Whodunit? Why? How?
Nothing takes my mind so completely away from the twists and turns of reality like the dark twists and turns of a good mystery novel.
During the pandemic, I’ve fallen into every kind — from cozy mysteries to nail-biting suspense. Here are some titles to lose yourself in this winter. (All were published in 2020 unless otherwise noted.)
The incomparable Tana French is one the best mystery writers working today. Her latest, “The Searcher,” is a stand-alone — not one of her cult-favorite Dublin Murder Squad books — so if it’s your first French, you won’t feel lost. Now living in Dublin, French is a Vermont native whose books have won fistfuls of awards. “In the Woods” and “Faithful Place” are two of my favorites in her acclaimed Dublin Murder Squad series, centering on an elite Irish detective unit. It’s a series so cinematic, some were adapted into the Starz drama, “Dublin Murders.” You can read them in any order.
If you loved “Knives Out,” beeline for Anthony Horowitz’s “Moonflower Murders.” Horowitz intricately weaves a whodunit so tangled, you need to read it twice to see how he did it. He feels lifted from the Golden Age of mystery writing. Start with “Magpie Murders” (2016) — which PBS is set to adapt — as “Moonflower” builds off this award-winner. Both are mysteries within mysteries, featuring editor Susan Ryeland, mystery writer Alan Conway, and Conway’s star detective character, Atticus Pünd.
For slow-burning suspense, go for Rumaan Alam’s 2020 National Book Award finalist, “Leave the World Behind.” This wasn’t so much a mystery as it was a “Black Mirror” episode. Alam is on the pulse of what fear looks like in our times, and it’s not surprising that Netflix will adapt this page-turner into a Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington thriller.
One of the most buzzy mysteries of 2020 was Alyssa Cole’s “When No One Is Watching.” Billed as “‘Rear Window’ meets ‘Get Out,’” it layered themes of gentrification, race, and white privilege — there’s a lot to unpack.
Fans of Dennis Lehane might try S.A. Cosby’s “Blacktop Wasteland,” a New York Times Notable Book of 2020. The Anthony Award-winner’s plotting makes this a standout.
A destination wedding from hell, Lucy Foley’s buzzy “The Guest List” delivers a fun romp with Christie-inspired old-school charm — and an ending I didn’t see coming.
Cult favorite author Shari Lapena’s latest New York Times bestseller, “The End of Her,” about a shady husband, is a must-read for fans of her previous hits like “The Couple Next Door.
For another readable spin on that same Christie classic, with a Black female protagonist, try Rachel Howzell Hall’s 2019 “They All Fall Down.” Her 2020 release, “And Now She’s Gone,” set in her hometown of LA, is even stronger, carrying themes of racism, sexism, and domestic violence.
I loved “Eight Perfect Murders,” by Somerville’s Peter Swanson in part because it takes place in Boston, and in part because the premise is so much fun: Boston mystery bookseller Malcolm Kershaw, had, years earlier, compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders (“Eight Perfect Murders”) and finds himself in an FBI investigation when it appears that a killer is using his list.
Connecticut’s Wendy Walker has a knack for writing compulsively readable suspense/mysteries. Her latest, “Don’t Look For Me,” about a mother who accidentally kills her child and later disappears, was a New York Public Library Best Book of the Year.
For a Philip Marlowe feel, go for “Trouble Is What I Do,” the latest from Edgar Award-winner noir master Walter Mosley. P.I. Leonid McGill stars in a number of Mosley’s hardboiled tales. You may also know his Easy Rawlins series, including “Devil in a Blue Dress” — adapted into a Hollywood hit starring Denzel Washington.
In November, Mosley became the first Black man to win a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation. (He’s also a talented short story writer — 17 of his best were compiled in 2020′s “The Awkward Black Man.”)
If you love the Netflix hit “Narcos,” try “Winter Counts,” a crime thriller by David Heska Wanbli Weiden. A New York Times Editors’ Choice and Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2020, it features vigilante Virgil Wounded Horse who goes after a drug cartel after heroin affects a Native American reservation.
Ruth Ware delivered her strongest book to date with “One By One.” Very much Christie-influenced — specifically by “And Then There Were None” — it packs a twist of an ending.