Since some folks asked, here’s my list. It was an excellent year for crime novels by women, and based on my reading of 2014 galleys so far, next year will be as well.
The Best, in Alphabetical Order
Save Yourself, Kelly Braffet: I’m not certain why this novel didn’t merit more attention throughout the year, because it’s a tough yet deeply empathetic look at all sorts of broken families, a broken Rust Belt town, the pernicious effects of bullying, and the desperate need to belong to somebody, even if that somebody is the worst person you could possibly choose. Months later, I still think of the inevitability and the heartbreak of the ending. It had to be that way. It shouldn’t have been that way.
If You Were Here, Alafair Burke: Her novels, especially the standalones, are among the best descriptions of what it is to live in New York City right now. Burke also excels at showing the intersection between technology and human behavior, especially here, in this story of a disgraced lawyer-turned-journalist’s plunging into the decade-old disappearance of her best friend and finding out how little she really knows her husband.
There Was an Old Woman, Hallie Ephron. A terrific example of contemporary domestic suspense that features a fantastic nonagenarian heroine (and a cool thirtysomething co-protagonist, too) determined to keep her Bronx apartment from the grabby hands of developers and the sinister actions of unknown forces.
The Silent Wife, A.S.A Harrison: I’ve read this book twice and eagerly await doing so again and again, which is a testament to the power of this psychological suspense novel, my favorite work of crime fiction (ETA: of this year! Dorothy B. Hughes still owns “favorite crime novel ever.). Harrison, who did not live to see the book published, clearly invested much of her emotional and intellectual self in crafting this beautifully tense tale of Jodi and Todd, a long-term couple so bent on keeping up appearance they notice the rot from within when it’s too late to salvage what once worked.
The Devil in Her Way, Bill Loehfelm. I’ve been so bored by most police procedurals of late that it is so, so good to read a cop novel about a woman who struggles with the reality of beat policing, with the socioeconomic realities of her neighborhood (in post-Katrina New Orleans, to boot) and with her own demons, but not in a cliched manner. The second in the Maureen Coughlin series, and I want more books now.
The Wicked Girls, by Alex Marwood: Did you love Laura Lippman’s EVERY SECRET THING? Then you will also love this book, which riffs on the same criminal source material but does so in its own distinct and empathetic manner. Stephen King loves this book too.
Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight: a mother’s worst nightmare when her teen daughter falls off the school roof. Is it suicide, murder, or accident? A text message suggests foul play, and she comes to realize she never knew her daughter at all. What I particularly loved was its utter contemporary, technology-infused approach to suspense storytelling.
Norwegian by Night, Derek Miller: I read this book very late in the year and am so glad I sneaked it in. Another excellent elderly protagonist, this time struggling in a new country (Norway) with declining mental faculties and still grieving his beloved wife, who summons up his Korean war veteran past for one last stand in order to protect the boy who lives next door from gangsters, abusive parents, and others. This novel won the Creasey Dagger for best first novel in the UK, and totally deserved that honor.
How the Light Gets In, Louise Penny: my boredom with police procedurals melts away when I read Penny’s Inspector Gamache novels, which do something a little different each time out. This installment, she presents some of the most heart-in-throat suspense drawing from hacking computer systems. And a spin on the Dionne quints. Read this, and then the whole series.
Visitation Street, Ivy Pochoda: a lovely and gritty ode to Red Hook, that waterfront Brooklyn community changed by gentrification and both brought together and driven apart by the nighttime hijinks of two teenage girls, one who returns home, the other who does not.
Those That Nearly Made the Cut
Graveland, Alan Glynn — the latter-day Parallax View
Claire deWitt and the Bohemian Highway, Sara Gran - reinvigorating the private detective novel, a much-needed move
Ghostman, Roger Hobbs — great voice, pure adrenaline
The Next Time You See Me, Holly Goddard Jones — keen psychology and domestic suspense in a small town
Ratlines, Stuart Neville — semi-historical Irish crime fiction, with Nazis
The Silent Wife was acquired and edited by Tara Singh, my main editor on Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives. The Wicked Girls was acquired by Tara and largely edited by Emily Murdock Baker, who steered TDTW to publication after Tara briefly left Penguin. Alafair, Kelly, and Hallie are friends of mine, and I happen to like their books a great deal. Pretty sure everybody else except Derek Miller I’ve interacted with in some form or another in real life or on social media, because the crime fiction world is a small one.