South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)
Critic’s pick: Year’s best mystery books
The year’s best mystery books
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.
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
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.