April 2012

Ten Most Wanted

The best mysteries of 2011, plus five page-turners you’ll want to pick up in the year ahead



Practically every day for the past 34 years at the Mysterious Bookshop, my store in New York, I’ve told friends and strangers alike about great books I discovered. I almost physically (okay, delete the “almost”) take a book out of someone’s hands and substitute a different, much better one, complete with a money-back guarantee.

Yes, taste is subjective, but I’ve read enough to know that I know more than most readers. And I’d better, because it’s been my career for nearly four decades. Here are my 10 favorite mystery books of 2011. I tried to put them in some sort of order, but they are just so dissimilar it proved impossible. They’re all tied for first place, in my book.

Full disclosure: The Mysterious Press, my imprint with Grove/Atlantic, published Thomas H. Cook’s book. He has been one of my favorite authors for nearly 20 years. With seven Edgar nominations to his credit, he’s better than ever. And in what may seem an even more egregious example of self-service, two of the recommended books for 2012 will be published by the Mysterious Press as well. I swear to God I’d have selected them no matter who was publishing. I mean, really, who wouldn’t be interested in a brand-new book by Dashiell Hammett?

The Sentry, by Robert Crais: Is there a better, more consistently outstanding mystery writer than Crais? Whether writing about Elvis Cole, Joe Pike or a stand-alone, he polishes every book into a gem. This one is Pike at his scariest.

The Night and the Music, by Lawrence Block: I love the Matthew Scudder series, and I love short stories—and this is the complete collection of Scudder stories. One of the greats of all time is the Edgar-winning “By Dawn’s Early Light.”

A Drop of the Hard Stuff, by Lawrence Block: Well, I said I love the Scudder series. And this, the first novel about him in many years, is one of Block’s best, taking his subject back to when he was forced out of the NYPD and trying to get sober.

The Drop, by Michael Connelly: What more can be said about Connelly and Harry Bosch? The worst book in the series is still a masterpiece. Readers have only to worry, as Bosch does here, that he’ll be forced to retire someday.

The Outlaw Album, by Daniel Woodrell: Country noir (a term Woodrell invented a decade ago) at its finest. The characters lead hard lives in ramshackle homes, with little law enforcement, so the locals handle problems on their own.

The Leopard, by Jo Nesbø: The best of the avalanche of Scandinavian crime writers produced another stunning addition to his Harry Hole series. In this installment, the investigation begins with Hole having disappeared and been finally found in Hong Kong, addicted to opium.

Rizzo’s Fire, by Lou Manfredo: I am convinced that Manfredo’s realistic police stories centering on Joe Rizzo will soon be mentioned in the same breath as the great 87th Precinct novels by Ed McBain.

The Quest for Anna Klein, by Thomas H. Cook: Without changing his sublime style, Cook has written a book with a plot that is different from, and more expansive than, his other works. It’s a masterpiece of espionage fiction.

The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz: As an aficionado of Sherlock Holmes who has read hundreds of pastiches, I will aver that this is the best of them all. Great suspense, impeccable use of language—and the characters are right.

Soft Target, by Stephen Hunter: On Black Friday, terrorists descending upon Minnesota’s America, the Mall shoot Santa Claus and take more than a thousand hostages. One hero stands between the killers and a bloodbath.


Lullaby, by Ace Atkins: Okay, the publisher’s title is Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby, but it’s not—it’s Ace Atkins’ book, his first novel starring private eye Spenser. He’s shown he can write in a variety of voices, but he’ll have to be on top of his game to get Spenser to sound right, which is no small thing. Coming in May.

Mission to Paris, by Alan Furst: I love 1930s and ’40s movies and books, especially espionage novels by writers like Eric Ambler, Geoffrey Household and Graham Greene. Furst has that same quality, and this, set in September 1938 on the eve of the Munich appeasement, has the perfect nostalgic title. Coming in June.

Die a Stranger, by Steve Hamilton: Hamilton’s career started off with a bang, his first novel, A Cold Day in Paradise, winning the Edgar. And he’s only gotten better. Alex McKnight, the ex-cop with a bullet lodged next to his big heart, returns in another richly textured story. Coming in July.

The Hot Country, by Robert Olen Butler: After more than 20 years writing literary fiction, for which he earned a Pulitzer in 1993, Butler has taken on the challenge of writing an exciting espionage thriller set in the pre–World War I Mexico of Pancho Villa, with Germany hoping to incite a border war. Coming in October.

The Return of the Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett: No kidding. This book contains two novella-length stories Hammett wrote for the films After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man. They’re not screenplays but rather highly polished stories with funnier dialogue than you thought the rather noir Hammett could write. Coming in November.

OTTO PENZLER, award-winning editor of suspense fiction, thinks it’s only right that you buy all these books from his store.