September is a big month for mysteries this year, both in terms of excellence and page count (close to 2,000 pages in the four books here—truly a reviewer’s marathon!). If ever there were a month deserving of four Top Picks, this is it.
Question: How does one possibly attempt to add to the crime canon of Agatha Christie, whose 80 mystery novels and short story collections have sold more than two billion copies, trailing only the Bible and her countryman William Shakespeare? Answer: Very. Very. Carefully.
Julia Keller's debut mystery, A Killing in the Hills, introduced prosecuting attorney Belfa “Bell” Elkins and the small Appalachian town of Acker's Gap, West Virginia. In Summer of the Dead, Keller's third mystery set in Acker's Gap, Bell faces a new murderer, as well as family challenges and the burdens of the coal mining community.
The opening acknowledgements in Summer of the Dead hint at a heartbreaking story: "Some years ago I met the wise and stalwart wife of a coal miner in McDowell County, West Virginia. She had created a place for her husband under the big kitchen table; because of his many years spent working underground, and injuries to his spine, he was only comfortable in a crouching position. The story has haunted me ever since, and it inspired a key element of this novel."
Keller shed some light on this inspiration and the questions and challenges of caretaking.
Elizabeth Little is making waves with her clever debut mystery, Dear Daughter. Written with what our Whodunit columnist calls "one of the cheekiest voices in recent memory," Little follows a now-notorious Los Angeles socialite's investigation into her mother's grisly murder: a murder that's been pinned on her. We caught up with Little and asked her about life in LA, her favorite heroines in mystery and more in a 7 questions interview.
M.P. Cooley’s first novel Ice Shear is a solid, convincing mystery set in the snowy shadows of Hopewell Falls, New York. The story follows June Lyons, a former FBI agent who traded her big badge for the life of a small-town police officer to care for her sick husband, who has since passed. In an attempt to spend more time with her daughter and to fall in better with the police force, she volunteers for the graveyard shift. Her nights pass with no more excitement than driving drunks home and buying doughnuts for the morning shift.
The best new mysteries include a standalone Scandinavian thriller, murderous mothers and daughters and a tale of Cold War espionage.
There are several ways to know whether you’ve got a really fine novel on your hands, and you can tell pretty quickly that Dry Bones in the Valley is a debut of that caliber.
First, author Tom Bouman knows his rural Pennsylvania setting and is familiar with its smallest details, from inhabitants’ accents and manners to their dilapidated trailer homes, and from animal tracks in the woods to the winds and the night sky.
Antonio Hill follows up his Spanish sun-soaked crime debut The Summer of Dead Toys with his second Inspector Salgado mystery, The Good Suicides. A cryptic and unnerving message is sent to a select group of managers at a cosmetics company: a horrifying photo of dogs hanging from a tree accompanied by the line, "Never forget." Soon, those on the receiving end of the email begin committing suicide in grotesquely creative ways, and the rattled Salgado is thrust into the investigation. We caught up with Hill and chatted about Barcelona's best (and not-so-great) qualities, his work in literary translation and more in a 7 questions interview.
Whether they feel watching eyes or hear the sound of quickening footsteps behind them, the potential victims in these unnerving stories sense a predator’s approach, and so can we. As these characters hurry to the relative safety of their homes and rush to lock the doors behind them, readers of these smart and suspenseful books will be turning pages faster and faster in hopes of catching the criminal before it’s too late.
R.J. Ellory's standout new novel, Saints of New York, is our July 2014 Top Pick in Mystery. Past and present storylines are equally compelling in this vast and beautifully written novel. We chatted with the British author via email about his masterful new work.
The characters in Saints of New York—from the corrupt cops to the good cops—are all extremely flawed. They’re also surrounded by a world that is extremely dark, and even the “saints” are far from saintly. Was this a difficult book to write?
I think it’s an honest book, and I try to imbue every book I write with that kind of analysis and exposure of the human condition.