10 Mystery Must-Reads

Today I feasted on book jacket back covers in Barnes & Noble. A delectable hour of literary hors d’oeuvres, all served fresh from the authors’ imagination-oven-things (extended metaphor, don’t fail me now!). I methodically grabbed each book on the New Mystery shelves, flipped it over, read the back. If the one-hundred word nibble animated my taste buds, I feverishly thumbed the
author and title into my phone, feeling like a hunter-gatherer ant sending out pheromones screaming, “Dinner time! Come and get it!”

Ok, extended metaphor fail. But this book list shall not fail. I’ve selected the following ten from my initial mob of twenty-five. Some are straight from the presses, but others have sat on the shelves since I was in swaddling clothes (or waist-high straight-legged jeans and round plastic glasses…yay, 90s!). None, however, are stodgy Golden Age formulaic tomes—these are exactly the sort of books a budding twenty-first century crime novelist should read. So pull up your library’s catalogue and get ready to click “search”!

Alan Glynn, Winterland (2010)

The pinnacle of emerald noir, Glynn’s new novel exposes how greed, globalization, and the Great Recession have gorged on Ireland, transforming the island into a nation of ‘Jobless Paddy’s. It’s more a thriller than a mystery proper—the protagonist,
Gina, is the victim’s blood relative, and probably doesn’t know what she’s doing. But Winterland is about ordinary people suffering ordinary, overwhelming pains—in other words, all of us.

Steve Hamilton, The Lock Artist (2010)

Mike Smith can break into anything, anywhere. He’s been mute for a decade. Hamilton writes the tale of how Smith breaks into his own past to discover the secret of his silence. It’s the most original for a psychological thriller I’ve come across in a while.

Henning Mankell, The Fifth Woman (2004)

Mankell’s police procedurals starring Kurt Wallander were popular with English-literate readers long before fellow Swede Steig Larsson’s The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo stole the limelight. Considering Mankell’s innate skill and years of practicing his craft, the Anglo-American crime fiction crowd has few better ways to view is favorite genre through a different cultural lens.

Anne Perry, Treason at Lisson Grove: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel (2011)

Charlotte and her copper hubby Thomas Pitt apparently take on assassins and spies to save the British Empire in this Victorian gambol. Fun summer reading—but we’ll see how it fares next to my Victorian-Edwardian-Great War mysteries of choice, Elizabeth Peters’ intergenerational Amelia Peabody series.

Spencer Quinn, Dog on It (2009)

Cat cozies are so cliché. But dog n’ detective romps?  Nearly unheard of! Although the scent of yada-yada-I’ve-seen-that-before rises from the missing teen daughter plot, innovative charm wafts from Chet and Bernie. Pismo Beach + Dog on It = happiness.

Steven Saylor, Roman Blood (1991)

Gordianus is a “finder,” an ancient Roman sleuth hired by Marcus Tullius Cicero (yup, that dead politician/philosopher some honors girls all had crushes on freshman spring….) to ferret out who really committed the crime with which Cicero’s client, Sextus Roscius, is charged. It’s a historical mystery, but far from being a nostalgic Victorian cozy like Treason at Lisson Grove, it’s a serious legal thriller spiced with moral grit and political gore, the hallmarks of the dying Roman Republic.

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Roseanna (2008)

The Birmingham Post praises Sjöwall and Wahlöö as “the best writers of police procedural in the world.” Obviously I want to know why the level-headed Midlands folk think thus. Written in the 1980s, this first novel in Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck
series details their protagonist’s hunt for the villain who killed Roseanna on an idyllic day at Lake Vattern.

Frank Tallis, Vienna Blood (2008)

Everyone loves best-buds sleuthing teams—from Holmes and Watson to Shawn and Gus—and Tallis knows it. Turn-of-the-century Viennese psychologist Max Liebermann helps his Detective Inspector buddy solve a crime connected to Mozart’s The Magic Flute! A must-read for me because (1) I love Vienna, (2) I’ve seen The Magic Flute, (3) It’s set only a decade before my novel is, and (4) My sleuth is a psychologist as well. Also, its title bears a happy resemblance to Saylor’s novel’s, so obviously I’m meant to read both. As are you.

Victoria Thompson, Murder on Bank Street (2008)

Another turn-of-the-century venture, Thompson’s novel explores the underbelly of New York from her midwife sleuth’s POV. The tenth book of the Gaslight Mysteries series, Murder on Bank Street delves into the protagonist’s past….and unearths her husband’s murder. Thompson fans expostulate enthusiastically an Amazon; I think I trust them.

The Best American Mystery Stories: 2010.

Edited by Lee Child and Otto Penzler, this collection of twenty short stories represents the best up-and-coming crime writers in America. If you want to know how the genre has morphed this year, here’s the place to look.

Enjoy! 🙂


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