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The Best Reviewed Crime Novels of the Month: January 2021


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A look at the month’s best reviewed crime novels, mysteries, and thrillers.

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Lisa Gardner, Before She Disappeared
(Dutton)

“… a sharply-written, tension-filled yarn full of twists readers are unlikely to see coming. The most compelling element, however, is the character of Frankie, a recovering alcoholic whose obsession with the missing is a penance of sorts for the burden of guilt and grief she carries over a past trauma that took the life of a man she loves.”

–Bruce DeSilva (Associated Press)

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Anders Roslund, Knock Knock
(Putnam)

“With a story stretching from Stockholm to Montenegro and back, this is definitely a tense and detailed thriller, giving some interesting highlights into Swedish policework and their use of undercover agents … Though not overly violent, the ending is a twist and a shocker, and only a reader skilled in picking out details will guess this story’s finish. The last three sentences resonate with sad and shocking irony.”

–Toni V. Sweeney (New York Review of Books)

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Ashley Audrain, The Push
(Pamela Dorman/Viking)

“… taut, chilling … Blythe’s postpartum experience is familiar, and Audrain renders it flawlessly … Audrain has a gift for capturing the seemingly small moments that speak volumes about relationships … Audrain conjures the disintegration of marriage, along with the legacy of intergenerational trauma and the pain of parental grief, so movingly that the extent to which Blythe goes off the rails doesn’t seem that far-fetched … Occasionally the second person gets repetitive, and I found myself longing to hear Fox’s voice — or anyone else’s, really. But the chapters examining Blythe’s family’s past provide texture, and the narrative feels more balanced once Fox’s partner is tricked into dishing on their life, even asking Blythe for parenting advice. Finally, someone thinks she’s a good mother.”

–Claire Martin (The New York Times Book Review)

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Todd Robert Petersen, Picnic in the Ruins
(Counterpoint)

“Blending dark comedy and crime fiction, Petersen examines a moment in time that exquisitely reveals timeless and far-reaching themes … Throughout the novel’s adrenaline-filled external conflicts, Sophia is simultaneously considering deep, universal questions: To whom does this treasure really belong? Who owns this land? And, ultimately, who owns history itself? Picnic in the Ruins is an excellent read for those who enjoy thrillers set in the Southwest and readers interested in the preservation of history and culture.”

–George Kendall (Booklist)

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Julie Carrick Dalton, Waiting for the Night Song
(Forge)

“In her first novel, journalist Julie Carrick Dalton extols the virtues and beauty of the natural world and laments the forces that threaten it, passionately capturing the devastation that a fire can cause and the helplessness people feel in the face of such uncontrollable disaster … Though her style comes across heavy-handed at times, Dalton writes thoughtfully and poetically about a place clearly close to her own New Hampshire-based heart. Cadie and Daniela’s interrupted friendship forms the core of the novel, and Dalton captures that best-friend bond so intensely forged in youth … Through vivid and emotional imagery, Waiting for the Night Song speaks to the power that a place and its people can have over your life.”

–Melissa Brown (Bookpage)

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P.J. Tracy, Deep into the Dark
(Minotaur)

“… flirts with the fantastical while staying grounded in the all-too-real … Tracy introduces a lot of characters and story threads early in the going and then doesn’t stop adding them, which keeps the tension elevated … Stretches of downtime, in which characters just try to process what’s going on, feel very real. Sam and Melody both work at a bar; the tedium of repetitive work and their parallel efforts to build new lives and avoid attention make them a sympathetic if unreliable pair. And Tracy’s dry humor and the irony of such grim crimes occurring in sunny Los Angeles lend a grittiness to the story … The conclusion is a neatly timed, highly visual set piece that’s going to be killer in the inevitable movie adaptation. But even this feels like it has a sly wink to it, incorporating film tropes, such as the heroine with a twisted ankle, into a fight for survival in which a screenplay figures heavily. The layered storytelling and empathy offered to every character make Deep Into the Dark not just a hard-to-put-down thriller, but one that leaves the reader with much to think on, with no easy answers in sight.”

–Heather Seggel (Bookpage)

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Chris Harding Thornton, Pickard County Atlas
(MCD / FSG)

“In this debut novel, Thornton has skillfully created a hyper-detailed setting of the Nebraska plains … a gripping mixture of cop procedural and a psychological story of rebirth that gives one man the chance at leaving his past behind. Suspense builds as Harley realizes that redemption hides in the unlikeliest of places, and that the call is coming from inside the house — or in this case, a farmhouse on the edge of town.”

–Sheila McClear (The Star Tribune)

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Allie Reynolds, Shiver
(Putnam)

“Winter-sports fans are in for a treat here, as are all who enjoy a tale of extremes; the fierce competition between women characters is also a bonus. The answer to who’s pulling the strings here is a little incredible, but overall this debut is an atmospheric winter treat. Recommend it to those who enjoyed recent tales of reunions gone awry.”

–Henriette Verma (Booklist)

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Joanna Scaffhausen, Every Waking Hour
(Minotaur)

“Trauma underpins so many of the characters’ reactions and decisions in Every Waking Hour, and Schaffhausen addresses it with fascinating detail and great empathy, drawing on her background in neuroscience and Ph.D. in psychology. It all makes for a compelling countdown to a surprising resolution (several of them, really—there are numerous intriguing threads for reader-sleuths to follow). This book is the fourth Ellery Hathaway title, and the gasp-inducing goings-on in its final pages are sure to prime fans for yet another skillfully crafted, suspenseful installment.”

–Linda M. Castellito (Bookpage)

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Melanie Finn, The Hare
(Two Dollar Radio)

“… smart and atmospheric, with the pull of a literary thriller but with meat and heart … Rosie is an amazingly complex character, and Finn captures her porous self so well … I felt so close to the setting, too, I could often hear the fallen leaves crunching underfoot, or smell the woodstove smoke on a crisp winter evening. The complicated relationship between mother and daughter, cocooned together in a life of survival and secrets in a cabin in Vermont, is also captured well here. Finn is a master of complication made visible through taut and beautiful words. I highly recommend this book.”

–Katy Haas (Newspages)

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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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