2017: A sensational year for crime novels

Posted December 23, 2017 12:12 p.m. EST
Updated December 23, 2017 1:39 p.m. EST

DAYTON, Ohio -- 2017 was a spectacular year for the crime fiction genre. There were some dazzling debuts. Several writers produced their best books ever. These were my favorites.

"Prussian Blue," by Philip Kerr (Putnam/Marian Wood, 528 pages, $27).

Philip Kerr's series, which features the careworn former Berlin police detective Bernie Gunther, keeps getting better. It is 1956, and Bernie is hiding out in southern France. A chance encounter with a former colleague who is now an East German spymaster makes Bernie go on the run. The story line pivots between Bernie's attempt to escape and flashbacks to 1939 when he was solving a murder at Hitler's Alpine lodge.

"The Force," by Don Winslow (William Morrow, 479 pages, $27.99).

This sizzling story about elite New York City cops who have become corrupted was one of the knockout reads of the year. Denny Malone and his team have a dark secret; they stole millions from a drug cartel. The narrow border between fighting crime and criminality was breached. Someone must pay.

"Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly," by Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street Books, 319 pages, $15.95).

Detective Sean Duffy returns. It is Belfast in Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles. Duffy investigates a murder -- the victim was killed with a crossbow. We are uncertain if Duffy will survive this case. A stunning story showcasing a writer on top of his game.

"The Long Drop," by Denise Mina (Little Brown, 236 pages, $26).

Denise Mina's fictionalized account of true crimes that had Glasgow, Scotland, on edge during the 1950s is a chilling examination of how one particular serial killer might have operated. Once apprehended, the murderer puts on a bizarre performance serving as his own lawyer. Mina is a bright star in the crime cosmos.

"The Midnight Line," by Lee Child (Delacorte Press, 368 pages, $28.99).

In "The Midnight Line," Lee Child's wandering avenger Jack Reacher is on a quest to return a West Point ring to the rightful owner. This version of Reacher remains lethal but he's also at his most compassionate. The best Reacher yet.

"The Butcher's Hook," by Janet Ellis (Pegasus Books, 347 pages, $25.95).

Janet Ellis wrote a darkly delightful debut novel set in 1760s London. Her protagonist, Anne Jaccob, is a young woman who feels smothered by an affluent family. She wants to live. To love. To exact revenge. She develops a crush on a common lad, a butcher's boy. She'll do anything to keep him. Anything. The period speech is amazing.

"Blue Light Yokohama," by Nicholas Obregon (Minotaur, 408 pages, $25.99).

Inspector Iwata has a tarnished reputation. He's transferred to Tokyo and partnered up with Noriko Sakai who is less than thrilled about it. They try to solve the mystery of the Black Sun Killer. Brilliant and complex plotting made his debut a delightful discovery. Watch out for this writer.

"Rather Be the Devil," by Ian Rankin (Little, Brown, 320 pages, $27).

Inspector John Rebus supposedly retired but he can't stay away. A rising crime boss is savagely attacked. Rebus wonders, did Big Ger Cafferty have something to do with that? Cafferty is an aging Edinburgh crime potentate and Rebus nemesis. Was this assault linked to an unsolved murder 40 years ago? Rebus gets excited about questioning one of his youthful musical idols. Rankin's Rebus remains unstoppable.

"Glass Houses," by Louise Penny (Minotaur, 400 pages, $28.99).

Chief Inspector Gamache is troubled by some weird happenings. There's a spectral figure on the village green. Perhaps this place isn't as innocent as it seems? Louise Penny constructs wicked plots -- she will keep you guessing.

Vick Mickunas writes for the Dayton Daily News. Email: vick(at)vickmickunas.com. Mickunas interviews authors every weekend on WYSO-FM in Yellow Springs, Ohio. For podcasts and more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook.

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