Thursday, December 15, 2016

Best Mystery and Crime Novels of 2016

The past year saw the release of new Mystery and Crime novels by popular authors as well as newer faces in the genre. These are the best books reviewed during 2016 by this blog:

Extreme Prey by John Sandford - New entry in the series that features Minnesota state police detective Lucas Davenport. Here Lucas works to stop an assassination plot against a candidate in the Iowa presidential primary. Another superb crime thriller that moves at breakneck pace from Sandford.

Off the Grid by C.J. Box - Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is back. Joe comes up against a terrorist cell hiding out in the remote, desolate Red Desert region of the state. Raw boned crime tale set against a rugged western landscape that makes for a great read.

Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin - A new case for Edinburgh, Scotland police inspector John Rebus. The irascible Rebus investigates a connection between the murder of a prosecutor and the attempted murder of a local mobster. A tangled crime plot along with an entertaining main character.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware - An eerie psychological suspense puzzle set inside the claustrophobic confines of a huge luxury yacht. A passenger thinks she sees a woman thrown overboard ... or was she? Engrossing mystery that builds in paranoid intensity to a startling plot twist.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly - Former LAPD detective Harry Bosch returns, now working part time for a small town police force, as well as taking private cases. Bosch is pursuing a serial rapist called the Screen Cutter while he is also hired to locate a billionaire's lost heir. A vintage Bosch outing and the police procedural at its best.

Monday, December 5, 2016

WRONG SIDE OF GOODBYE a New Harry Bosch Case

Former LAPD detective Harry Bosch is back in The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly. Bosch is now retired from the LAPD and working part time for the small police force of San Fernando. He also continues to take cases as a private investigator.

This new novel finds Bosch working simultaneously on two troubling cases. As a cop, he is pursuing a serial rapist, dubbed the Screen Cutter, who has staged a chain of local attacks on women inside their homes.

Harry is also hired by aged, frail billionaire Whitney Vance to search for a possible lost heir that Vance may have, an illegitimate child from a college affair. But with control of billions at stake in the Vance estate, Bosch is opposed by those around Vance who don't want any such heir suddenly found.

As Bosch digs deeper into both cases, the Vance matter turns threatening, and the Screen Cutter case leads to a violent confrontation. The Wrong Side of Goodbye is vintage Harry Bosch and another compulsively readable crime thriller from Michael Connelly.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Corrupt Judge at Center of John Grisham's THE WHISTLER

The Whistler by John Grisham is a new legal novel that begins with the problem of a corrupt judge and leads to the uncovering of a widespread, entrenched crime syndicate.

The main character is Lacy Stolz, an investigator for the board that oversees Florida judges. When a complaint of judicial misconduct is filed against a female Circuit Court judge, Lacy and her partner, Hugo Hatch, are at first skeptical. The complaint filer is a secretive whistleblower who claims to have a mole contact close to the judge.

As Lacy digs into the case, it looks like the judge is taking payoff money connected to a casino on Indian tribal land. But the corruption spreads much wider than that, and dangerous people involved are willing to use violence to protect themselves.

A cold blooded trap is set for Lacy and Hugo with tragic consequences. The whistleblower himself suddenly disappears. As Lacy's office realizes what they are up against, they are forced to go to the FBI for help.

The Whistler is an entertaining read that is slowed sometimes by in-depth background material. The novel continues John Grisham's exploration of the darker corners of the American legal system.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

ESCAPE CLAUSE a Wild Crime Escapade From John Sandford

Escape Clause is an entertaining new crime novel by popular author John Sandford. The novel is the latest in the series that features Minnesota State Police investigator Virgil Flowers. Virgil is a laid back country boy type who would rather be fishing in his boat on some lake instead of chasing criminals. Somehow, he always seems to draw the oddball cases.

This time, two rare tigers have been stolen by someone from the Minnesota Zoo and Virgil is put on the case to recover the animals. Tiger parts are prized in the Chinese drug market for their alleged curative powers. The illegal tiger extracts could be worth over a million dollars. It's feared that the animals will be quickly killed and their valuable parts harvested to be smuggled to China.

Virgil Flowers is racing the clock to track down the tiger thieves. But the trail soon leads to a crazy shootout, the arrival of a family of Armenian thugs, and then murdered bodies start to pile up. The tiger hunt continues to take new twists as Virgil chases leads all over the state.

Escape Clause is a fast reading crime ride seasoned with deadpan dialog humor. This is another wild escapade in the series of crime novels that John Sanford seems to turn out effortlessly.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


Our Kind of Traitor (new on DVD) is a gripping drama about the clash between honorable values and political corruption within the murky world of government spy agencies. The movie is based on a novel by John LeCarre.

British couple Perry and Gail are on vacation when they meet Dima, a flamboyant character, and a money launderer for a Russian crime syndicate. But Dima's gang is now controlled by a ruthless new boss who is eliminating the old guard and Dima fears he and his family will soon be assassinated. He wants to defect to Britain for safety, and he uses Perry as intermediary to help him do so.

Perry makes contact with British agent Hector from MI-6. Dima has information about high British officials who are in the pay of the Russian syndicate. Dima will provide those names in exchange for political asylum. Hector agrees, but he has his own agenda of revenge against a particular government official that he wants to satisfy at the same time.

The movie follows a tense operation in Switzerland as Perry and Hector's team try to get Dima and his family to safety, leading up to violent fight with the Russian gangsters at a safe house in the Swiss Alps.

Our Kind of Traitor is a chilling story of lies and betrayal, in which a Russian defector is a more honorable traitor than the politically corrupt traitors high up inside the British government itself.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Caleb Carr is back with SURRENDER, NEW YORK

Surrender, New York is a new crime novel by Caleb Carr. His earlier bestselling novel, The Alienist, dealt with the first use of psychological profiling to solve crimes in 1900 New York City.

Carr's new novel is set in the upstate New York town of Surrender, where a series of grotesque deaths of local teenagers has occurred. The novel's main character is Dr. Trajan Jones, a criminal profiler, who works with Dr. Mike Li, a trace evidence expert.

The teenage victims were all part of a class called "throwaway children," who were abandoned by or kicked out of their original families. Jones and Li believe some unknown predators are targeting these rootless kids. But their theory puts them in conflict with authorities who may be covering up a disturbing conspiracy.

The author uses the novel to advance his criticism that crime investigation now relies too much on CSI-type physical evidence that points in only one direction. Trajan Jones argues that profiling the entire psychological context of the crime is better able to consider all potential motives and suspects.

 Surrender, New York is a densely written, overly long novel which could be shorter by two hundred pages and suffers from some weak plot elements. Recommended only for dedicated Caleb Carr fans.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 an Eerie Mystery

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware is an eerie psychological mystery set within the claustrophobic confines of a huge luxury yacht.

Lo Blacklock is a travel journalist assigned to cover the week long cruise of the Aurora on the North Sea. The handful of passengers are a mix of wealthy or celebrity guests invited on the luxurious cruise. But it all changes when Lo thinks she sees a woman thrown overboard one night.

Lo's report of what she saw is not believed. No one from the passengers or crew is missing. Lo herself has had problems with drinking and use of anti-depressants. She suffers from sudden panic attacks. Is the lost woman all in Lo's head, or is there a cover-up going on of a real murder aboard the boat?

The Woman in Cabin 10 starts slowly, but builds in intensity as a paranoid Lo suspects everyone around her, until a startling plot twist changes everything that went before. The novel is the kind of story that fans of seemingly insoluble mystery situations will enjoy.


Don't ever go into that room.

Now available in Paperback and eBook at Amazon.

Friday, August 12, 2016

IN A DARK, DARK WOOD a Sinister Memory Puzzle

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware is a sinister psychological mystery whose answer depends on the confused, damaged memories of one character.

The story is set in the woods of northern England, where a group of six gather for a bachelorette party in an isolated country house. Nora Shaw is the main character, an introverted woman who doesn't want to be there with people she hasn't seen in years. The party is for her once best friend Clare Cavendish, but the two have lost touch until now.

Once the group gathers at the house in the spooky woods, tensions rise as old secrets and resentments begin to emerge. Then a truly horrific incident occurs suddenly and someone is dead. But was it only a grotesque accident, or is something more diabolical at work?

Nora Shaw herself can't remember what happened. She suffered a head injury in a car accident as she fled the house. Now the police have questions she can't answer.

The truth emerges in disjointed puzzle pieces from Nora's damaged memory. But is it a truth she even wants to fully remember? In a Dark, Dark Wood is a compelling read that saves its answers until the wrenching final twist.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

THE HIGHWAYMAN a Walt Longmire Ghost Story

The Highwayman by Craig Johnson is a new entry in the popular crime series that features Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire. But this short novel is a departure for Longmire as he investigates a legendary Western ghost story.

The spooky setting for the tale is the night fogs of the rugged Wind River Canyon region. Mysterious police radio calls are coming in, seemingly from state trooper Bobby Womack. But Womack himself died in a fiery crash in the canyon decades earlier. Trooper Rosie Wayman swears she heard the radio calls in her patrol car, and she comes to her friend Longmire for help. Walt gets involved in the mystery and finds more than he bargained for.

The Highwayman is the author's updating of the classic Charles Dickens tale "The Signal-Man." The novella is a quick, fun read both for fans of Walt Longmire and readers who enjoy a good, eerie ghost story.


She's called The Rep and she's not human.

Now at Kindle, Nook, and iBook.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

THE TUNNEL a Distrubing Crime Puzzle

The Tunnel is a ten-part crime series now seen on PBS. Back episodes are available on Comcast Infinity.

The series opens with a bizarre puzzle: a female body is found in the Channel Tunnel that runs between England and France. The body is placed exactly on the boundary line between the two nations. What's more, the body is in two pieces, taken from two different corpses. Half of the body is from a French congress member. The other half is from an English call girl.

An oddly matched team of English and French detectives is assigned to the case. The French woman, Elise Wasserman, is socially detached. The English detective, Karl Roebuck, is a sardonic cynic. They work grudgingly together at first.

Bizarre new deaths continue to occur as an anonymous killer, the Truth Teller, stages shocking murders meant to expose the ills of society and the political system. A distorted voice on the phone announces his intentions.

The Tunnel is a gripping and disturbing mystery with no sure sense of where the plot will go next. The awkward chemistry between the two main characters adds another element of uncertainty.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Stephen King Completes Suspense Trilogy with END OF WATCH

End of Watch by Stephen King is a follow-up to his prior related suspense novels, Mr. Mercedes and Finders, Keepers. Continuing characters in all three novels are retired police detective Bill Hodges, his mentally fragile assistant Holly Gibney, and sociopathic mass murderer Brady Hartsfield.

Hartsfield is now a vegetative coma patient after suffering a brain trauma injury when Hodges and Holly stopped his mass casualty bombing attempt. But Brady's mind has been secretly recovering, and in the process, has developed paranormal mental powers. He uses those powers to incite an epidemic of suicides, aided by a hypnotic game player tablet called a Zappit.

As the sudden suicide deaths mount, Bill Hodges uncovers Hartsfield's monstrous plot. Hodges and Holly race against time to shut down the malevolent Zappits before the suicide infection can spread even further.

End of Watch contains some familiar King themes: paranormal mental powers, sinister technological devices, and a team of friends coming together to fight an evil threat. The novel is notable for the characters of Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney, two of the most admirable people Stephen King has created.

The novel is overlong by at least fifty pages, as King's renown "Big Mac and Fries" style tends to overwrite too often. The author is actually at his best in shorter, tighter works such as The Night Flyer and The Mist.

That said, End of Watch is a colorful, fast-reading work that long time King fans should find satisfying.

Monday, June 6, 2016

AQUARIUS Season Two - The Dark Side of the Sixties

Aquarius (NBC Network) returns June 16 for its second season. This crime series looks at the darkest side of the 1960s decade, while set against a background of the lifestyle and music of that era. Season One was uneven, but interesting enough to continue the series storyline.

The Sixties era was a time of political turmoil over the Vietnam war, when many kinds of revolution were in the air. It was a period that encompassed psychedelic drugs, the Summer of Love, and visionary rock music from The Beatles, Dylan, The Doors, and Jefferson Airplane.

But the Sixties was also infamous for the crimes of the notorious Manson Family - a ragged communal cult that committed a series of horrific California murders under the mesmerizing sway of the demonic Charles Manson.

Aquarius begins in 1967 Los Angeles as LAPD detective Sam Hodiak (played by David Duchovny) looks into the case of a missing teenage girl. He learns the girl may have joined a creepy band of hippie drifters. That puts Hodiak on the trail of the people who would become the Manson Family killers.

The TV series is set against the colorful backdrop of the Sixties culture scene, when the wild permissive freedom of the era degenerated into the frenzied, amoral blackness of the bloody crime scenes left behind by the Manson Family cult. Aquarius shows that beneath the surface of good vibes and pounding music, something evil and violent was already stirring.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Crime and Suspense Classics - The Essential Reading List

Here's a list of classic novels that are essential reads in the Crime and Suspense genres. The list is roughly chronological, ranging from the 1930s to the current time. Note that the list does not include traditional Mystery novels, which is a separate genre.

The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett. Where the terse, hardboiled style all began.

The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler

Double Indemnity - James M. Cain. The classic Noir doomed crime plan.

The Getaway - Jim Thompson. The crime novel as a descent into Hell.

The Manchurian Candidate - Richard Condon. The paranoid conspiracy thriller and a monstrous maternal figure.

Psycho - Robert Bloch.

The Deep Blue Goodbye - John D. MacDonald

The Friends of Eddie Coyle - George V. Higgins. Gritty crime story told in pitch perfect street dialogue. Elmore Leonard learned from this author.

Death Wish - Brian Garfield. Unban crime problems and the novel of revenge.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - John LeCarre. The perfect Cold War spy novel.

The Ipcress File - Len Deighton. The spy novel retold with working class cynicism.

Marathon Man - William Goldman. That shudder-grating torture scene in a dental chair.

Miami Blues - Charles Willeford. An under-appreciated gem of a crime author.

Killshot - Elmore Leonard.

The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy. Frantic, pitch black, and borderline insane, as only Ellroy can write.

Silence of the Lambs - Thomas Harris. The best serial killer novel ever written.

Heaven's Prisoners - James Lee Burke

Mystic River - Dennis Lehane.

No Country For Old Men - Cormac McCarthy. Noir fatalism in the new West.

City of Bones -  Michael Connelly. The police procedural at its best.

The Leopard - Jo Nesbo. Obsession, Nordic style.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

NIGHT MANAGER a Sleek Spy Drama

The Night Manager is a taut, sleekly produced mini-series airing on AMC Cable network. The series is based on a novel by John Le Carre.

With the end of the Cold War battle between the CIA, MI-6, and the Soviet KGB, spy novelists like Le Carre had to find new plot subjects such as terrorism, multi-national corporations, and international crime. The Night Manager deals with an undercover operation by a British intelligence agency to bring down a notorious arms smuggler. In the process, corruption and betrayal are uncovered at high levels within both MI-6 and the CIA.

Other Le Carre novels have pursued similar post-Cold War intrigue:

Our Kind of Traitor - A British couple on vacation become involved with a Russian crime oligarch who wishes to defect, which draws the involvement of British intelligence. The movie version of the novel will be released this August.

A Most Wanted Man - A grim, cynical drama set in Hamburg, Germany. A wanted Muslim terrorist pretending to be an ordinary immigrant is hunted by competing American, British, and German agencies. Unfortunately, Le Carre's ingrained anti-American streak is on its nastiest display here. The movie version is available on DVD.

Monday, May 2, 2016

EXTREME PREY a New Crime Thriller by John Sandford

Extreme Prey by John Sandford is the newest entry in the crime thriller series that features Minnesota State Police investigator Lucas Davenport.

The Iowa Presidential campaign trail is the background for the novel. A threat has been made against a candidate. Lucas is on indefinite leave from police work, but he agrees to look into the threat as a free lance consultant.

What Lucas finds increasingly worries him. Evidence develops that indicates the threat is not only real, but clearly dangerous. But the threat comes from an unlikely source: a bitter and resentful farm family following near-psychotic political motives. The race to stop an assassination plan crisscrosses the rustic Iowa landscape, hurtling toward a tense, explosive finish.

Extreme Prey has a crackerjack plot and is written in such a smooth, fast paced style that the novel practically reads itself. Once again, John Sandford shows why he is one of the best crime thriller authors working today.

An outstanding read. Highly recommended.

Friday, April 1, 2016

OFF THE GRID a Western Crime Thriller

Off the Grid by C.J. Box is the latest novel in the series that features Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett. The Pickett novels are noted for fast moving plots, with raw boned action, set against a rugged western landscape. This newest entry doesn't disappoint.

The storyline shifts between Joe Pickett and his friend Nate Romanowski, a former special forces soldier and now a renegade outlaw wanted by the Feds. Nate has been hiding out in the wilderness off the grid. But the Feds finally locate him and recruit him for a job. In return, Nate's record will be fully cleared.

The Feds want Nate to infiltrate a suspected terrorist cell training in the remote, desolate Red desert region of Wyoming. Meanwhile, the state governor sends Joe Pickett into the same area to find out what the Feds are up to on state lands.

Joe and Nate are working separate missions, but they both run up against the same ruthless enemies in the middle of a barren nowhereWhen it becomes clear what kind of disaster the terrorists plan to cause, the book's title takes on a whole new meaning. 

Off the Grid is a riveting read that again shows why C.J. Box is one of the most popular authors in the crime thriller genre.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

MIDNIGHT SUN by Jo Nesbo a Fateful Crime Tale

Midnight Sun is a new short novel from Norwegian crime author Jo Nesbo, who is widely acclaimed for his popular series featuring Oslo homicide detective Harry Hole.

The main character of Midnight Sun is a former crime gang member who calls himself Ulf. He was supposed to kill someone for his boss, the Fisherman, but instead Ulf took money to let his intended victim go free. Now Ulf himself is on the run from the Fisherman's hit men. Hiding out in an isolated village in the far north of Norway near the Arctic Circle, Ulf hopes they won't find him there. But in his heart, he knows they will be coming sooner or later.

Ulf is a practical man with no illusions about the dead end situation he is in, a pitiless prospect as bleak as the barren landscape around him and the relentless, hanging sun that never sets. A fatalistic undertone of the consequences of one's decisions runs throughout the story.

Midnight Sun is a grim crime tale that moves implacably toward an unexpected finish. It's another solid read from Jo Nesbo.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A New Mystery For Scotland Inspector Rebus

Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin is the latest novel in the series that features Inspector John Rebus of the Edinburgh, Scotland police.

Now retired, the irascible Rebus is brought in as civilian consultant on a new murder investigation. A former high court prosecutor is found beaten to death in his home. Rebus is teamed with his old partner, Siobhan Clarke, and an old nemesis, Malcolm Fox, once an Internal Affairs cop who tried to nail John Rebus.

At the same time, someone has taken a shot at a notorious local mobster, Gerald Cafferty, a long time acquaintance of Rebus. The shooting may be the prelude to a looming war for control among the city's mobsters. As Rebus is drawn into that situation as well, a startling link emerges between the prosecutor's murder and the attempt against the mobster Cafferty.

What could be the connection between the two cases? That's the puzzle that Rebus and his colleagues must solve, even as a third victim suddenly turns up.

Even Dogs in the Wild  is another entertaining entry in this popular series that Inspector Rebus fans should thoroughly enjoy.

Monday, January 4, 2016


The Girl in the Spider's Web is a continuation of the best selling trilogy that began with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. Sadly, Larsson died shortly after writing the last novel in the trilogy.

New author David Lagercrantz has now continued the original series with this latest novel. Set again in Stockholm, the novel brings back the striking character duo of investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist and tough hacker punk Lisbeth Salander.

The plot is a complex web involving cyber-espionage and the theft of valuable industrial secrets. The U.S. spy agency NSA may be involved, along with a team of ruthless killers, and an autistic savant boy who possesses key information.

The novel offers much of the same technical depth and sweeping storyline of the original Larsson books. The character of Mikael Blomkvist is a solidly familiar presence that anchors the story. Where new author Lagercrantz has trouble is in catching the enigmatic character of Lisbeth Salander.  She comes across coldly and remotely, never showing the same fiery, volatile intensity of the Larsson portrayal.

That said, The Girl in the Spider's Web is a worthy effort and an enjoyable read, if only a somewhat diminished echo of the vividly original Stieg Larsson works.