In no particular order, these are the mysteries and thrillers that stuck with me (when you read as much as I do, if you can remember the plot after a few days, it’s the sign of a good book) and that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to a friend.
If you need a book to read over the holiday break or start the year right, I promise you could do much worse than any on this list.
The Dry by Jane Harper
This book jolted me out my mystery/thriller rut. My routine is typically to read the heavier stuff during the day and then relax at night with a thriller or mystery. But for the past few weeks nothing had been clicking. I started and discarded numerous books. Either the book wasn’t grabbing me or I wasn’t committing. The best mysteries just totally suck me in and leave me wanting to do little else but eat, sleep or read until I finish the book. I was craving that hit and The Dry delivered.
It’s not a high concept story or one that offers a killer hook on page 1, it actually mostly offers common mystery elements (old murder, secrets, new murder, haunted detective, severe setting), but they are mixed and executed so well, you are reminded why they work so well for so many plots.
The Dry is Harper’s debut but you’d never guess it. The plot is tight, lots of clues along with red herrings are set out and the characters (mostly) three dimensional. It all combines into a compulsively readable thriller.
The Thirst by Jo Nesbo
The return of Harry Hole did not disappoint. Despite these being almost unrelentingly bleak (even when Harry is feeling a modicum of happiness) and Nesbo often reaches into the same narrative bag of tricks (undistinguishable pronouns), his plotting is so intricate and Harry such a strong character that I can’t resist.
I will admit the almost four year lag since the last book and Nesbo’s habit of letting characters and plots span books made it difficult to remember some of the smaller plots, slights and conspiracies that were carried through, but it was a small complaint. If you’ve liked previous Hole books, you’ll like enjoy this one. Like Bosch’s daughter in Connelly’s series, it’s interesting to see Oleg slowly inching more into the spotlight.
Memory Man (Amos Decker #1) by David Baldacci
Last month, I expressed some disappointment in both of Grisham’s latest, neither the plot nor the characters ever really clicked for me. I have a similar reading relationship with Baldacci. I read a number of his early novels when he was first published back in the 90s, but eventually stopped. I even remember the book, The Winner. I just felt like I’d seen and read enough.
A huge commercial success, it felt, to me, that he was going down the Patterson path of plot over everything else. I’m a plot reader, I just said so above, but you still need the basic rigging around that to hold my interest: some level of characterization, a solid level of writing and a basic grasp of grammar.
So it was to my own surprise when I found myself both picking up Baldacci’s latest, being intrigued enough to buy it, then reading it in less than two days before going back out and getting the next in the series.
Reading Memory Man was the type of experience I love as a reader, just total entrancement and an almost physical need to keep reading.
I’m not sure if in the intervening books, if Baldacci has upped his game (I plan to go back and read some others) or he just found a really great character in Amos Decker. He’s just that rare character that you bond with, want to root for and generally want to spend time with.
The Driver by Hart Hanson
Given some of the tepid reviews, I wasn’t expecting much out of Hanson’s debut, but found myself pleasantly surprised. This was a fun book (odd to say give the body count) mostly for the characters and the banter (here is where his television experience, he created Bones, comes through most). The plot was a bit of a shaggy dog but just about every character, however minor, made an impression.
It reminded me of early Elvis Cole. Yes, there’s some wise cracks that fall flat or quips that make you cringe, but overall you forgive him and want him to get away with whatever shenanigans he’s embroiled in. There also no Joe Pike to balance out the lightness, but Skelling has enough darkness in him to mostly check his joking ways.
I hope the book does well enough that we get more of Skelling’s adventures.
The Blinds by Adam Sternberg
I have vague memories of reading Sternberg’s debut Shovel Ready a cross genre sci-fi/hard boiled thriller. This book keeps the high concept hook, but is more a straightforward thriller. And what a hook it is.
Imagine a place populated by criminals and innocents—people plucked from their lives, with their memories altered, who’ve been granted new identities and a second chance. Welcome to The Blinds, a dusty town in rural Texas populated by misfits who don’t know if they’ve perpetrated a crime or just witnessed one. What’s clear to them is that if they leave, they will end up dead.
Of course things begin to happen to disrupt the fragile peace that exists in the small town. I won’t spoil anymore but found the themes of identity, second chances, memory and violence all well incorporated into a book the hums along to an inevitable and surprising conclusion.
Two Kinds of Truth by Micheal Connelly
The latest Bosch book from Connelly delivers again. It’s amazing after 20 plus books with this character that Connelly is still finding ways to keep his detective (and his readers) invested in his series.
This time Bosch is still working cold cases as a volunteer in the tiny San Fernando PD and like the past few books, the plot revolves around two unrelated cases and does a good job of showing how cops are often juggling multiple investigations. The two cases also let Connelly highlight different aspects of Bosch’s personality, sending him undercover into a “pill mill” operation and delving back into his past to show how close to (or over?) the line he used to go to stay on his mission.
His half brother Mickey Haller gets a few cameos and it will be interesting to see where that relationship goes after the conclusion of this book. Is there anyone better writing cops and cases than Connelly?
The Late Show by Michael Connelly
The showing versus telling that frustrated me in Camino Island came into clearer focus while reading Connelly’s latest right. The Late Show introduces Renee Ballard, a new character (perhaps series), as a female detective working the overnight shift in Hollywood. For my money, Connelly is still the best writer today doing police procedural, detective stories and departmental politics.
Even though she’s not carrying the (series) history of Bosch, Connelly quickly and ably orients us in her world and her psyche without simply stating it. He show us and demonstrates through actions and conversations what this woman is about.
Like a few of his recent Bosch books, he’s not content with one plot, though one mostly dominates, but uses multiple cases, some intertwine, some don’t, to show us what it’s like to work the late show. When the cases are solved and Ballard is presented with a big decision, it’s no surprise which way she goes. Connelly has had ample time to show us who Ballard is. I hope there are more stories from the late show.