Friday, December 6, 2019

You Might Want to Read These...

It’s that time of year again, when the airwaves are filled with the sound of Michael Bublé coming out of hibernation and the papers are filled with critics’ Best Of lists.

Like Jim yesterday, I make no claim that my choices are a best of anything, merely a list of books I enjoyed this year. I’m going to start with a confession, though. There was no book that I read in 2019 which wowed me in the way certain books (like Attica Locke’s Bluebird Bluebird or Denise Mina’s The Long Drop) have in previous years, but that’s probably a reflection of the fact that I haven’t read enough this year.

So, where to start?

Return of the Old Favourites:
There are some authors who have achieved membership into Mukherjee’s Pantheon of the Greats, and at least two of these had books out this year which I devoured. 

First up, Metropolis by the wonderful Philip Kerr. Kerr passed away last year, but he left the manuscript for this, his final novel, Metropolis, featuring his iconic German detective, Bernie Gunther. Metropolis sees a young Bernie transported back to one of his earliest cases. It’s packed with the usual black humour and Kerr genius and made more poignant by the knowledge that it's the last we’ll ever see of Bernie.

It’s fair to say that my love of historical thrillers was sparked by Martin Cruz Smith and his standout novel, Gorky Park, which introduced us to detective Arkady Renko of the Moscow Militsia. That was in the early 1980s and a hell of a lot has happened to Russia and Renko in the intervening decades. 

The Siberian Dilemma is Cruz Smith’s latest, and finds Renko in Siberia, chasing after his girlfriend and getting mixed up in the murky world of oligarchs and Russian politics. The Renko novels have always been a fascinating insight into a land so utterly different from the West as well as rollercoasters of tension, and this one’s no different. If it lacks the taught, high drama of Gorky Park, it makes up for it with up to the minute commentary on the situation in Russia today. If you like your crime fiction with a political narrative, you should read this.

Standout Young Blood
There are several authors whose work I read for the first time this year and which stood out from the crowd. 

I’ll start here with the wonderfully talented Steph Cha and her novel, Your House Will Fall, which tells the tale of two families, one African American, the other Korean American, both affected by a shooting which took place at the time of the LA riots in the 1980s. It’s a poignant, thoughtful novel, offering the perspectives of both families, still reeling from that tragedy almost forty years later.

MW Craven is a tough looking Englishman from Cumbria, the border lands between England and Scotland. He’s also a wonderful bloke, and his novel The Puppet Show, recently won the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year. I think his new novel, Black Summer, is even better. It features Craven’s detective duo Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, and the case of a man who Poe put away for the murder of his daughter, but whose daughter then turns up alive. 

Best Cosy
I don’t read much ‘cosy crime’ – it’s not really my cup of tea, but I’ll always make an exception for my friend Vaseem Khan and his Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series, set in present day Mumbai and featuring retired police inspector, Ashwin Chopra and his pet baby elephant, Ganesh. Khan’s latest novel, Bad Day at the Vulture Club sees Chopra and Ganesh investigate the death of one of Mumbai's wealthiest citizens, a murder with ramifications for its poorest. Chopra is uneasy entering a world of power and privilege, and is soon plagued by doubts about the case. But murder is murder, and in Mumbai, wealth and corruption go in hand in hand. This is the best Chopra novel to date. Khan is really coming into his own and can be ranked alongside the greats of the sub-genre such as Alexander McCall Smith.
Brilliant, Just Brilliant
There are some authors who you just know you’re in safe hands with. Their writing is sublime, thought-provoking, and often tinged with wit. Mick Herron is one such author, and he’s on the fast-track to entering my Pantheon of the Greats. His latest, Joe Country, is once again set amidst the ‘slow horses’ of Slough House, the spies and spooks who’ve fallen out of favour at MI6 and have been hidden away in the hopes that they’ll be forgotten about. Joe Country sees the spies investigate the kidnapping of the child of one of their former colleagues who was murdered in the line of duty. As with all of Heron’s novels, it’s the portrait he paints of these so human, hum-drum and fallible spies, which really set his books apart from the herd.

Non Fiction
Sometimes the truth can be more gripping than any fiction. That’s definitely the case with Ben MacIntryre’s The Spy and the Traitor, the story of Oleg Gordievsky, a senior KGB officer who became an MI6 agent and, for more than a decade, supplied his British spymasters with a stream of priceless secrets from deep within the Soviet intelligence machine. No spy had done more to damage the KGB. When Gordievsky is recalled to Moscow and feels he’s about to be uncovered by the KGB, he sends a signal seeking extraction. And so begins one of the most daring missions of the Cold War. This is a brilliant book and had me hooked from the first to the last page. If you’re interested in the Cold War, you should read this.

Books I want to read.
As usual, there are a number of books which came out at the end of the year which I haven’t yet had a chance to read. Straight to the top of the pile go Westwind, a tech thriller written by Ian Rankin a few decades ago but never released until now, and Agent Running in the Field by John Le Carré. I hope to get through these before the end of the year, because whatever else 2020 has in store, I’m sure there’ll be a slew of great new books to read.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Some Really Good Books I Read in 2019

Question: Books make wonderful gifts. What are your recommendations this year?

From Jim

I made a list like this one last year, so I suppose this will become an annual post from me. I don’t like to make a “best of” list because, for one thing, who the hell am I? And, for another, I haven’t read enough (all) books to make any such pronouncements. I have, however, enjoyed quite a few books this year.

In August, I posted here a list of books I’d read in the first half of 2019.
Now here’s a complete list for the entire year.

I’ve divided the books into the following (arbitrary) categories: MY FELLOW NOMINEES; HISTORICALS; HYSTERICALS; COPS AND BOBBIES; THRILLERS, CHILLERS, REPORTERS, AND JURIES; and I WISH I’D DISCOVERED A LONG TIME AGO. Nota bene, I have repeated some titles in different categories in order to give an idea of what kind of books they are.

My sixth Ellie Stone mystery, A Stone’s Throw, was a finalist for the 2019 Lefty for Best Mystery. These excellent books were nominated alongside mine, and I can’t recommend them strongly enough.

November Road, Lou Berney (Winner)
Wrong Light, Matt Coyle
Kingdom of the Blind, Louise Penny
Under a Dark Sky, Lori Rader-Day
A Reckoning in the Back Country, Terry Shames

A Stone’s Throw was also up for the Anthony Best Paperback Original Award in 2019. These were the other nominees. I really loved all these books. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

Under a Dark Sky, Lori Rader-Day (Winner)
Hollywood Ending, Kellye Garrett
If I Die Tonight, Alison Gaylin
Hiroshima Boy, Naomi Hirahara 


The Prisoner in the Castle, Susan Elia MacNeil
The King’s Justice, Susan Elia MacNeil
When Hell Struck Twelve, James R. Benn
The Enemy We Don’t Know, Mary Sutton
The Widows of Malabar Hill, Sujata Massey
Murder at the Mena House, Erica Ruth Neubauer
The Pearl Dagger, L. A. Chandlar
Judge Thee Not, Edith Maxwell


Finding Zelda, Sue Ann Jaffarian
Hollywood Ending, Kellye Garrett
Murder at the Mena House, Erica Ruth Neubauer
The Pearl Dagger, L. A. Chandlar


Charlie-316, Colin Conway & Frank Zafiro
Valley of Shadows, Steven Cooper 
A Voice in the Night, Andrea Camilleri
A Bitter Feast, Deborah Crombie
Kingdom of the Blind, Louise Penny
A Reckoning in the Back Country, Terry Shames


Careful What You Wish For, Hallie Ephron
Dread of Winter, Susan Bickford
Below the Fold, R. G. Belsky
We, the Jury, Robert Rotstein
If I Die Tonight, Alison Gaylin


Blanche on the Lam, Barbara Neely

This is by no means a “best of” list. Many of these books weren’t even released in 2019. But it’s a list of really good books you should consider buying or borrowing. Don’t steal them.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The twelve books of Christmas

by Dietrich

I had plenty of reading time this past year, and I’ve already recommended some of my favorites from earlier this year, so I won’t repeat any of them. Here are a dozen more from the books I read since then that deserve a place on the holiday list – perfect picks for the fiction fan.

Blood and Lemonade by by Joe R. Lansdale is number eleven in the Hap and Leonard series. Published in 2017, it’s a mosaic of stories from the early days of Hap and Leonard. Often funny, sometimes touching, and always addictive storytelling, it’s a great book.

Last Stand at Saber River by Elmore Leonard. It’s one of his early westerns, first published as a Dell paperback in 1959. In spite of being written sixty years ago, it holds up well and delivers a tale filled with interesting characters and unexpected turns in that early Leonard style.

Comeback by Richard Stark is number seventeen in the Parker series. It was first printed in 1997, and when it came out it was the first Parker novel in over twenty years. And if you love Parker, this one’s a classic.

Robicheaux by James Lee Burke is number twenty-one in that series, and even if you haven’t followed Dave Robicheaux, this one can be read on its own. In it, Burke shows readers why he’s one of the greatest story-telling talents of our time.

The Convict and Other Stories also by James Lee Burke. This one’s from 2009, and it’s a powerful collection of nine short stories that show’s more of Burke’s masterful touch. 

What it Was by George Pelecanos was published in 2012. The story’s set in Washington, DC in 1972. In it, he brings back private detective Derek Strange, along with his old partner Frank Vaughn.The story’s filled with mobsters, hookers, cops, killers and plenty of soul music. Told in typical Pelecanos style and pace, it’s guaranteed to keep you entertained.

The Gentlemen’s Hour by Don Winslow is the 2009 sequel to The Dawn Patrol. Winslow brings back Boone Daniels who is possibly the most laid back private investigator ever. It’s packed with a lot of dark humor, tension and some of the best dialogue on the printed page.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy. It was his third novel, published back in 1973. Set in the mountains of Tennessee, it’s a dark, often disturbing, yet brilliantly told story of a man falsely accused who attempts to live outside the social order.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowlings, 2012. It’s a beautiful, well-told tale of class, social order and small town political strife, set in Rowlings’ imaginary town of Pagford.

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, published in 2012. It’s the tale of a group of black musicians who escaped pre-war Germany, only to return to Berlin for the opening of a documentary about their lives fifty years later. It’s told in an easy style that evokes the jazz music from that era. Pick it up and you’ll see why Esi’s twice won the Giller Prize.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the long awaited sequel to the modern classic The Handmaid’s Tale. The joint winner of the 2019 Man Booker Prize, the story picks up fifteen years after the events told in the original story. It’s a terrific book.

City of Ice by John Farrow is set in mid-winter Montreal and follows Sergeant-Detective Emilé Cinq Mars as he deals with biker gangs, mafia and crooked cops while trying to solve a murder.

Well, there you have it, a few detective series, a western, some dark comedy, some short story collections, and some dystopian fiction. I hope I’ve given you some ideas for the fiction fan on your list. And I’d also like to wish one and all the very best for the Holidays, and I look forward to joining the other minds here in the new year. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Book Gifts

Terry Shames here:

I remember when I was in the second grade I got books for Christmas, and it made my day. Still does. I especially love to get unexpected books—books I wouldn’t normally pick out for myself. In our traditional mode here at 7CriminalMinds, here are books I recommend this year:

For your mystery fans, if they haven’t read Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowlings), they should start with The Cuckoo’s Calling. For my money, the first page is the best opening of a mystery novel that I read this year. Love the characters and the story. I whizzed through all four in the series, and now am impatiently awaiting the next.

Matt Coyle’s new book, Lost Tomorrows is coming out today, December 3. I’ve read every one of Matt’s books, which says it all. I read them as soon as they come out and can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

If you like brilliant writing that isn’t necessarily in the mystery genre, I highly recommend Warlight, Michael Ondaatje’s latest. It doesn’t get much better than this tale of war and yearning.

For your thriller reader, anything by Thomas Perry will do, but I especially enjoyed The Bomb Maker. Perfect pacing and well-drawn characters.

And speaking of the Perry’s, Jo Perry writes a wonderful series about a dead duo that solves crimes—the duo is a man and a dog that he didn’t know in life. You can’t go wrong with any of them, the latest of which is Dead is Beautiful…a beautiful book. The books are deceptively light. You can’t stop thinking about them afterwards.

For your English mystery lovers, you must gift them with Deborah Crombie’s latest, A Bitter Feast. I’ve loved all her books, but this one is special.

The Widows of Malabar Hill, Sujata Massey. Okay, this is last year’s book, and I feel like an idiot for not having read it sooner. But this is a book with legs. You don’t have to be a mystery reader to love it. It’s full of interesting historical and cultural tidbits.

The same is true of A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles. I was late coming to it, and was richly rewarded. It’s a special book. Not easy settling into, but sometimes really good books are that way.

The Guest Book, Sarah Blake, might be the best book I read this year. Absorbing. Fascinating. It takes a little work to get into it, but it’s worth the trouble. Not a mystery….except it is in some ways.

If you have giftees who like science The Power, by Naomi Alderman is A Times Notable Book of the Year, it packs a wallop, growing larger the more you read. It’s about the nature of power, how it can be wielded for good or ill, how it corrupts…how it surprises. It’s also about history. And it’s an unabashed feminist remake of history. Or maybe a look forward?
fiction/fantasy/apocalyptic novels, this is the best I’ve read in a while.

So many books, so little time. I can’t wait for James Ziskin’s next Ellie Stone novel. Turn to Stone comes out January 21. You can use your Christmas money to buy it.

I haven’t gotten my hands on Catriona McPherson’s latest, Strangers at the Gate, so I’ll probably ask for that in my stocking.

If you love historical mysteries, this has been a strong category the last few years. Here are a few writers to consider:

Rhys Bowen (both her series, one set in pre-World War II England and one in the US, and her standalones, wonderful World War II thrillers)
Susan Spann—her books are set in 16th century Japan. Gorgeous writing.
Ann Parker—her series is set in the Silver Rush era in Colorado. Wonderful historical detail and her plotting is impeccable.

And last, you could also try my series, The Samuel Craddock series, set in small-town Texas. The latest, A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary, came out in April.

I’ve left off too many good writers, but these are few. (As I read back over this list, I keep adding, so I have to stop now!) Happy Holidays, everyone. And happy reading!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Books Make the Best Presents. By Brenda

Question: Books make wonderful gifts. What are your recommendations this year?

I love giving books for Christmas and receiving them. I always tucked a novel in my girls' stockings so they'd have something to read over the holidays. Some afternoons after the gift-giving, all you'd hear in the living room was the sound of turning pages.

I must confess that I joined a book club this year that reads mainly literary fiction so these books are top of mind; however, I've squeezed in a couple of mystery/thrillers that I can recommend as well as a few titles I'm hoping are under the tree for me. I must also confess that I haven't done a ton of reading this year since I've been working on a couple of manuscripts of my own, but hope to change this in 2020!

My two top picks in the 'literary' category go to:

1.  Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: There is a mystery in this novel, but it's mainly the story of survival of a young girl who raises herself in the backwoods marshes in North Carolina and becomes an expert on the flora and fauna. Also a love story although it's the beautiful writing that makes this a must read.

2. Educated by Tara Westover. Another kind of survival story but a true one this time. The author grew up in a reclusive, poor family with an abusive brother and a reckless father who believed Armaggenden was imminent. A fascinating, disturbing and ultimately uplifting read told in an objective style that makes the events even more impactful.

3. Becoming by Michelle Obama: I enjoy reading biographies and this one is written by a woman I admire. Her childhood and relationship with Barack are interesting as are her experiences as First Lady.

In the mystery/thriller genre:

3.  The Long Call by Ann Cleeves: The first in a new series set in North Devon featuring Detective Matthew Venn. A body on the beach near his home anchors the mystery. Will be good to see where the series goes in the next editions.

4.  Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly: (currently reading): Detective Renee Ballard teams up with Harry Bosch to work on the cold case murder of a runaway fifteen year old girl named Daisy Clayton. If you enjoy the Bosch series, this is a good one. I believe he has a few more recent books out so this leads to ....

Books I would like to receive: 

1.  Novels written by any of my fellow 7 Criminal Mind bloggers because this is a talented group with some intriguing books on offer.

2. Conviction by Denise Mina: I'm a huge fan of Denise's writing and highly recommend her Paddy Meehan series - I hear her latest Conviction is a terrific read too.

3.  The Testaments: A Novel by Margaret Atwood: Co-winner of the Booker and follow up to The Handmaid's Tale. I'd also recommend Atwood's Alias Grace and Cat's Eye - some fabulous writing and storytelling.

I'll be checking out recommendations by my fellow bloggers over the next two weeks and hope we help you with your shopping list. Happy Holidays, everyone and wishing you all the best in 2020.


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