The Plot Thickens

Welcome to the new year, and may it bring us some glorious fictional misdeeds and mayhem. I ended my last column of 2022 with a question: Is there a mystery novel that you’ve read multiple times for the pleasure of it, despite knowing the ending? I was thinking of quite a few that I frequently revisit myself; most notably Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series, Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series, and Anthony Horowitz’s “Magpie Murders” and “Moonflower Murders,” all of which offer the kind of rich characterizations and overall cleverness that frequently suit my mood on a rainy afternoon. Turns out a lot of you have some frequently revisited favorites; here are just a few:

Classic British mysteries: More than one of you copped to rereading Agatha Christie multiple times; others mentioned Dorothy L. Sayers’ “Gaudy Night” (“because of Harriet Vane”), Margery Allingham’s “The Fear Sign,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and Daphne du Maurier’s romantic thriller “Rebecca.” (I’m a huge fan of the latter — if you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for? — as well as the Hitchcock movie.) More recent works named included P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh series, Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge series, John le Carré’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Smiley’s People,” and Richard Osman’s three Thursday Murder Club books.

International series: Nordic — specifically, Swedish — noir remains popular, with more than one of you naming the 10-volume Martin Beck series (set in Sweden), by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. One reader noted that he bought the books back in the 1970s and rereads them all about once a decade. Also named for repeat visits: Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallender mysteries, and Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

And some less-expected choices: “Duplicate Keys,” a 2004 work by Jane Smiley involving “a murder with many red herrings.” “The Investigation,” a 1978 thriller by Dorothy Uhnak that became the TV movie “Kojak: The Price of Justice.” All of Adrian McKinty’s hard-boiled Irish crime fiction. Tana French’s “Into the Woods” (“I think it’s her best.”) Elmore Leonard’s “City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit” (soon to be an FX series). “Tropic of Night” by Michael Gruber, featuring “tough/sexy detective Jimmy Paz.” Jo Nesbø’s “The Redbreast” (by far his best book). Scott Turow’s “Presumed Innocent” (I concur; it still slaps).

On the new-to-me front, I’ve been reading Grace D. Li’s “Portrait of a Thief,” an impressive 2022 debut novel in which a team of thieves plot to steal five priceless sculptures from ancient China from five world museums, returning them to their homeland — and earning $50 million in the process. The twist: the thieves are all brilliant, young high-achieving Chinese Americans, working out their own complicated feelings toward China. Li has fun with the clock-ticking conventions of heist drama (she notes in her acknowledgments that the “Ocean’s Eleven” movie franchise, among others, was an inspiration), and along the way makes some poignant statements about identity and privilege. And yes, “Portrait of a Thief” is in development at Netflix. Bring it on.

I also disappeared for a goodly while into Stephen Amidon’s taut domestic thriller “Locust Lane,” which is just coming out this month. Amidon’s work is new to me but he’s been at this a while (this is his seventh novel), and his experience shows. It’s the tale of a murder in a well-off New England suburb, and the reverberations of that murder among three teenagers who knew the victim, and the three teens’ parents. Everyone has a story, everyone has secrets, and all that enthusiastic page-turning created a refreshing breeze. Amidon’s very good at twisting in and out of his different characters’ consciousness; you keep wondering who to root for, right up to the end. Very satisfactory, and I’ll be looking for Amidon’s other work.

So, for next month, tell me: Is there a mystery author you’ve always meant to dive into but never got around to? For me, 2023 just might be the year when I finally read Colin Cotterill (yes, I know he’s great, you all keep telling me). Or someone brand-new who’s caught your eye? I was intrigued by Harini Nagendra’s “The Bangalore Detectives Club,” the start of a new series set in 1920s India, and I can’t wait to read “The Twyford Code” from Janice Hallett, author of the excellent epistolary mystery “The Appeal.” What are your crime-fiction resolutions for the year? Do tell, and I’ll see you next month.

Illustration by Jenny Kwon