The year's best mysteries and thrillers took us from 1970s Atlanta to 1880s London, strung us along with flawed detectives and impenetrable cold cases and left us hungry for more. We picked our Top 10 of the year, but we'd love to hear yours! Browse all our Mystery and Suspense coverage here, and share your 2014 favorite in the comments below.
Slaughter's first standalone novel takes readers to 1970s Atlanta, an era she first explored in 2012's Criminal. Veteran patrol officer Maggie Lawson and her new rookie partner Kate Murphy face harassement, sexism and racism from the boys' club police force—all while searching for a serial killer who is targeting cops. Complex characters, the realistic and retro setting and a gripping plot make Cop Town one of Slaughter's best ever.
Read our interview with Slaughter for Cop Town.
"He-said, she-said" thrillers are so popular these days, but Smith left us spinning with this conspiracy-laden tale. When Daniel visits his aging parents in rural Sweden, he discovers a web of distrust that could upend everything he knows about his own life. We love the fantastic, award-winning historical thrillers of Smith's Child 44 series, but this first-person psychological thriller has taken our admiration to the next level.
Read our review of The Farm.
The Salem witch trials continues to fascinate us hundreds of years later—but it's extra creepy to realize people can still fall prey to hysteria. Inspired by the real-life “mass hysteria” outbreak in Le Roy, New York, in 2012, the new novel from Abbott (Dare Me) got under our skin, especially with those disturbing, slightly erotic depictions of the girls' creepy seizures.
Read an essay by Abbott about the story behind The Fever.
Former Chief Inspector Gamache has retired to Three Pines—but there's no such thing as rest for beloved fictional investigators, is there? He steps in to help his neighbor Clara Morrow, whose husband has disappeared after a year away. His quest takes him far from Three Pines and deep into the mind of the missing husband, a tortured artist who may have gone to extreme lengths to recover who he once was. As always, Penny's brilliantly drawn characters are the book's greatest delight.
Little did we know how badly we wanted a new sleuthing team! Kasasian’s debut mystery delivered while walking a fine line between charming, cozy fun and gruesome, gory crime scenes. Set in 1882 London, the first in a new series introduces 21-year-old March Middleton and her guardian, the celebrated and curmudgeonly P.I. Sidney Grice. It's sharp, witty and packed with unforgettable secondary characters.
Read our review of The Mangle Street Murders.
After a five-year hiatus following a near-fatal car accident that resulted in the amputation of part of his right leg, Iles is back, and he brought Penn Cage back, too. Natchez Burning kicked off a new trilogy starring the Southern lawyer and former prosecutor. It's pure Southern noir gold: a little "Breaking Bad," a little "True Detective" and a whole lotta Faulkner. So good.
Ellroy kicks off his second L.A. Quartet—which is actually sort of a prequel to the first Quartet—with this ambitious historical thriller, set on the American homefront of World War II. The plot itself is pretty straightforward—L.A. cops investigate a Japanese-American family's murder that occurred the night before the bombing of Pearl Harbor—but this subversive novel goes beyond its central whodunit. Emotions are running high on the precipice of war, and it's all conveyed brilliantly through alternating character perspectives and Ellroy's classic, punched-up writing style.
Read our review of Perfidia.
Mosley’s impressive 13th Easy Rawlins mystery is packed with all those goodies you'd want in a story set in L.A. during the height of the Vietnam War: hippies, drugs, radical politics, revolutionaries, etc. Because Rawlins is black, L.A. cops think he'll be able to deal with black ex-boxer Uhuru Nolica, who has kidnapped the daughter of a weapons manufacturer. With equal parts social commentary and suspenseful entertainment, Rose Gold stands out as one of the best installments in this excellent series.
Read our review of Rose Gold.
You could call it a classic police procedural, but that wouldn't quite cut it. Sure, you've got your down-and-out detective Frank Parrish, recovering from his partner’s death, wrestling with his father’s legacy and investigating the murders of some petty criminals—but that's just the beginning. Frank's personal demons run bottom-of-the-ocean deep, and the crimes he's investigating are worse than you can imagine. The history of Mob corruption in 1980s NYC is alone worth the price of admission.
The secrets of teenage girls have never been as disturbing as in the newest Dublin Murder Squad mystery. Sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey, a student at a posh girls' school in Ireland, finds a note that reads "I know who killed him," referring to the cold-case murder of a former student at the boys' school next door. Alternating between the voices of the present-day detectives and the teenage schoolgirls pre-murder, this novel is nearly impossible to put down—a cliche, sure, but still true.
Readers, what were your favorite mysteries of 2014? Share in the comments, or vote in our survey for the chance to win 10 great books.
We know who the killer is (or do we?) in the new thriller by Japanese author Nakamura (The Thief), so the question at hand—it would seem—is why. But even that doesn't really sum it up, as this dark and twisty thriller dives to nightmarish depths to explore the ugliest parts of the human mind.
Photographer Yudai Kiharazaka has been sentenced to death for the murders of two women who were incinerated in two fires. After becoming fascinated by one of Kiharazaka's photographs—of black butterflies obscuring a possibly female figure—the story's narrator sets out to write a book about the murders. The story unfolds through letters from Kiharazaka to the narrator and to his sister, and through the narrator's eyes.
When reading Last Winter, We Parted, it feels like I'm exploring the minds of characters in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood or Werner Herzog's documentary Into the Abyss. It's a creepy feeling. An excerpt from one of Kiharazaka's letters:
I would look away from the butterfly. For that instant, the butterfly was no longer mine. Or when I photographed it from the right side, I couldn't capture its left side. That's why you think it would make sense to film it, right? Wrong. What I wanted was a single moment. I Wanted a single moment of that butterfly. Yet for the butterfly, that moment was one of countless moments. And there was no way that I could capture all of them.
I spent entire days clicking the shutter at that butterfly. I must have fallen in love with it. I don't know. I put it in a cage and kept it, but I was in despair over the fact that I could never completely possess the butterfly. Well, actually, it was probably despair about the way that the world itself works. Why, when a "subject" is right in front of us, are we only capable of recognizing, of grasping, that one small part we see? That butterfly was the reason I was hospitalized the first time. I don't remember, but apparently I wouldn't stop taking photos—not even to eat—and when I collapsed, my sister was the one who took care of me. Then I went to the hospital. I was given a psychological diagnosis. Anxiety neurosis, I think it was. In the medical field, I guess they like to be able to put a name to it when people deviate from the norm.
I wonder if I've made myself clear about the fact that I have no interest in butterfly specimens. I don't understand why those guys like to collect and mount them. I mean, they kill their butterflies, thereby preventing any further possibility of their motion. Which means they will never possess the butterflies in their beautiful flight . . . Do you know what I mean?
What are you reading?
From supernatural serial killers to gruesome, chilling murders, these 2014 mysteries have just a dash of horror—perfect for getting thriller fans into the Halloween spirit.
"If ever a book were tailor-made for a David Fincher movie adaptation (Se7en, Zodiac, etc.), it’s Lauren Beukes’ latest dark, genre-bending mystery. On a cool November night in Detroit, Detective Gabriella Versado comes across the strangest crime scene of her career: a dead 11-year-old boy whose lower half has been replaced by that of a deer. Their bodies have been fused together into a macabre human-animal hybrid straight out of “True Detective” or NBC’s “Hannibal,” and Versado believes the killer will strike again."
"In his first novel, The String Diaries, British author Stephen Lloyd Jones has created both an innovative storyline and a new creature to fear. . . . The String Diaries is a phenomenal read, offering readers a refreshing villain and a thrilling narrative laced with the Gothic: a woman being chased by a tyrannical male of supernatural ability in uninhabited places. Jones dazzles in his ability to make his characters' raw nerves so palpable, the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end."
"The Butcher opens with a bombshell revelation, and more and more hits soon follow. Seattle police chief Edward Shank made his reputation when he shot and killed the notorious serial killer known as the “Beacon Hill Butcher.” Shank, now retired, gives his big house to grandson Matt, who finds a box on the property that leads him to suspect his grandfather was involved in the crimes. . . . Author Jennifer Hillier (Creep, Freak) balances a grisly story with a tasty subplot involving Matt’s meteoric rise from restaurateur to celebrity chef, a burst of star power he can’t afford to tarnish with the revelation that . . . well, you'll have to read for yourself."
"Mo Hayder set the hook in me with The Devil of Nanking and then reeled me in with Hanging Hill; now she is back with the home invasion novel to end all home invasion novels, Wolf. . . . Hayder neatly splits genres with this series, borrowing in equal measure from suspense and horror, not unlike John Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels or T. Jefferson Parker’s Charlie Hood books. Wolf is exceptionally original in premise and nightmarish in its rendering."
"Five hundred years ago, a young Norwegian monk took a walk on the dark side, feeding an unholy obsession with death, culminating in his creation of “The Book of John,” a text bound in human skin. This sort of thing is an aberration that appears only sporadically over the centuries. So imagine the shockwave in present-day Trondheim, Norway, when the curator of the museum holding the Book of John is brutally murdered, her skin flayed from her body. Double-down on the shock effect when the cops find that the curator of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Virginia has met much the same fate."
"Mayhem is a disturbingly engrossing Victorian horror with a standout, menacing villain. Never have I known a smile to be so sinister and rancid, but Pinborough’s prose proves the gesture to be something terrifyingly palpable. This genre-defying novel is a ravenous read and will have you as insatiable as the malicious mischief-maker that awaits you in its pages."
There might not be a lot of action in David Bell's new novel, but there's plenty of moodiness and tension-filled looks to slowly build a mystery. And I sure do love a slow burner, expecially when a book fills the air with on-point characterization.
The questions begin after Jason Danvers' sister Hayden, a former addict, appears at his doorstep with an apology and her teenage daughter in tow. Hayden is super cryptic about some "things" she has to take care of, so it's no surprise that she leaves her daughter with Jason and his wife and doesn't come back. All of this is curious timing, considering that Jason was recently questioned by police about his missing friend, Logan, who disappeared 17 years ago. The truth has to come out sometime . . .
Jason drove with no destination in mind. He considered going home but decided that Nora was right and what Sierra needed more than anything was distraction. She didn't speak as they drove away from the Owl and back toward downtown. She stopped commenting on passing sights. She didn't say anything. She pulled her feet up onto the seat and stared out the window, her fingernail in her mouth again.
"Do you want to see the house your mom and I grew up in?" Jason asked.
"Always," Sierra said.
"You've always wanted to see it?"
"Why did she say 'always'?" Her voice was hollow. She kept her head turned away from Jason. "It would be one thing if she just wrote and told me that she loved me. She does that kind of stuff all the time. But why did she say she'd always love me? Isn't that what you say to someone when you think you're never going to see them again?"
What are you reading?
Author Kimberly McCreight had a hit on her hands with her suspenseful 2013 debut, Reconstructing Amelia, the story of a grieving mother trying to figure out what made her teenaged daughter leap from the roof of her exclusive private school.
McCreight's second novel, Where They Found Her, which Harper will publish on April 14, also starts with the discovery of a body. But this time, instead of a teenager, it's an unidentified infant. Freelance journalist Molly, a new local resident, is hired to cover the story, but her search for answers uncovers some dangerous small-town secrets.
The publisher describes the book as "another harrowing, gripping novel that marries psychological suspense with an emotionally powerful story about a community struggling with the consequences of a devastating discovery."
Sounds like an intriguing follow-up to an Edgar- and Anthony-award nominee to us! And that's not all: McCreight also has a YA trilogy in the works, set for a 2016 release, so fans have a lot to look forward to.
Lauren Beukes made waves last year with The Shining Girls, and she's back with another deliciously twisted and spine-tingling crime novel, Broken Monsters, which opens with a bizarre and disturbing crime scene in inner-city Detroit: a dead 11-year-old boy whose lower half has been replaced by that of a deer.
Detective Gabriella Versado is assigned to head up the investigation, and happenings around the city begin to get stranger and more surreal by the minute.
Our reviewer Adam Morgan is absolutely in awe of Beukes' "immense talent and unwavering authority with words," and mystery fans will not want to sleep on this one, as it belongs "among the very best books of its kind."
Watch one of the creepiest book trailers I've seen so far below. (Anyone else picking up on some serious David Lynch vibes?)
What do you think, readers?
Marriage is hard enough, but you're adding a whole new level of trouble when you and your spouse share the same hopes, dreams—and career avenues. David Bajo, author of the new medical thriller Mercy 6 and husband to novelist Elise Blackwell, knows all about that. But it's not like he's keeping score or anything.
You have no idea how hard it is to pretend you are the second best writer in the house. I should have married a doctor. That way I could have spent my late mornings indulging in biscotti and cigarettes while composing brilliant novels in the inner sanctum of my study. I could have taken long afternoon walks to clear my mind’s canvas. But no, 25 years ago I made that great MFA workshop mistake and married another writer.
For the first eight years, we lived in a Victorian farmhouse and grew rare subtropical fruits to supplement our income. We gardened, using the Seed Savers Exchange to grow endangered vegetables and grains. She somehow translated this into an idea for a novel. Right? Who wouldn’t want to read about people who desperately try to save seeds. I said “we” gardened. But I was the one slipping pollen filters fashioned from pantyhose over heirloom okra flowers—while she took notes and corresponded with other seed savers. I was the one who made like a bee every afternoon at four when the cherimoya blossoms began to morph from female to male, using a paint brush to swipe and insert pollen—while she composed elegant sentences (that I would help her revise once my fingers stopped cramping).
Okay, so she published her novel first, a well-received and timeless piece of work about starving Russian scientists who saved seeds. It’s built up a nice following over the years. The Decemberists wrote a song about it. I’m not even in the acknowledgments. Look, I would have published first if I hadn’t been so busy trying to control the sex lives of cherimoyas and okras. And once you fall one novel behind, it’s almost impossible to catch up.
When event organizers find out about us—and factor in the cost of one accommodation instead of two—they think it’s cute. Married novelists. I bet we can make them squirm and fight and dish during the Q&A. We got invited to a festival in Ireland. I’m pretty sure it was my book that first caught their eye, but once they got a look at her dark hair and pale beauty, they put her photo on the flyer and her name first. I understand. Marketing is a shallow pool.
Speaking of shallow pools, we did a panel in Los Angeles. We sat on opposite ends. I think we were fighting over some bookfest swag, you know, like who gets the Pynchon coffee mug and who gets the Philip K. Dick glow sticks. The audience had no idea we were together, but as the Q&A progressed, they started to smell the scintillating ozone of domestic tension, the battle for literary number one. It became a game and the ignored panelists in between us were pissed. I fielded one question, she fielded the next. Why do you keep pointing at her? Why does she say your name like that? Which one of you two got the biggest advance? Who got the most foreign deals? Did any cool bands record a song about your novel? I let her win because I knew that would look best and sell the most stock.
Mercy 6 keeps me one novel behind. The first time she knew anything about it was when I read from the first draft during a reading series held in a bar. “I didn’t know you were writing a medical thriller,” she said to me, ready to take the stage after I had wowed the room. “Can you fetch me another Jameson’s? The show’s about to start.”
Thanks, David! Readers, Mercy 6 is out now!
There's something ominous circling the three characters in David Shafer's debut novel, but quite frankly, I haven't been giving it much attention. I've been far too caught up in Shafer's unrelenting humor—which is wicked and dark, just how I like it—and his spotless characterization. That being said, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot also fulfills all the requirements of an outstanding technothriller, with pulsing strains of paranoia and those all-seeing technological powers-that-be.
The story centers around 30-somethings Leila, Leo and Mark. Leo and Mark were friends at Harvard, but Leo is now a bit of a loser, while Mark is a phony self-help guide who works for the Committee, a data collection agency that seeks to privatize all information. Leila is a disillusioned nonprofit worker on the other side of the world. The only thing keeping the Committee from its goal is a secret underground Internet called Dear Diary. With jabs at every political angle, a love story and plenty of cool tech, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a pageturner of the highest order.
Read on for an excerpt from Leo's first scene:
There was no one even near Leo when he flew from his bike. His mind cast about for a culprit, for someone to blame other than himself. The bike just ceased its forward motion and he did not. How surprising, how nifty physics was. And as he trebucheted toward a four-inch curb, aware at once that his meeting with it would be physically calamitous, he remembered that he was wearing no helmet, and his surprised turned to fear. A month ago, at a party to which his friend Louis had brought him, Leo had heard (well, overheard) the host claiming that he wasn't afraid of death. That particular claim seemed to Leo to be demonstrably false. So, costumed as Jesus (for this was a Halloween party), Leo had decided to explore the man's reasoning. Not afraid of death, huh? My, that must make you a real psychopath. But he had seen almost immediately that he should not have told the man that he was like a Holocaust denier. "I said like a Holocaust denier. Like," he protested lamely when Louis escorted him out of the party and told him to enjoy the bracing walk home dressed as Jesus.
No, thought Leo, as he landed his right hand, fingertips first, on the cold nubbly of the curb, I am definitely more than a body, but I believe I am less than a soul.
Then, with a fluid agility that hadn't been his in years, Leo tucked his head and vertical body behind the leading edge of his rounded arm. Some latent muscle memory from five months of jujitsu at the McBurney YMA on West Sixty-Third Street from when he was ten? Leo seemed to recall that this YMCA had in fact served the adventurous class of men described in the song. Now, he felt a point beneath his stomach become the axis of his spinning mass, and he knew to use that dragony breath to take the hit when, after about 120 degrees, his trunk met the sidewalk, hard. Next was his hip and ass, which rolled over not just the concrete but also a busted padlock on the scene by chance. Then came his knees and feet, with a thwack. That was followed by his trailing left arm, which lay down gently, and his gloved palm, which landed and sprang back, the way a conguero lands a hand on the taut hide of his drum.
Leo stood up. He was fine. Just fine. Right as rain.
Leo stood up again, this time more carefully. Okay, maybe fine was an overstatement. But ambulatory and intact. A bit exhilarated, actually.
His bike lay twisted in the street behind him, its front tire still clamped in the groove of the new light-rail system tracks they were laying all over town. Only now did he notice the yellow-and-black warming signs that would have made him aware of the hazard his bike had to cross. The graphics depicted pretty much what had just happened: a bicycle with its front wheel caught in the maw of the track, the blockish pictogram rider hurtling over the handlebars. An honest piece of graphic art; a tiny, two-line picture poem, thought Leo, and he started to upbraid himself for his carelessness and lack of attention.
But wait. On one corner—the direction from which he'd come—the warning sign was there, but it was swathed in black plastic, taped up tight.
The thought came like a revelation: This was no accident. They obscured that sign because they want me eliminated.
Some part of him said, No, don't be ridiculous. But then why was only one sign shrouded?
What are you reading today?
Mary Kubica's startling debut thriller, The Good Girl, has been enjoying plenty of buzz and anticipation ahead of today's release.
Our reviewer has high praise for this "psychological puzzle that will keep readers on their toes" complete with an "especially satisfying" end reveal.
Mia Dennett, a 24-year-old art teacher, comes from a well-groomed family and seems poised to continue climbing Chicago's social ladder—until the day she vanishes without a trace.
Told from alternating points of view and timelines, this mystery is sure to keep you confounded until Kubica finally puts the pieces in order.
Watch the trailer below, but don't say we didn't warn you about the creep-out factor:
What do you think, readers? Interested in reading more? Check out our Q&A with Kubica for The Good Girl.
Ravenous mystery readers know that crime isn't limited to big cities. It's not even limited to Amish farms, charming British villages or too-perfect suburbs. Revenge and murder even finds its way to paradise, such as in Mark Troy's new mystery, The Splintered Paddle. In a guest blog post, Troy shares his insight into the dark side of Hawaii.
Where do most fictional private eyes hang their fedoras? That’s easy: New York City, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Far down on the list is Honolulu.
You can name the Honolulu private eye series on one hand. Television gave us Tracey Steele and Tom Lopaka in "Hawaiian Eye," and Thomas Magnum in "Magnum, P.I." The list of Hawaiian private eye novel series begins and ends with Charles Kneif’s John Caine. Some mainland-based eyes, such as Sharon McCone and Adrian Monk, have had adventures in the islands, but none have stayed. The most famous Hawaiian crime fighters are police detectives Charlie Chan and Steve McGarrett (both incarnations), but, even with their inclusion, the list is a short one. One gets the sense that there just isn’t much crime in the islands.
In the minds of most people, Hawaii is a paradise of golden sands, sparkling waters, waving palm trees and gyrating hula girls. Where are the mean streets? They are everywhere, but, like the changes in seasons, they are easily missed until you have spent time there.
Although I love Hawaii, its beaches and mountains, what I love most are its people and culture. By culture, I don’t mean hula dances and ukuleles, but the circumstances of history and geography from which the spirit of the people is formed.
One of the tenets of Hawaiian culture is a long tradition of resisting mistreatment of its citizens and of taking care of the weak and helpless. That tenet is stated in the Law of the Splintered Paddle—Kānāwai Māmalahoe in Hawaiian. The law was the first edict promulgated by Kamehameha I after uniting the islands.
The Law of the Splintered Paddle is basically understood to mean that citizens have a right to defend themselves against mistreatment by the government and that the weaker members of society can expect protection from the more powerful members. The state constitution makes mention of the law and the Honolulu Police badge bears an image of crossed canoe paddles in reference to the law.
Ava Rome, the private eye in my stories, is an outsider. She is not Hawaiian by birth or upbringing, so she brings an outsider's perspective to the culture. In that, she is like many other private eyes. What sets her apart from other private eyes is her mission. Ava believes in the Law of the Splintered Paddle. She believes in protecting the defenseless. She has adopted this basic tenet of Hawaiian culture and made it her mission in life. She doesn't require innocence to take on a client, only defenselessness.
Ava's belief in the Law of the Splintered Paddle is fueled by a burden of guilt over her failure, as a teenager, to protect her brother from bullying. She is determined not to fail anyone else. She takes on a prostitute who is being harassed by a high-ranking police officer and a troubled teenager who has fallen prey to her own bad decisions and to the predations of a marijuana grower. Ava's greatest challenge, however, arrives in the form of an ex-con, whom she had arrested when she was an MP. He is out. He is seeking revenge, and he harbors a secret from her past.
The Splintered Paddle is the story of a private eye, Ava Rome, and her personal foray down the mean streets of Hawaii to protect the defenseless in the dark side of paradise tourists seldom see.
Thanks, Mark! Readers, The Splintered Paddle is now available.