Friday, December 9, 2016

The best mysteries I read this year

Every year, the subscribers to DorothyL--a listserv for readers of mysteries--submit their "best" mystery books read during the year.  So here are mine, in the format we're supposed to submit in (Author, title, date of publication; they obviously need not all have pen published in 2016).  I was a bit surprised that 9 of my 15 were published in 2015 or 2016.  I've added a comment to some of the books.

Satterthwait, Walter, New York Nocturne: The Return of Miss Lizzie, 2016
 The best piece of fiction I read this year.  Satterthwait does a brilliant job of creating a teenage, female, narrator.  And Miss Lizzie is just a wonderful character,

 Billheimer, John, Highway Robbery, 2000
Set in West Virginia, one of a series of 5books.  The settings are beautifully realized and the mysteries are very well done.

McAlpine, Gordon, Woman With a Blue Pencil, 2015
This is a strange book, consisting of a novel being written piecemeal and the editor's comment back to the author.  Set in World War II, in LA, just as people of Japanese descent were  being rounded up.  Eerie and compelling,

 Benn, James, The First Wave, 2007
Fourth or fifth in a series about a young Boston police detective (who made detective largely because of his father's and uncle's influence.  He winds up as a special investigator for Eisenhower.  The war parts and well done, and the characters are vivid and (among the good guys) people I at any rate want to read more about.

 Harris, Robert, Enigma, 1995
About the code-breakers.  An academic recovering from an illness winds up at Bletchly, working on decoding intercede messages.  But something else is going on...This was almost ad good as Harris's recent An Officer and a Spy, about the Dreyfus affair.

 Pearce, Michael, Our Man in Naples, 2009
Our man is a British Special Branch inspector who keeps getting sent out to various Mediterranean cities to investigate crimes involving Brits.  The setting are well-researched and the mysteries, if slight, are well-resolved.

Cartmel, Andrew, Written in Dead Wax: A Vinyl Detective Mystery, 2016
A collector of old records becomes involved in the deaths of other collectors and a history that goes back to an obscure LA record label that lasted for less than a year in the 1950s.  Strange, but very good.

 Havill, Steven, Blood Sweep, 2015
Another series--over 20 books now--set in fictional Posada County (New Mexico).  The two main characters are Bill Gastner (now retired, in his early 70s) and Estelle Reyes-Guzman (the Under Sheriff--think chief deputy).  Havill does a great job with the local and in this case with eyes-Guzman's child musical prodigy.  The whole series is at its worst very good.

 Crais, Robert, The Promise, 2015
Another series character book (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike).  Cole is  hired by a teenage girl to find her mother (and to figure out what her father is up to).  Things (of course) blow up, and the body count is large.  (These are generally quite violent books, which is generally something I don't care fore, but Crais pulls it off.)

 Collins, Max Allan, Better Dead, 2015
Collins' PI, Nathan Heller, is hired by Joe McCarthy to find out what the FBI has on him.  Roy Cohn and Bobby Kennedy make appearances, and Heller manages to maneuver gracefully through the muck,

 Hallinan, Timothy, King Maybe, 2016
Junior Bender is hired to rip off a hit man, and thing go pear-shaped.  Junior's new girl friend (whose name I am blanking on) deserves a book of her own.

 Benn James, Blood Alone, 2008
See above.

 Crider, Bill, Survivors Will Be Shot Again, 2016
Sheriff Dan Rhodes (in book 23 in the series) has to deal with feral hogs, alligators, petty theft, and murder.  One of the highlights in a fine series.

 Brewer, Steve, Bank Job, 2005
A retired bank robber in his seventies (who has violated his parole, not that anyone much cares) is coerced by three young would-be crooks into pulling a bank robbery.  Nothing goes as you would expect.  Parts of the book are very funny, parts are fairly scary.  Brewer does this sort of thing as well as anyone.

 Thomas, Will, Hell Bay, 2016
The 8th book in the series about Cyrus Barker, a London PI in the 1880s, narrated by his Welsh assistant Thomas Llewelyn.  Barker is hired to provide security at a secret meeting between the French ambassador and a high Foreign office official being held on a small island off the west coast of England.  Things go very badly and people start dying.  Who is killing them, and why?  (Not an original hook, but Thomas handles it adroitly.)  The period details seem correct.  Again, the entire series is strong.


  1. I certainly agree with you on Woman With Blue Pencil and Written in Dead Wax. I haven't read the others.

  2. Add to this:
    Timothy Hallinan, In the Fields Where They Lay
    Springsteen, Born to Run
    Joseph Ellis, The Quarter--about getting from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution
    Terry Pratchett, The Color of Magic--the first Discworld book