Best mysteries 2016 part two: psychological/domestic suspense and police procedurals

January 5, 2017 at 2:39 am (Best of 2016, books, Mystery fiction)

I wrote about the newly hot domestic suspense subgenre in a recent post. Admittedly I did not write at great length, the reason being that this is not my favorite area of crime fiction. That said, I really do want to single out these two titles to praise:

what-was-mine-9781473235_hr 2525757

What Was Mine seems to have come and gone in obscurity; You Will Know Me, on the other hand, has made quite a few Best of 2016 lists (such as this one from the Washington Post). In my view, both are excellent and provocative novels, good for book discussions – and possible film adaptation.

I had other good reading this year that more or less belongs in this category. Learning To Swim by Sara J. Henry, a book I’d never heard of, was Louise’s selection for the Suspects. Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman was a must-read for all of us who live in this area; it was filled with local references, including one to a street that I myself lived on for several years in the seventies. (Oh good grief; where has the time gone?) I have three – count ’em, three! – book discussions of Wilde Lake coming up this year. Unfortunately, as regards plotting and character development, this novel was not Lippman at her best. At least, that’s how it struck me. (You can read my review here.)

dark-corners-978150111422_hr  This was the year of saying farewell to the brilliant Ruth Rendell. Dark Corners, her last book, did not feature the now-retired Detective Inspector Reginald Wexford. I found it very satisfying, though not in the same league as A Fatal Inversion and A Judgement on Stone, two of the most devastating works of psychological suspense that I’ve ever read, or probably ever will read.

Some works of crime fiction combine elements of two subgenres in their narratives. I’m thinking in particular of psychological/domestic suspense and police procedural. Clare Macintosh’s I Let You Go is a good example of this. The book begins with an exceptionally tragic hit-and-run accident. The search for the perpetrator uncovers a whole host of secrets that the reader has had scant reason to suspect. And just a bit more than half way though this fairly long (384 pages in hardback) novel, there’s an completely unexpected plot twist that’s nothing short of mind-boggling – or at least, I found it so. 9781101987490

Most readers of I Let You Go were blown away by it. It received numerous rave reviews and won the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, edging out some pretty stiff competition in the process.

Now, you are probably sensing the approach of a dissenting view. And here it is. Let me say first that after a false start, I found I Let You Go to be very nearly unputdownable. For such a plot-driven novel, the characters were well drawn. I cared what happened to them. This is especially true of Jenna Gray, the woman whose turbulent life is at the center of the narrative. And yet…

It seems to me that the problem with a book like this is that if word gets out prematurely about the plot twists – there were actually several – the element of suspense is compromised. An even more serious concern, for me at least, is that when I finished it, I felt that I’d been manipulated in a way that wasn’t entirely pleasant. Also, I found that in the aftermath of that completion, I was not left with very much. The Kirkus review of I Let You Go – a starred review –  concludes with the statement that “Mackintosh has written the kind of book that sticks in the reader’s mind well after the final sentence.” I’m afraid I did not share in that sensation. On the contrary, I felt as though I’d just gorged myself on a large helping of empty calories.

A really good police procedural, on the other hand, rarely leaves me feeling that way. And Peter Lovesey has never left me feeling that way. Instead, I devour his books with a mixture of delight, admiration, and total absorption. The 2016 entry in the Peter Diamond series, Another One Goes Tonight, was no exception. Lovesey was recently honored by his admiring colleagues with anthology produced in honor of his eightieth birthday. The collection was undertaken by the Detection Club and edited by Martin Edwards:  51tqvesvixl-_sx330_bo1204203200_

I finally caught up with Peter Robinson’s Children of the Revolution. 51pzwxh1abl-_sx331_bo1204203200_  It was a highly enjoyable read for procedural fans like myself. DCI Alan Banks is up to his old tricks, playing fast and loose with procedure, not to mention the repeated warnings from his superior officer,  in order to solve a mystery with roots – as is often the case with this series – in the past. What a pleasure it is to see the Banks novels going from strength to strength, starting with the first, Gallows View, from 1987. After we’d both read it, Marge (my “partner in crime” on the library staff) and I predicted a great future for this series. And we were right.

Up until now, I’ve had a lot of trouble figuring out what it was that people liked so much about Tana French’s Murder Squad series. I read Broken Harbor for the Suspects, and I would never have gotten through it without the aid of the recorded book. But the reviews for French’s latest, The Trespasser, lured me back. I decided to give it another shot. It worked! I loved the feisty protagonist Antoinette Conway, the depiction of her colleagues and her work environment, and above all her dogged determination in following a case in the opposite direction from where everyone else was headed and all the evidence seemed to lead. I also really appreciated the flashes of humor, which were at times rather acidic but welcome nonetheless.

I think I get it now.  29430013

Not done yet but must pause. Part three will cover historical mysteries (in lamentably short supply on my reading list), hard to classify titles, and my picks for the best of the best.



  1. Kay Wisniewski said,

    When it comes to high calorie, high rewards, I’ll take Peter Lovesey any day. In fact, I’d rather reread Lovesey than most other authors. Had an awful time with Tana French’s much-praised Faithful Place. Yes, she’s a good writer, but by page 200 of that one, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. It’s certainly not a police procedural, much closer to Angela’s Ashes in fact. Her unsparing portrait of the unique Irish stew of poverty, alcoholism, and a strain of Catholicism warped by Jansenism is vivid, but it’s not how I wanted to start 2017.

  2. Johanna said,

    Thank you for all the work you put into these posts! I enjoyed the video’s very much and am now looking forward to the historical mysteries (huge favourites of mine). Hope to add a few new names/books to my list.

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