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Find more The Year's Best Crime Novels
For crime-fiction readers who were beginning to worry that psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators were going to overwhelm the genre, fear not. This year’s installment of our annual salute to the best crime novels of the year is awash in variety—yes, there are some psychological thrillers, but there are also procedurals, comic caper novels, detective stories, espionage fiction, even a road novel with a dash of romance and a noir chaser. And, of course, mixing genres continues to be the recipe for success. (If you write mysteries, be sure you own a top-of-the-line immersion blender.) In short, the titles appearing here, which were reviewed in Booklist from May 1, 2018, through April 15, 2019, exhibit crime-fiction excellence in every form you can imagine.
Body & Soul. By John Harvey. 2018. Pegasus, $25.95 (9781681778730).
In the final episode of the series, retired Nottingham copper Frank Elder attempts to come to the aid of his estranged daughter. Elder, whose life has been defined by failure to protect his loved ones, struggles to muster his strength for one more attempt to save those who need saving. Harvey writes with great power about the disappointments and tragedies of living, and he always digs deep into the emotional recesses of his characters.
The Border. By Don Winslow. 2019. Morrow, $28.99 (9780062664488).
Winslow’s remarkable ability to translate the utter fiasco of our 50-year War on Drugs—the thousands of lives lost in cartel-driven violence, the journalists assassinated, the addicts dead from overdoses—into the most wrenching of human stories, tragedy seemingly without end, gives this third installment in his epic Cartel trilogy its unparalleled power and marks the book’s publication as a landmark moment in crime fiction.
The Bouncer. By David Gordon. 2018. Mysterious, $25 (9780802128003).
Joe Brody is a Dostoevsky-reading bouncer at a strip club in Queens, but he serves as a fixer for his high-school pal, and now Mob higher-up, Gio Caprisi. There’s a lot of fixing to do this time, as Joe sorts out a gang of redneck gun enthusiasts and deals with a pair of rich-kid terrorists. This sublimely quirky book will have devotees of comic caper novels comparing Gordon to Thomas Perry.
The Feral Detective. By Jonathan Lethem. 2018. Ecco, $26.99 (9780062859068).
Lethem’s first crime novel since Motherless Brooklyn in 1999 is a funny but rage-fueled stunner about a New Yorker tracking her mentor’s missing daughter to the Mojave Desert, where the members of an off-the-grid community have left the center for the margins after seeing their own country grow alien. An unrelentingly paced tale where the protagonists’ developing relationships are just as interesting as the puzzle they’re trying to solve.
Give Me Your Hand. By Megan Abbott. 2018. Little, Brown, $26 (9780316547185).
Kit Owens and Diane Fleming, both research scientists working in the same lab, share a secret from high school in Abbott’s latest deep dive into a world of intense competition, finding life-or-death stakes where we wouldn’t have known to look for them. A brilliant riff on hard science, human nature, and the ultimate unknowability of the human brain.
The Infinite Blacktop. By Sara Gran. 2018. Atria, $26 (9781501165719).
Gran’s unique mysteries are an irresistible blend of quirky philosophical quests, gritty fight scenes, and painful truths. Here Claire DeWitt finds herself on a rage-fueled hunt for the mysterious white man who attacked her and who could be connected to the childhood disappearance of Claire’s friend Tracy.
November Road. By Lou Berney 2018. Morrow, $26.99 (9780062663849).
Frank Guidry knows too much about the JFK assassination, and the New Orleans Mob wants him dead. On the run, he heads west, picking up a woman and her two children along the way. In this mix of road novel and romance (with a noir chaser), Berney bends his notes exquisitely, playing with the melody, building his marvelously rich characters while making us commit to the love story, even though we can’t miss the melancholy refrain.
Red, White, Blue. By Lea Carpenter. 2018. Knopf, $25.99 (9781524732141).
This stunning, exquisitely subtle espionage tale about a young woman whose father was a spy is to fiction what pointillism is to painting, connecting its narrative dots to make a whole picture, one that merges a moving love story with details of a profession that, by its nature, involves both loyalty and duplicity.
Transcription. By Kate Atkinson. 2018. Little, Brown, $28.95 (9780316176637).
Atkinson again jumps between different periods in the mid-twentieth century to tell the story of a singular Englishwoman—an MI5 functionary during WWII, a BBC producer later—trapped in the vice of history. This is a wonderful novel about making choices, failing to make them, and living, with some degree of grace, the lives our choices determine for us.
Unto Us a Son Is Given. By Donna Leon. 2019. Atlantic Monthly, $26 (9780802129116).
Leon transforms what might have been a straightforward mystery into something much richer and more resonant—in this case, a meditation on love, loss, family, and prejudice. An 85-year-old gay man’s desire to adopt a much younger man as his son leads to murder, prompting police commissario Guido Brunetti to ponder how preconceived notions about gender and sexuality can erode even the seemingly strongest of relationships.
Top 10 Debuts
Blood Orange. By Harriet Tyce. 2019. Grand Central, $26 (9781549141287).
London barrister Alison Bailey’s life is veering out of control: an affair with a senior partner, too much booze, strained relations with her househusband, Carl, and the pressure of her first murder trial. Former barrister Tyce juggles the fraught investigation and the personal drama with the skill of a seasoned thriller author.
Cherry. By Nico Walker. 2018. Knopf, $26.95 (9780525520139).
Drawing from his own experience, Walker portrays an Iraq War vet and heroin addict who goes to prison for bank robbery. The utterly gripping story of the narrator’s descent, which also involves his wife, a fellow addict, is told in unsparingly raw terms, with dialogue that rings achingly true.
Death in Paris. By Emilia Bernhard. 2018. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (9781683317685).
In this très charmant debut, Americans in Paris Rachel Levis and her best friend, Magda, investigate the death of Rachel’s old beau, Edgar Bowen, who appears to have drowned in his soup. Those drawn to the theme of female friendship will eagerly await an encore.
The Good Detective. By John McMahon. 2019. Putnam, $27 (9780525535539).
Can P. T. Marsh of Mason Falls, Georgia—once a good detective until the deaths of his wife and child drove him to the bottle—subdue his demons long enough to solve an ugly hate crime? This unusually accomplished debut sets the table for a character-centric series that readers will want to get to know from the start.
The Lost Night. By Andrea Bartz. 2019. Crown, $27 (9780525574712).
On a long, boozy night, Edie Iredale died of a gunshot wound, a presumed suicide. Ten years later, Edie’s once-best-friend, Lindsay Bach, tries to re-create that night and her part in it, which is lost in an alcoholic haze. In a riveting psychological thriller, Lindsay, whose profession is research and fact-checking, attempts to uncover the truth.
The Night Olivia Fell. By Christina McDonald. 2019. Gallery, $16 (9781501184000).
Single mom Abi Knight receives a call that her teenage daughter, Olivia, is clinging to life after plummeting from a bridge. As Abi digs into her daughter’s past, Olivia tells her own story, which includes a love triangle and a friendship gone sour. A suspenseful domestic thriller with surprising depth and tenderness.
The Plotters. By Un-su Kim. Tr. by Sora Kim-Russell. 2019. Doubleday, $25.95 (978038554382).
An assassin in an alternate-world Seoul becomes the target of his employers, a shadowy group called the Plotters, in this irresistible debut. Kim combines dark wit and searing sarcasm in a compelling sociopolitical parable.
Restoration Heights. By Wil Medearis. 2019. Hanover Square, $26.99 (9781335218728).
Reddick, a young artist living in Bedford-Stuyvesant, takes readers on a disquieting, sometimes dangerous ride through the city as he searches for a young woman who has disappeared. This is an instant New York fiction classic, exuding dark poetry from a lyrical narrative populated by well-defined characters.
Save Me from Dangerous Men. By S. A. Lelchuk. 2019. Flatiron, $27.99 (9781250170255).
Bookstore owner Nikki Griffin is, like Thackeray’s Becky Sharp, a young woman who knows what she wants out of life, but what Nikki wants is revenge against men who hurt women. A knockout debut starring a Lisbeth Salander figure, but one with a lot more heart.
Strange Ink. By Gary Kemble. 2018. Titan, $14.95 (9781785656439).
Harry Hendrick is a journalist whose career has flatlined, but now he may have a story—if the tattoos that keep turning up on his body are really directing him to solve a murder. Kemble handles the supernatural elements of the story with the expertise of a genre veteran, carefully walking the line between fantasy and reality.
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