Monday, January 2, 2017

The Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2016

The best mysteries and thrillers might be onions if they were vegetables. Stick with me here: obviously, onions have layers and you have to remove the outer skin to get to the good stuff. But it isn’t just that the story is hidden within the outer peel, onions and mysteries are also similar in that both evoke a reaction in the consumer. Whether it’s tearing from chopping an onion or being pleasantly surprised when an onion caramelizes into a sweet treat with the addition of butter and brown sugar, onions like mysteries almost always elicit a reaction. The best onion recipes change a lowly vegetable into a gourmet treat (find one of my favorite onion recipes at the end of this post) and the best writers transform simple “whodunits” into heart-stopping suspense dramas with spellbinding action. 

The Best Mysteries and Thrillers I Read in 2016:
·         Brighton by Michael Harvey
·         The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
·         A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
·         Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews (published in 2015)

The Best Mysteries of 2016 (it’s a tie):
The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer is a fabulous thriller with engaging characters. Eight-year-old Carmel’s mother Beth’s quest to find her daughter when she disappears from a British festival is gut-wrenching. The novel showcases not just a mysterious disappearance but also the ways a mother and daughter might survive such a horrific separation. It features a complicated, evil villain and fine minor characters who set it above the usual. This British debut is a taste of things to come as Hamer’s second book, The Doll Funeral will be out in 2017. GPR/CC/SF, BC

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny is the twelfth Inspector Gamache novel and as
always it offers suspense, evil, and a shimmering glimpse of hope. Gamache has taken the job as commander of the Sureté Academy where he hopes to root out police corruption from the beginning through the minds of trainees. However, he inexplicably keeps on Leduc, the most corrupt faculty member, and brings in his nemesis, Michel Brébeuf, hoping to teach the cadets to think for themselves. When Leduc is murdered and a map from Gamache’s village is an integral clue, Gamache realizes that the rot from within is even stronger than he imagined. GPR/SF, BC

The Best Mystery I Read in 2016 that was published previously:
The Whites by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt (published in 2015) The Whites is a book I’d avoided until author Anne Patchett and a friend recommended it. I found Price’s earlier Clockers and Lush Life exceptional yet they were so gritty and harsh that I wasn’t sure I was ready for another. His first attempt at writing as Harry Brandt is a surefire winner and is both intelligent and accessible. Since policeman Billy Graves mistakenly killed a kid, he’s been on the graveyard shift where he patrols in relative obscurity. Once a vigilante threatens the city, Billy and other cops try to figure out who he is. Revealing the subsequent twists and turns might spoil the intrigue. If you’re looking for a compelling thriller with exceptional characters, this is it. G/GPR, BC (2015)

The Best Gritty Mystery of 2016:
Brighton by Michael Harvey follows Kevin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the Boston Globe, who returns to Brighton, the violent Boston neighborhood where he grew up, when several murders seem connected to his past. Kevin hasn’t returned since he unexpectedly left at age fifteen. His colorful family including his sister Bridget and his murdered grandmother haunt him. It seems almost certain that Kevin’s childhood best friend, Bobby is involved in the deaths, yet his viewpoint is captivating. Every character in this winner brings a perspective that makes the reader unsure not just about how the book will end, but also about whether to root for probable villains. The language is clear, precise, and spine-tinglingly honest. Fans of Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River or the movie The Departed will love this. It’s fabulous! GPR

The Best Espionage Thriller I Read in 2016:
Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews (published in 2015) Palace of Treason is a sequel to the Red Sparrow in which author Matthews, a former CIA officer, introduced Dominika Egorova, a Russian intelligence agent and Nash, the US handler of a Russian mole. They’re both back in Palace of Treason.  Egorova is a synesthete; she sees a halo of color above peoples’ heads that reveals their intentions. She’s now a CIA operative in the Kremlin where she’s captured Vladimir Putin’s blue-haloed attention much to the chagrin of her evil boss. She’s in love with Nash who is now her handler thus complicating her assignments. The bad guys are quite evil and the good guys are incredibly clever in this thriller that will keep you on edge. CC/GPR (2015)

I also Discovered and Two New-to-Me Mystery Series:

Craig Johnson’s Longmire series beginning with A Cold Dish (published in 2004) is the basis of the Netflix hit. It’s set in a quiet Wyoming town that resembles the settings of Kent Haruf’s novels, Sheriff Longmire has only a short time left until he retires when two of the four “boys” who brutally raped a mentally disabled Cheyenne girl are murdered. Longmire and his best friend Henry Standing Bear, soon uncover clues that may lead to things they’d rather not discover. GPR (2004)

Keith McCafferty’s Sean Stranahan Mysteries beginning with The Royal Wulff Murders (published in 2012)
This excellent series features Montana detective Sean Stranahan, an artist, angler, and occasional detective. Fly fishermen will love these books as will readers who love language, evocation of place, environmental intrigue, and unique, well-developed characters. GPR/SN

 Baked Apples and Onions

Butter a very large casserole dish.  A souffle dish is great. Peel and slice an equal amount of apples and onions depending on how many people you will serve.  I make at least one apple and one onion per person as I like leftovers.  Place a layer of apples in the dish then a layer of onions which have been separated into rings.  Sprinkle generously with brown sugar and sparingly with salt.  Repeat until the dish is full. Cover with foil.  Bake in a 300 oven for three hours.  Uncover for the last half hour.  You can adjust the time or take out of the oven and reheat at the end. 

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