Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My Favorite Reads of 2017: Mysteries & Thrillers

In a year when I often wanted to tune out reality and current events, I found myself reading a lot of mysteries and thrillers. Although arguably depressing in their own right, mysteries have a way of transporting me when I read. Even when I end up rating a book 4 stars or less, I often quite enjoy the time I spend reading the book, even moreso than some books that end awesomely but are somewhat slow to get through. I find when I read mysteries, I find more minutes in the day to read. As I made this list and ranked it, I realized rankings these books by my ratings (4, 4.5, or 5 stars) wasn't the right way to go. Ratings are highly subjective and imperfect, but I recommend all of these, for a variety of reasons.

Here are my seven favorites,with a three-way tie for first place!) (As always, clicking the book covers will take you to Amazon.)

7. Final Girls by Riley Sager
The premise of this one is bleak but fascinating. It centers on Quincy Carpenter, a young woman who ten years ago went on vacation with friends and ended up surviving a massacre. She became one of only three members of what the media have dubbed final girls: women who are the sole survivors of serial killers. Sager deftly builds a world that seems all too familiar. The cases are harrowing, yet compelling and mysterious. The unlikely friendship of these three women, whose lives otherwise would never have crossed, is oddly fascinating. Final Girls unfolds in two timelines, Quincy's weekend vacation with friends and the present. I read Final Girls compulsively. The ending wasn't quite as enthralling as the journey, but I loved every minute I spent reading and thinking about this one. Sager, who published this novel under a pseudonym, left me eager to pick up his next book (The Last Time I Lied, out July 10, 2018.)

6. Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
The premise of this one is so intriguing: One night, two sisters, ages 15 and 17, go missing. Three years later, one of them comes back, and she's desperate to find her sister, whom she left behind in order to escape. But it takes quite awhile for the action to pick up after the opening scenes. I'm glad I happened to pick this to read while on vacation for Thanksgiving week. I kept picking it up because I had a moment to read rather than because I couldn't wait to see what happened, and I'm so glad I did. About half-way through, however, this novel became unputdownable. There were many delightful and surprising twists, and it more than made up for the slow start, which was needed to establish the foundation for the novel's long, satisfying climax. This novel was filled with twisty goodness.

5. The Travelers by Chris Pavone
I devoured both of Chris Pavone's previous novels (The Expats and The Accident.) The Travelers is a stand-alone, but it's thematically similar to the them. It centers on a a travel-magazine, Travelers, that early on set itself apart from the competition by being a company that both operated a travel magazine and a travel agency to make it effortless for the magazine's readers to experience the trips they read about. Genius, right? Well, it turns out many of the magazine's employees are also spies. The Travelers is a soapy, fun-filled, espionage novel filled with travel around the world. I read it when I was in Thailand in January, and it was a delightful to read it while traveling. Janet Maslin said, "when it comes to quick-witted, breathless thrillers that trot the globe, his are top-tier." I could not agree more, and I eagerly await a new one to read (and films to be made of all three!)

4. The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka
The only place I heard about this book was on Litsy, but I'm so glad I discovered this first in a series (the second, What You Want to See, comes out May 1, 2018.) It introduces Roxane Weary, a hard-drinking private investigator in Cleveland. She's such a fierce, freshly-drawn protagonist, and when I finished this novel, I realized my new favorite microgenre is feminist crime fiction featuring a hard-drinking, bisexual female protagonist. This book is all of those things, and in many ways, that makes me once of its most perfect readers. The book itself isn't perfect. At times I found Roxane to be annoyingly single-minded, and I think the title is a bit of a spoiler, but those minor missteps don't detract from this book. The resolution is awesome and satisfying, even if I guessed it before Roxane did. Lepionka is a major new voice in crime fiction, and I hope to reading Roxane Weary novels for many, many years to come.

1. Livia Lone by Barry Eisler
1. The Late Show by Michael Connelly
1. Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly (three-way tie)

Livia Lone is the first in a new series featuring the titular character, a Seattle sex crimes detective who was born in Thailand. When she was 13, her parents sold Livia (nee Labee) and her 11-year-old sister Nason). The two girls were separated when their shipping container arrived in the U.S., and Livia's drive to find her sister propels this narrative. She's straddling two worlds: her legitimate work as a police officer in Seattle, and her off the books work deep in the underbelly of sexual slavery. Livia Lone, the character and the book, are awesomely strong antidotes to the terrible realities of the child sex trade. The second in the series comes out on January 23rd, and I have it tucked on my Kindle to read while I'm in Thailand. Intrigued? It's the best $1.99 you can spend on your Kindle right now.

The Late Show is the first in a new series featuring LAPD detective Renee Ballard. One of the (many, many) things I love about Connelly's novels are that they pass in real time. Harry Bosch, the main character in the detective series of his I love the most, was born in 1950. The first mystery featuring Harry, The Black Echo, came out in 1992. I've wondered how and when Connelly will end that series, and what might come next. The Late Show attempts to answer that question, and it does so spectacularly. As a character, Renee Ballard thinks and acts a lot like Harry Bosch in her detective work, but her life outside of work looks quite different. Her work on the late show, the roving midnight shift of detectives who take initial reports but keep no cases, is also an interesting premise for mysteries going forward. The Late Show is a dynamite feminist police procedural novel and an excellent start to a series I hope is just as good and just as long-running as Harry Bosch. Connelly introduces a lot of personal and professional backstory about Ballard, but the central mystery is compelling and filled with Connelly's signature twists.

Two Kinds of Truth is the latest Harry Bosch novel, and I loved every word and twist. Harry feels like an old friend, as I've spent so many pages, books and hours with him. This mystery proves Connelly and Bosch are still at the top of their game. If you haven't started this series, do yourself a favor and pick up The Black Echo. I'm so glad I did in 2014, and I haven't stopped recommending them since. 

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