My Favorite Books of 2019

After some effort I managed to sort my reading in 2019 enough to identify 20 books that I really liked. Some of them reflect my renewed interest in Golden Age authors. In alphabetical order by the author’s last name, here they are.

The Shameless by Ace Atkins, 2019 – A cold case grabs Quinn Colson’s attention in Tibbelah County, Mississippi, where he continues to fight the local crime syndicate and resist the pressure of the backcountry politicians. The latest in an excellent series, part police procedural, part Southern noir.

Wolf Pack by C.J. Box, 2019 – The nineteenth book about Joe Pickett, game warden in Wyoming, where someone is herding wildlife with drones, causing stampedes and unnecessary injuries. He teams up with a female game warden, one of the few in the state, to track the malefactors down. Near the end the book gallops headlong into uncontrolled and unexpected violence. Publishers Weekly starred review.

Fogland Point by Doug Burgess, 2018 – An unusual story about a death that could be an accident or it might be a homicide, against a background of family and long-time loyalties in a small town. The whipped cream here is a poltergeist who does housework. This book should have received more attention from critics and readers. Starred review from Publishers Weekly.

The Emperor’s Snuffbox by John Dickson Carr, 1942 – None of the locked room puzzles for which Carr is justly famous but nonetheless a dazzling display of plotting expertise with the clues plainly visible for the reader, if the reader can find them. Possibly the tightest plot I can remember. A fine, fine mystery.

The Defense by Steve Cavanagh, 2016 – The first book about Eddie Flynn, former conman, former lawyer, and recovering alcoholic. To stave off a threat to his family, Eddie resurrects all of his rusty swindler’s tricks and calls on the people he knew in his other life for help, including his childhood friend, now the head of a Mafia crime family. An original and appealing character and an excellent plot. Publishers Weekly starred review.

A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie, 2019 – Book 18 about Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid, Scotland Yard detectives, who visit the Cotswolds for what was supposed to be a relaxing weekend in the gorgeous countryside. Instead, a car accident and two fatalities complicate their lives and the small village’s. A series this old could be expected to lapse a bit but each entry is as good as the previous ones. Booklist starred review.

Wyatt by Garry Disher, 2011 – Wyatt is Australia’s answer to Parker. Planning a jewelry heist with friends is something Wyatt doesn’t like to do but he needs a score. The job goes sideways and Wyatt is catapulted into escape mode while he works out what went wrong. Starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.

A Murder Unmentioned by Sulari Gentill, 2019 – The sixth in the historical series about Rowland Sinclair, a 1930s Australian artist from a wealthy family. In this installment the background surrounding the tension between Rowland and his brother is resolved, as well as the mystery of their father’s death. As usual, the politics of the time are front and center.

Invisible by Andrew Grant, 2019 – Another anti-hero who goes after the rental building owners in New York for property repairs and tries to figure out why valid criminal cases keep getting thrown out for lack of evidence. The janitorial staff’s answer to child care is particularly appealing. Publishers Weekly starred review.

Nighttown by Tim Hallinan, 2018 – Junior Bender’s latest foray into burglary, this time to steal an old doll from a house due to be torn down. The payment is absurd for the job so he knows something is wrong but he needs the money, so…. As always, Junior is a delight. One of my favorite contemporary crime characters. Publishers Weekly and Booklist starred reviews.

Joe Country by Matt Herron, 2019 – The sixth book in the acclaimed Slough House series. where failed spies are sent to stay out of the way. The newest recruit is determined to find out who set him up, and the other residents are acting out their problems more than usual. Dark, witty, compulsive reading. Publishers Weekly starred review.

The Rule of Law by John Lescroart, 2019 – A positively delicious entry in one of the few series I still collect. After making fun for years of Phyllis, the assistant Dismas Hardy inherited when he took over the law firm, she suddenly becomes a real person with real problems and in urgent need of legal help.

The Verge Practice by Barry Maitland, 2003 – The seventh of the Inspector Brock/Sergeant Kolla Scotland Yard police procedurals involving the disappearance of an internationally famous architect. Australian Maitland was an architect himself, so the business parts of the book are well-informed. A complicated, layered plot with a surprise ending. These books continue to be hard to find in the U.S.

Renting Silence by Mary Miley, 2016 – The third of the Roaring Twenties mysteries set in Golden Age Hollywood. Script girl Jessie has a murky past so she welcomes the opportunity to blend in among the crowds necessary to keep the film industry moving. She rubs elbows with the famous and the soon-to-be famous, including Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who call on her amateur investigative skills to keep their studio out of the newspapers.

The Last Act by Brad Parks, 2019 – A stand-alone thriller with original characters and an innovative plot. Juvenile actor Tommy Jump has come to the end of his acting career and he’s looking for the next place to land when he is offered $75,000 to enter a minimum-security prison under an assumed name for a short time to retrieve evidence for the FBI. Of course it’s not quite that simple. Library Journal starred review.

Arrest the Bishop? by Winifred Peck, 1949 – An early historical mystery, written in the late 1940s but set in 1920, just after the end of the Great War. A classic Golden Age setting of country manor near Christmas with plenty of suspects and an obnoxious victim. Only one of three mysteries by Peck, whose brother was Ronald Knox, the famous Golden Age mystery author.

Light It Up by Nick Petrie, 2018 – The third outing of and my introduction to Peter Ash, a PTSD-ridden veteran. He agrees to provide security for a cannabis firm in Denver and in no time at all is fighting to elude trigger-happy robbers. The shootout with his escape down a mountain is one of the most memorable scenes of my 2019 reading. Kirkus starred review.

Paper Son by SJ Rozan, 2019 – A most welcome return of Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. This time they leave their usual haunts in New York for the deep South where Lydia has family she didn’t know about. The history about Chinese immigrants serves as an unusual backdrop to their investigation. Starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly.

The Crime at the Noah’s Ark by Molly Thynne, 1931 – Only one of six mysteries by Thynne, set at Christmas at an isolated inn, where snowbound travelers have sought refuge. One of the more unpleasant members of the group is murdered while the fabulous jewels of another disappear. No one gets any sleep as they guard the many exits against possible intruders. A complicated plot with some great characters.

The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson, 1932 – One of the reprints from the British Library Crime Classics series, this is the only mystery by Wilkinson, who was a Labour Member of Parliament much of her life, one of the first women to serve in that role. An intriguing view of women in politics during the time as well as a well-executed mystery story.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Emperor’s Snuffbox by John Dickson Carr

The Emperor’s Snuffbox by John Dickson Carr (Harper, 1942) is a dazzling display of plotting pyrotechnics. No locked room but a puzzle so tightly woven I had to read the explication twice before I fully understood all of the moving parts.

Eve Neill has finally convinced her cheating husband Ned Atwood to cooperate in a divorce. In conservative France where they are living in a resort area, there is every incentive for a woman to remain in a marriage but Eve has had it with Ned. She doesn’t even care about the potential for embarrassing publicity, she just wants him out of her life. Since they were married in France and the divorce action completed in France, there was little mention in the English papers to her great relief. After a few months Eve is bored and lonely and a little depressed when the stuffed shirt son Toby Lawes of the English expatriate family across the street begins to court her. His family kindly expresses happiness when she accepts his proposal of marriage, although her status as a divorcee shocks them a little.

The murder of the family patriarch, Sir Maurice Lawes, late one night, changes everything. Sitting up late admiring a new and expensive acquisition for his collection of tchotchkes, Sir Maurice is brutally and fatally attacked with a poker. The French police zero in on Eve, whose clothing has unexplained blood and who has no alibi. She also has no motive but that does not bother them. The French inspector calls in Dr. Dermot Kinross, an eminent English criminal psychologist who often works with the police, because he does not believe Eve is guilty. Dr. Kinross also decides Eve is not guilty and begins looking hard at the family of the victim, who after all were in the house at the time and had the easiest access. From that point on one startling plot twist after another unfolds.

All of the clues are available in this fair play mystery and I missed about half of them. Highly recommended for Golden Age fans.