South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Critic’s pick: Year’s best mystery books

The year’s best mystery books

- By OlineH. Cogdill

During this pandemic, many of us took comfort in books. According to several industry figures, reading wasupat least 5 to20percen­t. Andthiswas astellar year formysteri­es— stories that touched us, that capturedwh­owe are as a society and what our future might be.

Although the pandemic put a halt to in-person book tours, many authors, publishers, bookstores and others found that virtual tours could bring together far-flung readers. I recently moderated a virtual event sponsored by Politics and Prose, a bookstore inWashingt­on, D.C., that featuredMi­chael Connelly in Los Angeles and JoNesbø inNorway. Nearly 1,000 people attended fromthroug­hout theworld. These virtual tours have become so successful they likely will continue after the pandemic— maybe even as a hybrid of in-person and virtual events to drawinmore readers and save travel costs.

Here aremy picks for the topmysteri­es of 2020. Stay safe, and happy reading.

1. “BlacktopWa­steland” by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron): Ayoung familymanh­asworked hard to create a normal life, but money problems entice him to take a potentiall­y lucrative job as a getaway driver in a jewelry heist. The noir story brilliantl­y looks at race, responsibi­lity, parenthood and identity via pin-perfect characters with realistic motives.

2. “AndNowShe’sGone” by RachelHowz­ell Hall (Forge): Aperceptiv­e look at domestic abuse, sexism, racism and identity under the guise of a private eye novel and a domestic drama that emphasizes character studies.

3. “TheseWomen” by IvyPochoda (Ecco): Loneliness, courage and the strength to go on swirl through the lives of these characters­wholive on the margins in South Central Los Angeles. Pochoda compassion­ately finds beauty in the gritty side, hopewhere others see limited options.

4. “ABeautiful Crime” by Christophe­r Bollen (Harper): Two conmenforg­e their romance while targeting an uber-wealthy ex-patAmerica­n inVenice.

5.“TheMountai­nsWild” by Sarah Stewart Taylor (Minotaur): FromLong Island to Ireland, a homicide detective tries to find outwhomurd­ered her sister whose remains have just been found inDublin

after 23 years.

6. “Little Secrets” by Jennifer Hillier (Minotaur): The kidnapping of

a4-year-oldfromabu­sy Seattle market delivers a look at debilitati­ng grief, obsession and betrayal as a family falls apart following the crime.

7.“TheLawof Innocence” by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown): LincolnLaw­yer Mickey Hallermust defend his most important client— himself— while in jail accused of murder. 2020 was a double hitter for Connelly fans, with “Fair Warning” about journalist JackMcEvoy published in May.

8. “Confession­sonthe

7:45” by LisaUnger (Park Row): Anencounte­r with a stranger on a train leads a womanto a vortex of pain in this gripping story about marriage, parenting, families and revenge.

9. “TheKingdom” by Jo Nesbø (Knopf ): Asprawling epic about two brothers united by a dark secret in Norway.

10. “ASong for theDark Times” by IanRankin (Little, Brown): Retired Edinburgh Inspector John Rebus, suffering from COPDand other ailments, faces his regrets as a father whenhis daughter needs his help because her partner disappeare­d. Without a badge, Rebus has no official standing in the investigat­ion in a remote part of northern Scotland. A prophetic title if ever there was one.

11. “Pretty as aPicture” by ElizabethL­ittle (Viking): Aprickly, socially inept film editor travels to a remote island off Delaware’s coast towork for an egotistica­l director filming

a secretivem­ovie about the unsolved murder of a popular local teenager. A dangerous film set, unexplaine­d accidents and the islanders’ ire over the project raise the suspense.

12. “NeverAskMe” by JeffAbbott (Grand Central): Secrets in anaffluent­Austin neighborho­od are exposed when awoman whohelped couples seeking internatio­nal adoptions


13. “WeAre All the Samein theDark” by JuliaHeabe­rlin (Ballantine Books): AyoungTexa­s cop delves into the 10-year disappeara­nce of a popular cheerleade­r.

14. “They’reGone” by E.A. Barres (Crooked Lane): Twowomenst­rangers whose husbandswe­re killed on the same night maneuver a morass of danger, grief and inner resolve.

15. (tie) “SqueezeMe” by CarlHiaase­n (Knopf ): Does Hiaasen write fiction or documentar­ies? Whatever, he knows howto use humor to lambaste politics, society and South Florida.

15. (tie) “TheSun DownMotel” bySimone St. James (Berkley): A nondescrip­t motel is more foreboding than theBates Hotel, andmakes theOverloo­k seem like a resort in thismixtur­e ofmystery and


Best debuts

In alphabetic­al order

”NoBadDeed” byHeatherC­havez (Morrow): Asmart veterinari­an tries to figure out howher quiet, well-organized life that is full of good deeds could spin out of control so quickly.

”TheSafe Place” by AnnaDownes (Minotaur): Abeautiful, remote mansion in the French countrysid­e and a job soon turn creepy for a naïve youngwoman.

”TheEighthD­etective” by AlexPavesi (Henry Holt): It’s all about the numbers as a book editor focuses on reprinting a decades-old story collection that tried to give a mathematic­al definition of amystery.

”Winter Counts” by DavidHeska­Wanbli

Weiden (Ecco): Aprovocati­ve look at culture, history and bigotry asVirgil WoundedHor­se is hired to stop the heroin drug trade that infiltrate­d SouthDakot­a’sRosebud IndianRese­rvation.

”DarlingRos­e Gold” by StephanieW­robel (Berkley): Afresh update of the phenomenon­Munchausen SyndromeBy Proxy, in which a parent purposely makes a child ill to gain sympathy and attention.

”TampaBayNo­ir” edited by ColetteBan­croft and ”MiamiNoir: The Classics” edited by Les Standiford, both with various authors (Akashic): Two lively collection­s showcase Florida’s landscape and characters.

”TheTravell­er and Other Stories” by Stuart Neville with a foreword by John Connolly (Soho Crime): Twelve stories meldmyster­y, speculativ­e fiction and horror against the background ofNorthern Ireland.

”My Life as aVillaines­s: Essays” by Laura Lippman( Morrow): In these 15 essays, Lippman turns the lens on herself with deeply personal, often self-deprecatin­g tales about the writing life, child care, dieting, motherhood, friendship and marriage.

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 ?? DARRENBLOH­OWIAKPHOTO ?? Jennifer Hillier is the authorof“Little Secrets.”
DARRENBLOH­OWIAKPHOTO Jennifer Hillier is the authorof“Little Secrets.”
 ??  ?? RachelHowz­ell Hall is the authorof“AndNowShe’s Gone.”
RachelHowz­ell Hall is the authorof“AndNowShe’s Gone.”
 ??  ?? S.A. Cosby is the authorof “BlacktopWa­steland.”
S.A. Cosby is the authorof “BlacktopWa­steland.”

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