Six 2020 Mysteries for You to Check Out
01 The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi
Alex Pavesi's The Eighth Detective is appealingly old-fashioned. The murder mystery stories were written decades before the book's present-day events take place and are clever; they feel deliberately, self-consciously constructed.
There's a book within a book here, and the fictitious author of the stories has explored every different permutation of the elements of victim, detective, and suspect--and their overlapping Venn diagram possibilities and combinations.
The ending did leave me wishing we'd gotten a little deeper into the implications and realizations of the resolution. But this is an engaging and quick read, and I enjoyed knowing something more was going on while I tried to figure out what it was. The mystery stories within the story are intriguing, and I loved paying attention to their varied structures as well.
I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley and Henry Holt and Co. in exchange for an unbiased review.
For my full review, please see The Eighth Detective.
02 Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
Haunted house alert! Sager has crafted a compelling Gothic suspense story in which we're along for the ride as Maggie, a young interior designer, returns to the childhood home where terrifying events exploded and led her family to flee in the middle of the night, never to return--until now.
Maggie struggles to establish what is and was real and what might be imagined; tries to piece together which people know more than they're admitting about past tragedies and unexplained occurrences; debates whether her parents' accounts hold merit; and begins to wonder with horror whether she can trust even her own memories.
The structure of Home Before Dark was intriguing--a book within a book within a book, which felt fluid and allowed for valuable layering and points of view.
I really liked Sager's pacing and his smart laying out of the story elements in a nondramatic way--allowing me to supply my own dramatic reactions.
I received a prepublication copy of this book from Penguin Group Dutton and NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.
For my full review, please see Home Before Dark.
03 Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March
It's 1892 in British-controlled Bombay, and Captain Jim Agnihotri is recovering in a military hospital from an injury sustained in the line of duty.
He becomes obsessed with an unsolved mystery he keeps reading about in the newspaper: two young ladies from the same household plunged from a clock tower to their deaths. Jim decides to set himself the task of determining what happened.
March's 400-page book is an immersive story, with the flavors, sights, and sounds of colonial India underlying everything. The story keeps a patient pace as Captain Jim uncovers clues, uses deduction, and emphasizes loyalty and moral purity. He is able to use his knowledge of different castes, British and Indian political machinations, and society to assist his investigations.
There are dark issues underlying the mystery (related to strict rules about caste and class, a deadly fear of scandal, and terrible mistreatment of those in lower castes, especially women). But there is also a refreshing lack of violence beyond fistfight-level conflicts, and the forbidden love and romance are chaste and charming.
Nev March won the Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award for this title, her first.
I received an advance copy of this title from NetGalley and Minotaur Books in exchange for an honest review.
For my full review, please see Murder in Old Bombay.
04 Pretty Things by Janelle Brown
Cross, double-cross! In Janelle Brown's Little Things, a seasoned and a rookie con artist together set their sights on taking advantage of a spoiled socialite—and along the way, one of the cons aims to right some wrongs in two of the characters' shared (but mysterious and complicated) history. Characters' motivations are often unclear or remain constant, which allows for great twists and turns.
The characters were largely unsympathetic, yet Janelle Brown kept me happily turning the pages of Pretty Things to see who would get what was coming to them. The resolution was a little neat but also satisfying and made me happy.
NetGalley and Random House provided me with an advance copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
For my full review, please see Pretty Things.
05 Long Bright River by Liz Moore
Long Bright River is set in Philadelphia and centers around two sisters in disparate but linked situations—Mickey is a cop and Kacey is a defiant addict Mickey's keeping an eye on and trying not to scare away.
When Kacey disappears and a string of murders rock the community, everyone is suspect and Mickey's desire to solve the mystery becomes relentless and personal.
Liz Moore’s writing is thoughtful, and the story in Long Bright River is character-driven. Situations aren’t resolved too easily or cleanly, but Moore finds a way to satisfy the reader as well. Things aren’t as they initially seem, yet I didn’t feel manipulated. This is a smart, compelling story that totally had me hooked.
I like a mystery that makes me care about the characters and doesn't foreshadow too much. I’m in for anything Moore is putting down on paper at this point.
06 Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
Beauregard (Bug) owns a respectable if struggling auto repair shop and has a wife and two kids. He's hardworking and loves his family, and he isn't planning on going anywhere.
But competition for his business is pinching his ability to help support his family, and some old, bad-news acquaintances show up with a promising, straightforward job that might offer some financial breathing room--if the others on the job can keep their heads on straight, and that's looking like a big if.
This is a fantastic blend of realistic complications, mistakes, adjustments, and spunk. It's action-packed but character driven. Bug is a faulted character who (when not in crisis) takes stock of himself and aims to be a better person. He's forced to consider what loyalty means, and to face how dark the path ahead might become when the bad guys are truly evil, very powerful, and the stakes couldn't be much higher.
Blacktop Wasteland took a little while to get going for me, but just shy of halfway through, the setup is complete and the action starts singing along.
I received an advance copy of this book from Flatiron Books and NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.
Which mysteries hooked you this year?
This is a pretty eclectic group of mysteries. The Eighth Detective and Murder in Old Bombay feel appealingly old-fashioned; Home Before Dark is suspenseful and has supernatural elements; Pretty Things has a twist/double twist that I loved; and Long Bright River and Blacktop Wasteland felt more modern and character driven.
You can also search by category under the Bossy Book Reviews menu to find other mysteries I liked that you might like too!