2019 has been an amazing year, with so many great reads that it’s created the best possible problem: my top ten list for 2019 actually has fifteen books on it, and cutting it down even that far was a struggle. But why hold back, when New Year’s celebrations are all about glorious excess?
Best of 2019: Honorable Mentions
Lady-Killer by Anthony Gilbert (1951)
A wonderfully acerbic inverted mystery about a modern Bluebeard, his victims, and their efforts to fight back.
Cat of Many Tails by Ellery Queen (1949)
During a hot New York City summer, Ellery Queen hunts a serial killer while coming to terms with the emotional burdens of a life spent fighting crime. It’s a cliche to say that the city is a character…but the city is totally a character here.
Sleep with Strangers by Dolores Hitchens (1955)
Tough yet elegaic private-eye novel in which the search for a missing woman leads a middle-aged detective to confront his own memories and mortality.
The Evil Wish by Jean Potts (1962)
Two sisters struggle with the consequences of a murder not committed in this intense psychological crime novel.
A Dram of Poison by Charlotte Armstrong (1956)
Combines nail-biting suspense with a wonderfully humane worldview, as a group of strangers come together to help a suicidal man find a missing bottle of poison. This is the rare mystery that focuses not on death, but on how to live a life.
Top 10 of 2019
10) Mr. Splitfoot by Helen McCloy (1968)
Come for the impossible murder in a haunted room, stay for the touchingly realistic portrait of adolescence.
9) The Blackbirder by Dorothy B. Hughes (1943)
Visceral noir of murder and espionage among refugees from Nazi Germany, featuring a fiercely complex female protagonist.
8) The Long Shadow by Celia Fremlin (1975)
Poignant, often hilarious tale of a widow’s efforts to mourn a husband whose grave is far from quiet.
7) Uncle Paul by Celia Fremlin (1959)
An ominous exploration of family and marriage is sparked when shadows of violence from the past threaten a beach holiday; equal parts comic and profound.
6) Wax by Ethel Lina White (1935)
Dripping with atmosphere and suspense as a feisty girl reporter must expose the dark underbelly of a seemingly idyllic town. The climax, in which Sonia must survive a night in the town’s decrepit old wax museum, is a masterpiece of suspense.
5) Evil under the Sun by Agatha Christie (1941)
A summertime read that’s perfect year-round, with audacious crimes unfolding at a resort hotel. The killer is truly despicable and the crime plot is one for the ages.
4) The Hollow by Agatha Christie (1946)
Something very different for Christie, who skillfully explores the psyches of suspects and victims in depth before plunging them into a murder that may not be what it seems.
3) In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes (1947)
Chilling portrait of a man who is possibly a serial killer, but is definitely a misogynistic psychopath. Despite the strong flavor of postwar Los Angeles, it sadly remains just as relevant today.
2) Till Death Do Us Part by John Dickson Carr (1944)
A tour-de-force of impossible crime that simply cannot be put down as Gideon Fell spins one ingenious solution after another.
1) Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (1937)
An old favorite, and still the champ! One of Christie’s masterpieces, Death on the Nile has everything: murder beneath the pyramids, a deadly love triangle, a bold shipboard crime, and a solution that is both fiendishly clever and emotionally affecting.
Happy reading, and here’s hoping that 2020 will be the best year yet!