These mystery and thriller books will surely bring joy to avid crime fiction and mystery readers. (Note: For our coverage of best crime, mystery, and thriller books in previous months, please visit here).
Exiled South by Harriet Cannon (January 3). Lizbeth Gordon, a school counselor and master at facilitating conflict resolution in everyone’s life but her own, returns home to South Carolina after her husband’s sudden death.
Seeking solace at the ramshackle family cottage, she walks the winter beach, but the quiet life doesn’t last. An elderly aunt has troubling family stories: a blockade runner hunted as a traitor after the fall of Charleston, and ancestors who disappeared during Civil War Reconstruction. Curiosity drives Lizbeth into roots research that dead ends.
Tentacles of the past reach across the continents when Lizbeth takes a job at an international school in Rio de Janeiro. She meets a multiethnic descendant of Confederate exiles, with the Gordon surname and nineteenth-century documents.
Robert Gordon’s letters describe bold escapes from Federal blockaders and Civil War intrigue in Scotland. Laurette Gordon’s diary shares a heart-wrenching story of sacrifice. Can the keys to generations-long secrets open a path to family reconciliation and healing?
The Librarian Always Rings Twice by Marty Wingate (January 4). It has been nearly a year since I took up my position as curator of Lady Georgiana Fowling’s collection of Golden Age of Mystery writers’ first editions at her library in Middlebank House. I have learned that I need to take the good with the bad. The good: I have finally convinced Mrs. Woolgar to open up the collection to the public one day a week so that they too can share in Lady Fowling’s passion. The bad: although he would not be my first, or even tenth, choice, at the insistence of the board Charles Henry Dill, Lady Fowling’s unscrupulous nephew, is now my personal assistant.
On one of our first days open to the public, Mr. John Aubrey shows up at Middlebank House and insists that Lady Georgiana Fowling is his grandmother. Mrs. Woolgar is scandalized by his claims, and Charles Henry, who feels he has been cheated out of his rightful inheritance as Lady Fowling’s heir, is furious.
I do not know that I believe Mr. Aubrey, yet he has knowledge of Lady Fowling’s life and writings that few possess. To further complicate matters, an associate of Mr. Aubrey’s intends to help us uncover the truth of John’s story. But before he can do that, he is murdered and the police have reason to suspect Charles Henry.
As much as I would like to lock up Charles Henry and throw away the key, I cannot believe he is a killer. And I also know there is something dead wrong about Mr. Aubrey’s tales regarding his “grandmother” Lady Fowling. I will need to make sense of her past in order to suss out the true villain of this story.
A Killer Sundae by Abby Collette (January 4). Chagrin Falls, Ohio, is gorgeous in the fall, and Bronwyn Crewse, owner of Crewse Creamery, knows just how to welcome the new season. At the annual Harvest Time Festival, residents will get a chance to enjoy hot-air balloons and hayrides, crown a new Harvest Time Festival Queen, and eat delicious frozen treats sold at Win’s freshly purchased ice cream truck. But she gets into a sprinkle of trouble when a festivalgoer is poisoned and Win is implicated.
Although the victim was a former Harvest Time Festival Queen, her once-sunny disposition had dimmed into bitterness, leaving no shortage of suspects at the festival.
To clear her name before the chill of winter sets in, Win will have to investigate and hope that her detective skills won’t “dessert” her.
Fadeout by Joseph Hansen (January 11). Published fifty years ago, a time when being gay was illegal in 49 out of 50 states, Joseph Hansen’s first Dave Brandstetter novel shattered stereotypes and redefined the Private Eye novel as we know it.
Five decades after its original landmark publication, Joseph Hansen’s Fadeout is as fresh and important as ever. Preceded only by a handful of gay protagonists in crime fiction, Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter, a ruggedly handsome World War II vet with a quick wit, faultless moral compass, and endless confidence, shattered stereotypes and won over a large reading audience, a feat previously considered impossible for queer fiction.
Set in the mid-1960s, Fadeout centers on the disappearance of a southern California radio personalitynamed Fox Olson. A failed writer, Olson finally found success as a beloved folksinger and wholesome country raconteur with a growing national audience. The community is therefore shocked when Olson’s car is found wrecked, having been driven off a bridge and swept away in a fast-moving arroyo on a rainy night.
A life insurance claim is filed by Olson’s widow and the company holding the policy sends their best man to investigate. The problem is that Olson’s body was never found. Not in the car. Not further down the river. As Dave Brandstetter begins his investigation he quickly finds that none of it adds up.
One Eye Open by Alex Grecian (January 11). After her mother’s sudden passing, Laura and her daughter Juniper return to her childhood home in the rural outskirts of Denmark. In the scenic village amidst seas of wheat fields, Laura hopes they have finally let tragedy behind them. Then, Juniper begins to notice something strange about the people she encounters, the same people who have worked in these fields for centuries.
In tracing her lineage back through her mother and beyond, Juniper makes a horrifying discovery. This town is alive with more than just nature, and the endless fields of wheat demand to be harvested, whether the hands that do so are alive or dead.
The Maid by Nita Prose (January 4). Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.
Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.
But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?
A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.
Seasonal Work by Laura Lippman (January 4). In a suspenseful collection of stories featuring fierce women—including one never-before-published novella—New York Times bestseller Laura Lippman showcases why she is one of today’s top crime writers.
In the never-before-published “Just One More,” a married couple—longing for that old romantic spark—creates a playful diversion that comes with unexpected consequences. Lippman’s beloved Baltimore PI Tess Monaghan keeps a watchful eye on a criminally resourceful single father in “Seasonal Work,” while her mother, Judith, realizes that the life of “The Everyday Housewife” is an excellent cover for all kinds of secrets.
In “Slow Burner,” a husband’s secret cell phone proves to be a dicey temptation for a suspicious wife. A father’s hidden past piques the curiosity of a young snoop in “The Last of Sheila-Locke Holmes.”
Find Me by Alafair Burke (January 11). The disappearance of a young woman leaves her best friend reeling and an NYPD homicide detective digging into her own past in this twisty mystery about the power of female friendships. From the New York Times bestselling author of The Better Sister and The Wife.
Some pasts won’t stay forgotten…She calls herself Hope Miller, but she has no idea who she actually is. Fifteen years ago, she was found in a small New Jersey town thrown from an overturned vehicle, with no clue to her identity. Doctors assumed her amnesia was a temporary side effect of her injuries, but she never regained her memory. Hope eventually started a new life with a new name in a new town that welcomed her, yet always wondered what she may have left behind—or been running from. Now, she’s leaving New Jersey to start over once again.
Manhattan defense lawyer Lindsay Kelly, Hope’s best friend and the one who found her after the accident, understands why Hope wants a new beginning. But she worries how her friend will fare in her new East Hampton home, far away from everything familiar. Lindsay’s worst fears are confirmed when she discovers Hope has vanished without a trace—the only lead a drop of blood found where she was last seen. Even more ominously, the blood matches a DNA sample with a connection to a notorious Kansas murderer.
With nowhere else to turn, Lindsay calls NYPD homicide detective Ellie Hatcher, the daughter of the cop who dedicated his life to hunting the Kansas killer. Ellie has always believed there was more to the story of her father’s death twenty years earlier—and she now fears that Hope’s recent disappearance could be related.
In pursuit of answers, the women search for the truth beneath long-buried secrets. And when their searches converge, what they find will upend everything they’ve ever known.
End of Days (A Pike Logan Novel) by Brad Taylor (January 11, 2021). When a paragliding trip over the picturesque mountains of Switzerland results in the brutal murder of the former head of Israeli intelligence, Mossad brings in terrorist hunters Aaron and Shoshana to investigate. But they’ll need help to find out who was behind the attack and what they’re planning next. Luckily, Aaron and Shoshana know exactly who to call.
Taskforce operators Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill have been trapped in Charleston, South Carolina during COVID-19, so when Aaron and Shoshana show up on their doorstep with Israeli passports and a new mission, they jump at the chance to assist their friends. Some suspect that Keta’ib Hezbollah, an Iranian-funded militia group operating in Iraq, might be responsible for the “accidental” deaths of key members of the American and Israeli governments. But something isn’t adding up, and Pike, Jennifer, and the two Mossad operators are determined to find the real assassins before more people are cut down.
As they stumble upon the trail of a serial killer loose on the streets of Rome connected to the deaths and follow evidence leading to the exalted Knights of Malta, they must wade deep into the contentious religious and political fractures of Israel and the greater Middle East. It’s a dangerous world where fanatics and legitimate organizations exist side by side, and it’s up to the Taskforce to determine who is really pulling the strings. What they find could have disastrous consequences not only for them, but for the entire world.
My Annihilation by Fuminori Nakamura (January 11). With My Annihilation, Fuminori Nakamura, master of literary noir, has constructed a puzzle box of a narrative in the form of a confessional diary that implicates its reader in a heinous crime.
Delving relentlessly into the darkest corners of human consciousness, My Annihilation interrogates the unspeakable thoughts all humans share that can be monstrous when brought to life, revealing with disturbing honesty the psychological motives of a killer.
Something to Hide (A Lynley Novel) by Elizabeth George (January 11). Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers and Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley are back in the next Lynley novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth George.
When a police detective is taken off life support after falling into a coma, only an autopsy reveals the murderous act that precipitated her death. She’d been working on a special task force within North London’s Nigerian community, and Acting Detective Superintendent Thomas Lynley is assigned to the case, which has far-reaching cultural associations that have nothing to do with life as he knows it.
In his pursuit of a killer determined to remain hidden, he’s assisted by Detective Sergeants Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata. They must sort through the lies and the secret lives of people whose superficial cooperation masks the damage they do to one another.
Iron Annie by Luke Cassidy (January 11). An uncompromising, darkly humorous look at life in the criminal underworld of the Irish border from a major new Irish literary voice.
Dundalk—The Town, to locals—took Aoife in when she left home at eighteen. Now she’s gone from a small-time slinger of hash to a bona fide player in Dundalk’s criminal underworld. Aoife’s smart, savvy, and cool under pressure. Except, that is, when it comes to Annie. Annie is mysterious and compelling, and Aoife is desperate to impress her and keep her close. Unfortunately, not everyone in The Town shares Aoife’s opinion of Annie.
So much so that when Aoife’s friend and associate, the Rat King, approaches her about off-loading ten kilos of stolen coke, he specifically tells her to keep Annie out of it. Aoife doesn’t want to do the job without Annie, though, so she lands on an idea. Annie has contacts in the UK, and sure it’d be better to get the coke as far away from Dundalk as possible. At first, everything goes to plan. But when Annie decides she’d like to stay in the UK, Aoife makes a decision that changes everything, and finds her whole world turned upside down. Gritty yet tender, tragic yet hopeful, Iron Annie crackles with energy, warmth, and heart.
Murder at the National Gallery by Jim Eldridge (January 20). 1897, London. The capital is shocked to learn that the body of a woman has been found at the National Gallery, eviscerated in a manner that recalls all too strongly the exploits of the infamous Jack the Ripper.
Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton are contacted by a curator of the National Gallery for their assistance. The dead woman, an artist’s model and lady of the night, had links to artist Walter Sickert who was a suspect during the Ripper’s spree of killings. Scotland Yard have arrested Sickert on suspicion of this fresh murder but it is not the last .
Copycat murders of the Ripper’s crimes implicate the artist who loves to shock but Sickert insists that he is innocent. Who would want to frame him? Wilson and Fenton have their work cut out catching an elusive and determined killer.
The Mirror Man by Lars Kepler (January 18). Sixteen-year-old Jenny Lind is kidnapped in broad daylight on her way home from school and thrown into the back of a truck. She’s taken to a dilapidated house, where she and other girls face horrors far beyond their worst nightmares. Though they’re desperate to escape, their captor foils everyone of their attempts.
Five years later, Jenny’s body is found hanging in a playground, strung up with a winch on a rainy night. As the police are scrambling to find a lead in the scant evidence, Detective Joona Linna recognizes an eerie connection between Jenny’s murder and a death declared a suicide years before.
And when another teenage girl goes missing, it becomes clear to Joona that they’re dealing with a serial killer—and his murderous rampage may have just begun.
Robert B. Parker’s Bye Bye Baby by Ace Atkins (January 18). Carolina Garcia-Ramirez is a rising star in national politics, taking on the establishment with her progressive agenda. Tough, outspoken, and driven, the young congresswoman has ignited a new conversation in Boston about race, poverty, health care, and the environment. Now facing her second campaign, she finds herself not only fighting a tight primary with an old guard challenger but also contending with numerous death threats coming from hundreds of suspects.
When her chief of staff reaches out to Spenser for security and help finding the culprits of what he believes to be the most credible threats, Garcia-Ramirez is less than thrilled. Since her first grassroots run, she’s used to the antipathy and intimidation women of color often face when seeking power. To her, it’s all noise. But it turns out an FBI agent disagrees, warning Spenser that Garcia-Ramirez might be in real danger this time.
It doesn’t take long for Spenser to cross paths with an extremist group called The Minutemen, led by a wealthy Harvard grad named Bishop Graves. Although Graves is a social media sensation, pushing an agenda of white supremacy and toxic masculinity, he denies he’s behind the attacks. As the primary nears and threats become a deadly plot, it’s up to Spenser, Hawk, and a surprise trusted ally to ensure the congresswoman is safe. This is Spenser doing what he does best, living by a personal code and moral compass that can’t ever be broken.
Mermaid Confidential by Tim Dorsey (January 25). Serge A. Storms and his permanently baked sidekick, Coleman, have decided to pump the brakes and live on island time. After years of manic road tripping across their beloved Sunshine State, the irrepressible anti-heroes drop anchor in the Florida Keys. They settle down in Pelican Bay, a thriving condo complex with scenic views and friendly neighbors. But the community is at war with investors who are buying up units and leasing them to young vacationers who party at all hours. With their little slice of heaven on the line, Serge takes it upon himself to convince the tourists to move on and quickly becomes a local favorite.
Meanwhile, the island chain’s long and rich smuggling heritage is causing mayhem—a gang war erupts when a local drug lord passes the family business to his young, enterprising son, and the sun-loving residents are suddenly dodging bullets. Luckily, Florida’s most lovable serial killer is there to help.
Road of Bones by Christopher Golden (January 25). Surrounded by barren trees in a snow-covered wilderness with a dim, dusky sky forever overhead, Siberia’s Kolyma Highway is 1200 miles of gravel packed permafrost within driving distance of the Arctic Circle. A narrow path where drivers face such challenging conditions as icy surfaces, limited visibility, and an average temperature of sixty degrees below zero, fatal car accidents are common.
But motorists are not the only victims of the highway. Known as the Road of Bones, it is a massive graveyard for the former Soviet Union’s gulag prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of people worked to death and left where their bodies fell, consumed by the frozen elements and plowed beneath the permafrost road.
Fascinated by the history, documentary producer Felix “Teig” Teigland is in Russia to drive the highway, envisioning a new series capturing Life and Death on the Road of Bones with a ride to the town of Akhust, “the coldest place on Earth”, collecting ghost stories and local legends along the way. Only, when Teig and his team reach their destination, they find an abandoned town, save one catatonic nine-year-old girl—and a pack of predatory wolves, faster and smarter than any wild animals should be.
Pursued by the otherworldly beasts, Teig’s companions confront even more uncanny and inexplicable phenomena along the Road of Bones, as if the ghosts of Stalin’s victims were haunting them. It is a harrowing journey that will push Teig beyond endurance and force him to confront the sins of his past.