Best mystery novels of 2009 chosen by Oline Cogdill, others
“Mysteries” as a literary genre has long since been a capacious category, embracing everything from traditional cozies and whodunnits to noir detective stories, police procedurals, crime capers, ambitious semi-literary novels — anything with a soupcon of criminality, whether or not it includes a mystery with clues for the reader to figure out along with the protagonist.
It’s not a genre that, as they say, “speaks” to me, even though I cheerfully agree that great work is done within its expansive confines all the time. When I turn to crime fiction, I’m looking for the exceptional novel, the one that bursts or (and I hate this word, too, but we don’t want to be here all day) “transcends” the conventions of the genre.
By contrast, the true aficionado loves the genre for just those familiar tropes and narrative devics, and while often able to recognize the exceptional novel, is better suited to identify the worthwhile mystery that fulfills rather than transcends the conventions.
That’s why I’m turning to my longtime friend and erstwhile colleague, Oline Cogdill, for a list of best mysteries of 2009. No one knows more about the ins-and-outs of crime fiction than Oline, who has served as the Sun Sentinel’s mystery fiction columnist for nigh on 20 years. I’ve found a number of fine authors — Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, George Pelecanos– on her recommendation.
Before considering Oline’s best-of-2009 list, which appeared in yesterday’s Sun Sentinel, let me say that I read only three crime novels in the past year — and each one was outstanding. China Mieville’s The City and the City, a fantasy disguised as a down-to-earth police procedural, was my favorite book of the year. I’ve raved about it elsewhere, often.
In Nobody Move, Denis Johnson avoided the pretentiousness that sinks most literary writers when they slum in a genre, producing a terrific thriller that compares well to the best of Elmore Leonard. And I’ve just finished Dave Seltzerman’s twisted, propulsive and hilarious Pariah, which I will be reviewing somewhere in the very near future. Zeltserman is one sick dude, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.
None of those books made Oline’s list, which could be an indication of the genre’s breadth, or it just could mean I don’t understand the category well enough. Oline chose Michael Connelly’s two novels, The Scarecrow and Nine Dragons, as a tie for No. 1. Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising is her top debut mystery. And Oline names Otto Penzler’s The World’s Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives as a “must-have” for mystery lovers.
For purposes of comparison, here’s a link to Adam Woog’s “Best Crime Fiction of 2009” column in the Seattle Times. Unlike Oline, he includes Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire, one of the most popular books of the year. Otherwise, the two lists overlap to a degree I find astonishing, which is a testimony, I think, of the acumen and knowledge of each reviewer.
Join in — if you’re a mystery lover, or just read a crime novel or two that you really liked, by all means let us know. What was your favorite mystery of 2009?