There’s no time right now for a good mystery novel. Grim days, long nights, and a sinister chill in the air are made for delving into the dark side of humanity while (key point) being assured of justice and a sense of resolution in the end. (That’s what makes mystery novels different from scrolling through Twitter.) Bunker down in your comfiest chair with one of the best mystery books and keep an afghan and a tasty cocktail at the ready and get to reading.
No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay
Whatever the winter equivalent is of a beach read (a snowbank read, perhaps?), this runaway bestseller is it. You’ll barely notice the misery of shoulder season if you’ve got this page-turner to keep you company. Fast-paced, character-rich, and just a little bit implausible, this first outing from Canadian author Linwood Barclay centers upon the story of Cynthia Bigge, whose petulant wish as a 14-year-old is that her family would all die comes horribly true and sets her on a quest to unravel the truth behind their disappearance.
The Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
Best known for her Tess Monaghan series, New York Times-bestselling mystery author Laura Lippman took a hard left last year with a new novel based on a real-life missing persons cases in her hometown of Baltimore. Starring a bored housewife-turned-crime reporter, The Lady in the Lake accomplishes the rare feat of combining can’t-look-away storytelling and period-perfect historical detail with searing commentary on the gender and race politics of our present day. There’s all this, plus a double twist ending that will leave you open-mouthed. No less a reviewer than Stephen King credited Lippman with surpassing classic forbears like Agatha Christie and Rex Stout, and he just might be right.
Missing Person by Patrick Modiano
How often do you find a mystery novel written by a Nobel Prize winner? Known in its original French as Rue des Boutiques Obscures (“Street of Dark Shops”), this brooding mystery features an amnesiac detective named Guy Roland who, after 10 years beating the pavement, deploys his investigation skills on the tangled web of his own history. The beautifully sparse writing conjures rich visions of fog-obscured back alleys that serve as the setting for unpredictable dialogues tinged with an absurdity that somehow calls the Coen Brothers to mind. Through Guy’s search for the key that will unlock his memory, the author takes readers on an investigation into the nature of identity — both story and existential inquiry culminate in an ending that is satisfactorily inconclusive.
Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason
Like its fashion and its furniture, Scandinavian crime fiction is so hot right now. If you’re ready to dive in, the police procedural novels of Arnaldur Indriðason are a great place to start. This iconic “Nordic noir” tale is the first appearance of Indriðason’s flagship character Inspector Erlendur, a longstanding member of the Reykjavik police force who combats the downward spiral of his personal life with a workaholic approach to justice. But like any good mystery novel, Jar City propels Erlendur into a confrontation with his own inner demons. Some might find the procedural details a bit plodding, but the vivid depiction of Iceland’s justice system (fun fact: police officers don’t carry guns) and the truly brain-wracking mystery at its center, plus sentence shockers such as “Icelandic murderers generally don’t leave anything behind but a mess,” will keep you hooked until the very last page.
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
This novel’s instant blockbuster status was only due in part to the author’s true identity being revealed. (If you don’t know, don’t Google it until after you’ve read the book.) The well-deserved accolades included “taut and well-written,” “one of the most assured and fascinating debut crime novels of the year” —it was even credited by one critic as single-handedly “reviving an all-but-dead genre.” Complex, packed with red herrings, and bitingly satirical, The Cuckoo’s Calling follows war veteran-turned-P.I. Cormoran Strike as he works to unravel the supposed suicide of supermodel Lula Landry. The story twists and turns through the hedonistic culture of London’s upper crust, exposing the filthy side of “filthy rich.”
The Deep Blue Good-By by John D. MacDonald
Set in the Florida Keys, this novel features a protagonist so hard-boiled, he makes Phillip Marlowe look wet behind the ears. Neither policeman nor private investigator, Travis McGee is a mercenary (he prefers the term “salvage consultant”) who recovers stolen property in exchange for half the property’s value. It’s a good racket, though it does take a toll on the mind and the morals of its main character. If you can get past the antiquated tropes of masculinity (the series was written in the 1960s, after all), you’ll fall headlong into the novel’s labyrinthine world of beachy ennui, post-Kennedy paranoia, and rapacious gentrification colliding with backwater justice. Future mystery authors Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, and others have acknowledged the debt their work owes to McGee, and even Jimmy Buffett immortalized him in the song “Incommunicado.”
Marseille Noir by Cedric Fabré
If Paris is the New York of France, Marseille — the sun-drenched port city on France’s southern seaboard — could be considered the country’s Atlantic City. Rife with corruption and organized crime, competing political interests, and the chaos induced by economic stagnation, it’s no wonder Marseille is the setting for France’s best mystery and crime writing. Cedric Fabré, a Senegalese-French writer who grew up in Marseille, edited and contributed to this collection of stories that focus just as much on the villains’ point-of-view as they do on the solving of crimes. In Fabre’s own words, “Marseille best embodies France’s low-life fantasies,” a sad story IRL, but an undeniably engrossing read.
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