This was a good year for books, with some favorite authors again providing solid books, as well as some new-to-me authors, at least one of whom surprised me (I didn’t expect to like his books that much!). Here were my favorites this year:
Two favorites delivered, as always – Ann Cleeves, with White Nights, the second in her Shetland quartet, and Louise Penny with The Cruelest Month, her third in a seasonal quartet. These two rank highest for me. Not surprisingly, there are similarities between the two – beautifully drawn descriptions of the land, the villages and the people. Also, Cleeves and Penny write very much in the vein of traditional mysteries. I will read anything in the crime fiction genre – thrillers, spy novels, noir – but these traditional whodunits satisfy me the most.
The Pure in Heart and The Risk of Darkness, by Susan Hill, both part of the Serrailler series. These two character-driven books barely touched on crime, instead focusing on Simon Serrailler and his family. Not traditional, yet that was fine with me.
Another character-driven series is the one by Scottish author Aline Templeton. Her first three books on DI Marjory Fleming – Cold in the Earth, The Darkness and the Deep, and Lying Dead – were all among my tops. Fleming’s family life, with all its heartbreaks, is a large part of the books, but they also are strong police procedurals. This was a new author, but now is a favorite.
Another series – the surprise one – was Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, set in Wyoming. A surprise because I thought it would be too cowboyish. But Johnson’s The Cold Dish, Death Without Company and Kindness Goes Unpunished has great characters (no stereotypes) and witty dialogue that reminds me of Robert Parker’s Spenser series. This is a series I now recommend without pause.
My other tops this year included:
The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo, set in Norway. This is a long, complex novel, but still a fast, gripping read.
Slip of the Knife by Denise Mina, the third in her Paddy Meehan series, which will run to five books. Paddy has grown up, and is a well-known Scottish journalist and a mom. The series deals with family relationships and justice. A series that definitely needs to be read in order (no. 1 and no. 2 are The Field of Blood and The Dead Hour).
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. There was a lot of buzz about this book, the first in a series in the Millennium trilogy (Larsson died after writing the third book). The buzz was on target, this time. This Swedish novel, which features the unlikely team of a magazine journalist and a young computer hacker, is long – yet you’ll want to read it in one sitting.
The Writing Class by Jincy Willette is a light, fast, fun read – with murder, to boot! Amy Gallup is a writing teacher at an extension course. For once, she has a great class. But there’s a fly in the ointment – a murderer in the class. Since the police aren’t investigating, the whole class decides to find out which one of them is the killer. A great read!
The Secret History by Donna Tartt was published in 1992, and has become a semi-classic in the genre. It’s another big book that I couldn’t put down, even though you know in the opening pages who the killers are. This is a whodunit in reverse, as the book unveils why and how the murder took place, and then the consequences.
I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming is the latest in her Millers Kill series. This is a series that must be read in order, as the relationship between the Rev. Clare Fergusson and Chief Russ Van Alstyne is pivotal in the books. I love the series, but it does have a romance aspect that not everyone likes.
Finally, two books in which I recommend the audiobook version, because the narrator does such a good job of bringing these characters alive:
Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris has wonderful plotting that revolves around a boy’s school and an outsider that pretends to be a student (and later a teacher), hoping to exact revenge. Another teacher, though, stands in the way. The plot unfolds like a chess game, although it’s the author who is always a move ahead of you.
No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay takes an unlikely event – teenager Cynthia Bigge’s entire family disappears from her home overnight – and gives us a readable, likely plot. Twenty-five years, after a television show about the old mystery, strange events threaten Cynthia and her family. I’m not a huge fan of thrillers, but this one had me sitting in the car long after I had pulled into the driveway.