From the Booking Desk:
When I post my Top Reads list each year, I never actually rank the books and I rarely mention what my very favorite book is for any given year. This is largely because it is never as cut and dried as it might seem. There are so many factors that play into how and why a book resonates with me.
Since we are about to start a new decade, it seems like a good time to revisit my Top Reads list from each year in the previous ten years. With this post, I am going to go on record with my “favorite” book of each year, but it is important to remember that these choices were never easy and some books I truly love and cherish with all my heart are not listed simply because of the stiff competition the year they were released. (I am limited to choosing only *one* each year.)
My yearly Top Reads list should still be the go-to source for an overall view of quality crime fiction being released, but if I were to give a stranger one crime novel from each year in the past decade, these are the ones I would gift. Note how the reasons are so personal; this is why one must remember lists like this are always subjective.
BURY YOUR DEAD by LOUISE PENNY: For me, this is the moment that the Three Pines series shifted, with the novels becoming ever more connected – almost one long story broken up into individual chapters. After years of getting to know these characters, Penny breaks our hearts and forces us to watch the ramifications. This is also the moment when the history of Canada became a key component to the series, weaving together the activities in Three Pines with those outside in the larger nation.
THE END OF EVERYTHING by MEGAN ABBOTT: This is the book where Abbott transitioned from writing her excellent retro-noir novels to turn her focus to adolescence – specifically that of girls. No other writer in *any* genre can better capture the mindset of tween and teen girls, revealing all the complex emotions that exist during this pivotal period, while weaving some of the darkest and most compelling stories possible.
DEFENDING JACOB by WILLIAM LANDAY: Talk about a book that leaves a lasting impression, this novel is simply unforgettable. A domestic suspense novel merged with a courtroom drama, Landay never goes for easy answers and the reader is put through the proverbial wringer. This one will soon make its way to the small screen, so if you haven’t yet read it, now is the time.
THE WICKED GIRLS by ALEX MARWOOD: Bursting onto the crime fiction scene, this is a book that resonates long after the final pages are turned. Countless crime novels have been inspired by the James Bulger murder, each bringing something new to the discussion. In Marwood’s case, she is interested in presenting a meditation on the long-lasting effects of bad decisions within a society that thrives by placing blame and casting shame.
IN THE BLOOD by LISA UNGER: Unger’s loosely-connected novels set in the fiction town of The Hollows are always highlights for me, but this third one will always be my favorite. With an ingenious twist that feels less like a gimmick and more like an authentic part of Unger’s ultimate goal, it is impossible to express in words the special place in my heart where this novel will forever reside.
THE KILLING KIND by CHRIS HOLM: One might notice that this book is very different from all the others on this list. It’s not a psychological suspense or a traditional mystery, it is a tried-and-true thriller of the first order. But what makes it stand out for me is the care and compassion Holm displays for his characters – something rarely seen in that testosterone-heavy sub-genre – and the mastering of pace and tone that is on display throughout.
WILDE LAKE by LAURA LIPPMAN: The novel marks a subtle shift in Lippman’s impressive oeuvre: her previous stand-alones were often inspired by true crimes from the past, but this book (and the next few) instead pay homage to classic novels. In this case, having To Kill A Mockingbird as an inspiration virtually sealed its place on this list, but it also happens to be set in Columbia, Maryland, a location near and dear to my heart. Lippman’s characters are always people you want to know.
BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD by ATTICA LOCKE: Having been an Attica Locke fan since her debut, Black Water Rising, I was still unprepared for the impact of this novel. A Locke work always feels authentic and important, but this novel that is so reflective of who Attica Locke is, was, and will be proves that crime fiction is at its best when it allows for diverse representation from voices at the margins. The fact that Locke won the Best Novel Edgar Award at the same ceremony where I received my Mystery Writers of America Raven Award just makes it (and her) that much more special to me.
JAR OF HEARTS by JENNIFER HILLIER: I have long felt that Jennifer Hillier didn’t get the recognition she deserves, so I will thrilled when this novel proved to be such a breakout hit for her. This book is the very definition of impossible to classify: it is part serial killer novel, part romance, part suspense, and part tragedy. All those parts together make it one of the most unique and unforgettable novels on this list.
YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY by STEPH CHA: It would be impossible to say something about this masterpiece that hasn’t already been said a thousand times. Did you see how many Best Of Lists for 2019 this book was featured on? This is such an important novel and history is sure to honor it for the revolutionary work contained within. Crime fiction has always been the social novel of the day, the works that truly reflect the society in which they were created, but they are also the works that most inspire change. Because of Steph Cha, we all know we can do better, we can be better!
I’ve read five of the above, so I guess I’ll go order the rest right now.
And I’d add November Road by Lou Berney plus everything by Joe Ide.
How the hell do you choose?
Wonderful list!! Some new additions to my TBR list
November Road stayed with me, long after I read it – there were so many times I wanted to get into the book, and tell the inhabitants ‘do this, not that’ – I wanted them to go on, and on, together; and a year later, I’m still pulling for them …
I loved DEFENDING JACOB. You’re right – it stays with you for a long time after you close the book.
I was late to getting to Wild Lake. Read it in August. I lived in Columbia in that area, at the time she set this novel. I read excepts to my mom, and we went back and looked up the apartments we lived in and the maps of the area. It was such fun. And what a great book!
I’ve read six. DEFENDING JACOB & JAR OF HEARTS both still stay with me.
Thanks for the list. Luckily, I’ve read some, but sadly (?), you just increased my TBR bookcase /pile on my dresser / extras on my Kindle. Have a happy holidays!
Wow. Amazing list with 3 books I have not read. I will be saving them for my April vacation. THE KILLING KIND still resonates with me. You recommended it to me.
I remember and smile where we picked up DEFENDING JACOB.