THE MYSTERIOUS BOOKSHOP PRESENTS THE BEST MYSTERY STORIES OF THE YEAR

2021

Editor Child, series editor Otto Penzler, and their colleague Michele Slung team up to offer 20 gems from 2021 in the first volume of a new series.

Many of this year’s best follow a familiar road: pitting a rugged male hero, often with military street cred, against the bad guys. Doug Allyn’s “30 and Out” features an Afghan War vet who hunts a colleague’s killer; Jim Allyn’s ex-Army police veteran worries about being teamed with an unreliable partner in “Things That Follow.” But a surprising number include less traditional crime busters. A young man entranced with the Irish language is the gentle hero of Andrew Welsh-Huggins’ “The Path I Took.” Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, a familiar female gumshoe, makes a welcome appearance in “Love & Other Crimes” along with the female proprietor of Wilde Investigations in Janice Law’s “The Client.” Moms get into the act in Alison Gaylin’s “The Gift” and Tom Mead’s “Heatwave.” So do new friends, in Martin Edwards’ “The Locked Cabin,” and frenemies, in Jacqueline Freimor’s “That Which Is True.” And in a startling tribute to the power of sisterhood, Joseph S. Walker shows how quickly female strangers can bond if the need is urgent in “Etta at the End of the World.” Women take starring roles on the wrong side of the law in John Floyd’s “Biloxi Bound” and Joyce Carol Oates’ “Parole Hearing, California Institution for Women, Chino, CA." Child’s selections seem especially appropriate for 2021, a year that promises change on so many fronts. The only exception is the unexplained bonus reprint, Ambrose Bierce’s “My Favorite Murder,” a bitter tale of a man who revels in the sadistic murder of his uncle. That one belongs to 2020.

Diverse and diverting.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-61316-267-5

Page Count: 451

Publisher: Mysterious Press

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Space nerds will geek out, and everyone else eventually gets a pretty good ride.

THE APOLLO MURDERS

A vast Cold War space thriller from astronaut Hadfield.

Incorporating real-life characters and events, spanning decades and distances both terrestrial and translunar, this NASA-heavy thriller has everything, including perhaps a bit too many meticulously reported technical procedures. The story opens with not one but two aircraft episodes—a bird strike wrecks an F-4 Phantom and a Cessna 170B is taken out for a rhapsodic spin—then follows the developing career of Kaz Zemeckis, who, until the bird strike cost him an eye, had been a military astronaut with good prospects of going to the moon. Repurposed as a crew liaison for NASA, Zemeckis is involved in both the training for and the mission of Apollo 18. Hadfield's use of real people brings historical authenticity to the novel, and there are many tidbits of NASA lore that only an insider could provide, but the devotion to technical facts has some drawbacks. There are more moving parts to this novel than there are in a Saturn V, and Hadfield is careful to give each part a complete description: provenance, purpose, design, and in-use characteristics are all faithfully recorded. This makes the first part of the novel so technically focused that it seems the action will never get off the launchpad, though doubtless there are readers who will revel in these details. In the event, Apollo 18 is a complex mission. Initially charged with collecting geological samples and sabotaging the new Russian moon rover, the three astronauts are then told to sabotage the Russians' new spy satellite, which is thought to be unmanned but is not. The crisis created by this bungled attempt at space vandalism establishes the main narrative thread, with Zemeckis back at Mission Control in Houston struggling to keep the mission going. There is a murder and other deaths as well as injuries, vomiting, and space brawls, all reported in close detail. Though the climax is somewhat over-the-top, the basic bones of a good thriller are here even if the beginning is a slow burn.

Space nerds will geek out, and everyone else eventually gets a pretty good ride.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31626-453-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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