Wednesday, November 17, 2021

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.

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