The Quick and the Read: Six Super-Short Crime Novels

Sometimes I want to immerse myself in a 400-page thriller; others I pine for a pocket-sized paperback that can be devoured in a single sitting. And while nearly all crime fiction once fit that description—from Georges Simenon and James M. Cain to Mickey Spillane and Jean-Patrick Manchette—these days, short crime novels are the fugitive kind.

Jonathan Ames’ unrelenting, 112-page You Were Never Really Here (2018) recently reminded us brevity is a virtue, especially when it comes to vice. But when I looked for modern crime novels with 160 or fewer pages that had received starred Booklist reviews, I could count them on two hands even if a few fingers had been hacked off. (Bear in mind, our searchable database only goes back to 1991.)

The books below are ordered from shortest to longest. I’ve kept my annotations appropriately curt, but follow the links to read full Booklist reviews. And please share your favorite short books in the comments!


How Many Miles to Babylon, by Doris Gercke (1991; 103 pages)

Blue Velvet meets The Blue Angel (well, not exactly, but it’s a twisted, Teutonic bucolic) in this overlooked German police procedural starring an opinionated Hamburger.


The Club of Angels, by Luis Fernando Verissimo and translated by Margaret Jull Costa (2008; 135 pages)

Ten gastronomes eat ten last suppers in this Agatha Christie-inspired novel that Daniel Kraus says is “morbidly enthralling, like socially acceptable snuff film.”


Dust Devils, by James Reasoner (2007; 152 pages)

Angry, abandoned Okie Toby seeks revenge on his mom, so he seduces her. But is it her? And what next? Archetypal redneck noir from a cult-favorite author.


Night Train, by Martin Amis (1998; 160 pages)

Amis sports an American accent as a foulmouthed, politically incorrect female cop investigates the apparent suicide of her golden-girl friend. This genre nightmare could be your dream come true.


Drive, by James Sallis (2005; 160 pages)

Short-novel master Sallis (see also Driven and Salt River) gives us a noir about a guy named Driver who just wants to, you know, drive. Life won’t let him, natch.

About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of six books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Phantom Tower (2018). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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