NY Times Best Crime Fiction Books of 2017: An Overview

As it is customary for this time of the year, longtime crime novel critic Marilyn Stasio has written a new column highlighting NY Times Best Crime Fiction Books of 2017 (see here). While we applaud the diverse selection of titles in terms of authors’ country of origin, we would have gone beyond household names if we’d been in Ms. Stasio’s shoes.

An avid crime reader would have been able to compile a similar list by simply “Googling” the list of bestselling crime authors. While there is a reason for financial success of authors such as Michael Connelly, among them finely written stories, we believe one purpose of annual best crime fiction lists is to also introduce new exciting voices and characters to the readers.

We hope to see such a development a year from now in Ms. Stasio’s 2018 list. Having said that, this year’s list includes some of the most interesting titles of the year especially for the fans of commercial crime fiction.

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Don Winslow who worked as a private detective before becoming a full-time writer had one of the instant bestsellers of year with The Force. Based on years of research inside the NYPD, this is the great cop novel. A searing portrait of a city and a courageous, heroic, and deeply flawed man who stands at the edge of its abyss, The Force is full of shocking and surprising twists, leavened by flashes of dark humor, a morally complex and utterly riveting dissection of modern American society and the controversial issues confronting and dividing us today.

In The Force, we meet Denny Malone who is “the King of Manhattan North,” a, highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant and the real leader of “Da Force.” Malone and his crew are the smartest, the toughest, the quickest, the bravest, and the baddest, an elite special unit given unrestricted authority to wage war on gangs, drugs and guns. Every day and every night for the eighteen years he’s spent on the Job, Malone has served on the front lines, witnessing the hurt, the dead, the victims, the perps. He’s done whatever it takes to serve and protect in a city built by ambition and corruption, where no one is clean—including Malone himself.

What only a few know is that Denny Malone is dirty: he and his partners have stolen millions of dollars in drugs and cash in the wake of the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history. Now Malone is caught in a trap and being squeezed by the Feds, and he must walk the thin line between betraying his brothers and partners, the Job, his family, and the woman he loves, trying to survive, body and soul, while the city teeters on the brink of a racial conflagration that could destroy them all.

Also part of this year’s list is the latest Harry Hole novel titled The Thirst from Norwegian author Jo Nesbo. This is an interesting, yet not entirely surprising serial killer novel. The story starts with a murder: The murder victim, a self-declared Tinder addict. The one solid clue—fragments of rust and paint in her wounds—leaves the investigating team baffled.

Two days later, there’s a second murder: a woman of the same age, a Tinder user, an eerily similar scene. The chief of police knows there’s only one man for this case. But Harry Hole is no longer with the force. He promised the woman he loves, and he promised himself, that he’d never go back: not after his last case, which put the people closest to him in grave danger.

But there’s something about these murders that catches his attention, something in the details that the investigators have missed. For Harry, it’s like hearing “the voice of a man he was trying not to remember.” Now, despite his promises, despite everything he risks, Harry throws himself back into the hunt for a figure who haunts him, the monster who got away.

Donna Leon who is the author of the highly acclaimed, internationally bestselling Commissario Guido Brunetti series has her own loyal fan base. Her bestselling mystery novels set in Venice have won a multitude of fans for their insider’s portrayal of La Serenissima. From family meals to coffee bars, and from vaporetti rides to the homes and apartments of Venetians, the details and rhythms of everyday life are an integral part of this beloved series. But so are the suffocating corruption, the never-ending influx of tourists, and crimes big and small. Through it all, Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti has been an enduring figure. A good man who loves his family and his city, Brunetti is relentless in his pursuit of truth and some measure of justice.

In Earthly Remains, the twenty-sixth novel in this series, Brunetti’s endurance is tested more than ever before. During an interrogation of an entitled, arrogant man suspected of giving drugs to a young girl who then died, Brunetti acts rashly, doing something he will quickly come to regret. In the fallout, he realizes that he needs a break, needs to get away from the stifling problems of his work.

When Brunetti is granted leave from the Questura, his wife, Paola, suggests he stay at the villa of a relative on Sant’Erasmo, one of the largest islands in the laguna. There he intends to pass his days rowing, and his nights reading Pliny’s Natural History. The recuperative stay goes according to plan until Davide Casati, the caretaker of the house on Sant’Erasmo, goes missing following a sudden storm. Now, Brunetti feels compelled to investigate, to set aside his leave of absence and understand what happened to the man who had become his friend.

Bluebird, Bluebird by Los Angeles-based Attica Locke was a favorite of many in the media this year. Featuring a black Texas Ranger as lead character, this is a clever whodunit story.

When it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules–a fact that Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger, knows all too well. Deeply ambivalent about growing up black in the lone star state, he was the first in his family to get as far away from Texas as he could. Until duty called him home.

When his allegiance to his roots puts his job in jeopardy, he travels up Highway 59 to the small town of Lark, where two murders–a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman–have stirred up a hornet’s nest of resentment. Darren must solve the crimes–and save himself in the process–before Lark’s long-simmering racial fault lines erupt. From a writer and producer of the Emmy winning Fox TV show Empire, Bluebird, Bluebird is a rural noir suffused with the unique music, color, and nuance of East Texas.

Two Kinds of Truth is the new Harry Bosch novel and the series doesn’t need an introduction: Harry Bosch is back as a volunteer working cold cases for the San Fernando Police Department and is called out to a local drug store where a young pharmacist has been murdered. Bosch and the town’s 3-person detective squad sift through the clues, which lead into the dangerous, big business world of pill mills and prescription drug abuse.

Meanwhile, an old case from Bosch’s LAPD days comes back to haunt him when a long-imprisoned killer claims Harry framed him, and seems to have new evidence to prove it. Bosch left the LAPD on bad terms, so his former colleagues aren’t keen to protect his reputation. He must fend for himself in clearing his name and keeping a clever killer in prison.

The two unrelated cases wind around each other like strands of barbed wire. Along the way Bosch discovers that there are two kinds of truth: the kind that sets you free and the kind that leaves you buried in darkness.

Anne Perry had a new installment in her police procedural series set in Victorian England. In the new novel titled An Echo of Murder, she delves into the diverse population of Victorian London, whose disparate communities force Monk to rethink his investigative techniques—lest he be caught in the crosshairs of violent bigotry.

In the course of his tenure with the Thames River Police, Commander Monk has yet to see a more gruesome crime scene: a Hungarian warehouse owner lies in the middle of his blood-sodden office, pierced through the chest with a bayonet and eerily surrounded by seventeen candles, their wicks dipped in blood. Suspecting the murder may be rooted in ethnic prejudice, Monk turns to London’s Hungarian community in search of clues but finds his inquiries stymied by its wary citizens and a language he doesn’t speak. Only with the help of a local pharmacist acting as translator can Monk hope to penetrate this tightly knit enclave, even as more of its members fall victim to identical brutal murders. But whoever the killer, or killers, may be—a secret society practicing ritual sacrifice, a madman on a spree, a British native targeting foreigners—they are well hidden among the city’s ever-growing populace.

With the able assistance of his wife—former battlefield nurse Hester, who herself is dealing with a traumatized war veteran who may be tangled up in the murders—Monk must combat distrust, hostility, and threats from the very people he seeks to protect. But as the body count grows, stirring ever greater fear and anger among the Hungarian émigrés, resistance to the police also increases. Racing time and the rising tide of terror all around him, Monk must be even more relentless than the mysterious killer, or the echoes of malice and murder will resound through London’s streets like a clarion of doom.

The Midnight Line, the new Jack Reacher novel, was a much stronger novel in the series compared to the previous one. Lee Child takes a simple ordinary event and blows it up into an exciting and thrilling Reacher adventure.

Reacher takes a stroll through a small Wisconsin town and sees a class ring in a pawn shop window: West Point 2005. A tough year to graduate: Iraq, then Afghanistan. The ring is tiny, for a woman, and it has her initials engraved on the inside. Reacher wonders what unlucky circumstance made her give up something she earned over four hard years. He decides to find out. And find the woman. And return her ring. Why not?

So begins a harrowing journey that takes Reacher through the upper Midwest, from a lowlife bar on the sad side of small town to a dirt-blown crossroads in the middle of nowhere, encountering bikers, cops, crooks, muscle, and a missing persons PI who wears a suit and a tie in the Wyoming wilderness.

The deeper Reacher digs, and the more he learns, the more dangerous the terrain becomes. Turns out the ring was just a small link in a far darker chain. Powerful forces are guarding a vast criminal enterprise. Some lines should never be crossed. But then, neither should Reacher.

The Driver by Hart Hanson was one of the better titles of the year. The cinematic and non-cliche storyline of this book makes it a nice pick although the end is somehow predictable.

In The Driver, Michael Skellig is a limo driver waiting for his client in the alley behind an upscale hotel. He’s spent the past twenty-eight hours ferrying around Bismarck Avila, a celebrity skateboard mogul who isn’t going home any time soon. Suddenly the wind begins to speak to Skellig in the guttural accent of the Chechen torturer he shot through the eye in Yemen a decade ago: Troubletroubletrouble. Skellig has heard these warnings before—he’s an Army Special Forces sergeant whose limo company is staffed by a ragtag band of wounded veterans, including his Afghan interpreter—and he knows to listen carefully.

Skellig runs inside just in time to save Avila from two gunmen but too late for one of Avila’s bodyguards—and wakes up hours later in the hospital, the only person of interest in custody for the murder. Complicating matters further is the appearance of Detective Delilah Groopman of the LAPD, gorgeous and brash, for whom Skellig has always held a candle. As for Avila? He’s willing to help clear Skellig’s name under one peculiar condition: that Skellig become Avila’s personal chauffeur. A cushy gig for any driver, except for the fact that someone is clearly trying to kill Avila, and Skellig is literally the only person sitting between Avila and a bullet to the head.

Lightning Men by Thomas Mullen, the second novel in The Darktown series, was perhaps one of the finest historical fictions of the year. In this title, officer Denny Rakestraw and “Negro Officers” Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith have their hands full in an overcrowded and rapidly changing Atlanta. It’s 1950 and racial tensions are simmering as black families, including Smith’s sister, begin moving into formerly all-white neighborhoods. When Rake’s brother-in-law launches a scheme to rally the Ku Klux Klan to “save” their neighborhood, his efforts spiral out of control, forcing Rake to choose between loyalty to family or the law.

Across town, Boggs and Smith try to shut down the supply of white lightning and drugs into their territory, finding themselves up against more powerful foes than they’d expected. Battling corrupt cops and ex-cons, Nazi brown shirts and rogue Klansmen, the officers are drawn closer to the fires that threaten to consume the city once again.

A masterful thrill ride and an exploration of motherhood itself—from its tender moments of grace to its savage power— Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips asks where the boundary is between our animal instinct to survive and our human duty to protect one another. For whom should a mother risk her life?

The zoo is nearly empty as Joan and her four-year-old son soak up the last few moments of playtime. They are happy, and the day has been close to perfect. But what Joan sees as she hustles her son toward the exit gate minutes before closing time sends her sprinting back into the zoo, her child in her arms. And for the next three hours—the entire scope of the novel—she keeps on running.

Joan’s intimate knowledge of her son and of the zoo itself—the hidden pathways and under-renovation exhibits, the best spots on the carousel and overstocked snack machines—is all that keeps them a step ahead of danger.

The book is a fast read and has a compelling story-line but the deviations from the main plot at times feel a bit distracting.

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