For those who read, write, and love crime fiction, one of the best traditions of any new year is the listing of favorite books published by critics, reviewers, and bloggers on social media. This year I was honored to find both my novels (A Dream of Death and A Legacy of Murder) on several lists. Thank you!
I’ve decided to join the party (albeit a bit late) and nominate my top ten favorite books of 2019. As a self-confessed Anglophile, I make no apologies for the fact that all but one take place in England. Here they are in alphabetical order:
1. A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie
DS Duncan Kincaid and his wife, DI Gemma James, plan a relaxing family weekend at a country estate in the Cotswolds. A posh charity luncheon is planned, catered by local chef Viv Holland. With well-known food critics on the guest list, this meal could make Holland’s career. A tragic automobile accident casts a pall on the festivities, but when members of the catering crew start dying, Kincaid and James join the investigation. Is someone trying to sabotage Viv Holland’s career? This classic mystery has heaps of atmosphere, fully developed characters, and a behind-the-scenes look at the world of haute cuisine.
2. A Cruel Deception by Charles Todd
The Great War has ended, and representatives from the Allied nations are gathering in Paris to draw up a peace treaty. Nursing sister Bess Crawford, working with the wounded in England, is asked to carry out a personal mission in Paris: locate Lt. Lawrence Minton, a troubled missing soldier and peace-conference representative. What Bess finds is a shell of a man, living on opiates and haunted by a past he can only relive in nightmares. As Bess struggles to uncover Minton’s secrets, she puts herself between the ex-soldier and whatever is destroying him—or is it whoever? Lovers of history will enjoy spending time in post-war England and France.
3. Dear Mrs. Bird by A. J. Pearce
During the Blitz, young Emmeline Lake dreams of becoming a war correspondent. Instead, she finds herself typing letters for the straight-laced advice columnist, Mrs. Henrietta Bird. Mrs. Bird’s rules are clear: letters containing “unpleasantness” or “inappropriate subjects” are to be discarded. But, Emmeline asks herself, weren’t the forbidden letters written by young women desperately needing guidance? If you loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this debut novel is for you. The audio version narrated by Anna Popplewell (she played Susan Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia) is a delight.
4. Hall of Mirrors by Christopher Fowler
Fowler’s quirky Bryant & May series features Arthur Bryant and John May, two elderly detectives who head up London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit, founded during WW2. This installment transports us back to the early days of the unit. In 1969, ten guests stay in an isolated country house for the weekend, and one of them is harboring thoughts of murder. To protect Monty Hatton-Jones, a whistleblower turning Queen’s evidence against a corrupt architect, Bryant and May are obliged to attend the house party disguised with false identities. “You are cordially invited to a weekend in the country. Expect murder, madness, and mayhem in the mansion!”
5. Hope for the Best by Jodi Taylor
Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St. Mary’s series features a bunch of disaster-prone historians who investigate major historical events in contemporary time—please, do not call it time travel. In this tenth installment, a problem with the Time Map (go with me here) reveals chaos in the 16th century. The wrong Tudor queen is on the throne. History has gone rogue. Max and a team from St. Mary’s must step in—with hilariously unexpected results. “You know what they say: Hope for the best but plan for the worst.” The audio version by the fabulous Zara Ramm is brilliant.
6. The Long Call by Ann Cleeves
Cleeves fans will love The Two Rivers series, set in North Devon and featuring DI Matthew Venn. After leaving the strict religious sect of his parents, Venn is shunned. But when a body is found on a beach near his old home, he finds himself drawn back to the people and places of his past. As Venn considers recusing himself from the case, deadly secrets are revealed and his own past and present collide. Cleeves is a master of the British police procedural.
7. The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey
If you liked The Widows of Malabar Hill, you’ll love the sequel featuring Bombay’s only female lawyer, Perveen Mistry. It’s 1922, the rainy season in India’s remote Sahyadri mountains. The royal family of Satapur is mourning the death of the Maharaja, followed by the death of his teenage son in a tragic hunting accident. When the dowager queen and her daughter-in-law, mother of the young crown prince, can’t agree on the boy’s education, the British Raj calls on Purveen Mistry to make a recommendation for the young prince’s future. In a palace rife with ancient vendettas and murderous power plays, Purveen has walked into a trap—but whose? Her job is to protect the royal children, even at the risk of her own life. I don’t often fall in love with fictional characters, but Purveen is an exception.
8. The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz
In this second book of the Inspector Hawthorne series, Horowitz casts himself as reluctant sidekick and unwilling amanuensis to infuriating ex-Scotland Yard detective-turned-private-investigator Daniel Hawthorne. When celebrity divorce lawyer Richard Pryce is found dead in his apartment, the London police call in Hawthorne. With the number 182 painted on the wall behind the body, the obvious suspect is Pryce’s soon-to-be-ex wife, the famed poet Akira Anno, whose haiku #182 ends with the words The sentence is death. But the mystery deepens when two of Pryce’s old spelunking buddies are murdered in Yorkshire. Everyone, it seems, has secrets—including Hawthorne himself. This book will appeal to fans of the Golden Age.
9. The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths
I love this series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson, who share a child together but have since gone their separate ways. Nelson has been receiving anonymous letters, telling him to ‘go to the stone circle and rescue the innocent who is buried there’—especially upsetting because his wife’s baby is due to be born. When the bones of a twelve-year-old girl who disappeared thirty years earlier are found in a stone circle in Norfolk’s Saltmarsh, Ruth can’t help remembering their first case together and another girl Nelson couldn’t save.
10. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
This spooky retelling of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw features Rowan Caine, newly hired nanny in a beautiful but isolated house in the Scottish Highlands. As the book opens, we learn one of the children has died and Rowan is in prison awaiting trial for murder. Writing to her lawyer, Rowan struggles to lay out what really happened. But can the reader trust her? With a secret garden, an enigmatic handyman, ghostly footsteps in the night, a locked attic room, and a scribbled warning from the previous nanny, The Turn of the Key is a perfect read for anyone who loves spellbinding suspense coupled with elegant prose.
Well, those are my top picks for 2019. What are yours? Which books kept you up late at night, turning pages? What stories touched your mind and heart? I’d love to hear!