Favorite Books of 2014
Murder by the Book’s 2014 Stars
Awarded by Barbara Tom, one of the former owners of MBTB.
Ghost Month ($26.95) by Ed Lin: Ed Lin has given his readers a Taiwan vivid with scents, tastes, and clashing politics and culture. Jing-nan, Lin’s protagonist, explains, “We have twenty-three million people, the same population as Texas, packed on an island slightly bigger than Maryland.” Ghost Month is a book with a great sense of place, a good story, interesting characters, and a tender heart.
North of Boston ($16.00) by Elisabeth Elo: Elisabeth Elo is a kick-ass author, and she has created a kick-ass character. I wondered at first why she had given her main character, Pirio Kasparov, a super-human characteristic. Pirio can endure for hours in extremely cold water that would kill an ordinary person within a few minutes. Elo does a great job with her heroes and villains. She puts Pirio in jeopardy to show off how mentally tough she is. She discourses on perfume, the fishing industry, and 10-year-old boys and makes them all interesting. And finally, she finds a use for Pirio’s extreme talent, and not in a science-fiction-y way.
Plaster City ($14.95) by Johnny Shaw: Shaw has a way with words when describing the hot, arid, isolated area where most of the action takes place, and in describing the people, both law-abiding and criminal (and those who are a little of both), who live in those areas as well. There is a lot of action — hey, it’s a Johnny Shaw book — but some of the best moments are the quiet ones, especially the last few pages of the book. It is the path down which Shaw takes his characters that reveals his true writer’s mettle, and it is awesome.
Standing in Another Man’s Grave ($15.00) by Ian Rankin: Standing in Another Man’s Grave is Scottish author Ian Rankin’s twentieth book in his John Rebus series set in Edinburgh. That’s an impressive number in and of itself, but what is more spectacular is how good Rankin’s stories still are. Standing flows with humor, good pacing, interesting characters, and an obvious love of his home country.
The Gods of Guilt ($10.00) by Michael Connelly: How low can Mickey Haller go? His daughter won’t talk to him, his wife is in DA purgatory (for having supported his candidacy), he has an office to support (granted his “office” is in the vacant part of a building in foreclosure), and his staff of Lorna (his office manager and also an ex-wife), Cisco (investigator and Lorna’s husband), Earl (the driver of the famous Lincoln Town Car), and Jennifer (the hankering-to-get-going new associate) needs direction and paychecks. Add a major crime and stir.
The Last Policeman ($14.95) by Ben H. Winters: When The Last Policeman opens, an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth, and there’s no Bruce Willis counterpart to save mankind. Clever and beguiling, heartrending and darkly humorous at times and despite what I originally thought in 2012 when glancing at the back cover description, this is not a sci-fi novel. Sure, it has an apocalyptic premise, but this story is about human nature, about how hearts break and are healed, about how people can rise or fall when faced with the ultimate crisis. The Last Policeman won Ben H. Winters the Edgar Award for Best Original Paperback in 2012.
The Reckoning ($26.95 ) by Rennie Airth: British author Rennie Airth has taken his time releasing the books in his John Madden series. The critically praised River of Darkness, the first in the series, came out in 1999 and it has been five years between The Reckoning and the third book in the series, The Dead of Winter. Airth’s characters have also traveled through time, moving from Britain after World War I to right after World War II, the time period of The Reckoning. Airth’s tales hinge on how some of the young men and women who went off to fight a righteous war came back with a horrifying knowledge of what they and others were capable.
Wolf in White Van ($24.00) by: John Darnielle: This is a psychological mystery, not a criminal one. And it blew my socks off! Apparently it blew the socks off the nominating members of the National Book Award committee as well. It has been longlisted for this year’s fiction award. Sean Phillips suffered a debilitating injury at the age of 17. Wolf in White Van flicks between flashbacks of the time surrounding the disabling event and Sean’s life many years later. It’s not just the snaking plot that is compelling; the writing is grade-A-quirky.
Barbara’s complete reviews of each title can be found on the
MBTB’s Mystery Book Blog:
This year’s winner of the most awards given to a single author is William Kent Krueger for Ordinary Grace ($16.00). Kent (as he is known to his friends and family) is best known for his award winning series featuring Cork O’Connor, a sheriff in upstate Minnesota. Ordinary Grace is a departure for the author, it is a story set in the 1960s centering around 13 year old Frank Drum and his family. Now middle-aged, Frank looks back to a time in his life when things appeared simpler and a summer where everything changed for his family and his small town. The events of that summer, including the mysterious death of his friend Bobby, make for a a fascinating coming-of-age story. When asked what prompted him to set aside his series and write a standalone set in the 1960s, Krueger said: “This was a story that, when it came to me, I couldn’t ignore. It was that simple. I’d been wanting for some time to do a piece of writing that would allow me to revisit the past, to evoke a time that was important in my own life. I also wanted to write something that would allow me to explore the whole question of the spiritual journey, something that’s always been very important to me. When the character of Frank Drum, the minister’s son and the story’s narrator, formed fully in my thinking, Ordinary Grace seemed to drop out of heaven right into my lap. It was so compelling that it haunted me constantly until I finally put it to paper. In some ways, Ordinary Grace was problematic. It wasn’t a contracted manuscript. In fact, I wasn’t sure it would be the kind of book my publisher would even want.”
In closing, a few titles that I read and enjoyed this past year:
The Long Way Home ($27.99) by Louise Penny: The 10th in a series that has become one of my favorites. I always write down at least one or two lines that one of her finely drawn characters say.
The Secret Place ($27.95) by Tana French: Irish to the core, her setting and characters make for a compelling read. She never ceases to surprise me with her twisty plots.
The Silkworm ($28.00) by Robert Galbraith: The second in a series featuring the deeply flawed and extremely likeable Cormoran Strike. (pssst, Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling!)
This Dark Road to Mercy ($14.99) by Wiley Cash: I do like a good mystery set in the South. This story of two young sisters and their troubled father grabbed me from the first page.
A Dangerous Fiction ($14.99) by Barbara Rogan: An insider’s view of the cut-throat world of publishing, this is a first in a series with literary agent Jo Donovan.