After writing articles about my favorite albums and movies of 2020, it is only fitting that I close out my annual Best Of recaps with the article that started it all for me in the world of books. When I was writing for a pop culture website a few years back called Pop-topia, I wrote my first best of books piece and David Brown of Atria Books saw the article, contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in reading a book for review purposes. I said yes, published my first ever book review (for the Terry Hayes thriller I Am Pilgrim) outside of school book reports and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history!
While 2020 turned out to be a complete dumpster fire that brought about the end of in-person book signings once March ended, there was still plenty going on in the mystery and thriller world. Authors pivoted to doing online events via Zoom and the like. They also had to figure out how future books would deal with the pandemic. Would they be set amid the drama, ignore the virus completely or in some as yet fictional future when it was back to business as usual. Bookstores took it on the chin while scrambling to shift their focus to both mail order and curbside pickup business models. My favorite independent store, Titcomb's Bookshop, got some of my business for mail order.
There were some rather major controversies that broke out during the year that I won't go into here but it was really disappointing to see what was going on. That's a mild statement I know, but it is much too complicated to go into deeply and I'm not sure I'm really qualified to weigh in on the subject.
A major loss to the mystery world was the passing of author Sheila Connolly. I loved her County Cork series and had just decided to start reading her Orchard Mystery series when the news of her death was made public. I got to meet her once and talk about Ireland with her which was a big thrill for me to be sure.
The lack of book signings was definitely a low point for me, but I did get to attend the Bruce Robert Coffin event at the now closed New England Mobile Book Fair shop. That turned out to be a rather fortuitous event because not only did I meet Coffin but authors Dale T. Phillips, Edwin Hill, Joanna Schaffhausen, Hallie Ephron and Hank Phillippi Ryan were all in attendance too. Let's just say it cost me a pretty penny to get out of the store that day and I left with signed copies and got to chat with all of the writers. Dale T. Phillips even mentioned me (and had a photo) in his blog post about the signing event. And there was this photo of me with Hallie Ephron and Hank Phillippi Ryan that Hallie said we should take together.
I thought that was going to be the last signing of the year but I lucked out when Edith Maxwell was in my area later in the year and I was able to have a safe, masked and socially distanced sort of private signing. She even mentioned that little event in her monthly newsletter which was fun to see.
I'm still an active respondent on the Jungle Red Writers blog, where my favorite post this year was Jenn McKinlay's article on For the Love of Comic Books. I'm also loving my time on the The Wicked Authors blog a lot too.
I'd be remiss if I failed to also mention Kristopher Zgorski's Bolo Books site. Kris is a great guy with whom I've had good chats with and he's never failed to offer sensible advice when I had some questions. Now if only he'd stop costing me so much extra money with the books he spotlights. This year there were two books in particular where it was all his "fault" that my wallet started screaming! The first was the Sherry Harris book From Beer To Eternity, the first book in her new Chloe Jackson Sea Glass Saloon series. The 2nd book made my Top 10 list so obviously Kris has some good taste.
But enough preamble, let get down to the business of what I liked the most this year.
(PLEASE NOTE: Any book that was published in 2020, regardless of format, is eligible. This is my list, so my rules.)
First off, there are three debut authors whose books were so entertaining that I gave serious consideration to expanding my list this year. The fact I decided against doing so should not stop you from going out and buying these books because they are absolutely fantastic stories that promise many great tales to come and I'm on board with making each series a MUST-READ!
Next up is Elizabeth Breck's Anonymous. This series features PI Madison Kelly. I reviewed it for Mystery Scene and it made the print edition but the online link to the review hasn't been posted yet. Spoiler alert, I loved it!
Finally we have Jennifer Greer's A Desperate Place. This book features reporter Whit McKenna and medical examiner detective Katie Riggs as they secretly team up to hunt down a murderer. (My Mystery Scene Review). I received a very nice compliment from the author when she read my review and a line from said review was used in the online hype material for the book.
#10. The Art of Deception by Leonard Goldberg (My Mystery Scene Review)
I'd known of Leonard Goldberg's 'The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes' prior to receiving a copy of this book to review. I even owned the first two books in the series but I hadn't gotten around to reading them yet. However, after reading this book with Joanna Blalock-Watson tracking down the truth behind seemingly random acts of art vandalism, I will be rectifying my oversight. I've obviously been missing out a wonderfully entertaining series until now.
#9. By Way of Sorrow by Robyn Gigl (My Mystery Scene Review)
The first novel in Robyn Gigl's Erin McCabe legal thriller series is the only debut novel that made my Top 10 list and it was thoroughly well earned. It's a fascinating story with a complex, yet compelling lead character and nothing in the way of easy answers. It is a book that not only has you rooting for Erin but also leaves you immediately wishing for the next book in the series.
#8. The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado (My Goodreads Review)
This is the other book whose purchase was directly influenced by the Bolo Books blog. It's the first book in Isabella Maldonado's new series featuring FBI agent Nina Guerrara. Tracking down a serial killer is hard enough but when it is the same killer who you have escaped from and he's taunting you via social media, you are even more determined. This was a hellaciously fine read and I can only hope for more "Warrior Girl" to come.
#7. Murder in an Irish Pub by Carlene O'Connor (My Goodreads Review)
The fourth book in the Carlene O'Connor Irish Village series finds Siobhan O'Sullivan on the hunt for a killer during a poker tournament. This cozy series is one that I enjoy year in and year out and that winning streak continues here as I grow to love Siobhan and her wild family and friends with each passing book.
#6. Hour of the Assassin by Matthew Quirk (My Mystery Scene Review)
In 2019, Matthew Quirk's The Night Agent was my favorite book of the year. The author makes a return appearance here with "mock killer" Nick Averose on the run after being framed for an actual murder. It's one of the singular best thrillers you will read and once again proves that Quirk is one of the best in the business.
#5. Rules of War by Matthew Betley (My Goodreads Review)
The action is fast and furious in Matthew Betley's latest Logan West thriller. If you need a dose of adrenaline to keep your blood pumping, this is your book. The bodies are dropping as Logan and his team are hunting down an American traitor. And nothing will stand in the way of their mission. The book was released in hardcover in 2019 but I didn't get it until it hit paperback this year. The wait to read this in no way dampened my enthusiasm though because Betley and West are among the best!
#4. Candy Slain Murder by Maddie Day (My Goodreads Review)
It has been quite a year for Maddie Day aka Edith Maxwell! Not only did this book come out but there was Nacho Average Murder, the previous book in the Country Store Mysteries series that came out this year as well. There was Murder at the Taffy Shop, the 2nd book in the Cozy Capers Book Group series and under her own name, Edith released Taken Too Soon, the latest in the Quaker Midwife Mysteries. Add in the reissues of the two Lauren Rousseau mysteries (originally published under the name Tace Baker) under her own name and that's five books that joined my collection. But getting back to Candy Slain Murder, series lead Robbie Jordan is once again on the trail of a killer while balancing her restaurant and her day to day life. And this is all done with the touch of a master craftswoman. In my review I said the book and the Country Store series itself was a continually renewable gift. I can't be any more direct than that. I love the series and Edith/Maddie is one of my favorite writers. As Stan Lee used to say, 'Nuff Said!
#3. Murder on the Silver Screen by Margaret Dumas (My Goodreads Review)
A friend of mine introduced me to the first book in the series last year. I loved it and since then I've been the one leading the charge when a new book was due out. But I somehow missed that this third book in the Margaret Dumas Movie Palace Mysteries series was out until after it had been released. But once I read it? WOW! This is such a great series with not just the mysteries in each book but the great cast of characters (led by series lead Nora Paige) and the various classic movie information. I am not sure if there is going to be another book in this series but I know that I can say that this book and series is one of the finest cozy series on the market!
#2. All The Best Lies by Joanna Schaffhausen (My Goodreads Review)
In my review of the third book in Joanna Schaffhausen's Ellery Hathaway series, I wrote the following:
"There's an amazing amount of twists and turns in the plot which will certainly keep readers both guessing and on the edge of their seat. In the end, shocking truths are revealed that will forever change the lives of all the characters involved. But in doing so, Schaffhausen has simply upped the ante for the series. If it is true that all the best lies contain a kernel of truth, the truths revealed in this book will shake up the status quo in all sorts of ways. The secrets we hide, once revealed, tend to do that.
What I can say for sure is that the long wait for this book was more than worth it. The continuing evolution of Ellery and the engrossing mystery combine to make ALL THE BEST LIES a must-read book for 2020...and beyond!"
I don't know what else I could add to demonstrate just how powerful this book is and how much I love this series.
And drumroll please...
#1. Long Range by C.J. Box (My Goodreads Review)
Ever since reading an interview with him in Mystery Scene magazine (long before I ever wrote for them), I've become a serious hardcore fan of author C.J. Box and his Joe Pickett series. Despite not actually ever wanting to experience the kind of outdoorsman life that Pickett leads, I can't wait for each successive book to arrive on store shelves and find myself dropped into the Wyoming wilderness. Box has, simply put, become one of the finest crime fiction writers working and Long Range, with its plot surrounding the mysterious shooting death of a judge's wife, is just the latest example of the pure artistry of the author. Joe Pickett is a great literary character and readers are doing themselves a great disservice if they aren't reading these books.
And there you have it folks! My recap of the best books I read in 2020. I'm hoping for a return to what passes for normal sometime in 2021 but until then I'm eagerly anticipating what new books I'll have to talk about in next year's recap.
But until that time just remember...