When we opened Aunt Agatha’s in 1992, we celebrated Black History Month every February by putting the work of black authors in our front window. In 1992, that group of authors was small, and if we were to still be an open store, out window display would be much larger. In 1992 it included Eleanor Taylor Bland, Hugh Holton, Iceberg Slim, Chester Himes, Donald Goines and of course, Walter Mosley, whose first novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, was published in 1990. Bill Clinton, a famous mystery fan, had helped his career by mentioning him as a favorite writer.
There are two authors whose work is so consistently excellent I don’t add them to my best of lists anymore, but I can tell you that William Kent Krueger’s prequel to his Cork O’Connor series, Lightning Strike, is beautifully written, felt and told; and Louise Penny’s The Madness of Crowds, a sly look at devotees of a flawed charismatic leader, is a beautiful read. Both writers have a quality of heart and spirit that give their books an extra something, and their main characters, Cork O’Connor and Armand Gamache, are beloved by readers. Soon to join these two are Elly Griffiths and Ann Cleeves, both of whom turned in stellar reads this year (see below). I invite readers to cast their reading nets a bit wider and consider some of these other fine titles. These are all books that stayed with me and left me thinking after I finished them.
I’m not sure what it is about Michigan that creates great private eye novelists, but whatever the reason, Stephen Mack Jones has joined the likes of Loren Estleman and Steve Hamilton in creating his Detroit based private eye, August Snow. August is a reluctant millionaire – an ex cop who sued the police department – and he now (mostly) spends his time renovating his neighborhood, Detroit’s Mexicantown, one house at a time. When his godmother, Elena, calls, however, he agrees to meet with a dying man about his Mexicantown business.
I couldn’t keep it to 10 this year – can I ever? My taste does tend toward the traditional and historical fiction side of things, so that’s mostly reflected here. And a note: Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land, while not strictly a mystery, can definitely be enjoyed by his mystery loving fans. Quite simply, it’s the best book of 2019 of any variety, and I hope everyone reads it. I am looking to read it again myself.
There was lots to love this year! Some long-awaited returns (S.J. Rozan), some debuts (Melanie Golding, Allison Montclair, Jess Montgomery), some trying a different format or series (Ann Cleeves, Elly Griffiths), and of course some solid entries in already great series (Benn, Bowen, Jones, Massey, Shaber). Lots of great, passionate, spectacular writing. I love being a mystery reader!
This book came out around the time we closed the store and I didn’t read it at the time, being deep into comfort re-reading of Agatha Christie and Patricia Wentworth. However I thought the first book, August Snow, was wonderful and a great and much needed injection of diversity and vitality to the private eye genre. This second book is even better, more intense and focused. I recently interviewed Stephen who mentioned Robert B. Parker as an influence, and I can sure see it in this tight, funny, fast moving story.