Having previously counted down the 10th through 4th spots on the list of 2014 crime novels and thrillers most often mentioned as “best of the year,” I’ll move without further ado to the top four books from the 2014 ABBC (All the Best Books Compilation):
Download the full ABBC2014.
In fourth place with 11 best-of-the-year mentions is After I’m Gone, by Laura Lippman, who built her reputation with the Baltimore-set Tess Monaghan series. Her recent standalones show even more skill. In After I’m Gone, a bookie who disappeared just before an indictment long ago becomes the focus of a cold case investigation when his mistress, who may be the only one who knew where he went, turns up dead. Former detective Sandy Sanchez, who works such cases from retirement, focuses his attention on the wife and three daughters that were left behind.
There’s a tie for the next spot, with two books recognized 12 times each. The first is the perennial top-of-the-list stalwart Louise Penny, whose Inspector Gamache is still winning plaudits in his tenth outing. In The Long Way Home, Gamache has relocated happily to Three Pines, but when his artist friend Peter Morrow goes missing, he’s dragged reluctantly back into investigation across Quebec, with his old second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, into a desolate region at the mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway. With Penny’s wonderful mix of humor, lyricism, and deep characters, this is yet another winner in a series that has brought new depth to the village cozy.
The other book with twelve mentions is Denis Johnson’s The Laughing Monsters. It’s a fast-moving tale of espionage and treasure hunting set in Africa. Two international soldier-of-fortune mercenary types, one with fiancée in tow, pursue money-making plans to the Congo/Uganda border, but each of the three have secrets from the others. Critics describe this as espionage novel meets Heart of Darkness, and Johnson’s fever-dream style and unsavory characters are well suited to the chaotic African setting.
After the tightly-bunched placements from spots ten to two, one would expect the most-mentioned best crime novel of the year to be a narrow victory, but Tana French is way ahead of the pack with 23 separate sources recognizing The Secret Place. It’s the fifth outing for the Dublin Murder Squad, in a series in which a different detective takes the lead for each book. This time Detective Stephen Moran is trying to activate a stalled career when a girl whose family he knows brings him a picture of a boy whose murder went unsolved a year ago, with the note “I know who killed him.” Paired awkwardly with the detective who couldn’t solve the case the first time around, he follows the clue to St. Kilda’s school. Is there any atmosphere more tense and emotionally complicated than the world of teenage girls? It’s a welter of lies and loyalty perfectly suited for French’s character-driven writing.
I’ll be back in a few days on The Booklist Reader to highlight another category from the ABBC.