Scott’s Top Ten of 2016 (Make it a dozen. Okay, fifteen or sixteen.)

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

This was a great year for crime fiction. Established authors experimented with new ideas or pushed what they were doing further. People with great debuts in 2015 proved it wasn’t just beginners luck this year. 2016’s new releases were so good, it was difficult to narrow them down, so I put a few together and made it a dozen.

97803991730351. Anything and All Things Reed Farrel Coleman

This year Coleman started a new character, ex-Suffolk-County-cop-turned-sorta-PI Gus Murphy (Where It Hurts), ended the series featuring dwarf detective Gulliver Down (Love & Fear), and delivered a Game Change in the life of Robert B Parker’s Jesse Stone (Debt To Pay.) All of it was executed with a poet’s choice of words, haunting emotions, and believable leads in a struggle to find who they are and what matters to them. He also had brilliant short stories in the anthologies Crime Plus Music and Unloaded. It wouldn’t surprise me if Reed made out some moving grocery lists as well.

97803995743202. The Second Life Of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton

Possibly one of the best crafted crime novels in a decade. Nick Mason finishes a twenty-year stretch in five due to a criminal kingpin who runs his empire from the inside. Upon Mason’s release the kingpin’s lawyer hands him a cell phone that is the condition of his release – he must answer the phone at any time and do whatever he is told on the other end. Everything Hamilton sets up in the first few chapters falls beautifully into place by the end.

97803162310773. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

This dark, morally complex tale looks at ambition and the dynamics of family support for their gymnastics prodigy daughter as the family and community react to a murder that occurs in their sporting community. Abbott further pushes the boundaries of noir.

97805254269434. An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson

Sheriff Walt Longmire, Henry Standing Bear, and Deputy Vic Moretti find themselves having to solve a mystery in a town overrun by a motorcycle rally. Guns, outlaw bikers, federal agents and a woman from Henry’s past all play a part in unraveling the final mystery. Johnson strips down the cast to his most essential characters for one of the most entertaining books in the series.

97800623698575. What Remains Of Me by Alison Gaylin

A multi-layered psychological Hollywood thriller, in which a present-day murder of an actor is tied to the past murder of a director, and the same woman gets blamed for both. Gaylin’s character development beautifully dovetails with a plot that is never revealed until the final sentence. Beautiful, stunning work.

97803991739506. The Innocents by Ace Atkins

The latest and angriest of The Quinn Colson novels has our country boy hero and Sheriff Lillie Virgil solving a torturous murder of a former cheerleader, dealing with the worst aspects of Southern small town society. A book that enrages as it entertains.

97803079612737. Dr. Knox by Peter Spiegelman

Spiegelman introduces us to his new series character, a doctor who keeps his Skid Row clinic afloat by making “house calls” with his mercenary pal to the rich, famous, and criminal, who don’t need anything reported on medical records. A very interesting, complex hero, and an interesting look at L.A.

97812500099688. Murder At The 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane

In Murder at the 42nd Street Library, Con Lehane introduces us to another great new character, Raymond Ambler, Curator of the Crime Fiction Collection for the New York Public Library and amateur sleuth. A satisfying mystery with a lived-in, warm look at friendship and a worker’s look at New York.

97819438181749.City of Rose & South Village by Rob Hart

The seconds and third installments following unlicensed private eye Ash McKenna takes him to two very different places, tracking down a stripper’s daughter in Portland and a solving a murder on his friend’s Georgia commune, charting a progression of a broken man putting the pieces of himself together. Plot and character meld seamlessly into this compelling tale of a lone hero who feels he can not be a part of the society he helps.

978076537485110. Night Work by David C Taylor

This follow up to veteran screenwriter David C. Taylor’s debut, Night Life, has police detective Michael Cassidy protecting Castro during his famous New York visit. Taylor makes the city and period a living, vibrant thing coming off the page.

11. Shot In Detroit by Patricia Abbott9781940610825

This story about a photographer who gets obsessed with a project involving young black men challenges us at every turn about race, class, and art and crime fiction itself. It is a book where the author complements the reader by assuming you are as intelligent and open to difficult topics as she is.

978098913299212. Genuinely Dangerous by Mike McCrary and Kiss The Devil Goodnight by Jonathan Woods

Two dark wild rides through a pulp hell that is pure Heaven for crime fiction fans. if Barry Gifford was still running Black Lizard he would have signed these guys up.

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Molly’s Top Ten U.S.-set Crime Novels of 2016

Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

97803162310771. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

16-year-old Devon has spent her life perfecting soaring vaults, gravity-defying balance beam routines, and ferocious tumbling, all with a one-day-dream of going to the Olympics. Her entire hometown is rooting for her success. When a handsome volunteer at the gym is found dead, the whole gymnastics team is thrown into disarray. No one in town, not even the dead man’s family, want Devon distracted from bringing home the gold. In the face of sublime talent, who dares punish a misdeed?

97803932855432. Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet

This hard-to-peg-down tale of a voices-hearing mother and her young daughter on the run from their conniving politician patriarch was my favorite literary mystery of 2016. Millet’s protagonists, after fleeing Alaska, find refuge in a motel in Maine full of others like them. There, they form a support group, even as the protagonist’s husband exerts increasing pressure to have a picture perfect family by the election. Sweet Lamb of Heaven is part thriller, part gothic ghost story, and part exploration of language, making the final product wholly unique.

97811019823583. The Girl Before by Rena Olson

Olson works as a marriage therapist, which must be why the dysfunctional relationship at the core of The Girl Before reads as so convincing. In Olson’s debut, the reader follows a woman through interrogations in prison and flashbacks to her young life. Is she the culprit in her husband’s misdeeds, or is she an innocent victim?

97803162677244. IQ by Joe Ide

While every year brings new additions to the Holmesian canon, IQ was by far my favorite Sherlockian tale of the year. IQ follows Isaiah Quintabe, IQ for short, a putupon genius living in South Central LA. IQ weaves back and forth between Isaiah’s youth, as he devises a criminal enterprise with his best friend and new roommate, and his adulthood, as he comes into a new career solving mysteries for folks in the neighborhood. A case involving a drugged-out rapper who can’t finish his album may be Isaiah’s, and his best friend Dodson’s, big break – if they can stay alive long enough to solve it.

97816819902795. Collected Millar: The Master at her Zenith by Margaret Millar

Syndicate Books, with SoHo as their distributor, are bringing 1950s Queen of Suspense Margaret Millar’s complete works back into print. By the end of 2017, all six affordable volumes will have reached our shelves – which together, form a deliciously creepy image of domestic suspense across the spine. We give thanks to the editors for bringing Millar’s strongest novels back into print first, in this four-volume anthology, which includes Millar’s most chilling work, Beast in View. 

97816819902866. Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense

Once you finish the first volume of Millar’s collected works, you’ll feel the urge to immediately move on to the next! Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense includes works that challenge the stability of our identity, question society’s values, and acknowledge that the most hidden of secrets may be the most forgiveable of infractions, and the least worthy of having been hidden at all…The stories in this volume also highlight Millar’s grasp on psychology, including motivation and self-deception.

97805449209587. Good As Gone by Amy Gentry

Gentry has long been a figure in the Austin literary scene, and I’m pleased to have gotten a chance to talk to both Amy and the world about how much I love her Houston-set debut. Good As Gone follows a mother as she and her family welcome home who they believe to be their long-lost, kidnapped daughter. Flashback sequences from the young woman’s perspective keep the reader guessing as to her identity and her experiences.

97816162056218. Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

Wohlsdorf, a lifetime devotee of slasher movies, labeled her debut as a slasher novel, and this tale of terror is sure to thrill with is careful plotting, surprising emotional weight, and experimental structure. As a hotel prepares for its grand opening, killers stalk its long halls, captured by the hotel’s security cameras, even as hotel staff remains blissfully unaware of the danger lurking…

97800624297049. Sunset City by Melissa Ginsburg 

An underemployed barista searches the highways of Houston for answers in her best friend’s murder. Ginsburg’s debut is a heady, hazy mix of drugs, sex, and alcohol, as her protagonist seeks comfort as much as answers. A twist at the end makes Sunset City a complete mystery, and one which could serve as a primer on how to pass the Bechdel Test.

978006208345610. Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

Lippman’s 2016 standalone, Wilde Lake, is firmly within the “unreliable/unlikable narrator” category of mystery fiction. When a prosecutor returns to her hometown to live with her aging father, she takes on a case that leads to revelations about her own past, complicating her memories of her mother and of a shocking incident during her high school years.

9780765336378Honorable mention: Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall

Land of Shadows came out in 2015, which is the only reason it’s not on the list above – Hall released a second installment of her series in May of 2016, Trail of Echoes (as was properly pointed out to me in a comment on this post), that would certainly have made it onto my top list for the year…if I had managed to finish reading it before the end of the year. Alas, I’ll have to wait for 2017 to review it properly.

In Land of Shadows, Howzell Hall’s debut, her protagonist, Detective Louise Norton, takes on the case of a murdered cheerleader found on a construction site. The owner of the site is anxious to get the project back on track – is his impetus drawn from ordinary business interest, or something shadier? Detective Norton, still stung by the city’s lackluster investigation of her sister’s disappearance, is bound and determined to discover why someone would take the life of such a promising young woman. Land of Shadows features a strong, intelligent, cynical, wise-cracking, feminist, African-American protagonist in a genre that frequently ignores such perspectives, and is a welcome addition to the genre and to my reading library. Plus, it’s got a dynamite ending!

You can find all of the books listed above on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

MysteryPeople Review: SHOT IN DETROIT by Patricia Abbott

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9781940610825Patricia Abbott’s Shot In Detroit is a book that challenges the reader. Abbott takes on several uncomfortable topics, more interested in their human truth than couching them in a gentle tone. Set in 2011 in a Detroit still reeling from the financial crisis, Shot In Detroit is half murder mystery, half extremely dark comedy. She even comes close to confronting the reader with the very book in their hand.

Even the protagonist can be initially hard to accept for some. Violet Hart struggles from a few bar mitvahs and weddings as a freelance photographer. At 39, she feels the doors closing on her opportunity to be considered an artist. When her lover, Bill Fontanel, a black mortician, asks her to snap some photos of one of his deceased, she becomes obsessed with a gallery idea, pictures of young dead black men. She gets a gallery interested, working Bill to supply the subjects. When she hasn’t filled the number of subjects she needs, a story that was dark to begin with goes pitch black.

Abbott is less interested in making Valentine relate-able than in nailing her complexity. She realizes you need to know her toughness and self involvement as well as the artistic desperation that she captures spot on, that moves her into her colder actions. She creates an interesting reader-heroine relationship, tightening the reader’s bond with Valentine as she spirals deeper and deeper into an abyss of her own creation.

The story covers many hard issues race, class, death and how we deal with it, and art all tangle upon one another, leading toward the issue of appropriation. Valentine’s photo collection mirrors that of many crime fiction writers, often white, who use the lives and deaths of the disenfranchised, often of color, for their work. Abbott looks deeply into this matter, yet turns any true judgment to the reader.

Fans of the fifth season of The Wire or the cult classic Man Bites Dog should enjoy this modern take on the classic quandary of shooting violence on camera. Abbott judges the reader and her protagonist equally for their shared obsession with observing death, and carefully explores the easily-crossed border between documenting suffering and causing it. Shot In Detroit is a book worthy to read and discussed. Patricia Abbott is honest in both subject and emotion. It may be heavy lifting for some, but it is well worth the weight.

You can find copies of Shot in Detroit on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Meike’s Top Ten Mysteries of 2016

Meike Alana truly became a trusted member of MysteryPeople this year. As author Josh Stallings said, “She looks normal, but she’s just as crazy as we are.” Her tastes run the gamut to traditional, to thriller, to noir, but as you can see in her top 10 for 2016, she has great taste. The listing is in no particular order.

  • Post by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

97803162310771. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott 

No one plumbs the depths of teen girl depravity quite like Ms. Abbott and she’s done it again in this gripping tale of psychological suspense.  Gymnast Devon Knox is a prodigy seemingly destined for gymnastics gold, and her family will go to any lengths to help her fulfill those dreams.  When a handsome young man is violently killed, rumors begin to swirl and it becomes apparent that her dreams may be at risk.  

97814516866302. The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

I’ve often thought it wouldn’t be all that hard  to adopt a new identity—cut  and color your hair, get some glasses, throw on a hat and some baggy clothes.  Tanya Dubois must do exactly that after she comes home to find her husband dead—although she knows it was an accident, she’s sure the police will suspect her so she packs a suitcase, changes her look, and heads for Texas.  There she’s taken in by bartender Blue; running from her own past, Blue soon convinces Tanya to trade identities with her and things get a little crazy.

3. Young Americans by Josh Stallings9780996948005

Throw a heist story in a blender with glitter, drugs, and disco; add characters like a stripper who learned the fine art of safe-cracking at her grandfather’s knee and a badass ex-Marine transsexual; you get a rollicking thrill ride of a mystery. Groove to the sound of David Bowie as you blow through the year’s best heist novel! 

978163388205814. The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens

When a wealthy socialite is brutally murdered, suspicion immediately falls upon her husband.  Although he claims to have an alibi, a neighbor reports seeing him at the scene on the night of the murder and he’s arrested and charged with murder.  The investigating detective is convinced the police have the right man in custody; his good friend, who is counsel for the defense, is equally certain his client is innocent.  Both men will go to any lengths to prove their position, even though it threatens to destroy their friendship.  Fantastic twists in this one!

97816338817785. The Paris Librarian by Mark Pryor

I’ve been a fan of Pryor’s Paris-based series featuring Hugo Marston, head of security at the US Embassy, since his debut with “the Bookseller” several years ago.  In this latest, Pryor tries his hand at the classic locked room mystery when a body is discovered in the basement of the American Library in Paris and Hugo is called to investigate.  Stock up on croissants, you’ll be craving them with café au lait as you read this atmospheric European thriller.

97816338812666. See Also Deception by Larry Sweazy

Marjorie Trumaine lives on an isolated North Dakota farm with her  disabled husband Hank, where she works as an indexer to make ends meet.  When her friend Calla Eltmore, the local librarian, is found dead the police believe she committed suicide, but Marjorie is certain that’s not the case and sets out to uncover the truth.  In the process she uncovers myriad small town secrets  that put her safety in peril.

97816338818397. Heart of Stone by James Ziskin

Ziskin’s protagonist, Ellie Stone, is one of my favorite characters in the genre—a  confident 1960’s twenty-something girl reporter with a taste for strong whiskey and fast men.  While Ellie enjoys a late-summer holiday at her aunt and uncle’s Adirondacks lake property, two dead bodies are found on a nearby beach.  The local police chief believes these were victims of suicide, and asks Ellie to photograph the bodies as evidence.   But Ellie believes something more sinister may be behind the deaths and becomes determined to find out what really happened.

978163388120418. The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake by Terry Shames

This latest installment of Shames’ series, set in the fictional small Texas town of Jarrett Creek, finds police chief Samuel Craddock investigating the murder of a young  woman who has recently returned to her home town after a lengthy stay in a mental institution.  Craddock soon finds himself dealing with not only murder, but multiple layers of secrets and deception that someone is determined to keep hidden.

978161695610319. His Right Hand by Mettie Ivie Harrison

Harrison is a practicing Mormon and has written an incredibly unique  series featuring Linda Walheim, the wife of a bishop in the Mormon church.  Linda’s tight-knit LDS community is thrown into upheaval when their ward’s second counselor—one of the bishops’ right hand men—is found murdered.  But when the autopsy reveals that this devout Mormon, a loving husband and father who was a pillar of the community, was a biological female, church officials seem more concerned with covering up the murder than with solving it.  Linda must step in, and in the process Harrison explores the LDS stance on gender and sexual identity.  The series provides an unprecedented glimpse inside the secretive Mormon Church and presents multiple sides to some of the complex issues its members and leaders are grappling with today.

978194422500110. Dollar Signs by Manning Wolfe

Austin attorney Merit Bridges likes her wine chilled and her men hot (and on the younger side).  In order to protect one of her clients, she goes after a shady corporation  that’s taking property from innocent people—aided by her bad-ass office manager Betty (she of the Ann Richards hair, motherly attitude, and smart mouth) , uber-fashionable paralegal Val, and investigator Ag (who wants more than friendship from Merit).  A fantastic debut, and Austin residents will have fun identifying local landmarks.

You can find all of the books listed above on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

P. J. Lambrecht, Part of the Writing Duo P. J. Tracy, Dies

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

We are saddened to hear that P.J. Lambrecht, who wrote the popular Monkeywrench series with her daughter Traci, passed away last Wednesday, December 21st, with family. If you have not read the Monkeewrench books, they are well paced, fun thrillers, with incredibly engaging characters. The times I got to spend with P.J. at the store I used to work at, where she was one of the regulars, were always fun. I best remember her laughing and flirting with just about every man in the store. Our thoughts are with Traci and P.J.’s husband Ted Platz. The lady was one of a kind.

Read the obituary.

If you like Daphne Du Maurier…

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

daphne-du-maurierDaphne du Maurier was best known for her perennially best-selling gothic romance Rebecca, adapted to the screen by Alfred Hitchcock, who also based his film “The Birds” on a short story of Du Maurier’s. Like Patricia Highsmith, many of us today come to du Maurier’s work through film, astonished to discover how fresh and compelling her stories are today. She might not have assigned her fiction to the mystery category, but her gothic settings and destructive relationships fit right in with our current obsession with domestic suspense. The works below are united by their gothic sensibilities, disturbing romances, and dramatic settings. While each has a sense of the mysterious, the novels below acknowledge that what truly haunts us is within us.

9781616205621Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

For those who like their crime fiction cinematic, try Security by Gina Wohlsdorf. Told from the perspectives of a hotel’s security cameras the night before opening as the staff are hunted down by nihilistic killers, Security is perfect for those who who like their settings creepy and luxurious. Named Manderlay, the luxury resort that becomes a killing field in Security deliberately evokes the haunted mansion of Rebecca, and as in  Rebecca, the estate is as much of a character in the novel as any person. You can find copies of Security on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9781681990286Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense: The Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar

Margaret Millar’s The Stranger in My Grave, included in Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense, the second volume of Syndicate Books’ release of Margaret Millar’s collected worksis the perfect California twist on Southern Gothic. Daisy Harker dreams again and again of her own grave, the date marked four years earlier. When she meets a private detective while bailing her father out of jail, she hires him to reconstruct the date on the tombstone – December 2nd, 1955 – in her life and the lives of those around her, leading to shocking revelations of hypocrisy from Daisy’s closest companions. You can find copies of Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9781101984994The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

The Dollhouse, by Fiona Davis, has a gothic setting worthy of any Du Maurier tale. Set in New York City’s famed Barbizon Hotel (in its heyday a residence for glamorous models and secretaries) the novel begins with a journalist’s decision to research the history of her creepy abode, and discover the story behind her neighbor’s unexplained scar and shut-in lifestyle. Flashback sequences to the 1950s describe the professional and sensual awakening of a young secretary just arrived in the big city, caught in a love triangle with a jazz singing maid at the Barbizon and an army vet chef at the local jazz club. Perfect for those who like their romances realistic and their mansions mysterious… You can find copies of The Dollhouse on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Letters to Santa: Hugo Marston & Walt Longmire

mysterypeople-holiday-logo

This year the MysteryPeople staff decided to have some fun with letters to Santa from some of our favorite crime fiction characters. We decided to wind up the blog series with letters from two authors – Craig Johnson, creator of Sheriff Walt Longmire, and Mark Pryor, who gave us US Embassy Director Of Security Hugo Marston. Each sent along a list of the perfect gifts for their heroes. 

Hugo Marston, Director of Security for the US Embassy in Paris, would like to receive this holiday season:

  • A signed, first edition, Sherlock Holmes book.
  • A new pair of Tomy Lama boots.
  • A two-week vacation. For (from?!) Tom.
  • A bottle of Chateau Pichon Lalande, to share with Claudia. Maybe a case, they’re in it for the long haul.
  • A coffee maker that requires no coffee making ability whatsoever.
  • A subscription to The Economist. (To be shared with Emma, his secretary.)
  • News that the new President-elect will be retaining the services of Hugo’s boss, Ambassador J. Bradford Taylor.

You can find Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston series on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

Sheriff Walt Longmire doesn’t have many needs, but he would appreciate the following items:

  • Rainier Beer Jubilee Half-Quart cans
  • Plutarch’s Lives, eight volume leather-bound set, J&R Tonson &S. Draper, London 1749
  • 20 Rounds 230 grain JHP .45 ACP ammo
  • A gift certificate for “The Usual”, Busy Bee Café
  • And, Ham, any variety (for Dog)

You can find Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.