2010 Holiday Gift Guide for Mystery Fans
I could’ve called this post “The Sequel Spectacular!” Not only have several follow-ups been written to amazing debut novels in 2008 and 2009, but heavyweights, like Olen Steinhauer and Barry Eisler, also started their own series and have written sequels in 2010. Furthermore, there were two amazing short story anthologies in 2010 that are a must this holiday season. Finally, don’t miss my “Ultimate Gift” selection.
This gift guide should have everything you need for the mystery or thriller reader on your list.
Sequels in a Great Series:
Collusion [Jack Lennon #2] by Stuart Neville (2010)
The thrilling sequel to one of the best debuts of 2009 – The Ghost of Belfast (also known as The Twelve in the UK).
Synopsis: Former paramilitary killer Gerry Fegan wanders New York City, hiding from a past he escaped at terrible cost. But he made a fatal mistake: he spared the life of Bull O’Kane, a ruthless man who will stop at nothing to get his revenge. Too many witnesses survived a bloody battle at his border farm, and now he wants them silenced, whether man, woman or child. O’Kane calls the Traveller, an assassin without pity or remorse, a killer of the purest kind. Back in Belfast, Detective Inspector Jack Lennon, father of one the witnesses, is caught up in a web of official secrets and lies as he tries to uncover the whereabouts of his daughter. The closer he gets to the truth about the events on O’Kane’s border farm, the more his superiors instruct him to back off. When Fegan realises he can’t shake off the trail of violence that has followed him across the world, he has no choice but to return to Belfast and confront his past. The Traveller awaits Fegan’s return, ready for the fight of his life. A fast-paced thriller about duty and revenge, Collusion is the blistering sequel to The Twelve, one of the most highly acclaimed debuts of recent years.
Print the Legend [Hector Lassiter #3] by Craig McDonald (2010)
Starting with Head Games, and then with Toros & Torsos, McDonald’s hard-boiled prose just captivates.
Synopsis: It was the shot heard around the world: On July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway died from a shotgun blast to the head… 4 years later, two men have come to Idaho to confront the widow Hemingway—men who have doubts about the circumstances of Hemingway’s death. One is crime novelist Hector Lassiter, the oldest and best of Hem’s friends…the last man standing of the Lost Generation. Hector has heard rumors of some surviving Hemingway manuscripts: a “lost” chapter of A Moveable Feast and a full-length novel written by a deluded Hemingway that Hector fears might compromise his own reputation. The other man is professor Richard Paulson, who along with his pregnant wife Hannah, herself an aspiring writer, is bent on proving that Mary Hemingway murdered Papa. As Hector digs into the mystery of Hemingway’s lost writings, he uncovers an audacious, decades-long conspiracy tied to the emergent art movements of 1920’s Paris, the most duplicitous of Cold War espionage tactics, and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI…
Inside Out [Ben Treven #2] by Barry Eisler (2010)
In this sequel to Fault Line, Eisler continues to thrill readers with his knowledge of government secrets and clandestine operations.
Synopsis: Torture. Ghost detainees. And a massive cover-up that continues even today. This is the propulsive thriller that only former CIA operative turned bestselling novelist Barry Eisler could write. Marooned in a Manila jail after a bar fight fatality, black ops soldier Ben Treven gets a visit from his former commander, Colonel Scott Horton, who explains the price of Ben’s release: Find and eliminate Daniel Larison, a rogue operator from Ben’s unit who has stolen ninety-two torture tapes from the CIA and is using them to blackmail the U.S. government. But other players are after the tapes, too, and to find Larison, Ben will have to survive CIA hit teams, Blackwater mercenaries, and the long reach of the White House. He’ll also have to find a way to handle Paula Lanier, a smart, sexy FBI agent who has her own reasons for wanting the tapes and is determined to get them before Ben does. With the stakes this high, everyone has an angle—everyone but Ben, who will have to find the right alliance if he wants to stay alive.
The Reversal [Mickey Haller #3 and Harry Bosch #15] by Michael Connelly (2010)
Michael Connelly combines the two heroes of his series in a legal thriller that only he can pull off. This an outstanding sequel to The Lincoln Lawyer and The Brass Verdict.
Synopsis: When Mickey Haller is invited by the Los Angeles County District Attorney to prosecute a case for him, he knows something strange is going on. Mickey’s a defense lawyer, one of the best in the business, and to switch sides like this would be akin to asking a fox to guard the hen-house. But the high-profile case of Jason Jessup, a convicted child-killer who spent almost 25 years on death row before DNA evidence freed him, is an intriguing one – particularly since the DA’s determination to re-charge and re-try him for the same crime seems doomed to failure. Eager for the publicity and drawn to the challenge, Mickey takes the case, with Detective Harry Bosch on board as his lead investigator. But as a new trial date is set, it starts to look like he’s been set up, with the renewed prosecution merely a tactic to prevent Jessup from successfully suing the state and county for millions of dollars. To avoid humiliation, Mickey and Harry are going to have to dig deep into the past and find the truth about Melissa Landy and what really happened to her all those years ago.
Moonlight Mile [Patrick McKenzie #6] by Dennis Lehane (2010)
Last seen in 1999’s Prayers for Rain, Patrick McKenzie and Angie Gennaro continue their pursuit for justice stemming from the controversial ending of Gone, Baby, Gone.
Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Amanda McCready has disappeared. Her anxious aunt contacts Patrick Kenzie to investigate. It is not the first time she has gone missing, as Patrick well knows – he was the investigator who worked on her case when she was kidnapped before, as a four-year-old. But this is not a simple case of a runaway girl. In fact, nothing in Amanda’s life has been simple: brought up by the world’s worst mother, neglected throughout her childhood, she has nonetheless blossomed into a formidably intelligent young woman. A young woman so bright that she can seemingly out-think and out-manoeuvre anyone…For Patrick, the case leads him down Boston’s darkest, most dangerous streets and into a world of shocking secrets that will threaten not only Amanda’s life, but also his own and that of his partner Angie Gennaro.
The Nearest Exit [Milo Weaver #2] by Olen Steinhauer (2010)
The thrilling sequel to last year’s espionage masterpiece – The Tourist.
Synopsis: ‘The first rule of Tourism is not to let it ruin you. Because it can. Easily.’ The Department of Tourism is an ultra-secret black-ops branch rumoured to carry out the CIA’s dirtiest and deadliest work. Most agents don’t even believe it exists. Milo Weaver knows otherwise. Trained to kill cleanly and keep moving, he is a Tourist that understands the rules. Don’t ask questions. Don’t form attachments. Don’t look back. But Milo is the only Tourist with a daughter. When he is told to assassinate a teenage girl, his commitment to the cause starts to crumble – and for the first time, he disobeys his orders. The consequences pull him down into a complex world of clandestine government warfare, but Milo’s own battle is with his conscience. When a security breach threatens the very existence of Tourism, will he choose to save his job, his family, or himself?
The Rembrandt Affair [Gabriel Allon #10] by Daniel Silva (2010)
Since Jason Bourne, there hasn’t been a better character than Gabriel Allon.
Synopsis: Two families, one terrible secret, and a painting to die for . . . Glastonbury, an art restorer, has been brutally murdered, and the newly discovered Rembrandt he was working on has disappeared. For spy turned art restorer Gabriel Allon, it has been six months since his final showdown with the murderous Russian oligarch and arms dealer Ivan Kharkov. He has severed his ties with the Office with only one thing in mind: recovery. But this unspeakable act of violence once again draws Allon into a world of danger he thought he had left behind for ever. Allon is persuaded to use his unique skills to trace the painting and those responsible for the crimes. As he investigates, he discovers there are terrible secrets connected to the painting, and terrible men behind them. Before he is done, he will have undertaken a journey through some of the twentieth century’s darkest history – and come face to face with some of the same darkness within himself.
Dexter Is Delicious [Dexter Morgan #5] by Jeff Lindsay (2010)
After some artful experimenting, Lindsay finally has his series back on track. If you love HBO’s Dexter, you’ll enjoy Lindsay’s sick humor in this latest thriller in the series.
Synopsis: Everything’s changing for our friendly neighbourhood serial killer. As if getting married wasn’t enough to complete his nice-guy persona, Dex is now the proud father of a baby girl. And disconcertingly, he actually seems to care. But even if fatherhood is distracting Dexter from his midnight excursions to rid Miami of a few more lowlifes, there’s no let-up at work. Two young girls are missing – and it’s not long before one of the bodies turns up, partially eaten. But as Dexter and Miami PD’s finest investigate, Dex can’t shake the feeling that somebody’s watching him… At home, there’s no rest for the wicked. His stepchildren are clamouring to learn how to control their bloodlust and Dexter must train up his young apprentices. But to do that, he’ll have to find the missing girl, find out who’s tailing him and survive a dark journey into a underground community who really have a taste for death.
On the Line [Lydia Chin & Bill Smith #10] by S.J. Rozan (2010)
Readers can’t go wrong with a S.J. Rozan mystery novel, she’s one of the best P.I. writers in the business.
Synopsis: P.I. Bill Smith is sent on a high stakes chase when an electronically modified voice on his cell phone informs him that Lydia Chin, his occasional partner, has been kidnapped. Now if Bill wants to keep Lydia alive, he’ll have to play an elaborate game of the kidnapper’s devising. The first move sends him to an abandoned building where Bill finds the corpse of a small Chinese woman dressed like Lydia and the building being rapidly surrounded by police. Now Bill is on the run from the cops and in the worst trouble of his very troubled life. With the help of Lydia’s hacker cousin Linus, and Linus’s cohort Trella, Bill has to not only stay one step ahead of the cops, he has to uncover the secret behind the kidnapper’s identity and the reason he’s come after Bill, if he’s to reach Lydia before it’s too late.
Dead of Winter [John Madden #3] by Rennie Airth (2010)
After a disappointing sequel to his highly-acclaimed A River of Darkness, Airth’s last book in the series is a winner.
Synopsis: During a blackout on the streets of London on a freezing evening in late 1944, a young Polish land girl, Rosa Nowak, is suddenly and brutally killed. For the police, their resources already stretched by war regulations and the thriving black market, this is a shocking and seemingly random crime. No one can find any reason why someone would want to murder an innocent refugee. For the former police inspector John Madden, the crime hits close to home. Rosa was working on his farm and he feels personally responsible for not protecting her. His old colleagues Angus Sinclair and Billy Styles are still at the Yard, but struggle to make sense of their few clues. Their only lead points towards war-torn Europe – but as the fighting sweeps across the continent, will they find the killer before he strikes again?
A Bad Day for Pretty [Stella Hardesty #2] by Sophie Littlefield (2010)
Sailing high off of all the awards she won last year for her debut crime novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, Sophie Littlefield pens another novel featuring Stella Hardesty.
Synopsis: Stella Hardesty, avenger of wronged women, is getting cozy with Sheriff “Goat” Jones when a tornado blows none other than Goat’s scheming ex-wife, Brandy, through the front door. Adding to the chaos, the tornado destroys the snack shack at the demolition derby track, pulling up the concrete foundation and unearthing a woman’s body. The main suspect in the woman’s murder is Neb Donovan—he laid the foundation, and there’s some pretty hard evidence pointing to his guilt. Years ago, Neb’s wife asked Stella for help getting him sober. Stella doesn’t believe the gentle man could kill anyone, and she promises his frantic wife she’ll look into it. Former client Chrissy Shaw is now employed at Stella’s sewing shop and she helps with the snooping as Stella negotiates the unpredictable Brandy and the dangerously magnetic sheriff.
Not to be Missed – My Favorite Reads of 2010
Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton (2010)
Synopsis: Michael hit the headlines once before, a seven-year-old kid the papers called The Miracle Boy on account of how he survived the terrible incident that took his parents. But although his escape was miraculous, it left him unable to speak. Taunted as a freak, school becomes a fresh nightmare, until Michael discovers he has a special talent that makes people sit up and take notice: he can open locks. But a teenage prank burglarizing the house of a rival school’s quarterback lands him in hot water, and despite his best intentions, Michael soon finds himself on a downward slope that ends with expert instruction on how to open safes. And unless he agrees to put his newfound skills to use, the mob are going to kill the father of the girl he now loves. So begins an extraordinary life of crime – at once terrifying and exhilarating – while all the while, Michael plots how to turn the tables on his employer, win back Amelia, and find the key to unlocking his traumatic childhood memories.
Expiration Date by Duane Swiercynski (2010)
Synopsis: Mickey Wade is a recently-unemployed journalist who lucked into a rent-free apartment—his sick grandfather’s place. The only problem: it’s in a lousy neighborhood—the one where Mickey grew up, in fact. The one he was so desperate to escape. But now he’s back. Dead broke. And just when he thinks he’s reached rock bottom, Mickey wakes up in the past. Literally. At first he thinks it’s a dream. All of the stores he remembered from his childhood, the cars, the rumble of the elevated train. But as he digs deeper into the past, searching for answers about the grandfather he hardly knows, Mickey meets the twelve-year-old kid who lives in the apartment below.
The kid who will grow up to someday murder Mickey’s father.
Now in Paperback
The Last Child by John Hart (2009) – Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel
Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon has to face things no boy his age should face. In the year since his twin sister’s abduction his world has fallen apart: his father has disappeared and his fragile mother is spiralling into ever deeper despair. Johnny keeps strong. Armed with a map, a bike and a flashlight, he stalks the bad men of Raven County. The police might have given up on Alyssa; he never will. Someone, somewhere, knows something they’re not telling.Only one person looks out for Johnny. Detective Clyde Hunt shares his obsession with the case. But when Johnny witnesses a hit-and-run and insists the victim was killed because he’d found Alyssa, even Hunt thinks he’s lost it. And then another young girl goes missing …
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston (2009)
Synopsis: With his teaching career derailed by tragedy and his slacker days numbered, Webster Fillmore Goodhue makes an unlikely move and joins Clean Team, charged with tidying up L.A.’s grisly crime scenes. For Web, it’s a steady gig, and he soon finds himself sponging a Malibu suicide’s brains from a bathroom mirror and flirting with the man’s bereaved and beautiful daughter. Then things get weird: The dead man’s daughter asks a favor. Every cell in Web’s brain tells him to turn her down, but something makes him hit the Harbor Freeway at midnight to help her however he can. Soon enough it’s Web who needs the help when gun-toting California cowboys start showing up on his doorstep. What’s the deal? Is it something to do with what he cleaned up in that motel room in Carson? Or is it all about the brewing war between rival trauma cleaners? Web doesn’t have a clue, but he’ll need to get one if he’s going to keep from getting his face kicked in. Again. And again. And again.
The Way Home by George Pelecanos (2009)
Synopsis: Hidden beneath the floorboards in a house he’s remodeling, Christopher Flynn discovers something very tempting-and troubling. Summoning every bit of maturity and every lesson he’s learned the hard way, Chris leaves what he found where he found it and tells his job partner to forget it, too. Knowing trouble when he sees it-and walking the other way-is a habit Chris is still learning. Chris’s father, Thomas Flynn, runs the family business where Chris and his friends have found work. Thomas is just getting comfortable with the idea that his son is grown, working, and on the right path at last. Then one day Chris doesn’t show up for work-and his father knows deep in his bones that danger has found him. Although he wishes it weren’t so, he also knows that no parent can protect a child from all the world’s evils. Sometimes you have to let them find their own way home.
Nemesis by Jo Nesbo (2009)
Synopsis: Grainy closed-circuit television footage shows a man walking into an Oslo bank and putting a gun to a cashier’s head. He tells the young woman to count to twenty-five. When the robber doesn’t get his money in time, the cashier is executed, and two million Norwegian kroner disappear without a trace. Police Detective Harry Hole is assigned to the case. While Hole’s girlfriend is away in Russia, an old flame decides to get in touch. Former girlfriend and struggling artist Anna Bethsen invites Hole to dinner, and he can’t resist a visit. But the evening ends in an all too familiar way as Hole awakens with a thundering headache, a missing cell phone, and no memory of the past twelve hours. That same morning, Anna is found shot dead in her bed. Hole begins to receive threatening e-mails. Is someone trying to frame him for this unexplained death? Meanwhile, the bank robberies continue with unparalleled savagery. As the death toll continues to mount, Hole becomes a prime suspect in a criminal investigation led by his longtime adversary Tom Waaler and Waaler’s vigilante police force. Racing from the cool, autumnal streets of Oslo to the steaming villages of Brazil, Hole is determined to absolve himself of suspicion by uncovering all the information needed to crack both cases. But the ever-threatening Waaler is not finished with his old archenemy quite yet.
New Authors to Read
A Cure for Night by Justin Peacock (2008) – If you’re a fan of HBO’s The Wire like me, you’ll love this book about the gritty streets of New York.
Synopsis: Joel Deveraux is a rising star at a white-shoe law firm in Manhattan. But after a drug-related scandal costs him his job and nearly his law license, he slides down the corporate ladder to the Booklyn Defenders office. He arrives just in time for a high profile murder case, where he is assigned to work with the tough and savvy Myra Goldstein. With pressure from their boss and interest from the tabloids, they take on the defense of a black pot dealer from the projects who is charged with the murder of a white college student. Joel quickly learns that urban criminal law is a form of combat where the best story wins–but who’s telling the truth and who’s lying are matters of life and death.
Sweetsmoke by David Fuller (2008) – I LOVED this book!
Synopsis: The American Civil War is in full flame, and tobacco plantation slave Cassius Howard finds he must risk everything to learn the brutal truth concerning the murder of Emoline Justice, the freed black woman who secretly taught him to read and who once saved his life. Against an epic backdrop and with fleeting moments of redemptive passion, Sweetsmoke captures brilliantly the daily indignities and harrowing losses suffered by slaves, as well as the turmoil of a country waging countless wars within itself, and the lives of myriad people fighting for freedom.
Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks (2009) – Winner of the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel
Synopsis: Four bodies, each with a single bullet wound in the back of the head, stacked like cordwood in a weed-choked vacant lot: That’s the front-page news facing Carter Ross, investigative reporter with the Newark Eagle-Examiner. Immediately dispatched to the scene, Carter learns that the four victims—an exotic dancer, a drug dealer, a hustler, and a mama’s boy—came from different parts of the city and didn’t seem to know one another. The police, eager to calm jittery residents, leak a theory that the murders are revenge for a bar stickup, and Carter’s paper, hungry for a scoop, hastily prints it. Carter doesn’t come from the streets, but he understands a thing or two about Newark’s neighborhoods. And he knows there are no quick answers when dealing with a crime like this. Determined to uncover the true story, he enlists the aide of Tina Thompson, the paper’s smoking-hot city editor, to run interference at the office; Tommy Hernandez, the paper’s gay Cuban intern, to help him with legwork on the streets; and Tynesha Dales, a local stripper, to take him to Newark’s underside. It turns out that the four victims have one connection after all, and this knowledge will put Carter on the path of one very ambitious killer.
Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan (2009)
Synopsis: David Loogan is leading a new and quietly anonymous life in a new town. But his solitude is broken when he finds himself drawn into a friendship with Tom Kristoll, the melancholy publisher of the crime magazine Gray Streets – and into an affair with Laura, Tom’s sleek blond wife. When Tom offers him a job as an editor, Loogan sees no harm in accepting. What he doesn’t realise is that the stories in Gray Streets tend to follow a simple formula: PLANS GO WRONG. BAD THINGS HAPPEN. PEOPLE DIE. Then one night David’s new boss phones him in a panic, asking him to come to his house immediately. And bring a shovel…
Rizzo’s War by Lou Manfredo (2010)
Synopsis: ‘There’s no wrong, there’s no right, there just is.’ This is the refrain of Joe Rizzo, a decades-long veteran of the NYPD, as he passes on the knowledge of his years of experience to his ambitious new partner, Mike McQueen, over a year of riding together as detectives in the Sixty-second Precinct in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. McQueen is fresh from the beat in Manhattan, and Bensonhurst might as well be China for how different it is. They work on several cases, some big, some small, but the lesson is always the same. Whether it’s a simple robbery or an attempted assault, Rizzo’s saying always seems to bear out. When the two detectives are given the delicate task of finding and returning the runaway daughter of a city councilman, who may or may not be more interested in something his daughter has taken with her than in her safety, the situation is much more complex. By the end of Rizzo and McQueen’s year together, however, McQueen is not surprised to discover that even in those more complicated cases, Rizzo is still right-there’s no wrong, there’s no right, there just is.
Short Story Anthologies
The Best American Noir of the Century by Otto Penzler and James Ellroy, editors (2010)
Synopsis: In his introduction to the The Best American Noir of the Century, James Ellroy writes, “noir is the most scrutinized offshoot of the hard-boiled school of fiction. It’s the long drop off the short pier and the wrong man and the wrong woman in perfect misalliance. It’s the nightmare of flawed souls with big dreams and the precise how and why of the all-time sure thing that goes bad.” Offering the best examples of literary sure things gone bad, this collection ensures that nowhere else can readers find a darker, more thorough distillation of American noir fiction. James Ellroy and Otto Penzler, series editor of the annual The Best American Mystery Stories, mined one hundred years of writing—1910–2010—to find this treasure trove of thirty-nine stories. From noir’s twenties-era infancy come gems like James M. Cain’s “Pastorale,” and its post-war heyday boasts giants like Mickey Spillane and Evan Hunter. Packing an undeniable punch, diverse contemporary incarnations include Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith, Joyce Carol Oates, Dennis Lehane, and William Gay, with many page-turners appearing in the last decade.
First Thrills: High-Octane Stories from the Hottest Thriller Authors by Lee Child, editor (2010)
Synopsis: New York Times bestselling author Lee Child and the International Thriller Writers, Inc. present a collection of remarkable stories in First Thrills. Showcasing many of the organization’s bestselling authors as well as rising stars in the genre, here are twenty-five brand-new, never-before published, stories packed with murder, mystery, and mayhem. A cunning criminal thinks he can use a child to take the rap for his crimes. A hospital intern turned body-snatcher. A priest who comes face to face with his wife’s murderer on death row. A confederate soldier comes home to his love, but changed by more than just the war….he comes back wrong. The discovery of a flying saucer in the deep sea brings one man to the brink of a massive revelation. A dying man’s last request proves to his ex-wife that he’s still rotten to the core. A clandestine operative finds himself caught in a wicked game of confusion . . . but who is calling the shots? No matter what type of thriller you read, you’ll find something here that will entertain you . . . and perhaps a new writer you’ll cherish for years to come.
The Ultimate Gift
Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy Deluxe Boxed Set (2010)
Synopsis: Readers all across America are talking about Stieg Larsson’s #1 best-selling trilogy—The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest—which has more than 5 million copies in print. Now, just in time for the holidays: a deluxe, slip-cased set of the three hardcover novels—each unjacketed, bound in full cloth and uniquely stamped, with maps and individual full-color endpapers—as well as On Stieg Larsson, a previously unpublished collection of essays about and correspondence with the author. The perfect collectible for the Stieg Larsson fan and the ideal gift for those who have yet to meet his heroine, Lisbeth Salander, “one of the most fascinating characters in modern genre fiction” (San Francisco Chronicle).