Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz
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?
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.
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?
4. 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.
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.
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.
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.
8. 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…
9. 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.
10. 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.
Honorable 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.