When I made this list, I kept discovering ways in which these books were in conversation with one another. The protagonists of my two favorite mystery series debuts seemed like they could work well together, albeit warily. Several books explored the crimes of serial murderers and gave greater voice to those harmed.
Noir, particularly the American variety, still endures as a potent lens on contemporary society. And whether the tone is dark or light, crime fiction as a whole still has the power to move scores of readers.
Give me the latest novel by a new American crime-writing master.
I’m envious of anyone who’s just discovering S.A. Cosby — he’s one of crime fiction’s biggest talents, skilled at merging the darkest human behavior with robust and indelible characters. ALL THE SINNERS BLEED (Flatiron, 338 pp., $27.99) stars Titus Crown, the first-ever Black sheriff of rural Charon County, Va., whose investigation of one murder leads to the discovery of other killings.
“Small towns are like the people who populate them,” Cosby writes. “They are both full of secrets. Secrets of the flesh, secrets of blood. Hidden oaths and whispered promises that turn to lies just as quick as milk spoils under a hot summer sun.”
I already read all of S.A. Cosby’s novels, and I want more noir — the darker, the better.
EVERYBODY KNOWS (Mulholland Books, 373 pp., $28), by Jordan Harper, will not restore anyone’s faith in humanity. This tale of a crisis manager’s journey of the soul is as bleak as Hollywood noir gets, skewering redemption narratives, romance and idealism. Every sentence sings with heartache.
There’s a little more hope in Eli Cranor’s OZARK DOGS (Soho Crime, 312 pp., $26.95), but just like his acclaimed debut, “Don’t Know Tough,” it dwells in the murky recesses of rural Arkansas, where people often commit acts of violence out of desperation. What spurs that violence this time is a blood feud between the Fitzjurls — the Vietnam War veteran Jeremiah and his granddaughter Joanna, whom he’s raised after her father was imprisoned for murder — and the Ledfords, unrepentant white supremacists out for revenge. Cranor doesn’t hide the horror or the emotional wreckage, but he also never resorts to gratuitous descriptions.
Introduce me to some series characters I’ll love immediately.
I like to think that after wary first impressions, Sister Holiday, whom we first meet in Margot Douaihy’s SCORCHED GRACE (Gillian Flynn Books, 310 pp., $27.95), and Glory Broussard, who takes her first bow in Danielle Arceneaux’s GLORY BE (Pegasus Crime, 257 pp., $26.95), would find common crime-solving ground. Holiday’s a queer, tattooed nun in New Orleans, trying to re-establish equilibrium after blowing up her life in Brooklyn, a task complicated by a dead body discovered where she lives and teaches.
Glory, living in Lafayette, La., loves her daughter, the Red Hat Society and taking other people’s bets on Sunday mornings instead of attending church. What she doesn’t love is being written off, especially when her best friend dies in suspicious circumstances. Both authors have great fun interrogating the detective form, and both are bringing out new installments next year. I’m all in.
I can’t resist reading serial-killer thrillers.
Some authors have begun reimagining serial-killer narratives by focusing on the perspectives and lives of the actual victims, who are most often women and girls, instead of the murderers. It’s a welcome trend. Danya Kukafka’s “Notes on an Execution” — my favorite novel last year — did it brilliantly, and Clémence Michallon’s debut, THE QUIET TENANT (Knopf, 303 pp., $28), tackles similar terrain. We’re privy to the rich inner lives of the women and girls orbiting a handsome, charming and seemingly empathetic upstate New York widower, including his teenage daughter, a newfound love interest and the woman he keeps chained to a radiator.
The Norwegian writer Victoria Kielland, splendidly translated by Damion Searls, takes a different tack with MY MEN (Astra House, 194 pp., $25), her literary examination of the woman who would become the notorious serial murderer Belle Gunness. Kielland plumbs Belle’s inner life through jaggedly rhythmic prose, where what should be obvious is sometimes opaque and what’s often shrouded — female rage — takes center stage.
American writers are well and good, but I still can’t get enough of the Scandinavians.
I was so bowled over by Christoffer Carlsson’s BLAZE ME A SUN (Hogarth, 435 pp., $28) that I declared it “the first great crime novel of 2023” almost a year ago — and I still, enthusiastically, stand by that statement. The Swedish writer’s novel, evocatively translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, connects the personal and the political (it’s initially set in the aftermath of Prime Minister Olof Palme’s 1986 assassination, still unsolved today) in ways that feel deeply human and thrilling. The murdered individuals emerge as full characters, not mere sketches, and the sense of loss that permeates the novel is a devastating reminder that closure is often anything but.
REYKJAVIK (Minotaur, 384 pp., $28), a collaboration between the Icelandic mystery writer Ragnar Jonasson and Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the country’s current prime minister, coversv territory similar to “Blaze Me a Sun” — a vanished girl, a connection to major political events, a stop-and-start investigation that begins in the 1950s and continues decades later. The tone and style are much more stripped-down, though, emphasizing the whodunit aspect in a way that produces unexpected surprises.
You keep raving about those Thursday Murder Club books. Does the newest one measure up?
I didn’t review THE LAST DEVIL TO DIE (Pamela Dorman Books, 368 pp., $29) in my column because I’d already lavished so much praise on the prior two installments, about a quartet of senior citizens turned detectives. But it’s the best Murder Club book yet, as well as the last one we’ll see for a while — Richard Osman has said he’s taking a hiatus from Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim to begin a new series.
One scene in particular — I’ve been calling it “the letter scene” — floored me with its moving portrayal of cognitive decline. It is a poignant complement to both the fair-play mystery plot and the characters’ lively humor.