Last year Auntie M reviewed around 145 books in 85 posts plus hosting guests. Those don’t include the books she reads for herself, like the one her grand-daughter loved and insisted she read (Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See—she loved it, too!); or for sheer delight, like the Judi Dench photo-autobiography Behind the Scenes (huge Dench fan).
Out of all of those books, there are always those that remain firmly in her mind as ones where she’s looking forward to more from these authors. They impress her for their creativity, their characters, their storytelling. In no particular order, she went through her posts and pulled out these highlights, most of which received her “highly recommended” citation. There could have been even more . . .
London Rain by Nicola Upson: Her Josephine Tey series continues with a strong entry, set in 1927 London at the time the BBC ruled the radio and broadcasting. Well-researched and written, with absorbing characters and a few twists you won’t see coming, set against the backdrop of the Coronation of George VI. An accomplished series.
The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths and This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham: One of the most unusual and compelling characters to head a series, Griffiths remains a feisty detective in search of her past and herself whilst she figures out how to be human. The second was not formally reviewed so let Auntie M add here that Fiona’s story continues with a punch that proves Bingham deserves to be more widely known in the US.
The Kill and After the Fire by Jane Casey: The Maeve Kerrigan series just keeps getting stronger with each installment. With irascible DI Josh Derwent as her partner, the duo are working together like a well-oiled machine, despite the occasional dig. Could grudging respect be far behind?
Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes: DCI Lou Smith heads a team investigating when a young woman missing for a decade suddenly reappears. Haynes uses primary policing source materials reproduced for the reader: police reports, interviews, analyst research, even phone messages, which add a depth and texture to the books.
The Ghost Fields and The Zig-Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths: The next Ruth Galloway installment is a grand mix of the kind of ancient mystery only working mum Ruth could solve, coupled with tremors in her personal life. A satisfying series with original characters. Griffiths also debuted a second period series, and Brighton of the 1950’s comes to life with two unlikely friends, a detective and his magician friend, who need to stop a killer.
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny: Inspt. Gamache and his lovely wife try to settle down to retirement in Three Pines, until a young boy prone to telling tall tales turns out to be telling the truth. All the eccentric regulars appear to help solve the mystery, a bit different from Penny’s usual but just as engaging, a mix of bittersweet and heartwarming.
Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George: After taking time to introduce the family who feature largely in the case to follow, Lynley manages to have Havers and Nkata assigned to investigate a poisoning case. A piece of bacon figures here. Just read it. The plot is as complex as the players involved, and will leave readers thinking about what constitutes justice.
The Slaughter Man by Tony Parsons: A slaughtered family and a missing child prove a tough case for DI Max Wolfe, juggling his young daughter and personable dog, Stan. The weapon used fits the MO of an earlier murder years ago, and that man is now out of jail. Could this be history repeating itself?
The Secret Place by Tana French: With a few characters you’ll recognize if you’ve read her others, and you should, detectives investigate the murder of a young man at a private school. You hardly realize until it’s over that the action takes place all in one day—she’s that good.
Deadly Measures by Jo Bannister: Policewoman Hazel Best and her friend, Gabriel Ash, face their most dangerous and upsetting period together when arms pirates who have kidnapped Ash’s family agree to return them—if he’ll kill himself online for all to see. And yes, Patience, the dog who talks to Ash, is along for the ride.
A Song for Drowned Souls by Bernard Minier: Minier’s second French crime novel finds Commandant Servaz trying to prove his former lover’s son is not a murderer while he protects his own daughter. A rich tale of history and emotion mixed up in murder and secrets from the past.
The Storm Murders by John Farrow: Newly-retired detective Emile Cinq-Mars is known as the Poirot of Canada and can’t get used to not working. Then murders inside a snowed-in house in his neighborhood catch his eye—there are no footsteps in the snow. And he’s asked to intervene and finds himself in New Orleans and his own wife kidnapped.
Winter Foundlings by Kate Rhodes: The psychologist with interesting friends and family returns, working short-term at a hospital for the criminally insane. A taut plot, a compelling story and a protagonist you can’t help but admire in Alice Quentin who should have it all and keeps getting very close.
Run You Down by Julia Dahl: Journalist Rebekah Roberts finds herself investigating the possible murder of a young ultra-Orthodox woman whose contacts might just put Rebekah in touch with the mother she’s not sure she wants to find. Dahl’s first, Invisible City, won multiple awards this year, with good reason. An equally impressive follow-up.
The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan: An undeniably strong debut, backed with meticulous and absorbing research, this Toronto mystery introduces a Muslim detective working with his Canadian female partner to unravel if a dead man fell, committed suicide, or was pushed off a cliff. A series to watch for, with a sequel out soon that’s every bit as good as the first, and will be reviewed shortly.
Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew: The South African Klein Karoo landscape, nature, food, language and habits of the area come alive through the eyes of Tannie (Auntie) Maria, a widow who happens to be a brillant cook. Mevrou van Harten knows that her food works magic in people’s hearts, not just their stomachs, and uses her knowledge to help solve the murder of an abused woman. Recipes included.
Crucifixion Creek by Barry Maitland: Anyone who reads Maitland’s English Brock and Kolla series know he’s far from a debut novelist, but this marks the debut of a new series set in Australia, Maitland’s home. He introduces detective Harry Belltree, suddenly overwhelmed with three homicides to investigate: a woman shot during a meth-addict biker siege; an elderly couple who commit apparent suicide at their favorite outdoor cafe’; and a white male stabbed to death in the street, who turns out to be his brother-in-law. A strong start to a new and absorbing series.
Five by Ursula Archer: The Austrian children’s lit author tries her hand at mystery and writes an absorbing police procedural with geo-caching at its heart and a realistic, harried, divorced mother of two as the detective.
A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders: A wry inside look at London publishing with the protagonist an editor who fears one of her favorite authors has been murdered and becomes drawn into the investigation. With humor and a hint of romance, book two arrives soon.
In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward: Accomplished debut procedural finds detectives looking into a cold-case murder of a young girl when her mother suddenly commits suicide over thirty years later. Absorbing and well-developed characters. First in a series.
Disclaimer by Renee Knight: A most unusual premise explores a family torn apart when a woman’s hidden secret appears suddenly as the plot of a book in her own home. Original and creative.
Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne: Ballantyne masterfully connects two threads: a young girl’s kidnapping, and a grown woman traumatized in a car accident, to show how secrets buried in the past have come full circle. Creative and compelling.
The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency by Mandy Morton: Of all the humorous novels Auntie M read, this one stands out for its sheer ingenuity and creative premise: a world of cats, peopled and run by cats, who sometimes resemble humans we might recognize. PI Hettie Bagshot and her sidekick Tilly, their team of friends and their world are filled with Morton’s wry humor. Sales help find homes for less fortunate cats. CCat Amongst the Pumpkins coming soon.