2011: Best Reading in Crime Fiction

December 9, 2011 at 4:30 pm (Best of 2011, books, Mystery fiction)

It’s that time of year again….         

Here is my favorite crime fiction for the year 2011, in no particular order:

Endless Night, Five Little Pigs – Agatha Christie
Willful Behavior -Donna Leon
The Deadly Percheron – John Franklin Bardin
Stagestruck – Peter Lovesey
Body Line – Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Savages – Don Winslow
In a Dark House – Crombie
Dissolution – Sansom
The Anatomy of Ghosts –  Andrew  Taylor
An Air That Kills – Andrew Taylor
The Mortal Sickness – Andrew Taylor
Midwinter of the Spirit – Rickman
Thirteen Hours – Deon Meyer
Bury Your Dead – Louise Penny
Appointed To Die – Kate Charles
Dead Simple – Peter James
Disturbing the Dead – Parshall
Double Indemnity – James M. Cain
From Doon with Death, The Vault, An Unkindness of Ravens – Rendell
The Troubled Man – Henning Mankell
The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party – Alexander McCall Smith
Keeper of Lost Causes – Jussi Adler-Olsen
Temporary Perfections – Gianrico Carofiglio
Hotbed – Bill James
Black Diamond – Martin Walker
Tag Man – Archer Mayor
Rebecca – Daphne DuMaurier
Midnight Fugue – Reginald Hill
Deliver Us From Evil – Peter Turnbull


Yes, it’s an absurdly long list. I tried pulling out my absolute favorites, but the effort proved so frustrating that I gave it up. I do, however, have some general comments to offer:

In the earlier part of the year, my reading of crime fiction was largely dictated by the upcoming trip to England. I wanted to concentrate not only on the specific titles suggested by the tour leaders but also on works by other authors scheduled to appear at Crimefest. The result was some outstanding reading, featuring a return to some authors I already knew and liked, and the chance to get to know some great new ones – Deon Meyer and Don Winslow – as well. I enjoyed Dead Simple, the first in the Roy Grace series written by Peter James, and I’m surprised this author has not gotten a bigger push from his publishers in this country, where he is not well known. (No sooner had I written this than I saw an ad in the November 27th New York Times Book Review for Dead Man’s Grip, the latest Roy Grace novel.)

Crimefest-related reading once again confirmed for me that Andrew Taylor is a stellar artist in this genre (or in any fiction genre). I reread An Air That Kills and liked it even more this time around. I then read the second novel in the Lydmouth series, The Mortal Sickness – also excellent. And of course, The Anatomy of Ghosts was terrific.

Reading the classics of crime fiction continues to be richly rewarding. Having come late to an appreciation of the works of Agatha Christie, I continue my delighted perusal of her oeuvre. (Thanks are due here to the distinguished Christie scholar John Curran, whose second book Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making, has recently come out here.) I’ve long loved the classic noir film version of Double Indemnity; reading the novel proved exceptionally gratifying. The same progression, with the same result, obtains for Daphne DuMaurier’s classic tale of suspense, Rebecca. At Crimefest, Peter Guttridge sang the praises of The Deadly Percheron. This was a great recommendation; in my view, John Franklin Bardin’s 1946 small masterpiece should also be ranked among the classics of the genre.

After the trip, I read largely for my own pleasure, with periodic prompting from the Usual Suspects Mystery Discussion Group. That excellent convocation of crime fiction enthusiasts is having its end of year summit on Tuesday of next week. We’ve been asked to bring one book to share, possibly two if time permits. Hah! So far I am torn between The Troubled Man, The Keeper of Lost Causes, Temporary Perfections, Hotbed, Tag Man, Black Diamond, Deliver Us From Evil, and Michael Dirda’s enlightening commentary On Conan Doyle. What can I say? For this reader, the year has concluded in a blaze of great mysteries.

As for next year, I’ll continue to track down short stories featuring Gordianus the Finder, Steven Saylor’s ancient Roman protagonist. I’m looking forward to reading Reginald Hill’s nonseries magnum opus, The Woodcutter. A mystery loving librarian friend insists that A Trick of the Light, the latest Armand Gamache novel by Louse Penny, is even better than Bury Your Dead. (Can such a thing be possible?) Speaking of getting better and better, I anticipate with great pleasure The Forgotten Affairs of Youth,  the latest installment in the saga of the brainy, passionate, and never boring Isabel Dalhousie, coming of course from the pen of that brilliant polymath, Alexander McCall Smith. And having been utterly entranced by Temporary Perfections, I’ll be on the lookout for other novels by Gianrico Carofiglio.

  Finally, like many a lover of British crime fiction, I’m greatly intrigued by the new P.D. James, Death Comes To Pemberley. Yes, that is the self same Pemberley of Pride and Prejudice. The novel’s action takes place six years after the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth. This is a fascinating departure for Baroness James of Holland Park – I confess I’m champing at the bit!

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Michael Dirda declared Death Comes to Pemberley to be ”   a solidly entertaining period mystery and a major treat for any fan of Jane Austen.” Dirda’s review begins thus:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a restless reader in possession of a quiet evening must be in want of a mystery.

For this long time subscriber to the Washington Post, it’s been a privilege to immerse myself in the literary ruminations of Michael Dirda: scholar, critic, and intellectual in the best sense of the word.



  1. Paprika said,

    i love crime fiction =) love the list… will definitely read them =)

  2. Elizabeth said,

    I love this list! I have bookmarked it so I can refer to it often! I get many ideas from you for myself as well as for my Mother. Her copy of The Keeper of Lost Causes has just come in at the library and I told her how I found out about it from your lovely blog 🙂

  3. Pauline Cohen said,


    I’ve also been mulling over which two titles to recommend to the Usual Suspects on Tuesday. My rule, albeit self-imposed, is to find books that are a little off the beaten track–ones that the others might not have read.

    Anyway, good luck, winnowing down your list!!

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