Ten years later, check out our 2004 Top Picks in Mystery:
January 2004: The Frumious Bandersnatch by Ed McBain
In the 53rd book featuring the cops of the 87th Precinct, McBain (aka Evan Hunter) spun a "hilarious and diabolical"—and topical—web, skewering the music industry, sensationalist cable news coverage, George W and the Patriot Act. Read our review.
February 2004: Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos
Pelecanos fills us in on the backstory of D.C. private investigator Derek Strange, star of such titles as Soul Circus and Hell to Pay, from coming of age in the early '60s to his experience as a cop during the riots following the assassination of Dr. King. "Hard Revolution plants the reader in the middle of a population run amok, where the major difference between the criminals and the cops is possession of a badge." Read our review.
March 2004: Deep Pockets by Linda Barnes
Private investigator Carlotta Carlyle takes on the task of unearthing a blackmailer who threatens a Harvard professor over his illict affair with a student. First the student turns up dead, then the blackmailer, and the professor seems to be the culprit. As might be expected, he claims innocence, and it falls to Carlotta to uncover the truth. This pageturner comes highly recommended for fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. Read our review.
April 2004: Sleeping Beauty by Phillip Margolin
In Margolin's chilling novel, true-crime author Miles Van Meter's bestseller told the story of the serial killer who killed several people in Miles' life and put his sister in a coma. Flash back six years to the story of high school soccer star Ashley Spencer, who escapes the murderer who kills her mother and father—the same killer who leaves Miles' sister comatose. But back in present-day, Miles reveals that all is not as it seems. "Sleeping Beauty is a must for suspense fans; red herrings abound, and the twists are as convoluted as the whorls of a killer's fingerprint." Read our review.
May 2004: Live Bait by P.J. Tracy
This Minnesota mystery comes from mother-daughter writing team P.J. and Traci Lambrecht. Homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth follow up their Monkeewrench (2003) adventure with an investigation into a string of octogenarian murders—and some of the victims were Holocaust survivors. Read our review.
June 2004: Loaded Dice by James Swain
Retired cop and gamesman Tony Valentine makes a living uncovering crooked gamblers. In his fourth appearance, he ravels to Las Vegas to investigate a lovely blackjack amateur who bears an uncanny resemblance to Valentine's deceased wife. "Swain is a master storyteller, often mentioned in the same breath with Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen." Read our review.
July 2004: Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley
In the summer of 1965, the Watts riots rage in L.A., and Easy Rawlins is charged with investigating the murder of a young black woman, one who cared for a white man who narrowly escaped a mob of angry black youths. "Mosley captures the nuance of atmosphere and time better than any mystery author since Raymond Chandler; he is the unchallenged modern master of the craft." Read our review.
August 2004: The Wake-Up by Robert Ferrigno
"Robert Ferrigno is in many ways the consummate author," and in this edgy noir, who proves just that. Mostly-retired black-ops specialist Frank Thorpe comes to the aid of a mistreated vendor in an airport, and with that small act, "the first domino is pushed, the carefully arranged pattern goes awry remarkably quickly." The villains in this one make it a true standout mystery. Read our review.
September 2004: Destination: Morgue! by James Ellroy
This collection, packed to the brim with crime and murder, is composed of 14 pieces including three novellas, a profile of celebrity defendant Robert Blake, several true-crime stories and a wealth of autobiographical material that provide a template for writing a mystery novel. "If you feel that your favorites have gone a bit too soft around the middle, a touch mainstream, give James Ellroy a shot." Read our review.
October 2004: California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker
Part family drama, part murder mystery, this California tale is "first-rate; the true success of the book, though, is how well it captures the time and place, a sun-drenched, orange-scented utopia gone but affectionately remembered." Read our review.
November 2004: The Rottweiler by Ruth Rendell
A serial killer christened "The Rottweiler" starts picking off girls one by one and steals one token from each. When the victims' belongings turn up in an antique shop, the police begin to investigate the many quirky characters who reside in the building. Read our review.
December 2004: Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer
Modern-day Rumpole shares with readers the details of his very first case, the defense of a young man accused of killing his war-hero father. "The Rumpole books are equally appealing to fans of British mysteries and aficionados of the bad-boy English authors of the '50s. They are clever, exceptionally relevant and crammed full of the sort of weird and wonderful quotes that stick with you long after you put the book down." Read our review.
Were you reading any of these winners in 2004?
The BookPage editors spend so much time talking about new books, sometimes it's extra fun to look back on old favorites. What was our Whodunit columnist, Bruce Tierney, reading five years ago, and what were his Top Picks?
Travel back in time with us . . . all the way back . . . to the year . . . 2009!
January 2009: Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis
Lewis' debut thriller was already a hit among British readers when we got our hands on it. Chinese cop Jian heads to the mean streets of rural England in search of his daughter, where he crosses paths with migrant worker Ding Ming, who faces a similar search for his missing wife. "And so these two strangers in a strange land careen through the pastoral English countryside in search of the women they love." Read our review.
February 2009: A Darker Domain by Val McDermid
McDermid drew on her own childhood experiences to tell this story of intertwining cold cases. In 1984, a Scottish miner abandoned his family to join the national miners' strike and disappeared. In 1985, Scottish heiress Catriona Maclennan Grant and her infant son Adam were kidnapped, and when her father attempted to meet the demands, she ended up dead, and her son was never found. In present-day Tuscany, journalist Bel Richmond finds herself on a path to unravel both mysteries. Read our review.
March 2009: Spade and Archer by Joe Gores
It was a gutsy move for Edgar Award-winning author Gores to write a prequel to The Maltese Falcon, but he did it well, and the result is a milestone mystery. "Atmosphere: check. Hammett’s spare, clipped prose: check. Action and plot setup: check. Faithful description of Samuel Spade: check." Read our review.
April 2009: The Long Fall by Walter Mosley
In his first outing, Private Investigator Leonid McGill proved to be just as complex and engaging as Mosley's popular character Easy Rawlins. What Easy is to South L.A., McGill is to New York, though "McGill has a very different sense of the world, and a very different voice as a storyteller." Read our review.
May 2009: Woman with Birthmark by Hakan Nesser
This Swedish import has a standout premise: A young woman, obsessed with a "holy mission" of righting heinous wrongs, becomes the "angel of death," preceding murders with unsettling, happy music via phone call. Police inspector Van Veeteren is on the case. "[T]he plot development is spot-on, the characters sympathetic and well drawn (even the villainess), and the denouement richly satisfying." Read our review.
June 2009: The Ignorance of Blood by Robert Wilson
Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón is still on the trail of the terrorist bombers from The Hidden Assassins, and it appears now that the attack may have been a cover for something worse. When the son of his girlfriend is kidnapped, Falcon finds himself caught in a Sophie's Choice. Wilson's final book is "intensely personal . . . a book to be read slowly and savored, with a fine Spanish rioja." Read our review.
July 2009: Get Real by Donald E. Westlake
Another final novel, this one a "tongue-in-cheek look at both larceny and America’s love affair with mindless reality TV." John Dortmunder and his merry men play themselves on a reality television show and decide to pull a heist on the series production company. For our benefit, a hidden flaw leads to things going hilariously wrong. Read our review.
August 2009: The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
The second outing by computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Michael Blomqvist—following The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—made serious waves in 2009. "Salander is an edgy character, more than a little reminiscent of Robert Eversz’ punk photographer/detective Nina Zero; Blomqvist, for his part, is an urbane mix of relentless researcher and firebrand reformer, always stirred, never shaken." Read our review.
September 2009: Breathing Water by Timothy Hallinan
Gonzo expat travel writer Poke Rafferty has a penchant for finding trouble—this time with a ruthless mob boss who is the subject of Rafferty’s forthcoming book. It's "action-packed and steamily atmospheric, and as cleverly plotted a mystery as you are likely to read this year." Read our review.
October 2009: The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah
"Sophie Hannah’s suspense novels . . . reach back to the days of Agatha Christie, where the identity of the miscreant is hidden until the final pages of the book." A fitting comparison, as Hannah will be reviving Poirot later this year. In the third book in the acclaimed Zailer and Waterhouse series, Sally Thorning discovers that the man she had a secret affair with—Mark Bretherick—is not actually Mark Bretherick. And the real Mark's wife and children are dead. Read our review.
November 2009: G.I. Bones by Martin Limón
In their sixth adventure, military police sergeants Sueño and Bascom must find the bones of a dead G.I., who was murdered 20 years ago and is presumably haunting them. "I remain singularly impressed with his ability to whisk the reader away to an exotic place and time (the anything-goes Itaewon pleasure quarter of Seoul, Korea, in the turbulent 1970s)." Read our review.
December 2009: Hollywood Moon by Joseph Wambaugh
Wambaugh has his thumb on the insanity of Hollywood—as well as what makes an irresistible crime novel. Intersecting storylines feature LAPD veteran Dana Vaughn and "Hollywood" Nate Weiss, two surfer cops and three dubious suspects. "Like life, Wambaugh’s novels are by turns comical, whimsical, tense, gripping and, in one memorable instance in the final pages of the book, tragic." Read our review.
Think you'll check out any of these standout 2009-ers? Peruse all our 2009 coverage here.
We're kicking off Private Eye July, a whole month devoted to the best new mysteries and thrillers, with a trailer for our Top Pick in Mystery, Saints of New York!
Like your mysteries chock full of decades-spanning Mob drama, crooked cops and flawed heroes, all with a true crime angle? Then step right up, because British author Ellory has the novel for you.
Frank Parrish is a stubborn (and often self-destructive) NYPD homicide detective living in the shadow of his father's legacy. The weight of a botched hostage negotiation weighs heavily on Frank, and his mandated psychotherapy sessions soon open a dialogue about his father and the Saints of New York—cops who helped the Mob during the '60s and '70s. Soon, Frank's attention is called to the murder investigation of a teenage girl, and common threads are uncovered between past and present crimes.
Watch the gritty (and quite bloody) trailer below.
What do you think, readers? Interested? Read our Q&A with R.J. Ellory for more on Saints of New York.
Finland’s best-selling international crime writer isn't actually Finnish. While he has lived in Finland for 15 years, James Thompson is actually a Kentucky native—but that hasn't stopped him from becoming a Nordic noir favorite.
The newest book in his Inspector Vaara series is Helsinki Blood (featured in our April Whodunit column). When an Estonian woman finds down-and-out Vaara and tells him that her daughter with Down syndrome has gone missing and is perhaps now in the clutches of sex slavers, he sees it as a chance for redemption.
Helsinki Blood is actually the final book in a trilogy (including Lucifer's Tears and Helsinki White) set within the Inspector Vaara series. So while this book is the finale of a storyline, fans have plenty more Vaara books to look forward to.
Check out our 7 questions interview with James Thompson, who shared insight into dark, gritty thrillers:
"Dark stories are for those who want to re-examine the world and themselves, to hold up a mirror to the world and themselves and ask themselves what they see. For those who want to question the truth of themselves and the world around them."
July eleventh. A hot summer Sunday. All I want is some goddamned peace and quiet. Now my house is under siege, I have an infant to both care for and protect, and I’m forced to do the last thing I wanted to do: call Sweetness and Milo, my colleagues and subordinates, or accomplices—the definition of their role in my life depends on one’s worldview—and ask them for help.
I’m shot to pieces. Bullets to my knee and jaw—places I’ve been shot before—have left me a wreck. Only cortisone shots and dope for pain enable me to get around with a cane, speak and eat without wanting to scream. I’m still recovering from a brain tumor removal six months ago. The operation was a success but had a serious side effect that left me flat, emotionless.
My feelings are returning as the empty space where once a tumor existed fills in with new tissue, but I only feel love for my wife and child, and intermittent like for one or two others. My normal state and reaction toward others is now irritability. My wife, Kate, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has run away from home, out of control of her own emotions, and abandoned me.
These combined problems, any one of which would drive a person to distraction under the best of circumstances, cloud my judgment and affect my behavior. My judgment and behavior were already clouded. I feel so certain it will all end badly that it seems more a portent than an emotion. Auguries and omens of catastrophe seem all around me, just out of sight, but every time I turn to face them, they disappear like apparitions.
Have you checked out James Thompson's Inspector Vaara series?
Love Southern mysteries? The Buzzard Table is the latest installment in Margaret Maron's popular Deborah Knott series, and Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney recommends it for its "homespun sweetness . . . [that] doesn’t detract from the edginess."
In this 18th installment, clues from turkey vultures lead an English ornithologist to discover the ominous activity at a local airport in sleepy Colleton County, NC, where Knott is a judge. Writes Whodunit columnist Tierney, "I guarantee that any thought you might have had about Colleton County being a modern-day Mayberry will get blown away like a leaf in the wind."
Check out our 7 questions interview with Maron, where she shares her favorite thing about the holidays, a wonderful family tradition:
"Our 'Christmas Sing,' which is when close family and friends come out to the farm for an evening of good food, off-key singing, skits and much laughter—a 40-year-old tradition. The pre-teen children of those early years are grandparents now, and the in-laws and babies come, too."
Our November Top Pick in Mystery stars a serial killer with a truly fascinating (and ironic) mark: the sole survivors of devastating tragedies. In The Dark Winter, Scottish cop Aector McAvoy is the only guy for the job.
Check out our 7 questions interview with author David Mark, where we talked great books (Beloved) and bad habits (whiskey and cheese). He shares how, as a former crime reporter, he has unique insight not only into police procedure but also the emotional state of a victim's families and witnesses:
"I interviewed a lot of grieving families, right when they were at their most raw, and the characters I write about tend to exist in those moments. I know how the room tastes in that particular situation."
Is David Mark on your thriller radar?
No, that's not Don Draper's younger brother. It's Jens Lapidus, author of Easy Money, our April Mystery of the Month.
Lapidus joins the ranks of superb Scandinavian thrillers with "the antithesis of a police procedural." Easy Money delves into the minds of three career criminals in what Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney calls "hands-down the best gangster thriller in years."
Swedish criminal defense lawyer by day and author of twisted thrillers by night, Lapidus answered our questions about writing and great books in a 7 Questions interview. Check it out here.
Will you add Lapidus to your list of must-read Scandinavian crime authors?
The April Whodunit column features four standout suspense novels (including "hands-down the best gangster thriller in years"), but my favorite is probably the one about under-employed college grads who turn to . . . kidnapping to pay the bills. Everything's going swimmingly for the characters—their business plan is all about low-ransom, high-volume kidnappings, and they never hurt the victims—until they nab the wrong guy: a man whose wife has mafia connections. Before they know it they're being chased by both the FBI and the mob. I mentioned this book, The Professionals, in a "What we're reading" blog post a couple of months ago, and today it's finally on sale!
I interviewed debut author Owen Laukkanen because I was curious about his unusual background; he's worked as a poker journalist, and now he's a commercial fisherman. I also wondered if he had any good advice (that doesn't involve illegal activity) for young graduates.
Laukkanen gave great answers to my questions. Here's a preview; read the full Q&A on BookPage.com.
What’s the riskiest career option: playing poker, fishing or writing fiction?
Great question! Fishing, writing and card playing are all tough ways to make a living, but with writing, at least, the money tends to dwindle, rather than flat-out disappear. In poker and fishing, there's always the chance that luck will lay a beating on you, and in those instances it's very easy to lose tremendous sums of money very, very quickly.
Fishing, meanwhile, combines those high financial stakes with the very real possibility that you'll injure yourself, or, well, die. It's riskier than poker, but a heck of a lot more fun than hanging out in a casino, and you can take plenty of time off to write.
What career advice would you give a group of recent college graduates who are frustrated with the job market?
Learn a trade. There's this idea that every smart kid in the world needs to go to college to succeed at life, but I really don't see any shame in becoming a plumber or a pipefitter or anything like that. Where I live, at least, there are still plenty of jobs for skilled tradespeople.
For those of us dead set on our arts degrees, though, I think an open mind and a willingness to relocate are pretty important. There are still a lot of fun jobs out there; they might just be in Alaska or Texas and not down the street.
I would not advise anyone to turn to crime, particularly kidnapping!
Our February Mystery of the Month, Defending Jacob by William Landay, taps into a parent's worst nightmare. No -- worse.
Assistant D.A. Andy Barber's son seems the most likely suspect for a neighbor's brutal murder. Andy finds himself desperately defending his son, holding his family together and keeping at bay that tiny nagging doubt. Writes Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney, "Defending Jacob is one of the most disturbing books of the year, and soon to be one of the most talked-about."
Check out an excerpt from Chapter 1, when Andy is being questioned by the prosecuting attorney:
In the grand jury room that morning, the jurors were in a sullen, defeated mood. They sat, thirty-odd men and women who had not been clever enough to find a way out of serving, all crammed into those school chairs with a teardrop-shaped desk for a chair-arm. They understood their jobs well enough by now. Grand juries serve for months, and they figure out pretty quickly what the gig is all about: accuse, point your finger, name the wicked one.
A grand jury proceeding is not a trial. There is no judge in the room and no defense lawyer. The prosecutor runs the show. It is an investigation and in theory a check on the prosecutor’s power, since the grand jury decides whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to haul a suspect into court for trial. If there is enough evidence, the grand jury grants the prosecutor an indictment, his ticket to Superior Court. If not, they return a “no bill” and the case is over before it begins. In practice, “no bill”s are rare. Most grand juries indict. Why not? They only see one side of the case.
But in this case, I suspect the jurors knew Logiudice did not have a case. Not today. The truth was not going to be found, not with evidence this stale and tainted, not after everything that had happened. It had been over a year already — over twelve months since the body of a fourteen-year-old boy was found in the woods with three stab wounds arranged in a line across the chest as if he’d been forked with a trident. But it was not the time, so much. It was everything else. Too late, and the grand jury knew it.
I knew it, too.
Only Logiudice was undeterred. He pursed his lips in that odd way of his. He reviewed his notes on a yellow legal pad, considered his next question. He was doing just what I’d taught him. The voice in his head was mine: Never mind how weak your case is. Stick to the system. Play the game the same way it’s been played the last 500-odd years, use the same gutter tactic that has always governed cross-examination — lure, trap, f*ck.
Does it sound like your type of thriller?
Don't you love when an author's backstory is just as interesting as his or her fantastic new book? Take Taylor Stevens, for example, whose second Vanessa Michael Munroe novel, The Innocent, is featured in our January Whodunit column.
Self-employed spy Munroe has the difficult task of infiltrating a religious cult called "The Chosen" in order to rescue her best friend's kidnapped daughter. Sounds intense, right?
It just so happens that Stevens was born and raised in a very similar cult, the Children of God. Her education stopped at age 12, she hopped from country to country and lived (as she describes on her website) as a "worker bee child in a communal apocalyptic cult."
So before you check out The Innocent, read what Stevens had to say about the Children of God in our 7 questions interview. (And if you haven't read her first book, The Informationist, you should read that, too.)
Is Vanessa Michael Munroe your type of heroine? And does knowing an author's cool backstory entice you to read their book?