Saturday, December 04, 2021

Good Choices All Around

The final round of voting in this year’s Goodreads Choice Awards competition ends tomorrow, December 5. You have until then to make your preferences known among these 10 crime-fiction finalists:

Apples Never Fall, by Liane Moriarty (Henry Holt)
Arsenic and Adobo, by Mia P. Manansala (Berkley)
Billy Summers, by Stephen King (Scribner)
Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)
The Last Thing He Told Me, by Laura Dave (Simon & Schuster)
The Maidens, by Alex Michaelides (Celadon)
The Push, by Ashley Audrain (Pamela Dorman)
Razorblade Tears, by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron)
Rock, Paper, Scissors, by Alice Feeney (Flatiron)
The Wife Upstairs, by Rachel Hawkins (St. Martin’s Press)

Clickety-clack here to endorse your favorite book among those 10. Or go here to see the nominees in all of this year’s Goodreads Choice Awards categories. Winners are expected to be announced on Thursday, December 9.

Last year’s Choice Awards winner in the Mystery & Thriller category was The Guest List, by Lucy Foley (Morrow).

Friday, December 03, 2021

Wilson’s Winners

British author and book critic Laura Wilson has selected, for The Guardian, what she contends are “Five of the Best Crime [Novels] and Thrillers of 2021.” Below are her picks.

Silverview, by John le Carré (Viking)
Riccardino, by Andrea Camilleri (Mantle)
The First Day of Spring, by Nancy Tucker (Hutchinson)
Girl A, by Abigail Dean (HarperCollins)
Winter Counts, by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Simon & Schuster)

As Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine editor George Easter points out, “Winter Counts … is a 2021 title in the UK, but was highly praised and won several awards as a 2020 title in the U.S.” That propulsive novel and le Carré’s delightful Silverview are the only two choices from Wilson’s list that I have also read. The First Day of Spring somehow completely eluded my radar this year.

When Reacher Comes to Town

In case you haven’t already spotted it elsewhere, Shotsmag Confidential features the entertaining trailer for Reacher, an eight-part TV series set to debut on Prime Video come February 4, 2022. The show, which stars 39-year-old American actor Alan Ritchson, is based on Lee Child’s first Jack Reacher novel, 1997’s Killing Floor.

Outback Is in with Stiletto Awards

Somewhat belatedly comes news that Hayley Young, a 32-year-old Canberra pharmacist and first-time crime writer, has won the Swinburne University of Technology First Prize in this year’s 28th Scarlet Stiletto Short Story Awards competition, sponsored by Sisters in Crime Australia. That announcement was made online on November 27. Young’s Outback police procedural, “Monster Hunters,” also picked up the 2021 ScriptWorks’s Great Film Idea Award. Her total in prize money for both victories is $2,000 AUD.

The Scarlet Stiletto Awards were established in the mid-1990s to recognize short fiction “written by Australian women and featuring a strong female protagonist.” The Sisters in Crime Australia Web site reports that 241 short stories—“equal to last year’s record”—were submitted in 2021. In addition to Young’s honors, assorted other prize recipients were named during the same online event.

Simon & Schuster Second Prize:
“On the Inside,” by Jaclyn Riley-Smith

Sun Bookshop & Wild Dingo Press Third Prize:
“The Gospel of Cecily,” by Ellen Coates

Affirm Press Young Writer’s Award:
“The Braxton Mystery,” by Caitlyn Whitbread

Melbourne Athenaeum Body-in-the-Library Library Award:
“Death’s Waiting Room,” by Clare Fletcher

Kerry Greenwood’s Malice Domestic Award:
“What I Did in Lokdown by Chloe Martin age 9 1/2,” by Jane Lee

Every Cloud Production’s History with Mystery Award:
“The Séance,” by Natalie Conyer

Viliama Grakalic Best Art and Crime Story Award:
“The Fragrance of the Corpse Flower,” by Caroline de Costa

Booktopia Publisher Services Best Environmental Mystery Award:
“Mystery Off the Jillawong Road,” by Stephanie Holm

Writers Victoria’s Crime and Punishment Award for Most Satisfying Retribution: “Cash Sale,” by Janet Moore

HQ Fiction Award for Best Thriller:
“Put the Kettle On,” by Janice Shaw

Queensland Chapter of Sisters in Crime’s Liz Navratil Award for the Story with the Best Disabled Protagonist: “Waiting,” by
Christine Fontana

More information about these winning tales and their authors can be obtained by clicking here.

The Decoder Elaborates

Some time ago, British blogger Rekha Rao, of The Book Decoder, posted a compilation of what she said were her favorite cozy mysteries, general mysteries and thrillers, police procedurals, and more from the last 11 months. I thought that was all she had to offer. But now Rao is back with detailed selections covering “The Best Cozy (Series) Debuts of 2021,” “The Best Cozy Mysteries of 2021,” and a general list of “The Best Series and Author Debuts of 2021.”

It’s unclear how many more breakdowns of 2021 “bests” Rao is planning to post, but judging by her original overview, she could be at this endeavor for another week or longer. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Revue of Reviewers: 11-30-21

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.











In the Mood for Lover?

If you haven’t already cast your vote in Crime Fiction Lover’s first-annual awards competition, it’s best that you do so quickly. The deadline is noon GMT tomorrow, Wednesday, December 1.

There are six categories of contestants, from “Best Crime Novel” and “Best Indie Novel” to “Best Crime Show.” Go here to cast your ballot.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Listen Up

Taking a break from cataloguing lists of the “best crime fiction of 2021” in print, let’s recognize AudioFile magazine’s nominations of the “Best Audiobooks of 2021.” There are nine categories of favorites, including these six works in the “Mystery & Suspense” division:

Blood Grove, by Walter Mosley,
read by Michael Boatman (Hachette Audio)
The Maidens, by Alex Michaelides,
read by Louise Brealey and Kobna Holdbrick-Smith (Macmillan Audio)
Murder on the Links, by Agatha Christie, read by Alfred Molina,
Simon Helberg, and a full cast (L.A. Theatre Works)
The Night Gate, by Peter May,
read by Peter Forbes (Quercus Editions)
Ocean Prey, by John Sandford,
read by Richard Ferrone (Penguin Audio)
Velvet Was the Night,
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, read by Gisela Chípe (Random House Audio)

Click here to find all of this year’s categories of contenders.

Picks from Across the Pond

Less than a month after London, England’s Times and Sunday Times newspapers announced their selections of “the best crime, thriller, and mystery novels published so far in 2021,” both are back with their combined critics’ choices of this year’s “best crime books” and “best thriller books.” Those lists, published this last Saturday, are available online only to Times subscribers. However, Rap Sheet contributor Fraser Massey was kind enough to send along the titles of the winning works. The respective papers’ critics named their favorite book in each category, as well as their other best-book nominees.

BEST CRIME BOOKS
The Times Book of the Year:
Rabbit Hole, by Mark Billingham
(Little, Brown)

The Sunday Times Book of the Year:
The Appeal, by Janice Hallett (Viper)

The Stoning, by Peter Papathanasiou (MacLehose Press)
The Waiter, by Ajay Chowdhury
(Harvill Secker)
Vine Street, by Dominic Nolan (Headline)
Fatal Isles, by Maria Adolfsson, translated by Agnes Broome (Zaffre)
House with No Doors, by Jeff Noon (Black Swan)
The Girl Who Died, by Ragnar Jónasson, translated by Victoria Cribb (Michael Joseph)
The Last Snow, by Stina Jackson, translated by Susan Beard (Corvus)
The Dark, by Emma Haughton (Hodder & Stoughton)
Blood Grove, by Walter Mosley (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
The April Dead, by Alan Parks (Canongate)
The Khan, by Saima Mir (Point Blank)
Consolation, by Garry Disher (Viper)
A Narrow Door, by Joanne Harris (Orion)
The Dark Remains, by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin (Canongate)

BEST THRILLER BOOKS
The Sunday Times Book of the Year:
Billy Summers, by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton)

The Times Book of the Year:
Slough House, by Mick Herron (John Murray)

Exit, by Belinda Bauer (Bantam Press)
The Last House on Needless Street, by Catriona Ward (Viper)
Girl A, by Abigail Dean (HarperCollins)
A Man Named Doll, by Jonathan Ames (Pushkin Vertigo)
The Old Enemy, by Henry Porter (Quercus)
The Hunt and the Kill, by Holly Watt (Raven)
Widowland, by C.J. Carey (Quercus)
State of Terror, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny (Macmillan)
Judas 62, by Charles Cumming (HarperCollins)
The Apollo Murders, by Chris Hadfield (Quercus)
Sunset Swing, by Ray Celestin (Mantle)
The Killing Hills, by Chris Offutt (Black Cat)

I haven’t read all of the yarns mentioned above, but I have enjoyed a good number of them. So I can confidently say these lists would provide fine starting points for anyone shopping this holiday season for fans of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction. I am particularly pleased to see mentioned here both The Dark Remains and Widowland, which I read only recently, and which rank among the (too numerous) contenders for my own “favorite crime fiction of 2021” collection.

* * *

Also from Great Britain comes chain bookseller Waterstones’ choices of “The Best Books of 2021: Crime & Thriller.”

Detective Fiction:
The Appeal, by Janice Hallett (Viper)
The Man Who Died Twice, by Richard Osman (Viking)
The Dark Remains, by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin (Canongate)
Riccardino, by Andrea Camilleri (Mantle)
The Heron’s Cry, by Ann Cleeves (Macmillan)
Over My Dead Body, by Jeffrey Archer (HarperCollins)
A Three Dog Problem, by S.J. Bennett (Zaffre)
A Line to Kill, Anthony Horowitz (Century)
The Royal Secret, by Andrew Taylor (HarperCollins)
1979, by Val McDermid (Little, Brown)
The Sanatorium, by Sarah Pearse (Bantam Press)
A Haunting at Holkham, by Anne Glenconnor (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Dark Hours, by Michael Connelly (Orion)
The Midnight Lock, by Jeffery Deaver (HarperCollins)
The Devil’s Advocate, by Steve Cavanagh (Orion)
True Crime Story, by Joseph Knox (Doubleday)
The Midnight Hour, by Elly Griffiths (Quercus)
Death and Croissants, by Ian Moore (Farrago)

Thrillers:
A Slow Fire Burning, by Paula Hawkins (Doubleday)
Better Off Dead, by Lee Child and Andrew Child (Bantam Press)
Billy Summers, by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton)
Magpie, by Elizabeth Day (Fourth Estate)
The Maidens, by Alex Michaelides (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Never, by Ken Follett (Macmillan)
The Apollo Murders, by Chris Hadfield (Quercus)
The Jealousy Man, by Jo Nesbø (Harvill Secker)
Falling, by T.J. Newman (Simon & Schuster)
Judas 62, by Charles Cumming (HarperCollins)
Apples Never Fall, by Liane Moriarty (Michael Joseph)
A Narrow Door, by Joanne Harris (Orion)
Heatwave, by Victor Jestin (Scribner)
The Judge’s List, by John Grisham (Hodder & Stoughton)
State of Terror, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny (Macmillan)
The President’s Daughter, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson (Century)
The Heights, by Louise Candlish (Simon & Schuster)
The Khan, by Saima Mir (Point Blank)
Sixteen Horses, by Greg Buchanan (Mantle)
Cold Justice, by Ant Middleton (Sphere)
Rizzio, by Denise Mina (Polygon)
The Nameless Ones, by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton)

There are several welcome surprises here—books I don’t remember seeing on other “best of 2021” rosters. Among those are The President’s Daughter, the second collaboration between former U.S. President Bill Clinton and mega-prolific author James Patterson; The Sanatorium, by Sarah Pearse (who stood out among the authors interviewed during a First Monday video presentation in April); and Andrew Taylor’s The Royal Secret, the fifth installment in an outstanding series set during the late 17th century).

(Hat tip to Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine.)

Thursday, November 25, 2021

One Winner in “56 Days”

Following up on a bit of news from earlier this month about nominees for the 2021 An Post Irish Book Awards, we can now report that the novel 56 Days, by Catherine Ryan Howard (Atlantic/Corvus), has been named as the Irish Independent Crime Fiction Book of the Year.

Also competing in the crime-fiction category were the following five novels: All Her Fault, by Andrea Mara (Transworld); April in Spain, by John Banville (Faber and Faber); The Dark Room, by Sam Blake (Atlantic/Corvus); The Devil’s Advocate, by Steve Cavanagh (Orion); and The Killing Kind, by Jane Casey (Harper Fiction).

As The Irish Times reports, the winners of this year’s Irish Book Awards—in 19 categories—were announced online on Tuesday evening. “Voting is now open here,” it adds, “for Irish Book of the Year, which will be announced on [TV channel] RTÉ One on December 8th.”

(Hat tip to In Reference to Murder.)

No End of Opinions

They never cease, do they? There are now three more “best crime fiction of 2021” lists to add to our ever-expanding collection.

National Public Radio is out with its 40 “Mysteries & Thrillers” selections, which include Alexandra Andrews’ Who Is Maude Dixon? (Little, Brown), Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle (Doubleday), Amanda Jayatissa’s My Sweet Girl (Berkley), Lee Mandelo’s Summer Sons (Tor), and Paula Hawkins’ A Slow Fire Burning (Riverhead).

The British magazine Woman & Home (yes, it’s new to me too) counters with picks that run from Richard Osman’s The Man Who Died Twice (Viking) and Lisa Jewell’s The Night She Disappeared (Century) to Peter Swanson’s Every Vow You Break (Faber and Faber) and Anna Bailey’s Tall Bones (Doubleday). The full inventory is here.

Finally, the weekly New Zealand Listener has issued its annual nominations of the 100 best books, described by Kiwi critic Craig Sisterson as “arguably the most prestigious year-end ‘best books’ list in our part of the world “ Although there is unfortunately no online access to the Listener’s 2021 roster, Sisterson says on Facebook that it features “a dozen crime tales,” among them Val McDermid’s 1979 (Little, Brown), Chris Hammer’s Treasure & Dirt (Allen & Unwin), and Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl (Faber and Faber).

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Exercising Judgments

Keeping track of every list purporting to name “the best crime fiction of 2021” is impossible. The most we can do is hit the highlights, and try to bring you a respectable range of choices from publications and Web sites that have demonstrated their value over the years.

We’ll begin here with MBTB’s Mystery Book Blog. Although the fine bookstore with which it was originally associated, Portland, Oregon’s Murder by the Book, shut its doors back in the spring of 2013, this blog continues to supply informed and thoughtful commentary on the crime-fiction genre. Former co-owner of the store Barbara Tom recently posted a roll of eight books—all but one of which can be easily categorized as a mystery or thriller—that she says were her particular favorites of those published during last 11 months:



In the Company of Killers, by Bryan Christy (Putnam)
The Windsor Knot, by S. J. Bennett (Morrow)
Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir (Ballantine)
The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz (Celadon)
Smoke, by Joe Ide (Mulholland)
Exit, by Belinda Bauer (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Bryant & May: Oranges and Lemons, by Christopher Fowler (Bantam)
Pickard County Atlas, by Chris Harding Thornton (Bantam)

READ MORE:MBTB’s Favorite Books Through the Years.”

* * *

The renowned New York Public Library reportedly claims an almost century-long tradition of its librarians making their preferences of new books known annually. This year’s picks cover an extensive cross-section of fiction and non-fiction works for adults, teens, and children, together with comics and poetry. The following 15 titles made its Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense register:

All Her Little Secrets, by Wanda M. Morris (Morrow)
Bullet Train, by Kotaro Isaka (Harry N. Abrams)
The Burning Girls, by C.J. Tudor (Ballantine)
Clark and Division, by Naomi Hirahara (Soho Crime)
The Echo Wife, by Sarah Gailey (Tor)
56 Days, by Catherine Ryan Howard (Blackstone)
Finlay Donovan Is Killing It, by Elle Cosimano (Minotaur)
Hostage, by Clare Mackintosh (Sourcebooks Landmark)
The Jigsaw Man, by Nadine Matheson (Hanover Square Press)
Mirrorland, by Carole Johnstone (Scribner)
Never Saw Me Coming, by Vera Kurian (Park Row)
Northern Spy, by Flynn Berry (Viking)
Razorblade Tears, by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron)
Rock, Paper, Scissors, by Alice Feeney (Flatiron)
Ruby Red Herring, by Tracy Gardner (Crooked Lane)

(Hat tip to Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine.)

* * *

Sticking with librarian recommendations, we turn finally to the Seattle area’s King County Library System, which has just posted its own “best books of 2021” selections. The KCLS offers no separate crime and mystery rundown, but three of its 25 “best fiction” nominees certainly belong in that category: While Justice Sleeps, by Stacey Abrams (Doubleday); The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz (Celadon); and Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday).

Side Dishes for the Mind

This coming Thursday, November 25, will be Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. In preparation, Mystery Fanfare has posted its updated catalogue of mysteries and crime novels related to this holiday. So if you need something to read while the turkey and pies are all being readied, you can be prepared with a copy of, say, Sammi Carter’s Goody Goody Gunshots, Krista Davis’ The Diva Runs Out of Thyme, Alex Erickson’s Death by Hot Apple Cider, or perhaps Ralph McInerny’s Celt and Pepper. See many more suggestions here.

Murder & Mayhem offers its own list of “17 Deadly and Delicious Thanksgiving Mysteries.” Among those are George C. Chesbro’s Bleeding in the Eye of a Brainstorm, Craig Rice’s The Thursday Turkey Murders, Richard Hawke’s Speak of the Devil, Jane Haddam’s Feast of Murder, and Lowell Cauffiel’s Dark Rage.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Story Behind the Story: Out of the Fog of War

(Editor’s note: This is the 90th installment in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series. Bringing us today’s contribution is Paul A. Barra, a writer and retired chemistry teacher in Columbia, South Carolina. He has had five novels published, plus a non-fiction book about a Catholic high school founded without diocesan approval. His most recent novel, 2019’s Westfarrow Island, was shortlisted for Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion award. His short story “Assignment: Sheepshead Bay” was selected for the Mystery Writers of America anthology When a Stranger Comes to Town, released earlier this year by Hanover Square Press. Barra is a decorated former naval officer, and once served as a reporter for local papers and the senior staff writer for the diocese of Charleston, South Carolina. In the essay below, he recalls a few of his experiences during the Vietnam War and how they affected a new crime novel he’s hoping to publish.)

(Left) Paul A. Barra

One of the pleasant memories I have from my tours in South Vietnam, prosecuting what the locals referred to as The American War, was that of a boy the GIs of the Ninth Army Infantry battalion called Salém. He was perhaps 10 years old, and he hung out by the army base in a Mekong Delta village outside of Mỹ Tho, begging any westerner he saw for a Salem cigarette, a popular brand of menthol fag in the 1960s. I never saw him smoking, never smelled cigarette smoke on his person, so I suspected he sold them to Vietnamese military men, all of whom seemed to smoke.

Salém was a hustler, but he was so enjoyable to be around—and so helpful in his inimitable way—that every American I knew liked him. He had taught himself to speak English, a sort of colloquial patois full of army slang, and became so proficient at it that I used him as a translator a few times. He spoke better and understood more than the sullen ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) translators occasionally assigned to us. The difference was, Salém liked our language and worked at learning it. He liked Americans.

Unfortunately, Salém also drew the ire of the villagers he lived among. They regarded him as an outlier in a society that tolerated the U.S. soldiers assigned to the area but wished they would go back across the Pacific Ocean. Their country had been at war almost continually since World War II; the South Vietnamese people were tired of foreigners occupying their land, filling their lives with noise and danger, and enriching the corrupt bureaucrats in Saigon. Salém seemed to genuinely appreciate that we were not any happier being there than they were having us, and that we were fighting and dying to maintain their freedom. Maybe the everyday folk thought Uncle Ho was the lesser of two evils. Maybe he was.

One morning, early enough so that the humid air was not yet pressing down on me and raising a sheen of perspiration, I sat drinking coffee on the deck of a village bistro overlooking the mighty Mekong River, waiting for the crew of my gunboat to come back from shore leave. Mornings were not only relatively cool but also relatively safe. Charlie was back at his civilian occupation, waiting for darkness to resume his secret killing trade. Salém sauntered up and sat opposite me in the shade of a yellow umbrella.

“Would you like coffee, Salém?” I asked him.

“Yes, plea’, Dai Ùy.”*

I pushed a few đồng over to him; he pushed them back.

“Dey no like me,” he said, raising his chin to the waiters inside.

He had a sad kind of smile on his face, the only time I ever saw him the least bit downcast. I went into the bar and bought him a cup of coffee, dark espresso-type stuff with a layer of sweet condensed milk on top. To this day it is my favorite drink in the morning.

Salém and I talked about life in the United States. He told me how his dream was to live in California. By then it was 1972, and the end of the Republic of Vietnam was fast becoming evident. “Vietnamization” was another failed Washington scheme, and small North Vietnamese Army units were already being spotted in the southern provinces. I wanted to help Salém escape to a better life, where I was certain he would succeed as an entrepreneur. I wanted to, but I didn’t.

My change of station orders came through when I was back in Saigon, and I found myself on a Pan Am airliner heading east without ever seeing him again.

I think of Salèm often these days, wondering what became of him, if he was able to charm the Communists the way he did us. If he survived. It is a great regret of mine that I hadn’t then the courage and drive to rescue him. It wouldn’t have been easy, but there were ways. I adopted a child from Regina Pacis Orphanage in Saigon, our eldest daughter, and got her home via the auspices of a charity-minded worker at the U.S. Embassy; maybe I could have adopted Salèm. Maybe I could have just sneaked him aboard a plane with a diplomat going home on leave, the way our daughter came to us.

There were also Republic of South Vietnam ship commanders who enjoyed almost complete autonomy once they sailed away from the capital and who proved they were amenable to using their vessels to supplement their puny Navy salaries, sometimes to the detriment of their duties.

Once we escorted two merchantmen up into Cambodia, then stood by loading inexpensive dried apricots for the VNN (Republic of Vietnam Navy) crew to sell at a profit in Saigon while an ARVN outpost was under attack. The outpost advisor called me for assistance; we continued loading our illegal cargo. Our guns stayed silent.

I may have been able to bribe a commanding officer heading off to Guam for a ship overhaul to take Salèm with him to that U.S. territory, but I didn’t try.

When I was writing my latest crime novel manuscript, Sgt. Ford’s Widow (now in the hands of my agent, Pamela Malpas), I wanted to write into it a refugee from the war in Vietnam as a way to remember Salèm and to elucidate the difficulty of someone of low status in Southeast Asia acclimating to life in a huge western country. I chose to set my story in Wyoming, a state about as opposite from the Mekong Delta as is possible to imagine, and made the refugee a middle-aged woman, illiterate, wounded, and no longer capable of having sex. I didn’t want the character to be a child, because I don’t generally like coming-of-age stories, although she turned out to be a 40-something who comes of age—in a manner of speaking.

My character, Linh, arrives before the onset of the Boat People and Little Saigon; she lands alone, in the dead of winter, different and completely reliant on her protector, Gil Ford, a private eye. She ends up teaching herself to speak English by watching television, to drive and shoot a handgun and, eventually to investigate crimes. By the final chapter, she rescues the protagonist, who rescued her, and solves a mystery. Now she is ready to serve as a main character in a series, and maybe even to star in her own novel someday soon.

Past regrets may not be correctable, but sometimes for a writer the pain of his or her failure can be softened by the work of his hand. That’s another of the many benefits of writing that I’ve just now discovered.

* Dai Ùy is military rank, lieutenant in the Navy, captain in the Army.

A Legal Fiction Prize’s Future in Doubt

Attorney Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan, brings the sad news this morning that “the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction has been put on indefinite hold.”

That commendation, honoring the author of To Kill a Mockingbird and sponsored by the University of Alabama School of Law, was created in 2010 and had been “awarded annually to a published work of fiction that best illuminates the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change.” Among its winners were John Grisham, Michael Connelly, Attica Locke, and 2020’s recipient, Victor Methos.

“I had some unease about the prize in 2020,” Selnes recalls, “when the [American Bar Association’s] ABA Journal”—which had for years asked readers to weigh in on their favorite shortlisted nominees—“did not participate in the Prize. My concern proved founded this year.” He adds: “I am concerned the Prize will not be back, for it never gained as much attention as I felt the Prize deserved. I am not sure why. Legal fiction remains popular. There were strong entries every year.”

Marlowe Flick Adds Performers

Gee, it was way back in 2017 that we first mentioned here how John Banville’s 2014 novel, The Black-Eyed Blonde, written under his pseudonym Benjamin Black, would be adapted for the silver screen, starring Irish actor Liam Neeson. There’s been pitifully little news since about the film, to be titled Marlowe. But today, In Reference to Murder reports the hiring of two new actors to help fill out its cast:
Daniela Melchior and François Arnaud are the latest to join Liam Neeson in the movie thriller, Marlowe, which is currently filming in Ireland and Spain. Melchior and Arnaud will play the brother and sister, Lynn and Nico Peterson. The movie follows private detective Philip Marlowe (Neeson), who is hired to find the ex-lover of a glamorous heiress. It looks like an open-and-shut case, but Marlowe soon finds himself in the underbelly of Hollywood’s film industry and unwittingly drawn into the crossfire of a legendary Hollywood actress and her subversive, ambitious daughter. Also starring are Diana Kruger, Jessica Lange, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Alan Cumming, Danny Huston, Ian Hart and Colm Meaney.
The Black-Eyed Blonde is only one of several novels starring P.I. Marlowe to have been penned since the demise of that protagonist’s creator, Raymond Chandler, in 1959. Yet another, Joe Ide’s The Goodbye Coast, is due out from Mulholland in January.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Brits and Bests

Let’s add three more entries to what has become our running tally of “best books of the year” listicles. First off, we have nominations from a pair of contributors to the British newspaper The Financial Times. Below are the “best crime fiction of 2021” picks from Barry Forshaw, a favorite interviewee of The Rap Sheet:

Sunset Swing, By Ray Celestin (Mantle)
Razorblade Tears, S.A. Cosby (Headline)
Winter Counts, by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Simon & Schuster)
Girl A, by Abigail Dean (HarperCollins)
The Survivors, by Jane Harper (Little, Brown)

Next comes the “best thrillers of 2021” list from Adam LeBoer:

To the Lake, by Yana Vagner (Swift Press)
The Whistleblower, by Robert Peston (Zaffre)
Red Traitor, by Owen Matthews (Bantam Press)
The Saboteur, by Simon Conway (‎Hodder & Stoughton)
The Passenger, by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz (Pushkin Press)

I’m more familiar with Forshaw’s choices than I am with LeBoer’s. I’ve already read Razorblade Tears, Winter Counts (which came out in the United States last year), and The Survivors. And Sunset Swing, due out in the UK on November 25, is among works I’m looking forward to reading before New Year’s Day. The Passenger, originally published in 1938, has received a great deal of acclaim since its re-release last April, and I have added it to my Christmas wishlist.

* * *

Only recently did I discover a blog called The Book Decoder—just in time to find its selections of this year’s favorite cozy mysteries, mysteries and thrillers, police procedurals, and more. As a sampling, here are British blogger Rekha Rao’s nominations for 2021’s top domestic/psychological/medical/spy thrillers:

The Good Neighbour, by R.J. Parker (One More Chapter)
The Dinner Guest, by B.P. Walter (One More Chapter)
The Other Woman, by Jane Adams (Joffe)
Blue Madagascar, by Andrew Kaplan (Smugglers Lane Press)
Kill a Spy, by Samantha Lee Howe (One More Chapter)
Hard Road: Deadly Horizon, by Bradley West (Singapore
National Library)
Tidal Rage, by David Evans (Loudhailer)
The Weekend Escape, by Rakie Bennett (One More Chapter)
She Never Left, by C.M. Harris (One More Chapter)
The Perfect Neighbour, by Susanna Beard (Joffre)

I confess, I haven’t read a single one of these novels, in part because I do not live in Great Britain, and also because I’m not on the mailing list of One More Chapter, a division of HarperCollins. Nor have I seen any of Rekha’s picks mentioned on other “best of the year” rosters. But that’s part of the fun of poring over such lists, seeing how idiosyncratic are some reviewers’ reading tastes.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Everyone Wants Their Say

George Easter, the editor of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine, appears to have made it his distinct mission this year to collect, and pass on to readers of his blog, every “best of 2021” list of crime, mystery, and thriller novels he can find. I have no wish to duplicate his efforts, or detract from them, but I would like to pass along information he posted today regarding The Washington Post’s picks for the “Best Thriller and Mystery Books of 2021.” Here are the 10 novels that earned particular admiration from Post critics this year:

56 Days, by Catherine Ryan Howard (Blackstone)
Clark and Division, by Naomi Hirahara (Soho Crime)
Dream Girl, by Laura Lippman (Morrow)
A Line to Kill, by Anthony Horowitz (Harper)
A Lonely Man, by Chris Power (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Northern Spy, by Flynn Berry (Viking)
The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz (Celadon)
Razorblade Tears, by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron)
Silverview, by John le Carré (Viking)
Sleep Well, My Lady, by Kwei Quartey (Soho Crime)

I’ve read about half of those 10 novels, and while only one or two of the Post’s recommendations might eventually end up on my own favorite reads of 2021 tally, they’re all respectable choices.

Also earlier today, Easter alerted us to four other “best crime fiction of the year” compilations, those compiled by BookPage, Goodreads, Booklist Queen, and The Bibliofile.

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Concurrently, the online marketplace AbeBooks has issued its own “Best Books of 2021” rundown. There’s no separate crime and mystery category, but four novels that might have found a home under that rubric appear instead on the general fiction list: Girl A, by Abigail Dean (Viking); The Other Black Girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris (Atria); The Last Thing He Told Me, by Laura Dave (Simon & Schuster); and Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday).

Hungering for the Oates

I’m surprised to not be familiar with the Joyce Carol Oates Prize, which honors mid-career authors in fiction and carries with it $50,000 in prize money, but hey, I have never claimed to have limitless knowledge. In any case, the longlist of 37 nominees for the sixth annual, 2022 prize has been announced.

As In Reference to Murder notes, it contains “several [authors] who write crime and suspense fiction, including Megan Abbott (The Turnout), Dan Chaon (Sleepwalk), Jean Hanff Korelitz (The Plot),” and Jonathan Lethem, who—though he has penned crime fiction in the past (Motherless Brooklyn and Feral Detective)—is being considered for the Oates Prize based on his latest novel, an unconventional post-apocalyptic cautionary tale called The Arrest.

Expectations are that the finalists will be identified in early March 2022, with a winner to be named in April. Among previous recipients of this honor, sponsored by the New Literacy Project and named for prolific American novelist Joyce Carol Oates, are Laila Lalami (The Other Americans, 2019); Daniel Mason (The Winter Soldier, 2020); and Danielle Evans (The Office of Historical Corrections, 2021).

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Lover Flaunts Its Finalists

Wow, that was fast! Only three weeks ago, we alerted you to Crime Fiction Lover’s public call for nominations, in six categories, for what is expected to be that British Web site’s first annual awards competition. Today, we bring you the shortlists of 2021 nominees.

Best Crime Novel:
The Dark Remains, by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin (Canongate)
Razorblade Tears, by S.A. Cosby (Headline)
The Devil’s Advocate, by Steve Cavanagh (Orion)
I Know What I Saw, by Imran Mahmood (Raven)
True Crime Story, by Joseph Knox (Doubleday)
The Night Hawks, by Elly Griffiths (Quercus)
1979, by Val McDermid
(Little, Brown)

Best Debut Crime Novel:
The Source, by Sarah Sultoon (Orenda)
Black Drop, by Leonora Nattrass (Viper)
Edge of the Grave, by Robbie Morrison (Macmillan)
The Waiter, by Ajay Chowdhury (Harvill Secker)
Winter Counts, by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Simon & Schuster)
Burying the Newspaper Man, by Curtis Ippolito (Red Dog Press)

Best Crime Novel in Translation:
Hotel Cartagena, by Simone Buchholz,
translated by Rachel Ward (Orenda)
Bullet Train, by Kotaro Isaka,
translated by Sam Malissa (Harvill Secker)
The Rabbit Factor, by Antti Tuomainen,
translated by David Hackston (Orenda)
Riccardino, by Andrea Camilleri,
translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Mantle)
The Girl Who Died, by Ragnar Jónasson,
translated by Victoria Cribb (Michael Joseph)
Cold As Hell, by Lilja Sigurdardóttir,
translated by Quentin Bates (Orenda)
Little Rebel, by Jérôme Leroy,
translated by Graham H Roberts (Corylus)

Best Indie Crime Novel:
Strangers of Braamfontein, by Onyeka Nwelue (Abibiman)
Black Reed Bay, by Rod Reynolds (Orenda)
Evaders, by E.C. Scullion (RedDoor Press)
Little Lies, by Valerie Keogh (Bloodhound)
The Butcher’s Prayer, by Anthony Neil Smith (Fahrenheit 13)
The Quiet People, by Paul Cleave (Orenda)
The Corpse with the Iron Will, by Cathy Ace (Four Tails)

Best Crime Show:
Bosch
Line of Duty
Mare of Easttown
Paris Police 1900
Time
Endeavour

Crime Author of the Year:
Ian Rankin
M.W. Craven
Ann Cleeves
Elly Griffiths
William Shaw
S.A. Cosby

Click here if you’d like to participate in the final selection process. The deadline for voting is noon GMT on Wednesday, December 1. I don’t see details on when the winners will be announced.

Standing Out from the Throng

Following similar pronouncements by Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Barnes & Noble, books retailer Amazon has issued its list of the 20 “Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2021,” as follows:

Razorblade Tears, by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron)
We Begin at the End, by Chris Whitaker (Henry Holt)
The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz (Celadon)
The Dark Hours, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
The Man Who Died Twice, by Richard Osman (Pamela Dorman)
The Last Thing He Told Me, by Laura Dave (Simon & Schuster)
Billy Summers, by Stephen King (Scribner)
The First Day of Spring, by Nancy Tucker (Riverhead)
False Witness, by Karin Slaughter (Morrow)
Lightning Strike, by William Kent Krueger (Atria)
Apples Never Fall, by Liane Moriarty (Henry Holt)
When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash (Morrow)
The Good Sister, by Sally Hepworth (St. Martin’s Press)
The Madness of Crowds, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
Chasing the Boogeyman, by Richard Chizmar (Gallery)
Clark and Division, by Naomi Hirahara (Soho Crime)
The Stolen Hours, by Allen Eskins (Mulholland)
How Lucky, by Will Leitch (Harper)
Falling, by T.J. Newman (Avid Reader Press)
The Maidens, by Alex Michaelides (Celadon)

Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine editor George Easter calls this “a great list,” its choices split almost evenly between novels by male authors (11) and female ones (9). If only for the fact that the selections include both We Begin at the End and Razorblade Tears, Amazon’s​ picks deserve attention. There are a couple of titles among these 20 that I just couldn’t get into, and several I didn’t even touch. But by and large, it’s not a bad cross-section of the books made available in the United States during the last 11 months.

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Meanwhile, the Web site SheReads is asking people to vote for their favorite mystery and thriller novels from among these 12 works:

Billy Summers, by Stephen King (Scribner)
For Your Own Good, by Samantha Downing (Berkley)
Litani, by Jess Lourey (Thomas & Mercer)
Never Saw Me Coming, by Vera Kurian (Park Row)
Rock, Paper, Scissors, by Alice Feeney (Flatiron)
Survive the Night, by Riley Sager (Dutton)
The Last Thing He Told Me, by Laura Dave (Simon & Schuster)
The Night She Disappeared, by Lisa Jewell (Atria)
The Push, by Ashley Audrain (Pamela Dorman)
The Wife Upstairs, by Rachel Hawkins (St. Martin’s Press)
These Toxic Things, by Rachel Howzell Hall (Thomas & Mercer)
When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash (Morrow)

Five of these works were featured on SheReads’ October 2020 rundown of what its editors said were the 29 most-anticipated thrillers of 2021; the rest were not. Which proves that predicting in advance which books will be standouts in any given year is a crapshoot.

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Not content with identifying favorite fresh reads from 2021, Parade magazine (yes, that Sunday newspaper supplement is still around) took on the inevitably unsatisfying assignment of naming the “101 Best Mystery Books of All Time.”

There aren’t many surprises in its preferences, save perhaps for the fact that it plumps for Anne Perry’s A Christmas Journey (2003) over components of her two better-known series starring private eye William Monk (A Breach of Promise) and Inspector, later Superintendent, Thomas Pitt (Brunswick Gardens). Yet the collection provides newcomers to the crime/mystery/thriller genre with ample excellent suggestions of what to pick up next, and reminds the rest of us of multiple books we’ve prized over our years of falling in love with this imperfect genre. Incidentally, The Complete Review, from whence I learned of Parade’s inventory, raises a legitimate question about why such compilations insist on “‘sticking to one title per author.’ It’s a list of best books; who the author is is irrelevant; if the author is a true master, why shouldn’t they be represented by more than one title?” Of course, loosening said restriction would have made the task of selecting only 101 yarns that much more frustrating.

Monday, November 15, 2021

“Kirkus” Weighs In on 2021’s Bests

My onetime employer, Kirkus Reviews, today joins the crowd of publications naming what they say are the foremost novels released over the last year. Kirkus has assembled not only a “100 Best Fiction Books of 2021” list, but also separate categories of “bests” in historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy, romance, debut fiction, and environmental fiction. You will find those categories here.

Below are Kirkus’ picks for “Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2021”:

Northern Spy, by Flynn Berry (Viking)
Razorblade Tears, by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron)
Infinite, by Brian Freeman (Thomas & Mercer)
The Corpse Flower, by Anne Mette Hancock (Crooked Lane)
The Other Black Girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris (Atria)
Billy Summers, by Stephen King (Scribner)
Untraceable, by Sergei Lebedev (New Vessel Press)
The Man Who Died Twice, by Richard Osman (Pamela Dorman/Viking)
Unthinkable, by Brad Parks (Thomas & Mercer)
A Lonely Man, by Chris Power (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
False Witness, by Karin Slaughter (Morrow/HarperCollins)
Lady Joker, Volume 1, by Kaoru Takamura (Soho Crime)
Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)

I cannot claim to have tackled all of these yarns, but I have read a few. Those include Cosby’s second novel, Razorblade Tears, a work I abandoned reading on two or three occasions before I finally finished it. I’m not a big fan of revenge novels, which is precisely the definition of this violent story about two older, ex-con fathers—one black, one white—who seek justice for their murdered gay sons. Furthermore, I found Cosby’s portrayal of a gang of malevolent white bikers to be riddled with clichés. Nonetheless, I pushed on through the pages, hating the book … until I loved it. Cosby, the author of 2020’s Blacktop Wasteland, manages in the end to make his unlikable pair of protagonists worth cheering on. And that is certainly no mean feat.

(Hat tip to Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine.)

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Revue of Reviewers: 11-14-21

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.