It gets harder and harder to limit our selection of the year’s best crime novels to 20 books, but we persevere. This year, to help narrow the field, we have weighted our choices in the top 10 to stand-alones and titles in relatively new
series. Inevitably, this excludes many outstanding crime novels in much-loved series by some of the most revered authors
in the field—Louise Penny, Michael Connelly, Donna Leon,
and James Lee Burke, to mention only a few who wrote
great books over the last 12 months. The titles below were reviewed in Booklist from May 1, 2016, through April 15, 2017.
TOP 10 CRIME NOVELS
The Boy Who
By J. M. Lee. Tr. by
2016. Pegasus, $24.95
Is apparent North
Korean defector Gil-
mo really an assassin
or an autistic math-
ematical savant? As Lee slowly reveals
Gil-mo’s story, he creates a dignified
and moving portrait of North Koreans’
struggle for freedom at home and abroad,
intertwining it with the compelling ad-
venture of a rogue-genius—all without
sacrificing the appeal of either plotline.
Celine. By Peter Heller. 2017. Knopf,
Celine, a nearly 70-year-old sculptor,
emphysema sufferer, and eccentric PI, sets
off from Brooklyn to California to determine if a famous photographer was really
killed by a bear in Yosemite National
Park. This captivating, brainy, and funny
tale about the mysterious powers of beauty and grief will leave readers hoping that
Heller is planning a National Park series
featuring the irrepressible Celine and her
laconic husband, Pete, who always has his
beloved’s back (and her oxygen).
Dark Side of the Moon. By Les
Wood. 2017. IPG/Freight, $14.95
Yes, this is a caper novel in which the
dialogue zings like that of Donald E.
Westlake, but there is something darker
lurking below the immensely readable
surface of Wood’s story about a Glasgow
crime boss out to steal a diamond from
its display, where it sits “like a drop of
blood on a dagger point.” The revelations
in the twisty finale are backdropped by a
conflagration that is a magnificent piece
of writing purely on its own. A fiercely
Darktown. By Thomas Mullen. 2016.
Atria/37Ink, $26.95 (9781501133862).
In this riveting mix of historical mystery
and police procedural, Mullen depicts the
treatment of black cops by their white
counterparts in 1948 Atlanta. Two of
the city’s first African American officers
investigate the murder of a young black
woman, overcoming both the indifference
of the department and the overt racism of
their fellow officers. A terrific series opener and a vivid evocation of the pre–civil
Dr. Knox. By Peter Spiegelman. 2016.
Knopf, $26.95 (9780307961273).
Dr. Adam Knox, who runs a clinic in
L.A.’s skid row, rashly decides to take in a
young boy abandoned at the clinic—and
immediately finds himself in a whirlwind
of trouble. Spiegelman’s ability to burst
his characters into throbbing life in a few
short paragraphs—combined with a prose
style capable of snapping our heads with
a staccato succession of perfectly landed
prose jabs—will leave readers rubbing
their jaws in wonderment.
Let the Devil Out. By Bill Loehfelm.
2016.Farrar/Sarah Crichton, $26
New Orleans rookie cop and loose cannon Maureen Coughlin is tasked with
helping the FBI track a white supremacist
group. Will Maureen go rogue again, or
will she channel what she calls her “killing
feeling” into doing good police work? Not
only has Loehfelm created the most compelling, complex patrol cop in the genre;
he has also reenergized New Orleans as a
setting for the best in crime fiction—edgy,
dangerous, but pulsing with life.
Razor Girl. By Carl Hiaasen. 2016.
Knopf, $27.95 (9780385349741).
Merry Mansfield, the Razor Girl, is
sharp, that’s for sure, and one of the coolest
characters Hiaasen has ever brought to the
page. She runs car-crash scams but has the
proverbial heart of gold, which lands her
bejeweled flip-flops in a diabolically complicated story that skewers phony reality
shows and the fine folks who bring them to
us. This is the ultimate beach read for anyone with a taste for Hiaasen’s skewed view
of a Florida slouching toward Armageddon.
Revolver. By Duane
high-wire acts, attempts what might
be his riskiest move
BY BILL OTT