reading a book and it hits you so hard it’s like you’ve been punched? I want that. I want to feel conflicted. I want to root for someone, even if I know I shouldn’t. I want to be able to imagine myself in similar situations and wonder whether I would act the same way. I want to be compelled to figure out the mystery, and still be wrong at the end. I want to be too enthralled to put the story down. Here are five YA crime novels that put me on the edge of my seat and kept me there.
1. Heart Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne
This is the diary of young criminal and anti-heroine Emily Koll, written from the psychiatric ward of a young offender's institute in England, where she awaits trial. By the end of the first few pages, the reader already knows two things: Emily Koll has done something terrible, and this book is going to be good. Emily’s unravelling began the night her gangster father was stabbed by a girl her own age – Juliet – subsequently showing Emily that her entire life had been a lie. But she loved her father, criminal or not, and that means revenge is on the cards. Disguising herself as “Rose” and successfully infiltrating Juliet’s life as her new best friend, the path of vengeance grows increasingly complex as the story progresses. With beautiful writing and a compelling plot, Heart Shaped Bruise is a novel about identity and infamy, love and loss, and the often-conflicted road to revenge.
2. Heist Society by Ally Carter
A teenage "Ocean’s Eleven", this is a fun take on the YA crime genre. Katarina Bishop was raised by criminals. When she was three, her parents took her to the Louvre… to case it. For her seventh birthday, Kat and her uncle traveled to Austria… to steal the crown jewels. At 15 years old, just when she thought she was out, they’re pulling her back in. A powerful mobster has been robbed of his priceless art collection and Kat’s father is Suspect Number One. If he doesn’t return the possessions, Kat’s father will end up paying a deadly price. But, the thing is, he didn’t do it, so who did? To save her father, Kat has one impossible job: find and steal back the paintings within two weeks, relying on a crew of mismatched teenagers and her own sketchy criminal experience. With lavish settings, suspenseful mystery and whispers of romance, Heist Society is a wild ride full of high stakes and big twists.
3. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
Jasper “Jazz” Dent was raised by a serial killer. Having witnessed countless crime scenes growing up, he’s learned how to become an effective, invisible predator. At 16, and with his father finally behind bars, Jasper starts to notice a chilling pattern – the bodies piling up in his hometown point to his father’s copycat killer. With the help of friends and the reluctant cooperation of the cop that imprisoned his father, Jazz sets out to find the murderer. But on the hunt, Jazz’s own memories begin to stir, and he starts to worry that he is more like his father than anyone thinks… Is he destined to follow in his footsteps? With complex characters and a dark mystery, Lyga weaves a compelling story that hinges on the concept of nature vs. nurture. With terror and humour, I Hunt Killers expertly delves into what it means to be a boy haunted by memories of what he has seen and struggling with a destiny he desperately wants to avoid.
4. The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Think Criminal Minds for the YA crowd. Seventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people, so she’s earned herself a spot on a secret FBI program that uses gifted teenagers to solve infamous cold cases. There’s a serial killer at large and it falls to Cassie and her fellow “naturals” to solve the case. As the mystery progresses Cassie develops romantic feelings for sarcastic, Emotional-Reader Michael, and withdrawn, Profiler Dean. This revelation effectively drives the mystery as the Naturals become caught up in a deadly game of cat and mouse with the killer, whose actions seem to be particularly influenced by the relationships between Cassie and the rest of her crew. Fast-paced and fun, with relatable characters and a shocking twist, Barnes presents a powerful opener to this new series, where everyone has something at stake and no one is quite what they seem.
5. Far From You by Tess Sharpe
Four months ago, a dark secret led to the murder of Sophie's best friend, Mina. Forced into rehab for an addiction she has already overcome, Sophie is out again and in pursuit of the person who killed her best friend, but can she get to them before they get to her?
Told in alternating past and present timelines, Far From You is about so much more than a murder. It’s the story of Sophie’s relationship with Mina, woven through emotive memories, as well as the account of how Sophie is dealing with her loss, told in the present tense. The mystery is adrenaline filled and fast-paced. The grief is heart-breaking and real. The reader experiences Sophie’s growth, and how she learns her ability to love is not about the gender, but the person. Unexpectedly tender and emotionally raw, Far From You explores not just a murder, but the relationships and love that surround it, and the tragedy and loss associated with it.
Vendetta by Catherine Doyle is out now from Chicken House for £7.99