It’s been a dark year, judging from my 10 picks from 2012’s crop of crime fiction. Complicated, often unreliable or unlikable narrators populate many of these novels, and every one has at least one twist to surprise even the most jaundiced reader.
And When She Was Good
By Laura Lippman (Morrow)
Helen Lewis escapes from a controlling, abusive father. Supported by a pimp whom she loves and fears, she reinvents herself as a high-priced suburban hooker, her clients a who’s who of local politics. It works until she gives birth to a son. This story of the transformative power of motherhood is as compelling as any thriller.
The Art Forger
By B. A. Shapiro (Algonquin)
Painter Claire Roth has been reduced to copying great works of art in order to pay the rent on her SoWa studio. A prestigious gallery owner offers her a Faustian bargain: a solo show of her paintings if she’ll copy a work that turns out to have been stolen from the Gardner Museum. Local settings, a delicious series of letters from the real “Belle” dishing on her friendship with Degas, fascinating detail about art forgery, and an unexpected plot twist make this irresistible.
By Chris Knopf (Permanent)
A man with nothing to lose investigates his own attempted murder. After a hired killer murders his wife and leaves Arthur Cathcart gravely injured and in a coma for months, Cathcart takes advantage of his reported death to assume a new identity. He marshals his remaining strength and considerable research skills, determined to do what it takes to find his wife’s killer. Ingenious plotting, breathless pacing.
By William Landay (Delacorte)
Prosecutor Andy Barber, haunted by the knowledge that violence runs in his family, tries to “lawyer away” mounting evidence that his son, Jacob, killed a classmate. Meanwhile, his wife, Laurie, wracked with guilt, revisits incidents from Jacob’s childhood that she can no longer rationalize. Riveting courtroom procedure and villains on both sides of the law. Perfect for book groups, this one will have you asking yourself: What would I do?
Edge of Dark Water
By Joe R. Lansdale (Mulholland)
In this Southern Gothic, clear-eyed teenage narrator Sue Ellen and two friends set off down the Sabine River on a raft. Their mission: to take to Hollywood the remains of May Lynn, a friend who was killed before she could pursue her dream of becoming a movie star. The journey is fraught with danger — a passel of villains and a terrifying bogeyman. Equal parts “Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” with a dash of “As I Lay Dying,” this is one terrific read.
By Gillian Flynn (Crown)
Who is Amy? From page one, we know she’s disappeared. Her diary entries paint an increasingly damning picture, implicating her husband, Nick, who seems genuinely astonished at every new piece of evidence that is unearthed. This one lures you along and then pulls the rug out. The characters are nasty — or are they? It’s like watching a slow-motion train wreck, utterly horrifying and fascinating.
Live by Night
By Dennis Lehane (Morrow)
This novel takes the measure of a man and of an era, both poisoned by poverty and Prohibition. Joe Coughlin, a Boston Police captain’s son (both were characters in Lehane’s “The Given Day”), descends from outlaw to a full-fledged gangster and finally to prince of a criminal underworld. As with so many great crime novels, it’s also about fathers and sons and the power of love.
The Other Woman
By Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)
This book looks past the familiar image of the philandering politician and asks: Who is the “other woman”? The answer isn’t at all what you expect. Boston settings (a body on the banks of the Charles), breakneck pacing, intricate plotting, and an investigative reporter who’s trying to rescue her reputation set this one apart.
Talking to the Dead
By Harry Bingham (Delacorte)
Welsh Detective Constable “Fi” Griffiths feels more at home with the corpses of a murdered prostitute and her daughter than she does with friends and colleagues. With razor-sharp wit, a mind on hyper-drive, and a yearning to inhabit “planet normal,” she sees connections others miss. The writing is just literary enough to make you catch your breath but not so eye-catching that it detracts from the storytelling.
Trust Your Eyes
By Linwood Barclay (NAL)
In this mash-up of “Rear Window,” “Rain Man,” and “Femme Nikita,” a schizophrenic man who spends his waking hours roaming Google Maps witnesses a murder. A suspenseful, pulse-pounding thriller leavened by a trio of quirky, unlikely heroes and a lovely romance. Talk about tour de force plotting, even the most minor details pay off with shoes dropping right up to the final page.
Hallie Ephron is the author of the forthcoming “There Was an Old Woman” and “Never Tell a Lie.” Contact her through www.hallieephron .com.