The Last Best Book — Top Reads of 2017

The Last Best Book — an occasional series highlighting books I’ve loved. 

It’s a bit disheartening to see how many books on my 2017 reading list were published in 2015 or 2016 — I’m always playing catch-up! But I suspect you are, too, so my list of top reads in 2017 isn’t confined to those actually published in 2017.

Best Mysteries (in no particular order):

Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz (2017) Horowitz created two much-loved mystery series for British TV, Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War, and his knowledge of the genre helps make this mystery-within-a-mystery smart, clever, and fun. I read it over the holiday break, and the cat was thrilled because it actually kept me in my chair for hours at a time.

Fogged Inn, Barbara Ross (2016) One of the best contemporary cozy series. In this installment, Ross sets herself a well-met challenge and flips a convention of the genre in a surprising but utterly satisfying way.

Wicked Girls, Alex Marwood (2012) I went searching for books that wove together past and present story lines, and this was one of the best. The ending still chills me — not for physical horror but for its internal impact on the protagonist.

Sunburn, Laura Lippman (2018) Watch for this book, a bit of a departure for Lippman, in February.

Best First Mystery: Hollywood Homicide, Kellye Garrett (2017) Not your typical cozy — more caperish, with a fun premise and an appealing protagonist.

Best Other Fiction: Not surprisingly, all three weave together past and present story lines, although the lapse of time varies from several hundred years to just a few months.

Truly, Madly, Guilty, Liane Moriarty (2016) If you enjoy audio books, this performance will knock your socks off.

The Savage Garden, Mark Mills (2008) Travel by armchair from 1958 England to Italy in 1958, at the end of WW II, and during the Renaissance. Pop the cork on a nice Italian wine and be doubly happy.

Love and Other Consolation Prizes, Jamie Ford (2017) Did you know Seattle hosted two worlds fairs, in 1909 and 1962? Ernest, an accidental immigrant at four who becomes houseboy to an infamous madam, then loyal husband and father, attended both. Ford, author of The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, really shines in the voice of a young boy.

Here’s to another happy year of reading! What were your favorites of 2017?

The Last Best Book — Wilde Lake, by Laura Lippman

The latest in an occasional series of books that knock my socks off! (Although in this fall weather, I’ve had to put them back on, darn it!)

WILDE LAKE by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, 2016)

Luisa Brandt is the newly-elected State’s Attorney in Howard County, Maryland, the same position her father once held. He’s still described as “beloved,” and Lu feels that label as burden, challenge, and comfort. But her first murder trial in her new job will shake everything she thinks she knows about herself and her family.

Lippman’s recent standalones often weave together a contemporary storyline and an older one. In WILDE LAKE, as in AFTER I’M GONE, the present-day story covers a short period and the investigation of a present-day crime with ties to long-ago events that are played out over years, even decades. Lippman handles the time shifts beautifully, and she captures the 1970s and 1980s with exactly the right details.

Few authors are smarter about observing women in modern culture, and the struggles we often face because of our social roles.

I read this book in audio. The two narrators—one for the current-day story, one for the historic chapters—have distinctive, clear styles that drew me in and kept me good company on a long drive over the mountains and back.

Justice in a cold case

Some of my favorite mysteries and other novels feature “cold cases” – those unsolved cases that haunt detectives and the families of the victims. Two that come to mind are Stephen White’s Cold Case (2000) and Laura Lippman’s The Most Dangerous Thing (2011).

This story from the Seattle Times about an ex-cop from Seattle convicted of a long-ago murder in Illinois has all the elements of a good cold-case crime novel – except that it’s all too real, and the families affected will never forget.

Short version: In 1957, in a small town in Illinois, 7 year old Maria Ridulph vanished, her body found five months later after a national search. Those things didn’t happen then — at least, we didn’t think they did. Police investigated intensely–and even questioned a 17 year old neighbor boy, whose mother gave him an alibi. In 1994, on her death bed, the mother confessed to her daughter that she had lied to protect her son. (The two were half-siblings.) In 2008, the daughter finally told police, who opened the cold case, and in 2011, arrested the man in Seattle. He had changed his name and moved west shortly after the murder, working as police officer south of Seattle. At the time of his arrest, he was married, retired, and working as a security guard. He denied any involvement in the crime.

Not an easy case to prosecute, but helped enormously by testimony of an eye-witness–8 at the time of the crime–identifying the defendant’s teenage photo as the boy she’d seen the victim with shortly before the disappearance. The jury convicted him in September 2012. His sister cried and apologized that it took so long. In December, he was sentenced to life in prison. At 73, it won’t be a long sentence. (Illinois abolished the death penalty in March 2011, after a long history of abuses.)

Illinois papers say it’s probably the the oldest solved cold case in American history.

Cold cases are truly chilling. How can your characters do them justice?