Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mysterious Reviews: The Best Mysteries of 2008

It's time once again to review (as it were) the best mysteries reviewed by Mysterious Reviews during 2008. It's a somewhat more difficult task this year as we welcomed a number of new regular and guest reviewers to our family of mystery readers. To keep things simple, we'll primarily focus our attention on the reviews of just one person, that being yours truly.

I don't know if this was a tough year for outstanding mysteries or I simply assigned the great ones to my fellow reviewers or maybe I was just cranky all year, but I rated only 4 books as best in class during 2008. In contrast, Betty and Wayne each rated over twice as many titles as 5-star mysteries. To be sure, when I compare 2008 with 2007, I rated far more books 4 stars this year, very good but just lacking something to elevate them into the top tier.

Enough analysis. Of the 75 or so mystery books I read this year, herewith are my selections as the best mysteries of 2008 (in alphabetical order by author's last name).

Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill

Curse of the Pogo Stick by

This fifth mystery in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series was an unexpected treat. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, especially after reading the publisher's synopsis, but I was inexorably drawn into this fascinating tale set in mid-1970s Laos featuring the national coroner. As I remarked in my review, "The story goes off in unexpected and delightful directions and is quite simply a joy to read. The author has a remarkable ability to introduce a rhythm, a cadence as it were, into his narrative." I was so engaged in the plot that the conclusion caught me by surprise. This is the first book I've read by Cotterill and if Curse of the Pogo Stick is typical of the series, it definitely won't be the last.

Read my complete review at .

Blackman's Coffin by Mark de Castrique

Blackman's Coffin by

It's always a risk when the author of an established mystery series creates a new series character. It seems to invite inevitable, and probably unfair, comparisons between the two. Yet Mark de Castrique, author of the so-called "Buryin' Barry" mysteries featuring undertaker Barry Clayton, did just that this year with Blackman's Coffin, introducing Iraqi war veteran Sam Blackman. And what a magnificent start to a new series. In my review I said, "[This] is a terrific mystery embedded in a well-crafted tale with a fascinating historical background, and is populated with richly drawn, interesting characters that readers will want to see again." While I hope de Castrique continues the Buryin' Barry mysteries, two of which I've read and reviewed, I'm really looking forward to Sam Blackman's next case.

Read my complete review at .

Head Wounds by Chris Knopf

Head Wounds by

This third entry in the Sam Acquillo series was another that caught me off-guard, always a positive trait for a top-rated mystery. I was expecting a more-or-less standard private eye investigation but instead was treated to what I said was "an exceptional novel, in both character and setting, but most importantly in how the plot develops." I was also caught up in Knopf's narrative style, what I called "marvelous examples of literary engineering", passages that in any other context would seem excessive or even absurd, but here simply added to the mystique of the story. There is an especially interesting twist introduced early that will certainly have any reader doubting exactly how the book will end. All in all, Head Wounds is an outstanding effort.

Read my complete review at .

A Grave in Gaza by Matt Beynon Rees

A Grave in Gaza by

I read Matt Beynon Rees' second mystery featuring Palestinian school teacher Omar Yussef, A Grave in Gaza, early in the year and knew even then that "with its expressive narrative, intricate plot, and even its subtly clever title" it would rank among the year's best. As I stated in my review, this book is not a standard mystery or whodunit but a puzzle, and that "it is up to Omar Yussef to arrange the pieces of these disparate events to form a clear picture of not what has happened, that he already knows, but why it happened." Rees has a flair for immersing the reader into his atmospheric setting so much so you can almost taste the dust that lingers in the air. A truly exceptional novel by any measure.

Read my complete review at .

And now the lists of the best mysteries of 2008 from two of our regular reviewers (in alphabetical order, with links to their reviews, through the date of this post).

Betty's 5 star books: Diablo's Shadow by Mark W. Danielson, The Dark Tide by Andrew Gross, Orphan by Harry Haines, Silent Thunder by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen, Twisted by Andrea Kane, The Clockwork Teddy by John J. Lamb, Wobble to Death by Peter Lovesey, First Daughter by Eric Van Lustbader, Shadow of Power by Steve Martini, The Marshal Makes His Report by Magdalen Nabb, Cezanne's Quarry by Barbara Corrado Pope, Mercy Street by Mariah Stewart, and A Pale Horse by Charles Todd.

Wayne's 5 star books: The Outlander by Gil Adamson, The Last Enemy by Grace Brophy, Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill, Garcia's Heart by Liam Durcan, Die With Me by Elena Forbes, Reconstruction by Mick Herron, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, Rigged for Murder by Jenifer LeClair, Death in the Air by Shane Peacock, Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock, Trumpets Sound No More by Jon Redfern, and A Twist of Orchids by Michelle Wan.

For more visit Mysterious Reviews, a partner with the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books which is committed to providing readers and collectors of with the best and most current information about their favorite authors, titles, and series.

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