The year in Mystery: Favorites, Group One, Part One

December 17, 2008 at 6:48 pm (Best of 2008, books, Historical fiction, Mystery fiction)

As with fiction, I’m going to divide these titles onto two groups: first, those that I thoroughly enjoyed and would readily recommend, and second, those that were, in a word, superb.

I feel that there was a great deal to cheer about this year where mysteries are concerned. As I delved into the archives for 2008, I couldn’t help but marvel at all the terrific reads I’ve encountered this year. Almost all the authors I’m getting ready to praise are those whose work I’ve read before. Am I conservative about trying new (to me) writers in this genre? Oh yes. I have to be, you see, in order to keep from being completely overwhelmed!

So – without further ado – Group One, Part One:

thunder barnard

Thunder Bay by William Krueger. Krueger was one of several people that I missed seeing at Bouchercon (so many authors/ reviewers/editors, so little time). This book was nominated for an Anthony but lost to Laura Lippman’s What the Dead Know. Lippman’s novel was outstanding, to be sure, but in this contest,  I was rooting for Thunder Bay. More readers need to become familiar with Krueger’s fine work. His books are set in the Iron Range of northern Minnesota, and his sympathetic portrayal of Native Americans (in this case, the Ojibwe) calls to mind the work of the late, greatly lamented Tony Hillerman.

Tony Hillerman, May 27, 1925 - October 26, 2008

Tony Hillerman, May 27, 1925 - October 26, 2008

Last Post by Robert Barnard. I read this a while ago and don’t have a very specific memory of it, but I’ve  been a fan of Barnard’s for many years now. I know few other authors whose novels delight me so reliably and consistently. In addition to Last Post, I’d like to recommend an earlier work by Barnard,  Death  by Sheer Torture. It’s a hugely entertaining riff on the beloved (by me, anyway) English Country House Murder subgenre.

accomplice news

The Accomplice by Elizabeth Ironside. I was pleasantly surprised by this intense, gracefully written novel. I say that because I wasn’t a great fan of this author’s Death in the Garden.

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson. True, I wasn’t as wild about it as some reviewers were, and I don’t think it’s in the same league with the stellar Case Histories. But Atkinson is an inventive, witty, empathetic writer, so there was much in this novel to enjoy and appreciate.

speedy biker

The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith. This author is astonishingly prolific. Might he be, possibly, too prolific? I’ve been worried lately that McCall Smith is suffering from media overexposure. Still, that possibility does not detract one iota from his stellar accomplishments in the field of crime fiction. I’m a huge fan, both of Precious Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie

Once a Biker by Peter Turnbull. I know that I can depend on Peter Turnbull for a good, solid police procedural in the durable British style.  (And I’m currently behind in this series by two books – yay!) It’s a wonderful bonus that his Hennessey-Yellich series is set in York, surely one of the world’s most magical cities. I love reading about ancient walls, bars, snickelways, and the shambles – I’ve been there!!

headhunters butchers

Headhunters by Peter Lovesey. Lovesey is yet another favorite author of procedurals. Lately, he’s been de-emphasizing long time series protagonist Peter Diamond while bringing Henrietta “Hen” Mallin of the West Sussex Constabulary to the fore. These  books are exceptionally well written and cunningly plotted; they also have a great sense of place. Diamond was with the Force in Bath; Headhunters takes place on England’s South Coast. It’s a great setting, and a great story.

The Price of Butcher’s Meat by Reginald Hill. Please don’t be put off by the atrocious title. On the other hand, I would not advise tackling this book if you are not already familiar with the Dalziel and Pascoe novels. I’m currently working up a post reviewing this latest series entry; I’ll also be talking about the series as a whole. Meanwhile, if you want to get started, I suggest Ruling Passion (1973),  Bones and Silence, which won the CWA Gold Dagger in 1990, The Wood Beyond (1995), or On Beulah Height (1998). I’ll’ say it right out, right here: Reginald Hill is one of my all time favorite writers in any genre.



Waterloo Sunset by Martin Edwards. I entitled my post on this highly entertaining novel ” ‘Another Place:’ or, Liverpool Revealed.” It was revealed to me, at any rate,  as a city well worth getting to know. Martin Edwards’s latest, Dancing for the Hangman, has been recently published in the UK, to excellent reviews. In Hangman, an historical novel,  the author tackles the notorious case of Hawley Harvey Crippen. (Meanwhile, we fans of the Lake District novels featuring Daniel Kind and Hannah Scarlett eagerly – anxiously? –  await the fourth entry in that fine series.)  Martin Edwards also has a blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name, that’s well worth checking out.

pale-blue caesar

I read and enjoyed three historical mysteries this year: The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard, The Triumph of Caesar by Steven Saylor, and The Lost Luggage Porter by Andrew Martin. I’ve read every entry in Steven Saylor’s Roma sub Rosa series. I find his re-creation of ancient Rome fascinating and convincing. Saylor’s knowledge of that period of history is encyclopedic, but his research never obtrudes;  his narratives are lively and thoroughly engrossing.

lost-luggage1 necropolis

As for The Lost Luggage Porter – well, this slim little volume was a real find. Return with Andrew Martin to the north of England as it was a century ago. Get deep inside the railway culture of the times with detective Jim Stringer as he goes undercover in order to catch a thief – or rather, a ring of thieves. Clutching his Railway Police Manual, the appealing, all-too-human Stringer is alternately bold and terrified  – sometimes both at the same time! I loved this author’s writing; he makes use of the slightly antiquated diction that I find so effective and convincing in historical fiction. (The Lost Luggage Porter is the third in a series that’s appearing in the U.S. in a somewhat erratic order. The trade paperbacks feature an exceptionally appealing design – to be appreciated if and when you can get hold of them!)



While we’re on the subject, Peter Lovesey has penned some excellent historical mysteries. He’s the author of the Sergeant Cribb series, set in mid-Victorian Britain and every bit as evocative of the period as the novels of Anne Perry. And I especially recommend Rough Cider, whose setting alternates  between 1964 and in wartime England (1943).

That’s it for Group One, Part One. Stay tuned for Group One Part Two, to be followed – and I’m not saying how swiftly! – by Group Two.


  1. Nan said,

    Wow, what a good post. So much to read. Mr. S. Claus is bringing my husband Krueger’s first in the series, Iron Lake. I have just recently bought my first Dalziel and Pascoe books, after meaning to read them for ages. I’m very interested in the Andrew Martin books. Such beautiful covers. I read another old railway mystery, The Railway Detective by Edward Marston. Actually Mr. Claus is popping this into aforementioned husband’s stocking, too. And I’m getting the second in the series. Have you read them? I read my first Martin Edwards this year, the first in the Lake District series, The Coffin Trail. I’ve ordered the next two. I loved this book, and read his blog regularly. I just read Robert Barnard’s The Skeleton in the Garden, and really loved it. I’ve just today ordered his Out of the Blackout. I know what you mean about AM Smith, but honestly I haven’t felt let down yet. I love the Mma Ramotse, Isabel Dalhousie, 44 Scotland Street, and now Corduroy Mansions (on my computer!). And there’s a new one he’s just begun that I can’t wait to read. He has more energy than any ten fellows, don’t you think?! I’ll be back and often.

  2. Roberta Rood said,

    Thanks for this delightful comment, Nan. I haven’t read the Marston series but it sounds like something I’d like.
    I had to laugh at my first response to your comment: “Wow, I’d love to meet Nan. She obviously has terrific taste in crime fiction – namely, the same as mine!” 🙂

  3. Nan said,

    How about Peter Robinson? Do you like him? I read a few out of order, and then have gone back to the start. Banks is such an interesting, well-written character. Oh, and this has been my Agatha year. I had never read her, do you believe it?!, and have been on a wonderful spree. Mostly I’m listening to unabridged recordings which have been great. I’m also watching Poirot from Netflix, another thing I’d never done. Right now I’m on the last, so far, Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes book, and I’m thinking it’s the best one yet – Locked Rooms. Nice talking to you! :<)

  4. Roberta Rood said,

    Stay tuned – Peter Robinson will be featured in my next “Best Mysteries” post. And I too came to Agatha Christie late, mostly by way of the films. I absolutely love her – I think there’s far more of substance in her writing than she’s often given credit for. David Suchet as Hercule Poirot is one of my chief TV joys. And if you haven’t yet seen Joan Hickson as Miss Marple – you’re in for a rare treat! (Search “Miss Marple” on this blog & you’ll make the acquaintance of a certain Feline of the species…)
    I too like the Laurie R. King Russell/Holmes series. I think Locked Rooms was one of the best.
    Are you & I on the same wave length or what??
    (BTW – We love New England & have family in the Boston area. I’ve never been to Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine, though – how is this possible??!!)

  5. Chrissy said,

    Oh I love Peter Robinson, I haven’t read that many mystery books this year, but I have read Peter Robinson oh yes…and not to mention my new favorite author, John Patrick Lamont.
    He has a mystery/Action-Adventure Trilogy. I’ve only read the 1st one, can’t wait for the other 2!
    The one I’ve read – The Worse Kind of Lies, is a great mystery with your 3 favorite things…deceit, betrayal and murder! How I love the suspense!

    Even though “The Worst Kind of Lies” is fiction, I could see the characters as believable people in a real world. I found it easy to identify with the characters in relation to their lives and their jobs. I’m not into far fetched books.

    I hope you enjoy, and thanks again for your post – I’m going to check out a couple of these if you say they were your favorite!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: