Like pretty much anyone who writes about books in any kind of fashion, it is time to give you my list of my favorite reads of 2019.
Since I didn't just want to list my usual suspects, who once again turned in work so magnificent that it is almost not fair that they are imbued with such a great storytelling sense. Authors like Michael Connelly, C.J. Box and Ellen Hart each had novels that were some of the best work I've read this year. And the wonderful Maddie Day (aka Edith Maxwell) has become my definitive queen of the cozy mystery with her superbly outstanding Country Store Mysteries series where protagonist "Robbie Jordan kicks as much butt as Jack Reacher...with way better food."
However, this year I decided to change things up because I wanted to spotlight 10 books from authors who were either new to me or were publishing their first novel in 2019.
But first.. 2019 was a fantastic year in reading for me. I've continued to write for Mystery Scene magazine as well as posting other reviews on Goodreads.com. I have remained an active, if sometimes cranky, member of the Jungle Red Writers community and started commenting more on the Wicked Authors blog as well. I got to attend a number of book signings where I got to talk briefly with authors (the list is long enough that I won't list everyone) I've met before as well as new writers to add to my signed book collection (because signed books make a great gift, even if it is just for me). I even joined my local library's Mystery Book Club which, despite its small size, was lucky enough to feature appearances by two authors this year. (Thank you Ingrid Thoft and Edith Maxwell!)
(Photo from Edith Maxwell's appearance at the Wareham Free Library's Mystery Book Club meeting. Book club moderator Nancy Cushman Rice, Edith Maxwell (in black), I'm in the Patriots sweatshirt with Library Director George Ripley)
Finally, it was quite a continuing thrill to see authors share the links to my reviews on their social media accounts. Reading one author saying that she loved MY writing was a personal highlight. Even more of a thrill was seeing pull quotes used to promote the books, featured in newsletters and one that was just posted as part of a "For Your Consideration" year end award advertisement. I don't lead all that exciting a life so yes, this was part of the high points of my year.
All right then, enough about me and my shameless self-promotion, here's my ten selections for 2019!
#10 - Murder at First Pitch by Nicole Asselin - When people ask what type of books I like to read, I usually tell them a book has to feature "Blood, Bodies and Bullets". However, this debut novel lets me edit that standard answer because it let me enjoy a cozy mystery that featured "Bats, Balls and Bodies". The sports-themed mystery is kind of a rarity in the cozy world but not only did I love the book, I put my money where my mouth was by buying a copy of the book after being sent an advance copy by the author ahead of publication. I also nominated it for the Suspense Magazine year end awards. I'm eagerly awaiting the next book in the series, which I'm told should be out around the time baseball's spring training rolls around in 2020. My Goodreads.com Review
#9 - Thin Ice by Paige Shelton - I have to admit that this one is a slight cheat. You see, I've read Shelton's Scottish Bookshop cozy series in years past. But this is the first book in her new straight up thriller Alaska Wild mystery series. I got to read and review it for Mystery Scene magazine and I'm including it because it was a seriously compelling story that seemed to have a new twist in the plot with each couple of chapters. It was some fantastic storytelling and I just have to put it out there about how much I enjoyed reading this book. It is one of those books that you immediately want to read what comes next, the need to wait for the author to actually finish writing that next book be damned! My Mystery Scene Review
#8 - Murder at the Palace by Margaret Dumas - I'm not generally one for any kind of supernatural element to a cozy mystery. I avoid those "magic" series like the plague. But I had this book recommended to me by a fellow book club member and though there is a supernatural element to the story, this was just a flat out joy of a read for me. The first book in the Movie Palace mystery series was everything I could've wanted in a mystery title AND the ghostly element actually worked wonderfully. The second book in the series, Murder in the Balcony, was published later in 2019. I bought it but haven't gotten the chance to read it yet. However, I'm sure that it will be just as entertaining as Murder at the Palace. My Goodreads.com Review
#7 - Nomad by James Swallow - This spy thriller featuring Marc Dane of Britain's MI-6 was a genuine surprise for me. I happened to catch a glimpse of the cover in the Barnes & Noble new paperback display stand (before store redesigns eliminated that stand) and after reading the back cover synopsis, I was intrigued enough to buy the book. Talk about money well spent! This was a top notch entry into that "Blood, Bodies and Bullets" category and not only did I recommend this book to others but I lent my copy to a couple of friends that love this same kind of story. They both raved about it as well. I'm pretty sure the book was published in England a while back but this paperback copy hit store shelves in March 2019. Meanwhile, the author has two other books in the Marc Danes series out already (I bought the 2nd one off of eBay already) with a fourth one on the way too. My Goodreads.com Review
#6 - Charlie-316 by Colin Conway & Frank Zafiro - This book was another stunner when I sat down to read it. Writing this review (with helpful edits from my Mystery Scene editor Teri Duerr) was perhaps one of my better writing jobs of 2019. And the pull quote was used by the author(s) to stump for awards consideration, so I must've done a good job with said review. But moreover, Conway and Zafiro have crafted themselves an incredible first novel in what they are calling the Tyler Garrett saga. For reasons that will come to light when you read the book, I prefer to refer to it as The Honey Badger saga. Whatever you want to call it, this is a fantastic mystery that sticks with you long after you've turned the last page. And I was told some fantastic news about the rest of the four book series. All three remaining installments are scheduled to publish in 2020! My Mystery Scene Review
#5 - The Vanishing Season & No Mercy by Joanna Schaffhausen - With The Vanishing Season being published in paperback and No Mercy coming out in hardcover during 2019, I have to include both of books when I talk about this series. The Ellery Hathaway series was one I hadn't discovered until I saw that the author was doing a signing at a library near me. I went to hear Schaffhausen speak and I was pretty captivated not only by how she got published but by what she said about the stories themselves. I picked them both up and read them as quickly as I could. Thank goodness for that book signing because I just absolutely LOVE this series. Seriously, this is probably one of my all-time great "discoveries" when it comes to authors I was previously unfamiliar with. I loved these two books so much that I sort of begged my editor at Mystery Scene for an advance copy so that I could review the next book in the series, though I wasn't able to get it. The book is called All The Best Lies and it is one of my most eagerly anticipated books for the coming year. Yes, this series and the author is that damn good! My Goodreads.com Review of No Mercy My Goodreads.com Review of The Vanishing Season
#4 - Like Lions by Brian Panowich - When I wrote about this 2nd book in the author's Bull Mountain series for Mystery Scene magazine, I said that it was "sharply written with an adrenaline-fueled plot that will leave readers with their jaws dropped and minds blown". And believe me it will do that to you. Imagine being the sheriff of a county in North Georgia while you are also the heir to your family's criminal empire. That's what you get with Like Lions, a book that has a huge twist that will make you sit up and take notice while hoping book three in the series comes along sooner rather than later. My Mystery Scene Review
#3 - Scrublands by Chris Hammer - I came to discover this book via a recommendation from the Bolo Books blog run by Kristopher Zgorski who seemed to spend most of 2019 trying to get me to have to file bankruptcy with all his on target book suggestions. And he sure got it right with this debut crime fiction novel from Chris Hammer. The assignment to write a "One Year Later" story about a mass shooting takes a hugely unexpected turn when it looks like the reporting that was done didn't get either the whole story or the TRUE story. I love journalism based mysteries and this Australian set yarn was definitely one of the year's best. My Goodreads.com Review
#2 - The Moroccan Girl by Charles Cumming - What do you do when you are a best-selling spy novelist and you are just plain bored with life? Well, I'm sure the answer isn't usually actually go to work as a spy yourself. But in Charles Cumming's outstanding spy thriller that's exactly what happens to Kit Carradine. It might seem preposterous if you heard about in the real world but man if this book didn't disappoint as it turned out to be one of those novels that raises the bar for all future stories to come down the pike. My Mystery Scene Review
So what could possible be my favorite novel of the year? No reason to prolong the suspense, right?
#1 - THE NIGHT AGENT By Matthew Quirk - How much did I love this book? I damn near read it in one sitting. In fact the only reason I didn't finish it was that I quite simply passed out at 1:30 in the morning from sheer exhaustion! Peter Sutherland is an FBI agent with no prospects. Despite managing to be hired for the Agency, the fact his father was a suspected Russian spy means he'll never see a promotion. But a chain of events set off by the simple act of answering a phone that he is assigned to watch over. Then all hell breaks loose as the agent who follows every rule to the letter is suddenly trying to track down a mole in the White House with little in the way of back up. I'd never read any of Quirk's previous work but I have to say that The Night Agent is the single best novel that I've read all year. If I'd been doing a more straightforward Top 10 list, it still would've topped the list. And though I didn't get to review this one for Mystery Scene, I ended up begging my editor to let me review his next book, Hour of the Assassin, which comes out in March 2020. Much like All The Best Lies from Joanna Schaffhausen, it is one of my most anticipated books of the coming year.
And there you have it, my version of a Top 10 Mysteries & Thrillers list for 2019. I know that in the coming year, I plan to do more of what I have been doing the last few year. I will be out to book signings, I'll be posting responses on mystery blogs and I'll be buying books (or borrowing them from the library) and posting my thoughts on them wherever I can. My one hoped for goal of something different in 2020 is to finally attend a book conference/convention. I don't know if it is going to happen but I'm trying.
And finally: To the authors who have been so kind with their time in talking to me at signings, I can only say a sincere thank you and here's to more continued success with your books!