Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mysterious Reviews: The Best Mysteries of 2011

Mysterious Reviews

The title of this post is a little misleading, as the books listed below aren't necessarily the best mysteries of 2011, only the ones I most enjoyed reading and was most enthusiastic in reviewing. Only seven titles received my top rating of 5 stars — or diamonds, since that's the symbol I've chosen to use on the review summary page — but I am also listing six "honorable mention" books that would have received 4½ stars, if I actually had such a rating.

Another quick note: I'm only including those books I reviewed in this post. We oten feature guest reviewers; their choices as the best mysteries of the year aren't included here.

Herewith the best crime novels — mysteries, suspense novels, thrillers — reviewed by Mysterious Reviews during 2011, listed alphabetically by author.

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Devil-Devil by Graeme Kent
Devil-Devil by Graeme Kent

Devil-Devil by Graeme Kent
Soho Crime (February 2011 Hardcover)

Of the three things I typically look for in a mystery — solid plot/storyline, strong characters, interesting setting — sometimes it only takes one to capture my imagination and set it apart from all the others. It's rare when it's all three, yet that is the case here. Nearly everything works well together: the incredibly realized characters, the spectacular setting, and an intriguing whodunit-style plot. This is an extraordinary debut.

Read the complete text of my review at Mysterious Reviews: Devil-Devil by Graeme Kent.

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Bad Bird by Chris Knopf
Bad Bird by Chris Knopf

Bad Bird by Chris Knopf
Minotaur Books (February 2011 Hardcover)

Chris Knopf frequently appears on my "best of" lists, and with good reason. I find his characters engaging and appealing, and his murder mystery plots, which tend to be deceptively simple on the surface, and delightfully complicated without being obtuse or contrived. Bad Bird is the second mystery in this series, which is actually a spin-off of his Sam Acquillo mysteries, another outstanding series of crime novels.

Read the complete text of my review at Mysterious Reviews: Bad Bird by Chris Knopf.

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Storm Damage by Ed Kovacs
Storm Damage by Ed Kovacs

Storm Damage by Ed Kovacs
Minotaur Books (December 2011 Hardcover)

Storm Damage is another first-rate debut with a strongly developed lead character. I really enjoyed how the plot unfolded — this is definitely a mystery that's hard to predict what's going to happen next — though I dinged it ever so slightly in my review for leaning a bit too heavily on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans.

Read the complete text of my review at Mysterious Reviews: Storm Damage by Ed Kovacs.

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Northwest Angle by William Kent Krueger
Northwest Angle by William Kent Krueger

Northwest Angle by William Kent Krueger
Atria Books (August 2011 Hardcover)

Rarely do I characterize a novel as heart-pounding suspense, but that's exactly what this one is. Crisply written, it takes place in a remote region of Minnesota, a setting that enhances an already thrilling storyline. Cork O'Connor's mentor Henry Meloux is one of the best supporting characters in any series, and it's always a pleasure to revisit him. As I stated in my review, "This find series just keeps getting better."

Read the complete text of my review at Mysterious Reviews: Northwest Angle by William Kent Krueger.

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East on Sunset by Ken Mercer
East on Sunset by Ken Mercer

East on Sunset by Ken Mercer
Minotaur Books (June 2011 Hardcover)

I must say, my expectations for this novel were low given I really didn't enjoy its predecessor, the first in the series. Suffice it to say, no one was more surprised than me when I found myself riveted to the storyline here. I think a comment from my review sums it up best: "There are no eye-rolling 'gotcha' twists in East on Sunset; rather the reader will likely feel in the end as if they were being smartly played ... and they were."

Read the complete text of my review at Mysterious Reviews: East on Sunset by Ken Mercer.

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All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen
All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen

All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen
The Permanent Press (September 2011 Hardcover)

There is a quiet confidence in this novel, from its strongly developed lead character to its really complicated — but in a good way — plot, that suggests the author has been at it for quite some time. Yet it is his first book, and simply stated it's a terrific one. I will be very surprised if this title doesn't appear as a nominee for best first mystery when awards are announced next year.

Read the complete text of my review at Mysterious Reviews: All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen.

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Liquid Smoke by Jeff Shelby
Liquid Smoke by Jeff Shelby

Liquid Smoke by Jeff Shelby
Tyrus Books (September 2011 Hardcover)

This relatively short, fast-paced mystery surprised me from the very beginning. It is an example of crime novel with a superficially predictable storyline that isn't, unfolding in unexpected ways. I had to include a minor spoiler in my review since the book's ending had me guessing as well: "It's hard to believe this character won't be heard from again, but it's also hard to see how he can return."

Read the complete text of my review at Mysterious Reviews: Liquid Smoke by Jeff Shelby.

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And now six mysteries that are definitely worth seeking out, but — for often really minor issues — didn't quite make the top tier on my list this year.

Hurt Machine by Reed Farrel Coleman. Tyrus Books (December 2011 Hardcover). One of the best murder mystery plots of the year … but with a narrative burdened by Moe Prager's diagnosis of stomach cancer.

The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming. St. Martin's Press (March 2011 Hardcover). A nuanced, smartly written thriller … but overly convoluted at times, and unnecessarily so.

Wyatt by Garry Disher. Soho Crime (August 2011 Hardcover). This winner of the 2010 Ned Kelly Award is a prequel to the series. Solidly written … but slightly uneven.

Trespasser by Paul Doiron. Minotaur Books (June 2011 Hardcover). Atmospheric with a well-crafted plot and a strong lead character … but not quite as polished as it could have been.

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey. Dutton (June 2011 Hardcover). One of the more original, cleverly devised crime novel plots of the year … but some story elements seem overly contrived.

Thick as Thieves by Peter Spiegelman. Knopf (July 2011 Hardcover). A crime caper novel with a superior storyline … but one that can be hard to follow at times and relies on an overused plot device in the end.

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