Most of us will be glad when 2021 rings its sorry self out the door. The year 2022 has to be better, right? Here in Portland, as long as you are masked and observe basic safety measures, you can wander in bookstores again. Readers rock!
We didn’t read all the mysteries published in 2021. We didn’t even read close to half of them. We read reviews, read promo material, talked to other mystery fans, examined new offerings, checked out cover art (yes, we do judge a book by its cover) and picked the ones that sounded the most intriguing. Of the ones we did read, here are our favorites for 2021:
In the Company of Killers, by Bryan Christy
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 368 pages, $27
A special investigator for National Geographic, Bryan Christy, wrote a book about a special investigator for a “global nonprofit organization committed to exploring and protecting our planet.”* Tom Klay is a complex character with a lot of past tragedies and worries shaken up into a ticking psychological bomb. Only, Klay won’t let the problems own him; he will own his life and will use the past to harden him into what he needs to be for his assignments. His best weapons are not guns, but his words and his work for his magazine. (For those who think this sounds too tame: There is a lot of bang-bang as well.)
The Windsor Knot, by S. J. Bennett
William Morrow, 288 pages, $27.99
Lilibet — Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain to you — is a smart cookie. With the help of her new assistant, Rozie Oshodi, she attempts to solve the murder of a Russian who had the temerity to expire in her palace. Come for the murder, stay for the behind-the-scenes look at palace life, fictionally speaking of course.
Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir
Ballantine Books, 496 pages, $28.99
I enjoyed “The Martian,” Weir’s first book. I really enjoyed “Project Hail Mary.” There is problem-solving galore, as in, solve this problem or die in space. Reluctant astronaut Ryland Grace has two problems: 1) When he awakens from a deep sleep aboard his ship hurtling toward Tau Ceti, he can’t remember a thing about who he is or why he is in space, and 2) eventually he realizes there is an alien presence on another ship. What a set-up for an apocalyptic thriller!
The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Celadon Books, 336 pages, $28
Author Jean Hanff Korelitz has pulled off a thrilling mystery, rich with plot and character and twisty insides. Author “Finch” Bonner had a hit with his first book, but for the life of him, he can’t come up with another. He teaches a writing class while he waits for inspiration to hit. One of his students, a smug, arrogant man named Evan Parker, claims he has a guaranteed hit novel. What will happen when fate intervenes and … oops, can’t give away too much of this surprising book.
Smoke, by Joe Ide
Mulholland Books, 336 pages, $28
Here’s another winner of an I.Q. book! Isaiah Quintabe is the local private eye. He has graduated from solving little problems for the neighborhood old ladies to running from (or toward) serial killers, PTSD, gangs, dead people. He is joined by the usual quirky crew of Dodson, Cherise, Gloria, and Deronda. “Smoke” is meant to be loved. And the book after that (not yet released) is meant to be deeply anticipated.
Exit, by Belinda Bauer
Atlantic Monthly Press, 336 pages, $26
Belinda Bauer is another author who consistently offers twisty, well-written thrillers. This time, she has a story laced with humor. It’s not a fast-paced book; it is a well-paced one. There are quite a few characters, but you’ll sort them out. (Take notes!) Belinda Bauer is an author with kindness to spare. Her characters are quirky but human, mean but human, smart or average or sly but human. Before you know it, Belinda Bauer has packed a whole lot of story into her book. Felix Pink ushers people with terminal ailments into the the Great Beyond. When he is partnered by first-timer Amanda, things go wonky. Now Felix is on the run from the police.
Bryant & May: Oranges and Lemons, by Christopher Fowler
Bantam, 464 pages, $28.99
How often can an author turn out the nineteenth book in their series and pull out surprises and captivating characters? Fowler doesn’t do same old, same old. Bryant and May are the mainstays of Britain’s Peculiar Crimes Unit of the police. May is recuperating from a gunshot wound, but he still wants to be involved in the latest odd case of the PCU. That means solving the murders of people set to the nursery rhyme about the bells of London.
Pickard County Atlas, by Chris Harding Thornton
Bantam, 464 pages, $28.99
Harley Jensen grew up in the small town of Madson, Nebraska, and now he’s back as its deputy sheriff. Not only is his life complicated by the tragedies that happened while he was growing up, now he has to unravel the mystery surrounding two other local men, Paul and Rick Reddick, and their complicated family. Their younger brother was presumably murdered when he was seven, although his body was never recovered. Their mother has been slowly deteriorating over the years, and now she has disappeared. Harley must face his own past while he tries to remedy the tragedies from the Reddicks’ past.
The Wonder Test, Michelle Richmond
Atlantic Monthly Press, 448 pages, $25.99
It has a propulsive main story, it has quirky asides, it has a strong lead character, it has little and big stories. An FBI profiler on leave after the death of her husband moves herself and her son to her late father’s home in a town near San Francisco. Lina Connerly thought she had left her shadowy NYC profiler life behind, but the well-to-do town of Greenfield has its own mystery that cries for a solution. A few teenagers have disappeared from the town, only to reappear disoriented and confused much later. What’s going on?
The Anomaly, by Hervé Le Tellier
Other Press, 400 pages, $16.99
A fork sits in a drawer with other forks. A spoon nestles among other spoons. Where does the spork fit in? So too, we ask, where does “The Anomaly” fit with other books. It is the spork of books. When are random characters not so random; when is the common factor pretty bizarre; what communal mythology will emerge? And where is the assassin in all this?
Happy reading in 2022!
* The mission statement for National Geographic!