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December 16, 2008 / C.T. Henry

2008 Holiday Gift Guide for Mystery/Thriller Readers

Looking for a book for someone who loves mysteries and thrillers?  Look no further:

GENERAL MYSTERY LOVER: Down River – John Hart
down-riverWinner of the 2008 Edgar Award for Best Novel, Down River is one of the most perfectly written books that I’ve ever read.  The story unfolds effortlessly and captivates on a level that few books ever reach.

Synopsis:  Adam Chase has a violent streak, and not without reason. As a boy, he saw things that no child should see, suffered wounds that cut to the core and scarred thin. The trauma left him passionate and misunderstood—a fighter. After being narrowly acquitted of a murder charge, Adam is hounded out of the only home he’s ever known, exiled for a sin he did not commit. For five long years he disappears, fades into the faceless gray of New York City. Now he’s back and nobody knows why, not his family or the cops, not the enemies he left behind. But Adam has his reasons. Within hours of his return, he is beaten and accosted, confronted by his family and the women he still holds dear. No one knows what to make of Adam’s return, but when bodies start turning up, the small town rises against him and Adam again finds himself embroiled in the fight of his life, not just to prove his own innocence, but to reclaim the only life he’s ever wanted.

CONTEMPORARY HARD-BOILED P.I. LOVER: Gone, Baby, Gone – Dennis Lehane
gone baby goneLehane is simply one of the best writers in the business.  The ending of this engrossing morality tale will stay with you long after you finish.

Synopsis: The tough neighborhood of Dorchester is no place for the innocent or the weak. A territory defined by hard heads and even harder luck, its streets are littered with the detritus of broken families, hearts, dreams. Now, one of its youngest is missing. Private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro don’t want the case. But after pleas from the child’s aunt, they open an investigation that will ultimately risk everything-their relationship, their sanity, and even their lives-to find a little girl lost.

CLASSIC HARD-BOILED P.I. LOVER: The Last Good Kiss – James Crumley
last-good-kissThis detective story is a classic, unforgettable journey.  Definitely one of the best mysteries I read all year.  For all my friends, who have never read it, I’m definitely getting them this for Christmas.

Synopsis: Tough, hard-boiled, and brilliantly suspenseful, The Last Good Kiss, is an unforgettable detective story starring C.W. Sughrue, a Montana investigator who kills time by working at a topless bar.  Hired to track down a derelict author, he ends up on the trail of a girl missing in Haight-Ashbury for a decade.  The tense hunt becomes obsessive as Sughrue takes a haunting journey through the underbelly of America’s sleaziest nightmares.

MALE NOIR LOVER:  Small Crimes – Zeltserman
small-crimesI was blown away by this tale of an ex-con trying to go straight.  However, circumstances always seem to work against him.  Highly Recommended!

Synopsis: Crooked crop Joe Denton gets out of prison early after disfiguring the local district attorney, which doesn’t help his popularity.  Nobody want Joe to hang around, not his ex-wife, his parents or his former colleagues.  Meanwhile, local mafia don Manny Vassey is dying of caner and keen to cut a deal with God.  He’s thinking of singing to the DA if this will set him up for a better afterlife.  And he knows stuff that will send Joe down again for a very long time.

FEMALE NOIR LOVER: Die A Little – Megan Abbott
die-a-littleNominated for the Edgar Award for First Novel, this book received lots of praise by critics and generated plenty of buzz on crime fiction blogs.

Synopsis: Die A Little tells the story of Lora King, a schoolteacher, and her brother Bill, a junior investigator with the district attorney’s office. Lora’s comfortable, suburban life is jarringly disrupted when Bill falls in love and marries a glamorous yet mysterious young woman named Alice Steele, a Hollywood wardrobe assistant. Lora soon begins to suspect that things aren’t all they seem with Alice. Spurred on by inconsistencies in Alice’s personal history, Lora finds herself lured into the dark alleys and mean streets of seamy Los Angeles. She uncovers a shadowy world of drugs, prostitution, and ultimately, murder. But the deeper Lora digs to uncover Alice’s secrets, the more her own life begins to resemble Alice’s sinister past – and present.

POLICE-PROCEDURAL LOVER: Angel’s Flight – Michael Connelly
angel-flightThis is one of Connelly’s best police stories, mostly due to his stunning portrayal of L.A. and its racial divide.

Synopsis: Bosch is awakened in the middle of the night and, out of rotation, he is assigned to the murder investigation of the high-profile African American attorney Howard Elias.When Bosch arrives at the scene, it seems that almost the entire LAPD is present, including the IAD (the Internal Affairs Division). Elias, who made a career out of suing the police, was sadistically gunned down on the Angels Flight tram just as he was beginning a case that would have struck the core of the department; not surprisingly, L.A.’s men and women in blue become the center of the investigation. Haunted by the ghost of the L.A. riots, plagued by incessant media attention, and facing turmoil at home, Bosch suddenly finds himself questioning friends and associates while working side by side with some longtime enemies.

INTERNATIONAL MYSTERY LOVER: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson
girl-with-dragon-tattooWinner of Britain’s ITV3 Thriller Award, I haven’t heard of anyone who didn’t love this book.

Synopsis: It’s about the disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden . . . and about her octogenarian uncle, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder. It’s about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired to get to the bottom of Harriet’s disappearance . . . and about Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacker possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age-and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it-who assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism-and an unexpected connection between themselves.

BRITISH MYSTERY LOVER: Broken Skin – Stuart MacBride
broken-skinNo British mystery author has garnered more praise in recent years than Stuart MacBride. Climbing the best-selling charts in the UK, he’s not only prolific, but producing outstanding police procedurals.

Synopsis: In the pale grey light of a chilly February, Aberdeen is not at its best! There’s a rapist prowling the city’s cold granite streets, leaving a string of tortured women behind. But while DS Logan McRae’s girlfriend is out acting as bait, he’s dealing with the blood-drenched body of an unidentified male, dumped outside Accident and Emergency. When a stash of explicit films turn up, all featuring the victim, it looks as if someone in the local bondage community has developed a taste for violent death, and Logan gets dragged into the twilight world of pornographers, sex-shops and S&M. To make matters worse, when they finally arrest the Granite City Rapist, Grampian Police are forced by the courts to let him go: Aberdeen Football Club’s star striker has an alibi for every attack. Could they really have got it so badly wrong? Logan thinks so, but the trick will be getting anyone to listen before the real rapist strikes again. Especially as his girlfriend, PC Jackie ‘Ball Breaker’ Watson, is convinced the footballer is guilty and she’s hell-bent on a conviction at any cost…

THRILLER LOVER: The Blonde – Duane Swierczynski
the-blondeThis was the most hilarious story I read all year. I enjoyed Swierczynski’s writing style and fell in love with the characters very quickly.  I’m definitely buying this for my friends.

Synopsis: The night before a big meeting, Jack Eisley is sitting in an airport bar in Philadelphia, chatting up a pretty young blonde. Sure, Jack has a wife and daughter at home, but this is just a little harmless flirting. Harmless, that is, until the blonde leans forward and says, “I poisoned your drink.” She tells Jack that unless she can keep someone within ten feet of her at all times, she’ll die. And if he wants the antidote, he’ll have to take her back to his hotel room and promise to stay by her side. Jack thinks: psycho. But as the violent night wears on, and he encounters a relentless government assassin, a threatening voice on a cell phone, a deadly waitress, dirty cops, and shady cab drivers . . . He begins to believe her.

ASSASSIN/ HIT MAN LOVER: The Cleaner – Brett Battles
the-cleanerAfter reading the first page, I just couldn’t put this book down.  I read it cover to cover in the same day.  Brett Battles is a talented new author, and he introduces a compelling protagonist, who will hopefully be around for a long time.

Synopsis: Meet Jonathan Quinn: a freelance operative with a take-no-prisoners style and the heart of a loner. His job? Professional ‘cleaner’. Nothing too violent, just disposing of bodies, doing a little cleanup if necessary. But in Brett Battles’ thrilling debut novel, Quinn’s latest assignment will change everything, igniting a harrowing journey of violence, betrayal and revenge. The job seemed simple enough: investigating a suspicious case of arson. But when a dead body turns up where it doesn’t belong – and Quinn’s handlers at ‘the Office’ turn strangely silent – he knows he’s in over his head. With only a handful of clues, Quinn scrambles for cover, struggling to find out why someone wants him dead – and if it is linked to a larger attempt to wipe out the Office.

GREAT OUTDOORS MYSTERY LOVER: Thunder Bay – William Kent Krueger
thunder-bayI’ve read all of William Kent Krueger’s books, and I love them all.  This is definitely one of his best.

Synopsis: Happy and content in his hometown of Aurora, Minnesota, Cork O’Connor has left his badge behind and is ready for a life of relative peace, setting up shop as a private investigator. But his newfound state of calm is soon interrupted when Henry Meloux, the Ojibwe medicine man and Cork’s spiritual adviser, makes a request: Will Cork find the son that Henry fathered long ago? With little to go on, Cork uses his investigative skills to locate Henry Wellington, a wealthy and reclusive industrialist living in Thunder Bay, Ontario. When a murder attempt is made on old Meloux’s life, all clues point north across the border. But why would Wellington want his father dead? This question takes Cork on a journey through time as he unravels the story of Meloux’s 1920s adventure in the ore-rich wilderness of Canada, where his love for a beautiful woman, far outside his culture, led him into a trap of treachery, greed, and murder.

The past and present collide along the rocky shores of Thunder Bay, where a father’s unconditional love is tested by a son’s deeply felt resentment, and where jealousy and revenge remain the code among men. As Cork hastens to uncover the truth and save his friend, he soon discovers that his own life is in danger and is reminded that the promises we keep – even for the best of friends – can sometimes place us in the hands of our worst enemies.

COZY / VILLAGE MYSTERY LOVER: When Will There be Good News – Kate Atkinson
when-wil-there-be-good-newsNo book, by a female author, has garnered as much praise as Atkinson’s newest tale.  Don’t miss it.

Synopsis: In rural Devon, six-year-old Joanna Mason witnesses an appalling crime. Thirty years later the man convicted of the crime is released from prison. In Edinburgh, sixteen-year-old Reggie works as a nanny for a G.P. But Dr Hunter has gone missing and Reggie seems to be the only person who is worried. Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is also looking for a missing person, unaware that hurtling towards her is an old friend – Jackson Brodie – himself on a journey that becomes fatally interrupted.

LEGAL THRILLER LOVER: The Brass Verdict – Michael Connelly
brass-verdictConnelly’s Lincoln Lawyer was simply the best legal thriller that I ever read.  In this sequel, he delivers an intricate plot starring my favorite lawyer.

Synopsis: When down-at-heel lawyer Mickey Haller gets the news that his old colleague Jerry Vincent has died, he also gets an unexpected windfall. Jerry had left instructions that Mickey should inherit all of his clients – putting Mickey’s stalled career back on track at a stroke. Not only that, but Vincent was about to go to bat for Walter Elliott, the Hollywood mogul accused of brutally slaying his wife and her lover, in a trial that promises big fees and an even bigger place in the media spotlight. If Mickey could find the magic bullet and win that one against the odds, he’d really be back in the big leagues. The only problem is that Vincent was murdered, shot at close range in his office garage. And the detective handling the case – a certain Harry Bosch – is convinced the killer must be one of Vincent’s clients. Suddenly Jerry Vincent’s legacy is beginning to look more like a poisoned chalice, and Mickey is faced with the biggest challenge of his career: how to successfully defend a client who might just be planning to murder him.

HISTORICAL MYSTERY LOVER: Revelation – C.J. Sansom
revelationNo one does historical fiction better than C.J. Sansom.  All of his previous books have garnered high praise, and this outing looks like it could be his best yet.

Synopsis: Spring, 1543. King Henry VIII is wooing Lady Catherine Parr, whom he wants for his sixth wife. Archbishop Cranmer and the embattled Protestant faction at court are watching keenly, for Lady Catherine is known to have reformist sympathies. Matthew Shardlake, meanwhile, is working on the case of a teenage boy who has been placed in the Bedlam insane asylum, before his terrifying religious mania leads to him being burned as a heretic. When an old friend is horrifically murdered Shardlake vows to bring the killer to justice. His search leads him to Cranmer and Catherine Parr – and to the dark prophecies of the Book of Revelation. As London’s Bishop Bonner prepares a purge of Protestants Shardlake, together with his assistant, Jack Barak, and his friend, Guy Malton, investigate a series of horrific murders which are already bringing frenzied talk of witchcraft and demonic possession – for what else would the Tudor mind make of a serial killer?

SUPERNATURAL / VAMPIRE MYSTERY LOVER: Already Dead – Charlie Huston
already-dead1This is simply my favorite book period!  I have been a devoted fan of the Joe Pitt series (there are three more with a fourth in the works) after I reading this book.  Not one writes like Charlie Huston, and I love the noirish, gritty, alter-Manhattan world that he’s created.

Synopsis: They live among us, slaves to the very condition that empowers them. They are the Vampyre, and their sole chance at survival lies in banding into Clans. Only Joe Pitt has gone his own way. The upside is freedom. The downside is there’s nobody on his side when trouble comes around. Joe gets rough receptions from all the countless Clans shifting about on the island of Manhattan, but his current trouble is with the Coalition – the Clan that controls the city river to river, from 14th Street to 110th Street. To make things right, Joe takes on his most perilous case: The daughter of a prominent New York family is missing, and her Vampyre fascination makes Joe the ideal man for this high-stakes job. With his ferocious style, Charlie Huston offers a thrilling new twist to one of our oldest myths.

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