America’s top mystery book critics break down the year in crime

Cutout photos of authors James Han Mattson, S.A. Cosby and Charlotte Carter arranged in a collage.

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Amid the ongoing COVID-19 threats and racial reckoning that have marked 2021, reading crime (fiction and nonfiction) has provided both some much-needed escapism and, in the proliferation of diverse new voices and urgent themes, a bracing tonic — a harbinger of hoped-for change.

What more is there to say about the year in crime writing? A lot, if you ask the critics who keep a close eye on its multitude of genres. Below are the edited results of a rolling email correspondence with several of them: Steph Cha , author of “ Your House Will Pay ” and series editor of “The Best American Mystery and Suspense”; Oline Cogdill , mystery reviewer for the Sun-Sentinel and other outlets; Maureen Corrigan , book critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air”; CrimeReads Senior Editor Molly Odintz; and Sarah Weinman , author and crime fiction columnist for the New York Times Book Review.

The 20 best books of 2021

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How would you characterize this year in crime?

Cogdill : The genre continues to expand, reenergize and elevate itself. The stories continue to take us to new levels, showing deeper plots and characters.

Corrigan : I felt as though almost every mystery and suspense novel I picked up this year featured an “anxiety of appropriation” plot. Ever since Edgar Allan Poe wrote “The Purloined Letter” in 1844, the theft of a manuscript has been a standard plot, but this year, it packed more of a political charge, often revolving around a less powerful person reclaiming ownership of what was originally theirs through elaborately plotted acts of revenge.

A woman seated in an armchair.

That reminds me of a line from “Medea” that Alison Gaylin used as an epigram for her thriller “ The Collective ”: “Hate is a bottomless cup; I will pour and pour.” Why do you think revenge-motivated fiction is increasingly popular?

Weinman : We all feel rage, particularly over the last five or so years, so it has to be channeled somewhere. We will certainly see more revenge thrillers in the near future.

Cha : We are helpless in so many ways, and revenge thrillers provide a fantasy of retribution and brutal justice that is miles beyond anything we might hope to see in real life.

What debuts made an impression this year?

Cogdill : Mia P. Manansala folded in a lively mixture of Filipino culture, food and family bonds in “ Arsenic and Adobo .” Catherine Dang in “Nice Girls” and Amanda Jayatissa with “My Sweet Girl” brought a youthful angst while exploring their cultural backgrounds. Questions of identity have long been a mainstay of mysteries, and Alexandra Andrews with “Who Is Maud Dixon?” and Abigail Dean with “Girl A” brought a fresh perspective.

I’m also encouraged to see established writers continue to grow and evolve. Naomi Hirahara’s historical mystery, “Clark and Division,” was a real departure from her other mystery series.

Corrigan : I think it was gutsy of Lisa Scottoline to publish historical fiction this year. As she’s said in interviews , she’s wanted to write in that genre for decades. I enjoyed “Eternal” (set in fascist Italy), and I admired the fact that Scottoline hasn’t let her enormous success box her in.

Cha : I know he’s best known for his pedigreed literary fiction, but Colson Whitehead has been working with crime elements since “The Intuitionist,” and “Harlem Shuffle” is an absolute delight that embraces the genre. And there’s a sequel coming — a first for Whitehead.

Cogdill : Megan Abbott continues to produce provocative novels that show us the dark side of female ambition, competition and anxiety with her latest, “The Turnout.” Michael Connelly , who delivered a generational shift when he introduced Renée Ballard with “The Late Show” in 2017, has taken it to a new level in “The Dark Hours.”

A woman holding a Raven Award statuette.

Speaking of Connelly, as we reassess the role of policing in our society, how have police procedurals fared this year?

Cogdill : Connelly has consistently and unflinchingly shown the good and the bad cops. This is especially true in “The Dark Hours,” in which Connelly, without taking sides, shows how racial justice protests, the Jan. 6 insurrection and the pandemic have affected the LAPD’s officers, decimated morale and caused some to question their career choices.

Weinman : I admit to being discomfited by the procedural. But I also don’t want to make any definitive conclusion about this subgenre for at least another two to three years, when writers have had the time to really grapple with the last few years.

I was encouraged to see more crime fiction by queer authors.

Odintz : I loved so many, including: Robyn Gigl’s “By Way of Sorrow”; Michael Nava’s “Lies With Man”; Cheryl Head’s “Warn Me When It’s Time”; and Amanda Kabak’s “Upended.” Timothy Schaffert’s “The Perfume Thief” entranced me.

Corrigan : I’m thrilled to see the resurgence of LGBTQ+ crime fiction. There was so much energy in the 1980s and 1990s around queer crime writers like Nava, Liza Cody, Katherine V. Forrest, Joseph Hansen and J.M. Redmann, to name a few. Then something changed, making it harder for both LGBTQ+ writers and writers of color to keep going. A friend and colleague of mine insists that the demise of independent mystery bookstores had a lot to do with the ebbing of diversity in crime fiction. These days, podcasts and online crime fiction sites are helping readers discover writers whose profiles don’t fit “just the usual suspects.”

Odintz : I thought Caitlin Wahrer’s “The Damage” was really great ally fiction, as was S.A. Cosby’s “Razorblade Tears.” Like Cosby’s book, “The Damage” used its platform to explore the effects of toxic masculinity on straight cis male characters, which used to just go as an unquestioned norm of crime protagonist behavior. That’s a huge improvement.

A selfie of a blond woman with glasses.

But I’ve also noticed what seems like a preponderance of gay men securing publishing contracts over lesbian and other queer authors.

Cogdill : I hope this may be turning in terms of mainstream publishers. Edgar finalist Kathleen Kent ’s trilogy about Dallas Detective Sgt. Betty Rhyzyk and her wife, Jackie, just wrapped up this year with “The Pledge.” Next year, I’ll be watching for Dawn Winter’s “Sedating Elaine,” Katharine Schellman’s series debut, “Last Call at the Nightingale,” along with books by some smaller imprints.

Odintz : I agree, there are a lot of small presses that are doing better when it comes to publishing a diverse array of queer voices. However, it’s not only up to the publishers; it’s also up to the readers to read, request and recommend as many works by underrepresented queer authors as possible.

I am thrilled to read crime fiction by more writers of color than ever. Were there any that stood out for you this year?

Cha : I agree. I already mentioned Whitehead, but I was also really impressed by Silvia Moreno-Garcia ‘s “Velvet Was the Night,” James Han Mattson ’s “Reprieve” and Cosby’s “Razorblade Tears.” We’re dealing with an industry that has been dominated by white voices for centuries, so every writer of color is recovering ground. We’re still in an era of firsts and onlies, where, for example, Cosby is treading new territory by writing rural Southern noir about Black people.

Corrigan : I think Cosby’s novels are standouts. They summon up the noir predicament of being fated to a certain “no exit” destiny; given that he’s writing about characters of color, that familiar noir predicament is recharged with contemporary commentary.

Weinman : But the key point is staying power. If they sell, we will get more. I don’t want what happened in the 1990s to happen again. Then, Black writers were published in greater numbers than ever before but weren’t given much chance to find an audience and thus were dropped by their publishers. Readers lost out when writers like Charlotte Carter, Penny Mickelbury and Valerie Wilson Wesley didn’t get the support they deserved. It’s heartening to see many of these writers reemerge (I love the reissues of Charlotte Carter’s Nanette Hayes novels dearly) but even more so to see an ecosystem that recognizes more of these voices and nurtures them.

A headshot of a woman in a denim jacket.

True crime seems to be more popular than ever. Why do you think it has secured a growing place in readers’ (and publishers’) imaginations?

Weinman : I’ve always said true crime is a perennially popular genre dating back at least three centuries. People love to read about the worst of humanity. What is different now, of course, is a greater preponderance of stories that center on those who were harmed and murdered, giving them three-dimensional portraits and contextualizing the crimes as part of broken systems and subcultures. Elon Green’s “Last Call” does this exceptionally well.

Odintz : I like to think of true crime as military history for women and any group disproportionately affected by violence.

Domestic suspense is a growing subgenre, too, though the term itself is a bit polarizing.

Odintz : I’ve been enjoying how domestic suspense has sparked a revival of gothic fiction — a natural progression, given that both often include a woman in danger in a large, mysterious house. Much of domestic suspense has been more of the suburban psychological thriller variety, but we all love to read about horrible things happening in sumptuous settings, and I (and many others) have noticed a trend toward richer protagonists. Ooh, and smart houses. Lots and lots of smart homes showing up lately.

Weinman : Here’s where I would like to chime in and beat a particular drum: “Domestic suspense,” as I used it in my 2013 anthology , was specifically meant to classify crime novels and short stories by women written between the early 1940s and the mid-1970s. Mary Higgins Clark ‘s “Where Are the Children?” (1975) marked the end of “domestic suspense” and the beginning of contemporary psychological suspense, culminating in Gillian Flynn’s “ Gone Girl ” (2012) and A.S.A. Harrison’s “The Silent Wife” (2013). We’ve been in the post-“Gone Girl” phase ever since, and I think now it’s time for some other descriptor.

A woman with her hands clasped on a table with a typewriter and books.

One of the trends I’ve also enjoyed is the growth of crime fiction that intersects with horror or other genres. “Reprieve,” Laura Lippman’s “Dream Girl” and Zakiya Dalila Harris’ “ The Other Black Girl ” come to mind.

Corrigan : I think the splicing of crime fiction and horror is part of a current trend of “literary intersectionality” that’s affecting all genres. Think of Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, “ Klara and the Sun ,” which invokes sci-fi, dystopian fiction and “straight” literary fiction. Then there‘s Nghi Vo’s inventive “The Chosen and the Beautiful,” a reimagining of “The Great Gatsby” — heavy on fantasy — narrated by a Jordan Baker who’s queer and Asian.

Odintz : This was the year I discovered I was into horror! Psychological thrillers are the perfect gateway drug into further nightmares of the mind. Crime readers have long had an appetite for psychological thrillers and gothic fiction, which are both steeped in horror tropes, and a serial killer novel is absolutely both crime fiction and horror. Some types of crime novels become less problematic considered as horror. A home invasion story portrayed as ordinary and/or plausible is always annoying, but someone’s nightmare of a home invasion story with, like, clowns is much less annoying.

There are also a lot of experiences — in particular, women’s bodily experiences, and the gaslighting and physical harm society inflicts on marginalized people — that can be best represented by horror. Statements of fact or realistic fiction are often not enough to do justice to emotional truths, even in something as dark as crime fiction. And there are also some traditions — I’m thinking of Latinx and Native American fiction — that have a long history of incorporating horror and fantastical elements into crime stories. Plus, you can’t discount the influence of “Midsommar” and “Get Out” in marketing [comparisons] alone.

Cogdill : This is another way the genre continues to expand.

Woods is a book critic, editor and author of the “Charlotte Justice” series of crime novels.

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All of NY Times Best Mysteries & Thrillers of 2022

All of NY Times Best Mysteries & Thrillers of 2022

Best Crime Fiction

Don't Know Tough

Don't Know Tough

Best debuts.

In Denton, Arkansas, the fate of the high school football team rests on the shoulders of Billy Lowe, a volatile but talented running back. Billy comes from an extremely troubled home: a trailer park where he is terrorized by his mother’s abusive boyfriend. Billy takes out his anger on the field, but when his savagery crosses a line, he faces suspension. Without Billy Lowe, the Denton Pirates can kiss their playoff bid goodbye. But the head coach, Trent Powers, who just moved from California with his wife and two children for this job, has more than just his paycheck riding on Billy’s bad behavior. As a born-again Christian, Trent feels a divine calling to save Billy—save him from his circumstances, and save his soul. Then Billy’s abuser is found murdered in the Lowe family trailer, and all evidence points toward Billy. Now nothing can stop an explosive chain of violence that could tear the whole town apart on the eve of the playoffs.

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Portrait of a Thief

Portrait of a Thief

Grace D. Li

A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son who has always been his parents' American Dream. But when a mysterious Chinese benefactor reaches out with an impossible—and illegal—job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago.  His crew is every heist archetype one can imag­ine—or at least, the closest he can get. A con artist: Irene Chen, a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering major who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they've cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down.  Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars—and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they've dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted at­tempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.

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Real Easy

Marie Rutkoski

Best Standalones

It’s 1999 and Samantha has danced for years at the Lovely Lady strip club. She’s not used to mixing work and friendship—after all, between her jealous boyfriend and his young daughter, she has enough on her plate. But the newest dancer is so clueless that Samantha feels compelled to help her learn the hustle and drama of the club: how to sweet-talk the boss, fit in with the other women, and make good money. One night, when the new girl needs a ride home, Samantha agrees to drive: a simple decision that turns deadly. Georgia, another dancer drawn into the ensuing murder and missing person investigation, gathers information for Holly, a grieving detective determined to solve the case. Georgia just wants to help, but her involvement makes her a target. As Holly and Georgia round up their suspects, the story’s point of view shifts between dancers, detectives, children, club patrons—and the killer. Drawing on her experience as a former dancer, Marie Rutkoski immerses us in the captivating world of the club, which comes alive with complicated people trying their best to protect themselves and those they love.

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The Lost Kings

The Lost Kings

Tyrell Johnson

Jeanie’s whole world is turned upside down. Not only has she lost her beloved brother, but with no family left in Washington, she is ripped from everything she knows, including Maddox, the boy she could be learning to love. Twenty years later, Jeanie is in England. She keeps her demons at bay by drinking too much, sleeping with a married man, and speaking to a therapist she doesn’t respect. But her old life catches up to her when Maddox reappears, claiming to have tracked down her dad. Stunned, Jeanie must decide whether to continue running from her past or to confront her father and finally find out what really happened that night, where her brother is, and why she was the one left behind.

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Anywhere You Run

Anywhere You Run

Wanda M. Morris

It’s the summer of 1964 and three innocent men are brutally murdered for trying to help Black Mississippians secure the right to vote. Against this backdrop, twenty-one year old Violet Richards finds herself in more trouble than she’s ever been in her life. Suffering a brutal attack of her own, she kills the man responsible. But with the color of Violet’s skin, there is no way she can escape Jim Crow justice in Jackson, Mississippi. Before anyone can find the body or finger her as the killer, she decides to run. With the help of her white beau, Violet escapes. But desperation and fear leads her to hide out in the small rural town of Chillicothe, Georgia, unaware that danger may be closer than she thinks.

Back in Jackson, Marigold, Violet’s older sister, has dreams of attending law school. Working for the Mississippi Summer Project, she has been trying to use her smarts to further the cause of the Black vote. But Marigold is in a different kind of trouble: she’s pregnant and unmarried. After news of the murder brings the police to her door, Marigold sees no choice but to flee Jackson too. She heads North seeking the promise of a better life and no more segregation. But has she made a terrible choice that threatens her life and that of her unborn child? 

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Survivor's Guilt

Survivor's Guilt

Best in a series.

At first, the death of millionaire businessman Charles Parsons seems like a straightforward suicide. There’s no sign of forced entry or struggle in his lavish New Jersey mansion—just a single gunshot wound from his own weapon. But days later, a different story emerges. Computer techs pick up a voice recording that incriminates Parsons’ adoptive daughter, Ann, who duly confesses and pleads guilty. Erin McCabe has little interest in reviewing such a slam-dunk case—even after she has a mysterious meeting with one of the investigating detectives, who reveals that Ann, like Erin, is a trans woman. Yet despite their misgivings, Erin and her law partner, Duane Swisher, ultimately can’t ignore the pieces that don’t fit. As their investigation deepens, Erin and Swish convince Ann to withdraw her guilty plea. But Ann clearly knows more than she’s willing to share, even if it means a life sentence. Who is she protecting, and why? Fighting against time and a prosecutor hell-bent on notching another conviction, the two work tirelessly—Erin inside the courtroom, Swish in the field—to clear Ann’s name. But despite Parsons’ former associates’ determination to keep his—and their own—illegal activities buried, a horrifying truth emerges—a web of human exploitation, unchecked greed, and murder. Soon, a quest to see justice served becomes a desperate struggle to survive . . .

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Vera Kelly

Rosalie Knecht

Everyone’s favorite sleuth—Vera Kelly—is back and put to the test as she searches for her missing girlfriend.

It’s spring 1971 and Vera Kelly and her girlfriend, Max, leave their cozy Brooklyn apartment for an emergency visit to Max's estranged family in Los Angeles. Max’s parents are divorcing—her father is already engaged to a much younger woman and under the sway of an occultist charlatan; her mother has left their estate in a hurry with no indication of return. Max, who hasn’t seen her family since they threw her out at the age of twenty-one, prepares for the trip with equal parts dread and anger. 

Upon arriving, Vera is shocked by the size and extravagance of the Comstock estate—the sprawling, manicured landscape; expansive and ornate buildings; and garages full of luxury cars reveal a privileged upbringing that, up until this point, Max had only hinted at—while Max attempts to navigate her father, who is hostile and controlling, and the occultist, St. James, who is charming but appears to be siphoning family money. Tensions boil over at dinner when Max threatens to alert her mother—and her mother’s lawyers—to St. James and her father’s plans using marital assets. The next morning, when Vera wakes up, Max is gone.

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Secrets Typed in Blood

Secrets Typed in Blood

Stephen Spotswood

New York City, 1947: For years, Holly Quick has made a good living off of murder, filling up the pages of pulp detective magazines with gruesome tales of revenge. Now someone is bringing her stories to life and leaving a trail of blood-soaked bodies behind. With the threat of another murder looming, and reluctant to go to the police, Holly turns to the best crime-solving duo in or out of the pulps, Willowjean “Will” Parker and her boss, famed detective Lillian Pentecost. The pair are handed the seemingly-impossible task of investigating three murders at once without tipping off the cops or the press that the crimes are connected. A tall order made even more difficult by the fact that Will is already signed up to spend her daylight hours undercover as a guileless secretary in the hopes of digging up a lead on an old adversary, Dr. Olivia Waterhouse. But even if Will is stuck in pencil skirts and sensible shoes, she’s not about to let her boss have all the fun. Soon she’s diving into an underground world of people obsessed with murder and the men and women who commit them. Can the killer be found in the Black Museum Club, run by a philanthropist whose collection of grim murder memorabilia may not be enough to satisfy his lust for the homicidal? Or is it Holly Quick’s pair of editors, who read about murder all day, but clearly aren’t telling the full story?

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Notes on an Execution

Notes on an Execution

Danya Kukafka

Best Overall

Ansel Packer is scheduled to die in twelve hours. He knows what he’s done, and now awaits execution, the same chilling fate he forced on those girls, years ago. But Ansel doesn’t want to die; he wants to be celebrated, understood. 

Through a kaleidoscope of women—a mother, a sister, a homicide detective—we learn the story of Ansel’s life. We meet his mother, Lavender, a seventeen-year-old girl pushed to desperation; Hazel, twin sister to Ansel’s wife, inseparable since birth, forced to watch helplessly as her sister’s relationship threatens to devour them all; and finally, Saffy, the detective hot on his trail, who has devoted herself to bringing bad men to justice but struggles to see her own life clearly. As the clock ticks down, these three women sift through the choices that culminate in tragedy, exploring the rippling fissures that such destruction inevitably leaves in its wake. 

Blending breathtaking suspense with astonishing empathy,  Notes on an Execution  presents a chilling portrait of womanhood as it simultaneously unravels the familiar narrative of the American serial killer, interrogating our system of justice and our cultural obsession with crime stories, asking readers to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the psyches of violent men.

Best Thrillers

The Appeal

Janice Hallett

The Fairway Players, a local theatre group, is in the midst of rehearsals when tragedy strikes the family of director Martin Hayward and his wife Helen, the play’s star. Their young granddaughter has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and with an experimental treatment costing a tremendous sum, their castmates rally to raise the money to give her a chance at survival. But not everybody is convinced of the experimental treatment’s efficacy—nor of the good intentions of those involved. As tension grows within the community, things come to a shocking head at the explosive dress rehearsal. The next day, a dead body is found, and soon, an arrest is made. In the run-up to the trial, two young lawyers sift through the material—emails, messages, letters—with a growing suspicion that the killer may be hiding in plain sight. The evidence is all there, between the lines, waiting to be uncovered.

Broken Summer

Broken Summer

J. M. Lee; An Seon Jae (Translator)

Lee Hanjo is an artist at the peak of his fame, envied and celebrated. Then, on his forty-third birthday, he awakens to find that his devoted wife has disappeared, leaving behind a soon-to-be-published novel she’d secretly written about the sordid past and questionable morality of an artist with a trajectory similar to Hanjo’s. It’s clear to him that his life is about to shatter and the demons from his past will come out. But why did his wife do it? Why now?

The book forces Hanjo to reflect on a summer from his youth when a deadly lie irreversibly and tragically determined the fates of two families.

From master storyteller J. M. Lee, one of Korea’s most renowned authors, comes an unforgettable novel of hidden truths, denials, and their inevitable repercussions. Everyone still left standing from that terrible summer so long ago must finally reckon with the deceptions that started it all and, twist after shocking twist, reap both the suffering and the vindication that comes with revenge.

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 1, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

The Other Side of Night

The Other Side of Night

The Other Side of Night  begins with a man named David Asha writing about his biggest regret: his sudden separation from his son, Elliot. In his grief, David tells a story. Next, we step into the life of Harriet Kealty, a police officer trying to clear her name after a lapse of judgment. She discovers a curious inscription in a secondhand book—a plea:  Help me, he’s trying to kill me . Who wrote this note? Who is “he”? This note leads Harri to David Asha, who was last seen stepping off a cliff. Police suspect he couldn’t cope after his wife’s sudden death. Still, why would this man jump and leave behind his young son? Quickly, Harri’s attention zeroes in on a person she knows all too well. Ben Elmys: once the love of her life. A surrogate father to Elliot Asha and trusted friend to the Ashas. Ben may also be a murderer.

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Blood Sugar

Blood Sugar

Sascha Rothchild

Though she may be a murderer, Ruby is not a sociopath. She is an animal-loving therapist with a thriving practice. She’s felt empathy and sympathy. She’s had long-lasting friendships and relationships, and has a husband, Jason, whom she adores. But the homicide detectives at Miami Beach PD are not convinced of her happy marriage. When we meet Ruby, she is in a police interrogation room, being accused of Jason’s murder. Which, ironically, is one murder that she did not commit, though a scandal-obsessed public believes differently. As she undergoes questioning, Ruby’s mind races back to all the details of her life that led her to this exact moment, and to the three dead bodies in her wake. Because though she may not have killed her husband, Ruby certainly isn’t innocent.

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The Murder Rule

The Murder Rule

Dervla McTiernan

First Rule: Make them like you.

Second Rule: Make them need you.

Third Rule: Make them pay.

They think I’m a young, idealistic law student, that I’m passionate about reforming a corrupt and brutal system.

They think I’m working hard to impress them.

They think I’m here to save an innocent man on death row.

They're wrong. I’m going to bury him.

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Notable Mysteries & Thrillers

Hokuloa Road

Hokuloa Road

by Elizabeth Hand

On a whim, Grady Kendall applies to work as a live-in caretaker for a luxury property in Hawaiʻi, as far from his small-town Maine life as he can imagine. Within days he's flying out to an estate on remote Hokuloa Road, where he quickly uncovers a dark side to the island’s idyllic reputation: it has long been a place where people vanish without a trace. When a young woman from his flight becomes the next to disappear, Grady is determined—and soon desperate—to figure out what's happened to Jessie, and to all those staring out of the island’s “missing" posters. But working with Raina, Jessie’s fiercely protective best friend, to uncover the truth is anything but easy, and with an inexplicable and sinister presence stalking his every step, Grady can only hope he'll find the answer before it's too late.

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The Bangalore Detectives Club

The Bangalore Detectives Club

Harini Nagendra

When clever, headstrong Kaveri moves to Bangalore to marry handsome young doctor Ramu, she's resigned herself to a quiet life. But that all changes the night of the party at the Century Club, where she escapes to the garden for some peace and quiet—and instead spots an uninvited guest in the shadows. Half an hour later, the party turns into a murder scene. When a vulnerable woman is connected to the crime, Kaveri becomes determined to save her and launches a private investigation to find the killer, tracing his steps from an illustrious brothel to an Englishman's mansion. She soon finds that sleuthing in a sari isn't as hard as it seems when you have a talent for mathematics, a head for logic, and a doctor for a husband . . . And she's going to need them all as the case leads her deeper into a hotbed of danger, sedition, and intrigue in Bangalore's darkest alleyways.

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 3, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Carlota Moreau: A young woman growing up on a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of a researcher who is either a genius or a madman. Montgomery Laughton: A melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers. The hybrids: The fruits of the doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities. All of them live in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Dr. Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction. For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and, in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

The Furrows

The Furrows

Namwali Serpell

Cassandra Williams is twelve; her little brother, Wayne, is seven. One day, when they’re alone together, there is an accident and Wayne is lost forever. His body is never recovered. The missing boy cleaves the family with doubt. Their father leaves, starts another family elsewhere. But their mother can’t give up hope and launches an organization dedicated to missing children.  As C grows older, she sees her brother everywhere: in bistros, airplane aisles, subway cars. Here is her brother’s face, the light in his eyes, the way he seems to recognize her, too. But it can’t be, of course. Or can it? Then one day, in another accident, C meets a man both mysterious and familiar, a man who is also searching for someone and for his own place in the world. His name is Wayne. 

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 27, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Dr. No

Percival Everett

The protagonist of Percival Everett’s puckish new novel is a brilliant professor of mathematics who goes by Wala Kitu. (Wala, he explains, means “nothing” in Tagalog, and Kitu is Swahili for “nothing.”) He is an expert on nothing. That is to say, he  is  an expert, and his area of study is nothing, and he does nothing about it. This makes him the perfect partner for the aspiring villain John Sill, who wants to break into Fort Knox to steal, well, not gold bars but a shoebox containing nothing. Once he controls nothing he’ll proceed with a dastardly plan to turn a Massachusetts town into nothing. Or so he thinks. With the help of the brainy and brainwashed astrophysicist-turned-henchwoman Eigen Vector, our professor tries to foil the villain while remaining in his employ. In the process, Wala Kitu learns that Sill’s desire to become a literal Bond villain originated in some real all-American villainy related to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. As Sill says, “Professor, think of it this way. This country has never given anything to us and it never will. We have given everything to it. I think it’s time we gave nothing back.”

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around November 1, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

The Old Woman with the Knife

The Old Woman with the Knife

Gu Byeong-mo

The kinetic story of a sixty-five-year-old female assassin who faces an unexpected threat in the twilight of her career—this is an international bestseller and the English language debut from an award-winning South Korean author At sixty-five, Hornclaw is beginning to slow down. She lives modestly in a small apartment, with only her aging dog, a rescue named Deadweight, to keep her company. There are expectations for people her age—that she'll retire and live out the rest of her days quietly. But Hornclaw is not like other people. She is an assassin. Double-crossers, corporate enemies, cheating spouses—for the past four decades, Hornclaw has killed them all with ruthless efficiency, and the less she's known about her targets, the better. But now, nearing the end of her career, she has just slipped up. An injury leads her to an unexpected connection with a doctor and his family. But emotions, for an assassin, are a dangerous proposition. As Hornclaw's world closes in, this final chapter in her career may also mark her own bloody end.

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 8, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Our Missing Hearts

Our Missing Hearts

Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. His mother Margaret, a Chinese American poet, left the family when he was nine years old without a trace. Bird knows to not ask too many questions, stand out too much, or stray too far. For a decade, his family's life has been governed by laws written to preserve “American culture” in the wake of years of economic instability and violence. To keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic. Bird has grown up disavowing his mother and her poems; he doesn’t know her work or what happened to her, and he knows he shouldn’t wonder. But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of librarians, into the lives of the children who have been taken, and finally to New York City, where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of much-needed change.

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 4, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

The Passenger

The Passenger

Cormac McCarthy

1980, PASS CHRISTIAN, MISSISSIPPI: It is three in the morning when Bobby Western zips the jacket of his wet suit and plunges from the Coast Guard tender into darkness. His dive light illuminates the sunken jet, nine bodies still buckled in their seats, hair floating, eyes devoid of speculation. Missing from the crash site are the pilot’s flight bag, the plane’s black box, and the tenth passenger. But how? A collateral witness to machinations that can only bring him harm, Western is shadowed in body and spirit—by men with badges; by the ghost of his father, inventor of the bomb that melted glass and flesh in Hiroshima; and by his sister, the love and ruin of his soul.

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Sarah Weinman Becomes New Columnist for Crime Fiction as Marilyn Stasio Retires

After 33 years, Marilyn is retiring. Sarah’s first column appears online today and in the Feb. 14th issue of the Book Review. Read more in this note from Pamela Paul.

We are delighted to announce that Sarah Weinman will be the new crime columnist for The New York Times Book Review. She was, of course, the most obvious suspect: Weinman is the author of “The Real Lolita: A Lost Girl, An Unthinkable Crime, and a Scandalous Masterpiece,” and the editor of the anthologies “Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit & Obsession” (Ecco), “Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s” (Library of America) and “Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives” (Penguin). A National Magazine Award finalist for Reporting, Weinman has written for The Times, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, New York magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications, while her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and various anthologies. Weinman also writes the “Crime Lady” newsletter, covering crime fiction, true crime and all points in between. Her next book — about William F. Buckley’s ill-fated advocacy for a Death Row prisoner — will be published by Ecco in 2022.

Marilyn Stasio , who has written her extremely popular twice-monthly column since 1988, will continue to contribute reviews to The Times on crime, true crime and other related subjects. “Long before I came to work at The Times, I turned to Marilyn’s column for reading recommendations,” says Tina Jordan, Stasio’s editor and the deputy editor of the Book Review. “She covered the fictional murder-and-mayhem landscape so thoroughly — not just books by big-name authors, but books in translation, books from small presses.” In a 2017 interview with The Times on the occasion of Stasio’s 30th anniversary at the Book Review, Weinman noted that Stasio’s seriousness and longevity had transformed her into someone whom people “revere and fear.”

Sarah Weinman’s first column appears online today and in our Feb. 14th issue.

Explore Further

Celebrating the 125th anniversary of the new york times book review, pamela paul to oversee daily and sunday book coverage.

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times book review crime

The Best Reviewed Mystery and Crime Books of 2022

Featuring fernanda melchor, robert harris, john darnielle, don winslow, and more.

Book Marks logo

We’ve come to the end of another bountiful literary year, and for all of us review rabbits here at Book Marks, that can mean only one thing: basic math, and lots of it.

Yes, using reviews drawn from more than 150 publications, over the next two weeks we’ll be calculating and revealing the most critically-acclaimed books of 2022, in the categories of (deep breath): Fiction ; Nonfiction ; Memoir and Biography ; Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror ; Short Story Collections ; Essay Collections; Poetry; Mystery and Crime; Graphic Literature ; and Literature in Translation .

Today’s installment: Mystery and Crime .

Brought to you by Book Marks , Lit Hub’s “Rotten Tomatoes for books.”


1. Paradais by Fernanda Melchor, trans. by Sophie Hughes (New Directions)

18 Rave • 6 Positive

“ Paradais is both more compact and more cogent [than Hurricane Season ]. Rhythm and lexis work in tandem to produce a savage lyricism. The translator Sophie Hughes marvellously matches the author in her pursuit of a new cadence … From its first sentence, in fact, Paradais feels rhythmically propelled towards a violent climax. Full stops occur rarely enough to seem meaningful, Melchor using long lines of unbroken narrative to reel in her terrible ending … The author wants to understand the violence, not merely condemn it … The novel’s language, meanwhile, is both high-flown and street-smart, strewn with Veracruzian slang, the odd made-up word and many eye-watering expletives … Pressure builds remorselessly to a dreadful climax. It is an extraordinary feat of control, making Fernanda Melchor’s exceptional novel into a contemporary masterpiece.”

–Miranda France ( Times Literary Supplement )

2. Devil House by John Darnielle (MCD)

14 Rave • 8 Positive • 2 Mixed Listen to a conversation with John Darnielle here

“… terrific: confident, creepy, a powerful and soulful page-turner. I had no idea where it was going, in the best possible sense … The thing about Darnielle’s writing, in all its forms, is this: If you’re that dorky outcast kid drawing a pentagram on the back page of your three-ring binder in algebra class, not because you want to drink anyone’s blood but because you think it’s cool, he sees you. His novels are in close contact with the alternative cultural universes of fantasy and the occult and science fiction, yet they don’t resemble genre fiction. They’re earthy and fly low to the ground. They are plain-spoken and in no hurry … Devil House …[is] never quite the book you think it is. It’s better.”

–Dwight Garner ( The New York Times )

3. Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris (Harper)

14 Rave • 5 Positive

“Gripping … A belter of a thriller. It will be compulsive reading for those who loved An Officer and a Spy , Harris’s book about the Dreyfus affair. Like that novel, the research is immaculate. A chewy, morally murky slice of history is made into a tale that twists and surprises. The characters are strong and we care about their predicament. The story stretches over continents and years, but the suspense feels as taut as if the three main characters were locked in a room with a gun.”

–Antonia Senior ( AirMail )

4. City on Fire by Don Winslow (William Morrow)

14 Rave • 4 Positive Read an interview with Don Winslow here

“Winslow…brings his sharp interpretive skills to Virgil’s Aeneid, and makes the events at Troy and the founding of Rome into a riveting gangster tale. He makes me wonder why I had never before seen the Trojan War as the obvious fight between rival criminal gangs … In City of Fire, he returns to his New England roots for this new classic he says took him decades to write … Winslow is a master of pacing. Action and erotic sequences fire the adrenaline, while tender scenes feel languid and warm. He shades the relationship between men and women in noir tones. Tough guys don’t always get their way. Noir women are wicked smart, and press their advantages against how men’s low assumptions of women make them weak … Winslow has been lauded for the ways that his previous crime novels confront social issues. He has interrogated the ways that borders work between us, that we’re weak at the border when we build insurmountable walls to shore them up. One that runs under the surface of Winslow’s novel is that it’s not just the faults of individuals that cause these men to fail. But here, rigid definitions of who gets to belong in ‘our thing’ create fatal weaknesses among them. The refusal to think outside their constricted notions of masculinity and honor hobbles them.”

–Lorraine Berry ( The Boston Globe )

5. Bad Actors by Mick Herron (Soho Crime)

9 Rave • 4 Positive Listen to an excerpt from Bad Actors here

“Herron’s plots are masterpieces of convolution and elegant wrong-footing. Beyond that, his action scenes are fast-paced and thrilling—there are a couple of high-octane doozies in this installment. But the real draw of the series is its dark, dark humor. Much of it is interpersonal, but the most biting of all concerns the state of Britain, a country beset by Brexit, COVID and incompetent, if mercenary, leadership … If there is bad news, it is that you really should have read some of the previous Slough House novels in order to get a handle on this party of rejects, their histories and capabilities. Further, if you are a veteran of the series, you may have become a little weary of Jackson Lamb’s extravagant foulness and his habit of magicking cigarettes and even himself out of nowhere. That said, this is still one of the most enjoyable series I have ever read.”

–Katherine A. Powers ( The Star Tribune )

6. The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman (Pamela Dorman Books)

9 Rave • 5 Positive • 1 Pan

“Osman concocts a satisfyingly complex whodunit full of neat twists and wrong turns. But unlike most crime novelists, he ensures his book’s strength and momentum stem not from its plot or its thrills but rather its perfectly formed characters. Once again, the quartet of friends makes for delightful company … If there is fault to be found it is a recurring one throughout the series—namely that Osman’s two men have less to do than his two women, and as a result feel like extras around the main double-act. But what a double-act … What could have been twee and uninvolving is in fact heartwarming and enthralling. ‘They carried a kind of magic, the four of them,’ a policeman muses. That magic is still there in abundance.”

–Malcolm Forbes ( The Washington Post )

7. Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan (Pegasus)

9 Rave • 2 Positive • 1 Mixed • 1 Pan

“. deliciously weird … Fagan once again examines the way people are affected by unhealthy spaces … she writes about placement and displacement with an arresting mix of insight and passion … Fagan tests each floor of No. 10 Luckenbooth as though she’s playing a literary version of Jenga, drawing out one block after another from this unstable structure … a muffled scream—with a feral melody and a thundering bass line. Her prose has never been more cinematic. This story’s inexorable acceleration and its crafty use of suggestion and elision demonstrate the special effects that the best writers can brew up without a single line of Hollywood software—just paper, ink and ghosts.”

–Ron Charles ( The Washington Post )

8. The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont (St. Martin’s Press)

7 Rave • 2 Positive • 3 Mixed

“An ingenious new psychological suspense novel that concocts an elaborate backstory behind Christie’s disappearance … Here’s the neatest narrative trick of all: As Christie characteristically did, de Gramont hides the solution to the mystery of The Christie Affair in plain sight … The Christie Affair is richly imagined; inventive and, occasionally, poignant; and about as true-to-life as Christie’s own tales of quaint villages with their staggering murder rates. But when fabrications are this marvelous, why demand realism?”

–Maureen Corrigan ( The Washington Post )

Heat 2

9. Heat 2 by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner (William Morrow)

7 Rave • 2 Positive • 2 Mixed

“It’s a pulpy, expansive crime novel that feels of a piece with Mann’s filmography, from its hypercompetent, ambitious characters to the richly detailed underworlds they operate in … At times, Mann and Gardiner use the prequel portion of the book to directly explain the origins of iconic moments from the film, but even those instances tend to feel motivated by the story rather than like cheap ploys to get readers to do the Leo pointing meme … part of the fun of Heat 2 lies in watching its authors pull ideas and tiny details from across Mann’s entire filmography … Heat 2 , though, paints complete enough portraits of its characters to allow you to imagine them separately from the stars who played them, making a film adaptation with new actors easier to imagine.”

–Chris Stanton ( Vulture )

10. An Honest Living by Dwyer Murphy (Viking)

6 Rave • 3 Positive • 2 Mixed Listen to an interview with Dwyer Murphy here

“Like the best noir practitioners, Murphy uses the mystery as scaffolding to assemble a world of fallen dreams and doom-bitten characters … Murphy’s hard-boiled rendering of the city is nothing short of exquisite. It’s a landscape of reeking garbage, of salty rain sweeping off the ocean, of Midtown towers that look ‘ghostly like a mountain range,’ … For anyone who wants a portrait of this New York, few recent books have conjured it so vividly. For those who demand a straightforward mystery without any humor, romance and ambience, well, forget it, Jake, it’s literature.”

–Christopher Bollen ( The New York Times Book Review )

Our System:

RAVE = 5 points • POSITIVE = 3 points • MIXED = 1 point • PAN = -5 points

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Briefly Noted

Briefly Noted Book Reviews

A Shining , by Jon Fosse, translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls (Transit) . In this spare tale of disorientation and longing, by the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, a man gets stranded on a back road in a forest and wanders deep into the trees. There, he encounters stars, darkness, a shining figure, a barefoot man in a suit, and his parents, who seem to be caught in a dynamic of chastisement and withdrawal. Fosse uses fleeting allusions to a world beyond the reach of the narrator to explore some of humanity’s most elusive pursuits, certainty and inviolability among them. His bracingly clear prose imbues the story’s ambiguities with a profundity both revelatory and familiar. “Everything you experience is real, yes, in a way, yes,” the narrator says, “and you probably understand it too, in a way.”

Brooklyn Crime Novel by Jonathan Lethem.

Brooklyn Crime Novel , by Jonathan Lethem (Ecco) . A half century of Brooklyn history and a bevy of crimes—currency defacement, petty theft, breaking and entering, drug use—feature in this series of loosely linked vignettes, which follow children living in and around the neighborhood of Boerum Hill, from the nineteen-seventies to the present. Though the book is tinted with nostalgia, it’s filled with characters suspicious of idealizing an earlier time. Boerum, the narrator observes, “is a slaveholder name,” and a Black boy called C. thinks that the area’s gentrifiers “want to live neither in the present, nor the future, but in a cleaned-up dream of the past.”

The Best Books of 2023

Briefly Noted Book Reviews

Read our reviews of the year’s notable new fiction and nonfiction.

Klan War Ulysses S. Grant and the Battle to Save Reconstruction by Fergus M. Bordewich.

Klan War , by Fergus M. Bordewich (Knopf) . This essential history details Ulysses S. Grant’s fight to dismantle the Ku Klux Klan during the course of his Presidency. The Klan sprang up largely in response to Black suffrage. After the Civil War, Southern Black men voted in the hundreds of thousands, sending scores of Black candidates to office. The Klan, which Bordewich calls the nation’s “first organized terrorist movement,” targeted Black community leaders, with local and state officials either unwilling or unable to stop it. Grant made the issue federal, dispatching troops to the South and holding trials for suspected Klan members. Though his efforts were later gutted by a series of disastrous Supreme Court decisions, Grant’s victory, Bordewich argues, serves as a potent reminder that “forceful political action can prevail over violent extremism.”

Earlier by Sasha FrereJones.

Earlier , by Sasha Frere-Jones (Semiotexte) . “If you love music, you have to fight for it,” a former New Yorker pop-music critic writes in this slim, engaging volume, which recounts his childhood among “celebrity children” at a private school in Brooklyn, and his early obsession with music, which led to his career as a writer and as a band member. Both a memoir and a history, the book touches on race relations in the seventies and the AIDS epidemic. Haunted by the deaths of his father and his first wife, along with his struggles with mental illness and alcoholism, Frere-Jones excavates his life’s triumphs and failures. As he writes of playing with a band for the first time, “I fail my way into an epiphany.”

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They thought that they’d found the perfect apartment. They weren’t alone .

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What happened to the whale from “Free Willy.”

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Books & Fiction

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Nova Scotia’s Billion-Dollar Lobster Wars

By Abe Streep

The Kids Are Not All Right. They Want to Be Heard

By Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

What Asian America Meant to Corky Lee

By E. Tammy Kim

Why Liberals Struggle to Defend Liberalism

By Adam Gopnik

Walter Mosley again shows why he is a master of crime fiction

In Mosley’s new Easy Rawlins novel, “Farewell, Amethystine,” his hero is pulled into a missing-persons case that turns into much more.

A crop of new, talented crime-fiction writers has begun to make its mark — appearing on bestseller lists, earning award nominations and filling spots at respected book festivals. This is encouraging, even as the genre’s lodestars remain. Smoothly gliding through this chorus of hungry voices is Walter Mosley. His latest Easy Rawlins mystery, “ Farewell, Amethystine ,” shows that he is still at the top of a genre he helped to pioneer.

Here we find Rawlins observing America as the country roughly turns the corner into the 1970s. Rawlins is now 50, and much of his life is going well. The novel opens with a comfortable scene of him and his friends discussing current events. Despite their ruminations on the social unrest of that time — “the world was changing in increments so small,” Rawlins later says, “you’d have had to be a victim to feel it” — the reader has the sense that Mosley’s longtime protagonist has, temporarily, found peace. But that respite is upended by the appearance of a mysterious and alluring woman named Amethystine Stoller. Her husband is missing, and she hires Rawlins to find him.

Amethystine bears a resemblance to a woman from Rawlins’s past who took hold of his psyche. That dormant obsession returns, in the form of flashbacks that leave Rawlins stunned and force him to face the trauma of his impoverished youth and brutal days fighting in World War II. “I was asleep, and not asleep,” he recalls, “a state that being a participant in war had imparted to me.”

His struggles are also fueled by the bitter racism he encounters. Mosley has long used Easy Rawlins to both celebrate and redefine the conventions of the classic hard-boiled detective novel. Rawlins bears similarities to his golden-age noir predecessors — clouded morality, swift intelligence, a simple willingness to employ violence, fighting forces larger than himself. But what distinguishes Rawlins is his understanding that the corrupt societal forces he battles are rooted in bigotry. He is cast further from society than his White counterparts, who rarely face the scathing levels of hate Rawlins does, the kind of contempt so outlandish and transparent that many simply refuse to believe it exists.

When a cop attempts to arrest him for a crime he didn’t commit, and openly explains that police often falsely tie men to random offenses, Rawlins notes: “Seven out of ten of the city’s White residents would have said it couldn’t happen — not in America. Out of the remaining three, two would have said that I could have beaten the false charges in court. Eleven out of nine Black Angelenos would have known that I was destined for a lifetime behind bars or a seat in the gas chamber.” At another point, Rawlins and his goddaughter speak frankly about her father, who was killed by police. “The police murdered my father,” she says. Rawlins replies simply: “That they did.” His three words speak volumes and reflect his understanding that racism informed the actions of a state designed to trample the rights of non-White people.

But while Mosley never shies away from the persistence of racism, he does not let it overwhelm his story. When Amethystine’s husband is found dead and enemies emerge from the shadows, Rawlins realizes that the case extends far beyond the confines of a marriage. And Mosley’s beloved protagonist, dealing with the recurrent visions of his past and the complications of trust in his present, is credibly faced with losing the identity he’s carefully constructed.

As always with Mosley, the prose is succinct, nearly mathematical in its precise balance, with sudden moments of restless beauty. A woman’s eyes are “the color of melted butter that was just turning dark over a high flame.” Another character is a “a great novel — just one read-through was not enough to understand what it means.” Deep fear is described as a voyage back to “a time before machines or even written language.” But within that studied, memorable prose, there’s an underlying loneliness. Rawlins has his companions, but much of his torment is designed to be dealt with alone. As “Farewell, Amethystine” winds to its conclusion, that solitude is devastating.

Like Easy Rawlins, Walter Mosley has long stood apart from his contemporaries — because of both his skill and his identity. While race isn’t an unexplored topic in crime fiction, writers of color in the genre have been rare. That’s been changing, albeit slowly, and many of those changes stem from Mosley’s success, as well as his efforts in creating organizations like Crime Writers of Color (in partnership with noted writers Kellye Garrett and Gigi Pandian). The space that Mosley occupies in literature is distinctly his own, but his efforts and immense talent have afforded others the chance to join him.

E.A. Aymar’s most recent novel is “When She Left.”

Farewell, Amethystine

An Easy Rawlins Mystery

By Walter Mosley

Mulholland. 336 pp. $30

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Check out our coverage of this year’s Pulitzer winners: Jayne Anne Phillips won the fiction prize for her novel “ Night Watch .” The nonfiction prize went to Nathan Thrall, for “ A Day in the Life of Abed Salama .” Cristina Rivera Garza received the memoir prize for “ Liliana’s Invincible Summer .” And Jonathan Eig received the biography prize for his “ King: A Life .”

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times book review crime

The Best Reviewed Crime Novels of 2021

Featuring books by colson whitehead, silvia moreno-garcia, s.a. cosby, zakiya dalila harris, and more..

Book Marks presents the best reviewed crime fiction of the year.

times book review crime

1. Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)

30 Rave • 10 Positive • 1 Mixed • 1 Pan

Read an interview with Colson Whitehead here

“Whitehead’s own mind has famously gone thataway through nine other books that don’t much resemble one another, but this time he’s hit upon a setup that will stick. He has said he may keep Ray going into another book, and it won’t take you long to figure out why … brings Whitehead’s unwavering eloquence to a mix of city history, niche hangouts, racial stratification, high hopes and low individuals. All of these are somehow worked into a rich, wild book that could pass for genre fiction. It’s much more, but the entertainment value alone should ensure it the same kind of popular success that greeted his last two novels. It reads like a book whose author thoroughly enjoyed what he was doing … The author creates a steady, suspenseful churn of events that almost forces his characters to do what they do. The final choice is theirs, of course … Quaint details aside, this is no period piece … Though it’s a slightly slow starter, Harlem Shuffle has dialogue that crackles, a final third that nearly explodes, hangouts that invite even if they’re Chock Full o’ Nuts and characters you won’t forget even if they don’t stick around for more than a few pages.”

–Janet Maslin ( The New York Times )

The Committed_Viet Thanh Nguyen

2. The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove)

19 Rave • 12 Positive • 4 Mixed • 1 Pan

Listen to an interview with Viet Thang Nguyen here

“The novel is […] a homecoming of a particularly volatile sort, a tale of chickens returning to roost, and of a narrator not yet done with the world … Nguyen […] is driven to raptures of expression by the obliviousness of the self-satisfied; he relentlessly punctures the self-image of French and American colonizers, of white people generally, of true believers and fanatics of every stripe. This mission drives the rhetorical intensity that makes his novels so electric. It has nothing to do with plot or theme or character … That voice has made Nguyen a standard-bearer in what seems to be a transformational moment in the history of American literature, a perspectival shift … It’s a voice that shakes the walls of the old literary comfort zone wherein the narratives of nonwhite ‘immigrants’ were tasked with proving their shared humanity to a white audience … May that voice keep running like a purifying venom through the mainstream of our self-regard—through the American dream of distancing ourselves from what we continue to show ourselves to be.”

–Jonathan Dee ( The New Yorker )

3. The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (Atria)

20 Rave • 5 Positive • 3 Mixed

Read an excerpt from The Other Black Girl here

“ The Other Black Girl isn’t a story about finding solidarity or even about speaking up; it probes something more unsettling. As the novel presents competing ideas of success at the office, and the sacrifices that might entail, it evolves into an intense psychological thriller … Although Harris’s book takes up the office novel’s critique of opaque and soul-crushing hierarchies, it also flirts with race transformation, a theme explored in decades of African American literature … Harris formulates a central dilemma: For many Black people, the office setting becomes a microcosm of the version of the United States that sees them as vessels of struggle and tension. To push back against that system feels essential. And yet the Black experience in America has never been solely defined by struggle … Diana or Kendra, Hazel or Nella, career or identity: This is the binary that pulses through The Other Black Girl . The novel shows a workplace pushing individuals into ever-hardening, limiting roles. It captures, through Nella especially, the stories some Black employees feel they must tell themselves about themselves to survive all-white environments … If The Other Black Girl often swerves beyond the conventions of the genre, into territory between psychological thriller and sci-fi, it may be because the specific experience of the Black employee—haunted by precarity and tension—can be almost otherworldly.”

–Lovia Gyarkye ( The New Republic )

4. Billy Summers by Stephen King (Scribner)

14 Rave • 9 Positive • 1 Mixed

“[King] actually is as good at the hard-boiled prose—in this case, the tale of an extremely effective assassin trying to get out after one last job – as he is the scary stuff … King’s known for his literary villains, yet in creating his killer title protagonist, he exquisitely gets into the mind of a hitman and roots around in there to figure out what kind of person would do wetwork, the loneliness involved for those who choose that as a career path and the effect it would have on friends and loved ones … Those worried he’s gone full Raymond Chandler, never fear: King makes it clear that Billy Summers very much exists in his creepily familiar world. It’s also very much a part of ours as well, with a few Donald Trump references and a foreshadowing of the COVID-19 crisis as Billy hunkers down and has to watch life go by outside, less because of a pandemic and more because of his morally questionable chosen profession … The biggest crime here, however, would be missing out on Billy Summers and King’s new reign as a pulp genius.”

–Brian Truitt ( USA Today )

5. Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby (Flatiron)

17 Rave • 3 Positive

Read an interview with S. A. Cosby here

“Cosby, a Black man born and raised in a family of limited means in southeastern Virginia, knows exactly how to bring authenticity to the page … This is crime fiction packed with everything fans have come to expect of the genre, but the way Cosby writes about emotion is more aligned with literary fiction. Razorblade Tears expands into social commentary that’s not preachy … grief, guilt, and revenge are the driving energies that propel the narrative and its characters forward at all times. In fact, guilt is so present it eventually becomes a character in the novel, a silent, omnipresent force that fuels Ike and Buddy Lee as they unflinchingly take on a growing number of threatening individuals who want to keep them from figuring out who shot their sons … Cosby has a deep understanding of homophobia and deals with it brilliantly here … Buddy Lee is an interesting, nuanced character that shows that white privilege isn’t the same for all whites … a fast-paced thriller with plenty of violence. It is also a narrative that cements Cosby as one of the most honest and steadfast chroniclers of the Black experience in the rural South.”

–Gabino Iglesias ( The Los Angeles Review of Books )

6. Silverview by John le Carré (Viking)

10 Rave • 15 Positive • 4 Mixed • 3 Pan

Read about John le Carré’s advice to a struggling novelist, here

“… the plot unfolds with as much cryptic cunning as a reader could want, and le Carré’s people are perfection, most especially the Service’s grand poohbahs, all in a discreet tizzy when they find they’ve been snookered by some renegade, conscience-stricken apostate. The fabric of duplicity and betrayal, though gratifyingly present here, is not so devastatingly intricate and shocking as in, say, A Most Wanted Man —whose ending is never far from the reader’s mind. Silverview is a minor work in the le Carré canon, but it is enjoyable throughout, written with grace, and a welcome gift from the past.”

–Katherine A. Powers ( The Wall Street Journal )

7. Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey)

14 Rave • 4 Positive

Read Silvia Moreno-Garcia on the best noir novels of the 1960s and 1970s, here

“ Velvet Was the Night has little in common with the delirious Mexican Gothic . Its prose is lean, its characters are nobodies, its setting is urban, and there isn’t the slightest speck of the supernatural. But Moreno-Garcia, a bona fide literary chameleon, slips effortlessly out of the satin pumps of the gothic and into the beat-up wingtips of noir. The scary thing about this novel is how good it is … the way that war—not a world war, but the Dirty War between the government and its restive citizens—keeps erupting into their lives, forcing them to confront the reality of history and politics, keeps the novel fresh; in contrast with classic noir, this war refuses to remain hidden. The delectable cocktail that is Velvet Was the Night contains a generous dash of bitters, but the finish is satisfyingly mellow. It goes down so smoothly that it left me marveling at what kind of sorceress Moreno-Garcia must be as she reworks genre after genre, weaving in Mexican history and culture, satisfying familiar cravings without resorting to mere pastiche.”

–Laura Miller ( Slate )

8. Dream Girl by Laura Lippman (William Morrow)

15 Rave • 3 Positive • 1 Pan

Read Laura Lippman on James M. Cain’s transgressive noir, here

“There’s the brilliance, the devastating humor, the complicated sexual history with women, and the fraught relationship with his mother … But, a more explicit literary presence here is that of Stephen King, as Dream Girl swiftly morphs into Nightmare … With each stand-alone novel she writes, Lippman triumphantly turns in a different direction … Socially conscious (the #MeToo movement makes a decisive entrance into the plot) and packed with humor, ghosts and narrative turns of the screw, Lippman’s Dream Girl is indeed a dream of a novel for suspense lovers and fans of literary satire alike.”

–Maureen Corrigan ( The Washington Post )

9. A Lonely Man by Chris Power (FSG)

12 Rave • 6 Positive • 1 Mixed

Read Chris Power on the deep, dark influences behind A Lonely Man , here

“Chris Power’s elegant first novel is a slyly ensnaring literary thriller written in immaculate prose … an almost self-effacing commitment to unadorned clarity … Power’s restraint pays off, making for a subtly immersive read, his sentences rippling like clear water even as the story’s murkier undertow pulls you out to sea. He doesn’t skimp on themes either, raising interesting questions about whether stories draw their power from reality or imagination, who (if anyone) owns them, and what privileges narrative control confers on the teller. Contemporary socio-political issues aside, A Lonely Man is a gripping and deftly controlled novel that proves Power is as good at writing books as he is at writing about them.”

–Louis Conway ( Vanity Fair )

10. The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz (Celadon Book)

9 Rave • 7 Positive • 2 Mixed

“If you’re a person who harbors notions about the glamour of the writing life, The Plot will jettison them to the deepest, darkest trench of the ocean floor. If you’re a novelist who has endured the humiliation of a reading with no audience, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s latest novel will help you laugh about the empty room. And if you’re a reader who likes stories where a terrible decision snowballs out of control, this book is just what the librarian ordered. Welcome to a spectacular avalanche … as a longtime fan of Korelitz’s novels, I will say that I think The Plot is her gutsiest, most consequential book yet. It keeps you guessing and wondering, and also keeps you thinking: about ambition, fame and the nature of intellectual property (the analog kind) … Jake Bonner’s insecurity, vulnerability and fear are familiar to those of us who have faced a blank screen, wondering how or whether we’ll be able to scramble letters into a story. Korelitz takes these creative hindrances and turns them into entertainment. Not only does she make it look easy, she keeps us guessing until the very end.”

–Elizabeth Egan ( The New York Times Book Review )

Our System:

RAVE = 5 points • POSITIVE = 3 points • MIXED = 1 point • PAN = -5 points

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times book review crime


Best crime fiction of 2023

From psychological thrillers to gothic mysteries and everything in between.

times book review crime

Dennis Lehane's Small Mercies is a nuanced investigation of racism, class and cultural identity. Photograph: Shutterstock

Set in Hackney in 1978, Joe Thomas’s White Riot weaves fiction and historical fact – think James Ellroy or David Peace – as the Metropolitan Police infiltrate the National Front and a loose coalition of anti-Fascist groups.

Dennis Lehane’s Small Mercies opens in 1974 as Boston’s public schools desegregate, and sets the “tough Irish broad” Mary Pat Fennessy against the cops and Marty Butler’s crew of Boston-Irish gangsters as she tries to find her missing daughter, Jules. A nuanced investigation of racism, class and cultural identity.

A great crime novel offers not just a mystery to be solved, but explores the culture and society in which the crime occurs. Nilanajana Roy’s Black River begins in the tightly-knit rural Indian village of Teetarpur with the murder of a young girl, and taps into the region’s simmering Hindu-Muslim tension to deliver an unsentimental novel of modern India.

A superior psychological thriller, Olivia Kiernan’s The End of Us is a Highsmithian affair in which an ostensibly prosperous London GP starts thinking the unthinkable when his new neighbours hatch the perfect insurance-fraud murder at a dinner party. Best known for her police procedurals, Kiernan crafts a stand-alone of style and substance.

‘My brother is meeting fabulous women, but they leave because he does not want more children’

‘My brother is meeting fabulous women, but they leave because he does not want more children’

An Irishwoman in Denmark: ‘Life here is good, safe. But a bit boring if I am honest’

An Irishwoman in Denmark: ‘Life here is good, safe. But a bit boring if I am honest’

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Summer Camps 2024: A guide to the best sports camps in Ireland

The Sympathizer review: top-rank TV and a ruthless deconstruction of American imperialism

The Sympathizer review: top-rank TV and a ruthless deconstruction of American imperialism

A blackly comic account of literary plagiarism, cultural appropriation and accidental homicide, Rebecca F Kuang’s Yellowface ironically rails against publishing’s belated celebration of diversity as the failing novelist June Hayward seeks to defy “outdated preconceptions about who can write what”. The result is a deliciously savage satire on contemporary publishing.

Una Mannion’s Tell Me What I Am centres on the disappearance of Deena Garvey, whose husband Lucas is a violent man who not only wants to control women physically but to erase who they are. A nuanced account of a brutal man and indefatigable women, this is a beautifully written and vital novel.

A massacre during the Iraq War provides the historical backdrop to Kevin Powers’ A Line in the Sand , a slow-burning thriller in which an apparently random murder leads to congressional hearings and billions of dollars in “war start-ups”.

Finally, Mick Herron’s The Secret Hours is a post-Cold War spy thriller set largely in Berlin that provides some historical context for the hopeless “slow horses” of his Slough House series. A deliciously cynical comedy of manners that is probably Herron’s most mature spy novel to date. Declan Burke

Liz Nugent never disappoints, and Strange Sally Diamond is among her best, a plot-driven psychological thriller and a moving character study.

A school shooting forces Sheriff Titus Crown to confront his hometown’s Confederate legacy in All the Sinners Bleed , where SA Cosby confirms his gift for crafting characters with nuance and empathy.

John Brownlow brings unabashed delight to the dour world of professional killers in the fast-paced Assassin Eighteen .

The energy of 1970s Harlem is intricately woven into Colson Whitehead’s Crook Manifesto , a glorious, noir-drenched novel of small-time fences and crooked cops, and a biting satire of that tumultuous decade.

Ongoing series had several standouts. In The City of God , Michael Russell again captures wartime Europe’s uncertainties through his richly drawn Garda inspector Stefan Gillespie. Ben O’Keeffe returns in Andrea Carter’s affecting Death Writes , investigating a local writer’s sudden death. Val McDermid’s exquisite Past Lying sees DCI Karen Pirie navigate Edinburgh’s murderous literary world during the Covid lockdown. Elizabeth Mannion

True crime took the spotlight in several 2023 standouts, including sharply entertaining novels such as Catherine Ryan Howard’s The Trap and Daniel Sweren-Becker’s Kill Show , along with nonfiction such as Mark O’Connell’s impressive A Thread of Violence .

Noir offered much, too. Gothic unease builds throughout Megan Abbott’s claustrophobic Beware the Woman as pregnant protagonist Jacy slowly finds herself trapped by her husband and his father. Set against the pandemic, Laura Lippman’s Prom Mom gleams with barely dormant secrets and the lies people tell themselves to get by. Jordan Harper’s terrific Everybody Knows charts a deadly Hollywood populated by conflicted characters who test (and sometimes earn) readers’ empathy.

A regular highlight of Irish crime fiction, Jane Casey takes her London cops on assignment to cut-throat suburbia in The Close , deftly moving Maeve Kerrigan and Josh Derwent through their gratifyingly long-simmering arcs.

Finally, among the year’s most inventive mysteries is Francis Spufford’s Cahokia Jazz , set in an alternate-timeline 1920s America where native populations largely survived colonisation. Grounded (like Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union ) in hard-boiled characters and a what-if plot, it’s darkly lyrical and memorably original. Brian Cliff

Declan Burke

Declan Burke

Declan Burke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a novelist and critic


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Solvinic's debut novel touches upon crime in a small Ohio county

"The Hunter's Daughter" (Berkley, $28) by Nicola Solvinic

“The first time I killed a man was on Tuesday,” begins Columbus author Nicola Solvinic's debut novel, and it doesn't slow down from there.

The killer in question, and the narrator of the novel, is Anna Koray, And the kill in question is a justified one.

Koray is a detective in the sheriff's department of a rural Ohio county, called to a scene of domestic violence, where she is accidentally exposed to PCP and peppered with birdshot by a man who has left a woman dead inside the house. She returns fire in self-defense.

The problem is, Anna gets a secret thrill out of observing this man die, “watching it like a voyeur, connected and disconnected to this vanishing of a man I didn't know.”

Given her past, she may have reason to worry. Anna is the daughter of a father she idolized until, when she was 12, it was revealed that he was the Forest Strangler, a man who killed at least 27 women and then arranged their bodies in picturesque tableaux with river rocks and local flowers as a tribute to the Forest God he worshipped.

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Anna was treated by a psychiatrist, who hypnotized her to remove her memories, and she then was adopted by a family who didn't know her past.

Her memories remained hidden for years, but now, scraps of them are emerging into her mind. And now, though her father was executed decades earlier, the Forest Strangler appears to be at work again, with new victims found in the area where Anna lives.

After the killing and the drug exposure, she is losing track of stretches of time, finding herself covered with dirt and with miles on her car's odometer she can't account for.

Anna, though she is supposed to be on leave to recover from being shot, tags along with the officer who is responsible for the new cases, and then, compelled to solve them, approaches her old psychiatrist to see if she can reverse the hypnosis and let her access her memories again.

Anna is a compelling character, equal parts strong and fragile, and Solvinic surrounds her with an equally captivating cast of characters − her emergency-room doctor boyfriend, who has some secrets of his own; a jaunty colleague willing to break some rules; a true-crime podcaster who is definitely crossing some journalistic lines; and more.

As Anna finds herself haunted by her father’s Forest God , the woods, streams and rocky spaces of Ohio become central to the story, full of both magic and menace.

Both thoughtful and suspenseful, the novel is to surely lure readers into an enticingly dark world.

[email protected]

At a glance

Solvinic is to be in a conversation with crime writer Jonathan Fredrick, followed by a book signing, at Gramercy Books, 2424 E. Main St., Bexley, at 7 p.m. May 21.

Tickets are $5, or $30 to include a copy of the book. Visit for more information.


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