Adam Woog’s list of his 10 favorite mysteries of 2016 constitutes a ripping good reading list for now and well into 2017.
In these uncertain times, escaping into novels — crime fiction included — can be a great comfort. These 10 are among my favorites from 2016:
“The Wrong Side of Goodbye” by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown). Harry Bosch, the soul of Connelly’s intense novels, copes with retirement from the LAPD by working two gigs: private eye and volunteer investigator for a small town. He doggedly tracks a serial rapist while helping a dying billionaire discover what became of a long-lost love and, possibly, the billionaire’s only heir.
“The Trespasser” by Tana French (Viking). Fierce interrogations, led by blunt-talking Antoinette Conway of the Dublin Murder Squad, form the backbone of her investigation into the death of a woman in her strangely immaculate apartment. Some of Conway’s senior colleagues — normally antagonistic toward the young, female, biracial detective — are strangely eager to help.
“King Maybe” by Timothy Hallinan(Soho). Hallinan proudly carries the torch once borne by Donald E. Westlake, king of the comic caper. Ace burglar and world-class wiseass Junior Bender tries to steal a rare stamp from a creepy debt collector. When things go south, our man escapes — but the creep is eager to find Junior and reason with him. Meanwhile, Junior is blackmailed into robbing the home of a Hollywood bigwig, who promptly hires him to rob that same house. It’s complicated.
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“First Fix Your Alibi” by Bill James(Severn House). Welsh writer James’ obscurity in America borders on the criminal. His police detectives Harpur and Iles have perhaps the most eccentric relationship in crime fiction, and James’ writing is fresh, vibrant and darkly funny. Here the cops must prevent a war between drug lords from erupting into widespread slaughter.
“The Murder of Mary Russell” by Laurie R. King(Bantam). In King’s sharp, inventive books, Russell — Sherlock Holmes’ wife — is as resourceful as the retired Great Detective himself. A man appears on their doorstep, claiming to be the son of their trusted housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson. Mrs. Hudson comes home one day to find signs of a struggle — and a missing Russell.
“Precious and Grace” by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon). Deeply satisfying and joyful, McCall Smith’s series about Precious Ramotswe, proprietor of Botswana’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, can be read as delicious entertainment. Or as wise lessons in humility, tolerance and forgiveness. Or — and this is the course I recommend — as both. Here, a Canadian woman who grew up in Botswana hires Ramotswe to find her old nanny.
“The Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore (Random House). Moore knows something about historical fiction — take his Oscar-winning screenplay for “The Imitation Game.” This ripping tale of industrial espionage, legal maneuvering and brilliant science considers another epic moment: the battle in the late 1880s over the future of electricity, pitting Edison’s direct current against a superior technology, alternating current, devised by Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse.
“City of Secrets” by Stewart O’Nan(Viking). A volatile setting — Palestine just after World War II — anchors this vivid and melancholy novel by a gifted writer. A Latvian refugee, Brand, drives a taxi by day, and by night does the same for rebels bent on ending the British occupation through assassinations, bombings and guerrilla raids on weapons caches.
“A Great Reckoning” by Louise Penny (Minotaur). Penny’s work combines luminous prose, complex but uncluttered plots and profound compassion. Homicide detective Armand Gamache, coming out of retirement to head Quebec’s police academy, encounters corrupt faculty, the murder of a vile administrator and a race to discover the secrets of a puzzling map.
“The Trap” by Melanie Raabe (Grand Central). In a crisp translation from the German by Imogen Taylor, Raabe delivers on a sly premise. Linda Conrads, a famous author, has isolated herself, refusing all interviews after witnessing her sister’s murder — until she becomes convinced that a TV reporter was responsible. After writing a book with echoes of the real crime, she sends the reporter a copy and offers an interview; he takes the bait and an intricate, two-person game of discovery ensues.
A final note: I am heartbroken at the death, apparently from an overdose, of Roger Hobbs, a Portland native who lived for some time in Seattle. Hobbs was a gifted writer whose books (“Ghostman,” “Vanishing Games”) belied his youth and showed brilliant promise.