From the Booking Desk:
2018 will always be the year I was awarded the Mystery Writers of America Raven Award. This accolade represents a career highlight and I have been thrilled to celebrate with all of you throughout this year.
But the work continued.
I read so many wonderful books this year that crafting a Top Reads list was especially challenging. As I have always done, I took this task very seriously and really struggled to make sure the list commemorates my favorite books of the year. Simply put, sometimes this means splitting hairs and having to leave off books that I truly loved but which just didn’t quite have the lasting impact of others. This does not mean I didn’t enjoy those other books – I did! – but anytime you are making a list, some things make the cut and others do not. Rest assured, if I talked about your book here on BOLO Boos, I am proud to have read your work and will continue to suggest it to folks for years to come. These are just the books I feel had the most resonance with me this year.
I will remind readers that this is my Top Reads list – not necessarily a Best Of list. Certainly these books are worthy of any Best Of list, but since I did not read everything published this year, I always hesitate to call it that. These are just the Top Reads of those that I experienced.
My final list is presented in alphabetical order based on the novel’s title. Along with the title, author, and cover image for each selected book, I have included a short extract from the original review. Please follow the link following the extract to re-visit the full review and to find purchase links.
I can already hear you saying, enough with the babble, let’s see this list!
The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson
“Jónasson has outdone himself with this new novel. Crime fiction has never seen a character quite like Hulda Hermannsdóittir; nor a series launch so entirely willing to take risks and obliterate long-standing tropes….His “simple” style belies a depth of understanding that run just beneath the surface of each paragraph, each word. There is no doubt that The Darkness will rank as one of the most popular and powerful reading experiences of the year.” (FULL REVIEW)
Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
“…Abbott has proven again and again that while her novels always center around crime, it is the female characters at the core that are truly worth exploring. With Give Me Your Hand, Megan Abbott once again excavates well below the surface in a story of female friendship, jealousy, and rivalry amidst extreme professional pressure….She never shies away from going to difficult or controversial places, but she does it with measured restraint and beautiful language that is free of judgment….Give Me Your Hand is another in a long line of successes for Megan Abbott.” (FULL REVIEW)
Go To My Grave by Catriona McPherson
“In many ways, Go To My Grave is a synthesis of the styles, tones, and themes that McPherson previously explored while steadfastly making its claim on the Gothic tradition in a most contemporary of ways….Ultimately, Go To My Grave elucidates the haunting power of past sins and the devastating nature of shared guilt. Catriona McPherson manipulates the trope of a closed circle of suspects to its fullest effect in this novel.” (FULL REVIEW)
Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier
“The release of Jar of Hearts is poised to hit the crime fiction world like an epic fireworks display and the resulting seismic reverberations will be felt for years to come. While Jar of Hearts features a serial killer, it is not a serial killer novel. While it has elements of deep investigation, it’s not a police procedural. And while it has a love story at the core, it is by no means a romance. Encompassing elements of all of those things and more, this novel finds a way to be something wholly original and yet completely accessible. Jar of Hearts is pure, unadulterated suspense, but even that does not accurately describe the unique power contained within this story.” (FULL REVIEW)
Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia
“With Leave No Trace, Mindy Mejia so organically incorporates setting into the structure of the novel that years from now, future writers will refer to this book as a blueprint for how to nail location. By dividing the story between the inside and the outside, Mejia elucidates how these two dichotomous states clash and compliment each other; while also using them as metaphors for the conflict between societal expectations and individual desires.” (FULL REVIEW)
November Road by Lou Berney
“Nostalgia is a complex concept. Most often, we define it as fondly looking back on a simpler time, a better time; but it has a sinister side as well. Because, in order to long for yesteryear, we must also forget – or at the very least obfuscate – that those times had challenges not unlike, and often worse, than the time we wish to escape. Nostalgia requires us to paint the past with a sepia-laden brush of incongruity. This is the area in which Lou Berney places readers with his new historical crime novel, November Road.” (FULL REVIEW)
Sunburn by Laura Lippman
“Sunburn is a Pandora’s box of a novel – looking harmless on the exterior, but ultimately harboring complexity beyond measure within. It represents Laura Lippman’s homage to the masterpieces of noir, while never being anything less than authentic Lippman….The streamlined prose makes Sunburn one of Laura Lippman’s shortest novels. But brevity should not be confused with simplicity. This elegantly structured book slays with pinpoint accuracy, literally forcing the reader to sit up and take notice.” (FULL REVIEW)
Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan
“The words truth and trust are so prevalent throughout the novel that it becomes a sort of mantra for readers as they turn the pages. By the midway point of Trust Me just seeing those words creates a Pavlovian response from readers – how ironic is it that the response generated is immediately distrust? That is the brilliance of Hank Phillippi Ryan. But really, you can trust me when I say that Trust Me is one of the best books and most significant achievements in crime fiction this year. Do not miss this masterpiece!” (FULL REVIEW)
Under the Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day
“…Under a Dark Sky features a larger cast of characters, but the same unique sense of place and her complex manipulation of long-standing crime fiction tropes remain in play….Throughout the novel, readers feel the dark – and the fear of it – as a symbol for something larger within Eden’s psyche, but it isn’t until close to the end that readers will take a deep breath and realize that Lori Rader-Day has pulled this off. Healing from trauma through trauma would be a tightrope fraught with pitfalls for most authors, but this is a skilled practitioner who guides with assurance.” (FULL REVIEW)
The Wife by Alafair Burke
“The Wife is a stand-alone novel that is vintage Alafair Burke. The combination of character and plot is gripping, but Burke’s understanding of the legal system elevates this novel to another level. The pacing is about as near perfect as one can expect from a book – each hill and valley is perfectly placed, the chapters end while retaining their grip on the reader so that it is virtually impossible not to read just one more page. More than a few readers will complete this book in one sitting – and will still be sad that is has to end.” (FULL REVIEW)
From The Booking Desk:
Because it is my blog, and thus, I create the rules, I have a few other categories I want to highlight:
Top Debuts of the Year: These are the books from new writers that I feel were my favorites this year. Because the Top Reads list is dominated by familiar names, I wanted to give special highlight to some debuts as these are sure to be authors we will be reading for years to come:
Dodging and Burning by John Copenhaver
“Dodging and Burning is a historical novel depicting the coming-of-age of several different characters during a time when their moments of self-discovery clash with the ideologies of the larger community. By juxtaposing the harsh realities of life in 1945 (as World War II comes to an end) with the innocence of the two main female characters, Copenhaver is able to elucidate the emotions involved when childhood fantasy collides with unvarnished reality….Dodging and Burning will linger in the minds of fans for a long time; a beacon for voices too often stifled, both then and now.” (FULL REVIEW)
The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan
“…a journey quite original and downright captivating….At its core, The Ruin is a police procedural set in Ireland across multiple decades, but unlike most crime fiction that focuses on investigative matters, Dervla McTiernan imbues this book with both the psychological astuteness of domestic suspense and the dark ambiance of a gritty noir tale….Dervla McTiernan’s writing is beautifully evocative and her skill in managing the constant time-shifts and intricate plot belies the fact that this is a debut work. (FULL REVIEW)
Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear
“With her debut novel, Sweet Little Lies, Caz Frear has knocked it out of the ballpark. It doesn’t take any hidden twists or clever convolutions to manipulate the reader into this love affair; strong writing and a faith in the audience’s intelligence are Caz Frear’s stock in trade….While the novel unspools in typical police procedural format, this added stress from Cat Kinsella’s family history provides a strong psychological element that elevates Sweet Little Lies above much of its competition. The investigation is thorough and the revelations intricate, but there is a verisimilitude throughout that demands compassion for victims in equal measure with the anger towards the wrongdoers.” (FULL REVIEW)
Top Anthology of the Year:
The Night of the Flood edited by E. A. Aymar and Sarah M. Chen
“The Night of the Flood is an impressive collection of stories from some of the most talented writers working in the crime genre today. The intertextuality amongst the stories is truly impressive. The subtle – and sometimes blatant – references between these works will warrant and reward multiple readings of The Night of the Flood.” (FULL REVIEW)
Top Read not yet released in the US:
Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh
“It is rare to find a novel with a hook so ingenious that the book immediately becomes a must-read, but that is exactly what Steve Cavanagh achieved with his newest novel, Th1rt3en….Fortunately, the payoff more than meets the expectations of that concept….It is no surprise that some of the strongest advocates for this novel have been fellow writers, as the crafting of this breakneck plot is about as near-perfect as one is likely to find in a thriller.” (FULL REVIEW)