The Year’s Best Crime Fiction: 2016

police car

photo: P.V.O.A., creative commons license

Why deal with poorly executed [!], formulaic, airport quality crime fiction, when there’s Best Crime? Booklist’s longtime crime fiction reviewer Bill Ott has combed reviews of the amazing spectrum of books in this genre—from “crime caper novels, psychological thrillers, and history-mystery blends,” to police procedurals, and every kind of crime, white collar to noir, to come up with his top 10 crime novels of the year, 5/1/15-4/15/16.

An end-of-year summary of Best Crime/Mystery/Thriller fiction of 2016, is here.

And, the 2017 update of Ott’s list is here.

Every time the award-granting groups publish their nominees for the year’s top books in this genre, I’ve usually not read (and often not even heard of) any of them. This, despite reading some 70 books a year, heavily weighted toward the new and the criminal.

Booklist’s Top Picks

Mexico, drug cartels

(graphic by Christopher Dombres, creative commons license)

I was delighted, therefore, to see at the very top of Booklist’s review two novels I not only read and reviewed, but found absolutely spectacular—Don Winslow’s The Cartel, a cri de coeur for greater understanding of the clueless U.S. War on Drugs, its spectacular failures, and its deadly impact on the people of Mexico.

The other is Bill Beverly’s Dodgers, a terrific debut novel about a young black man growing up in Los Angeles, how race and crime affect his worldview, and so much more. While I’m not usually a fan of coming-of-age novels, this one will knock your socks off. Says Ott, Beverly’s characters “all live, breathe, and bleed.”

These two books are beautifully written, with convincing characters and engaging plots, and I wish that all the thrillers I read had the same moral significance. The other eight on Ott’s list—which I now want to read to see whether they meet the standard set by Winslow and Beverly—are:

  • Forty Thieves, by Thomas Perry—says Ott, “irresistible” comic capering
  • House of the Rising Sun, by James Lee Burke—“a quest of Arthurian proportions” and, since it’s based in Texas, a must-read for me—hey, those are my kinfolk
  • Is Fat Bob Dead Yet?, by Stephen Dobyns – uproarious, says Ott, who invokes my favorites Elmore Leonard (in his comic vein) and Donald E. Westlake; “loosen the reins of realism,” he advises
  • Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye – “Reader, I murdered him.” Jane Eyre devotees need know no more
  • King Maybe, by Timothy Hallinan – “one of the best in a sinfully entertaining series” involving crooks in LA, their perfect setting
  • Little Pretty Things, by Lori Rader-Day – A Mary Higgins Clark award-winner, atmospheric and suspenseful
  • The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz – a dark psychological thriller about a woman fleeing the consequences of her husband’s death (What, no sticking around for the insurance?)
  • The Whispering City, by Sara Moliner – an evocative historical, set in Barcelona in the early 1950’s, where General Franco’s security police are everywhere and a newspaper reporter is investigating a death best left alone.

Edgar Winners 2016

While I’m at it, I’ll mention that the Mystery Writers of American recently announced its 2016 Edgar winners. None of the nominees for “best novel” were in the list above, with the winner Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy (“a hybrid of mystery, coming-of-age and Southern gothic,” says the LA Times). MWA’s award for “best first novel” went to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (a cerebral spy thriller about the Vietnam War and winner of the Pulitzer Prize).

Be sure to check out the “Reading . . .” tab above to find more book reviews, many in the crime/mystery/thriller genre.