The curtain has fallen on another year of great books, and it’s time to take stock of what has passed. Nearly six months ago I did a little mid-year check in, and I realize that most of the great books I read last year were during that first six months. For personal reasons, I sought escape during recent months, and found it in some wonderful mysteries.
Last June I had just started Ann Cleeves’s mysteries. Set in the Shetland Islands (Jimmy Perez series) and Newcastle and environs (DCI Vera Stanhope series), these books give the reader compelling settings as well as good mysteries. I am taken with the Shetland Island series because life is so different there, and very removed from the rest of the world. Detective Perez’s investigations are complicated by lack of ready access to forensics teams, pathologists, etc. Bodies are flown out for examination; forensics experts are flown or boated in. It’s all in a day’s work. Start with Raven Black and work your way through the series.
I truly enjoy Vera. She is such a character with her bullying and bossing, and her entertaining inner life. She’s remarkable in her bulk, and quick-witted. A super sleuth. Having spent several weeks in the Newcastle area, I fell quite in love with the setting years ago. It’s an acquired taste, an unforgiving landscape filled with hardy souls. I’d follow Ann Cleeves to the end of the earth! She’s a great story teller with no gimmicks.
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger is a masterful telling of a coming-of-age story and community mystery set in small town America during the 1950s. The two young boys in the story are so well drawn we can inhabit their skins as they journey through the unexplained death of their older sister and its aftermath. Krueger writes a great crime series set in his home state, Minnesota. But Ordinary Grace is a stand-alone novel, and very special. It won the Edgar Award for Best Novel of 2013, beating out Louise Penny and other notables.
Peter Robinson is another crime/mystery writer I began reading with enthusiasm this past six months. His detective, DCI Alan Banks, is featured in a long-running British television series brought to the US by Public Broadcasting Service, and this is how I first met Robinson. The Banks series is set in Yorkshire. Like a lot of lost-soul male detectives, Alan Banks has trouble with women, even some that he works with. But this is only window dressing compared to the complex and very real stories set in some of the more rugged parts of Yorkshire. Lots of books and great reading!
Then, just before the holiday season, three of my favorite authors released books. Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast, rivals anything she’s done previously, as Gamache and Beauvoir track the killer of a young boy only to find a much more sinister enemy.
In A Banquet of Consequences, Elizabeth George’s flawed detective sergeant Barbara Havers finds herself in trouble again, and on a very short leash. Her champion, Thomas Lynley, manages to secure her an out-of-town assignment. Still on a short leash, Havers nonetheless manages to perform in her inimitable style, delivering to the reader comic relief along with her brains and instinct.
And Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling) new release, A Career of Evil, is hands-down the best yet for the Cormoran Strike series. After a severed limb is delivered to Strike’s business partner Robin, the two take a trip into Strike’s past to discover who might have a grudge. The list is a long one, but they settle on the four most likely suspects and the sleuthing begins. It seems like just another case until it becomes apparent that this dangerous murderer is fixated on Robin as his next victim!
Last year I didn’t as much as I would have liked, but I certainly enjoyed myself. This year I hope to read 100 books, and I’m off to a good start. What are your reading goals for 2016?