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. 

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. 

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: IN SUNLIGHT OR IN SHADOW edited by Lawrence Block

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9781681772455In the upcoming short story anthology In Sunlight Or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper, editor Lawrence Block presents a daunting challenge to his authors: pick a painting by Edward Hopper and write a story about it. Hopper was known as a non-narrative painter. When he used human subjects they come off more of a collection of shapes with few distinctive features than flesh and blood, with their two biggest activities being smoking and reading. What his work does supply is mood, which each of these writers tap into and bend to their own will.

Many use the subject and scene of the paintings as the focal point of the the narrative, telling us there is more than meets the eyes. This is true of the editor’s take on Automat. Stephen King uses A Room In New York‘s sedate appearance as a counterpoint of tension for the goings on behind the door behind the couple. Megan Abbott further explores her themes of female sexuality with the woman in “Girlie Show.” It comes as no surprise that she delves into the noir mood with which many Hopper painting are associated. It also has an opening line Megan wasn’t willing to say in public.

“Each story defies what we see on the the surface of the painting. Many go inside the painting, like a skilled jazz master with a standard, turning it inside out.”

Some add their series characters into the world of a painting, or incorporate multiple paintings into their tale. Michael Conelly uses the famous Nighthawks for a tale that takes us back to his character Harry Bosch’s private detective days, Jeffery Deaver uses Hotel By The Railroad and several other paintings for his cold war thriller.

Some stories have the painting as part of the protagonist’s world. Joe Lansdale makes the usherette in New York Theater the object of desire for his title character, “The Projectionist.” The story’s last line conjures up the loneliness and alienation inherent in much of Hopper’s work. Craig Ferguson’s “Taking Care Of Business” uses South Truro Church as the workplace for his dying lead. it is a funny, human look at friendship, life, faith, and death with another wonderful opening line, “The Reverend Jefferson T. Adams, beloved and respected minister for over fifty years, pulled deeply on the long fragile Jamaican style reefer and held the smoke deep in his lungs.”

In Sunlight Or In Shadow not only shows the in influence of Hopper on the writers, but how their imagination pushed that influence. Each story defies what we see on the the surface of the painting. Many go inside the painting, like a skilled jazz master with a standard, turning it inside out. It is fitting that an anthology concerning Hopper reminds us there is no boundary with art and artists.

In Sunlight or In Shadow comes out December 6th! Pre-order now! 

Bouchercon Recap: Part 1

– Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

book-haul-scott

New Orleans is a city known for sin, drinking, and corruption; a perfect place for the 2016 Bouchercon where hundreds of crime novelists, publishers, and fans meet. I’ve been going solo to these things, but this time I was joined by my fellow MysteryPeople, newly named Director Of Suspense Molly Odintz and and MysteryPeople Blogger Meike Alana to divide and and conquer. That said, I was still exhausted after I was done.

Even the panels were more rollicking than usual. When Moderator Laura Lippman spoke on behalf of Megan Abbott on their “Real Housewives” discussion, panelist Greg Herren called up Megan to see if Laura was right. for the record, she was. On a panel on vigilante justice in crime fiction Stuart Neville questioned the authors who talked about the need for a vigilante hero, by saying it is a fascist trope. A panel on the use of violence got interesting when Taylor Stevens, author of The Informationist, talked about the need for it in her writings. “Our characters are gladiators in the arena and our readers want to see them get bloodied.”

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31 Crime Novels by Women: A New Year’s Resolution Progress Report in Honor of Women’s Equality Day

  • Post by Molly Odintz

The list below is the tip of the cold, murderous iceberg when it comes to works by women crime novelists, but like any other list, it’s a good place to start.

Minotaur Books Created This Stunning Image to Celebrate Women's Equality Day
Minotaur Books created this stunning image in celebration of Women’s Equality Day (this year, Friday, August 26th).

With my yearly New Year’s Resolutions, most of which I will never revisit, I usually come up some kind of reading project, based around genres, authors, or settings I’ve neglected. 2015’s goal? Best not mentioned, as I miserably failed in my efforts to complete it. 2016’s reading goal? Read fifty books by women, and if possible, fifty works of crime fiction by women; not just new releases, but also classic noir and domestic suspense. With the release of Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s, we’ve entered a new era of publisher and reader support for crime fiction classics by women.

This year, to my surprise, I’m a bit further on the path to completing my reading goal, so time to brag and share it with you all, despite my failure to complete it as of yet. Hey, I’ve got four more months left, so why not put the cart before the horse and smugly tell you all about my accomplishments? After all, I’m 31 books in, 31 crime novels by women that I can now confidently recommend in the store and on the internet, because I have read and enjoyed them. Before I (prematurely) rest on my laurels, I’d like to trace the origins of this mighty goal.

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MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: YOU WILL KNOW ME by Megan Abbott

– Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9780316231077Megan Abbott’s latest, You Will Know Me, received much buzz even before its release, including a glowing review in the New York Times. You Will Know Me has appeared on just about every summer top ten reading list. As usual, Ms. Abbott proves she is worth the wait and the buzz.

The book follows Katie Knox, devoted mother of a gymnastics prodigy. She and her husband Eric have invested their lives into their daughter Devon, a fifteen-year-old with the talent and hopes of becoming an Olympic gymnast. Their gym community is rocked when a teenage boy who works with the coach is killed in a hit-and-run. It also pushes Katie into asking what she will do for Devon’s success.

Abbott uses the crime story to delve deep into the dynamics of a family with a prodigy. She shows the subtle role each parent and sibling play. Like her cheerleader noir, Dare Me, the creepiness factor settles in before the actual crime, manifesting as the intense obsession for perfection and winning that has taken hold of the family. It presents a chicken-egg question of where the source of the ambition comes from, the prodigy or the parents. Either way, the entire family eventually gets sucked up into it. As someone who grew up in a similar family, this book had me considering therapy after reading it.

In You Will Know Me, Megan Abbott shows her skill for making extreme sin believable by bedding it in realistic psychology and emotions. She examines ambition and how it intersects with those other noir obsessions of lust and greed. Now, we wait for her next book.

Abbott comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest on Tuesday, August 2nd, at 7 PM. She’ll be joined by Alison Gaylin, Bill Loehfelm and William Boyle for a panel discussion on new voices in crime fiction. You can find copies of You Will Know Me on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Megan Abbott

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Megan Abbott’s latest beautifully dark novel, You Will Know Me, explores the tale of the Knox’s, a family with a gymnastics protege daughter, and how their relationship with their community and their family dynamic are both tested when a hit and run murder occurs. As expected, it is rich in psychology and emotion.

You Will Know Me is MysteryPeople’s Pick of the Month for August. Megan joins us Tuesday, August 2nd, at 7 PM, for a panel discussion on emerging voices in crime fiction, along with fellow crime writers Bill Loehfelm, Alison Gaylin, and William Boyle. Megan was kind enough to take some questions from us. 

MysteryPeople Scott: What made you want to explore the dynamics of a family with a prodigy?

Megan Abbott: Families. I mean, families are complicated to begin with, but I’ve always been curious about how it plays out when a child is exceptional in some way. How power and responsibility and agency are affected. What happens in a marriage when so much effort and energy is put into the child’s endeavors? What’s it like to be the sibling of a prodigy? What are the unique pressures and yet also power that a prodigy has?

As I was working on the idea, I read two things. First, Susan Dominus’s New York Times magazine piece on Teri Shields, Brooke Shields’ mother, a famous “stage mom.” Second, I read Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree and its chapter on prodigies. They were both such rich, generously written pieces. I knew then that I wanted to write from the viewpoint of Katie, the mother of Devon, the gymnastics prodigy. It’s very easy to judge some of these parents, to accuse them of using their children to fulfill their own dreams, but I think the truth is always more complicated than that. I wanted to explore it through Katie.

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