In honor of Mystery Month, let’s look at the top 10 crime novels and thrillers of last year, as counted by the ABBC (All the Best Books Compilation). The ABBC looked at 172 sources—including Booklist, the RUSA Reading List Awards, and genre-specific sources such as the Edgar Awards, the Left Coast Crime Awards, and Crimespree Magazine—to see which works published in 2014 were mentioned most often as a “best book” of the year. Crime novels don’t seem to be getting as much attention as some other genres lately, but by comparing the numbers we can find some great picks.
Download the full ABBC2014
Ranking these books by number of mentions, I’ll count down the books in the 10th through 5th spots in this post, followed by 4th to 1st in a few days.
In 10th spot with eight mentions is David Shafer’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. This book lives on the border of science fiction and thriller, but the technology is contemporary. It’s the story of a conglomerate of media and industry, The Committee, that’s trying to gain control of all information. Standing against them is an underground group called Dear Diary. The story features two best friends from high school who now battle for opposite sides. This is a conspiracy thriller with better than average characterization to enlighten the story.
There’s a two-way tie for the 8th spot with nine mentions each. Emma Healey’s Elizabeth Is Missing is told from the perspective of Maud. She’s the best friend of the title character, and nobody will pay attention when she tries to tell them that her friend has gone missing because Maud is descending into the grips of dementia. Is Elizabeth really missing, or is Maud’s failing mind convoluting her story with that of her sister Sukey, who disappeared herself just after WWII? Healey brings humor, poignancy, and surprising plot twists in equal turn to this exciting puzzler.
The second Cormoran Strike novel by J. K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith), The Silkworm, is also tied for 8th. In it, a novelist is on the verge of publishing a book that reveals the dark side of most of his acquaintances when he goes missing. It’s a premise that allows Rowling to bring everything she knows about the ugly side of the publishing world into the light. Strike and his assistant Robin are great characters, and Galbraith/Rowling’s skill as a plotter is on full display in the mystery story.
With 10 mentions each, three books tie for the 5th spot in the 2014 list. The first is I Am Pilgrim. It’s the debut novel by Terry Hayes, an Australian who has worked as a journalist in America, and as a successful screenwriter (Mad Max 2, Dead Calm, Payback). At 624 pages, this is much heftier than your average thriller, featuring the journey of Pilgrim, a forensic investigator working for a secret division of the U.S. government. He’s investigating a single, gruesome, acid-bath murder, but what he finds puts him as the main obstacle in the path of a global plague. There’s round-the-world action, clever use of technology, and lots of narrow escapes.
Tied for 5th is our old friend Stephen King, with the first of his trilogy about Bill Hodges, Mr. Mercedes. Hodges is a retired cop brought back into the fray when he gets a letter. It’s from the titular killer, who mowed down 23 people standing in line at a job fair in a stolen Mercedes. Now he’s threatening an even bigger attack. Is this vintage King? Perhaps not, but you decide. A mediocre title for a writer as seasoned as King is still far above average, and it’s fun to see him writing what may be his most direct attempt yet at the traditional hard-boiled crime novel.
The third member of the 5th place tie is Greg Iles. He’s upped his game, which was already considerable, in Natchez Burning. It’s the first of a trilogy featuring his hero Penn Cage, a former prosecutor and now, as this book opens, the mayor of Natchez, Mississippi. His father, Dr. Tom Cage, is suspected in the murder of his former nurse, Viola, a woman he worked with back in the civil rights years. Was it assisted suicide, and if so, why won’t Dr. Cage defend himself? There seems to be a trend for lengthier crime fiction, and this whopper tops out at 800 pages as it compares racism then and now, and slowly unveils dark secrets on its way to a powerful finish.
I’ll be back in a few days with the top four books in this category. In the meanwhile, here are 10 more books that finished just outside the top 10 with five or six mentions each as a best book of 2014. For more about the ABBC list, see the kickoff post here or download the full list (Excel format).
The Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day
The Black-Eyed Blonde, by Benjamin Black
One Kick, by Chelsea Cain
Perfidia, by James Ellroy
Shovel Ready, by Adam Sternbergh
Those Who Wish Me Dead, by Michael Koryta
The Farm, by Tom Rob Smith
The Monogram Murders, by Sophie Hannah
Personal, by Lee Child
The White Van, by Patrick Hoffman