If you’re in a criminal frame of mind, or you just want to read some of the best writing about crime published in 2018, your best bet is to check out the books that have been nominated for Edgar Awards this year, many of which are available right here at The Field Library. The Edgars are given by the Mystery Writers of America, and while the final awards won’t be announced until April 25, 2019, the nominees have been announced already, giving you plenty of time to sample what the experts in the field consider the best of the best.
In the category of Best Novel, three nominated books are here at The Field. Down the River Unto the Sea, is by Walter Mosley, already a Grand Master Edgar Award winner for his body of work. This new book doesn’t fit into any of his existing series, but nonetheless looks at the issues of justice and racism which have informed his work all along. The protagonist, John Oliver, was a top notch police officer until he was framed by his fellow cops and sent to prison. Ten years later, he’s working as a private investigator with his daughter when he receives a card from a woman who was involved in the frame. Obviously he needs to find out what happened and why, and this is his first real opportunity to do so. At the same time, he’s also investigating the case of an African American journalist accused of killing two police officers in connection with the journalist’s investigation of police brutality and corruption.
The second Best Novel nominee we have here is Only to Sleep, by Lawrence Osborn, which is a new take on the iconic Raymond Chandler character, Philip Marlowe, now 72 and in retirement until one last case comes his way, which is impossible for him to resist. It seems one Donald Zinn supposedly drowned off his yacht, leaving behind a much younger wife who’s now extremely rich. But is Zinn dead, or is this an elaborate fraud?
A Treacherous Curse, by Deanna Raybourn, is also nominated for Best Novel. This is the third in the Veronica Speedwell series, following a Victorian butterfly hunter and world traveler who finds herself involved in various adventures along the way. Here she’s investigating the disappearance of an archeologist and a priceless diadem from an ancient Egyptian princess’ newly discovered tomb. There are, it seems, all kinds of disasters associated with this particular expedition, and rumors of Anubis himself wandering the streets of London. Veronica has to sort out fact from fantasy and figure out who or what has led to his disappearance, while conspiracies and threats swirl around her. If you’re into historical mysteries, especially ones set in the Victorian era, this is a series to read, but start at the beginning, which is A Curious Beginning, and is also available here at The Field.
Then there’s The Perfect Nanny, by Leila Slimani, which is nominated for Best Paperback Original. This book has been a bestseller in Europe and generated a lot of buzz even before it was published here in America. It starts with a bang: two children are dead in their home, found by their mother. The nanny, the perfect nanny who was so good with the children, who made it possible for their mother to go back to her job as a lawyer, killed them. Why? How? The book then goes back to the beginning of the relationship between Myriam, the mother, and Louise, the middle-aged, seemingly ideal woman who will take charge of the children and of the parents, and follows through to the horrible denouement. This is not a book for new parents or for people who don’t like horror in their mystery, but it packs a punch.
The Edgars also recognize new writers, and three of the Best First Novel nominees are here at The Field for your enjoyment as well. A truly original and hard to categorize novel, The Last Equation of Isaac Severy, by Nova Jacobs, is one of those nominees. Isaac Severy was a mathematician who died by apparent suicide, but before he died, he sent a note to his adopted granddaughter, Hazel, telling her to deliver a mathematical proof of his to a colleague, but warning her that a sinister organization is also interested in this proof and so it’s hidden for her to find. When she goes to Isaac’s home, Hazel discovers that there are many people searching for that bombshell of an equation, including Isaac’s dysfunctional family of geniuses, and she comes to realize that it may be more dangerous than even Isaac thought, as she races against time and tries to use Isaac’s maddening clues to find the equation before something goes terribly wrong.
Bearskin, by James A. McLaughlin, also nominated for Best First Novel, takes the trope of the man on the run from the drug cartels and twists it in new ways. Rice Moore, our protagonist, has run all the way to the Appalachians, to a remote area where his job is to track wildlife and refurbish cabins, where nobody from the Mexican cartel would be likely to find him. But someone is poaching the bears in this preserve, and Rice takes it personally, getting involved with the scientist studying the bears and setting in motion a plan to expose the poachers, which might have the unfortunate effect of revealing Rice himself to his most dangerous enemies.
Another mystery set in the world of nature, Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, is not just a nominee for Best First Novel, but is also a New York Times bestseller. Kya Clark lives in the remote marshes on the North Carolina coast, a mysterious figure known to the locals as the Marsh Girl, given almost mythical qualities. She’s been living on her own in the marshes since she was ten, isolated and more attuned to the world of nature than to human society, with a painful past. When the body of a young man is found, and he was known to have had some dealings with the Marsh Girl, the locals immediately turn on her, forcing her to defend herself against charges of murder. Did she or didn’t she? What was her life like and what was her relationship with the dead man? A book that’s more often categorized as “literary” than “mystery,” this book is kind of an outlier in the Edgar category, but well worth checking out.
But if you’re not interested in fiction, fear not! The Edgars also recognize outstanding true crime reporting, and we can supply you with some outstanding examples of the genre.
One of the year’s nominees in the category of Best Fact Crime is a book the Field Notes Book Group read this past year, The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession and the Natural History Heist of the Century, by Kirk Wallace Johnson. I already wrote about it here, but I heartily recommend the book, especially for people who aren’t interested in violence or gore but are still interested in crime and the solving of crimes.
If, on the other hand, you’re interested in gritty reporting on crime and punishment, there’s Sex Money Murder: A Story of Crack, Blood and Betrayal, by Jonathan Green, another nominee for Best Fact Crime, which takes you deep into the worst of the crack epidemic of the 1980’s and 1990’s in the Bronx, following the rise and fall of the Sex Money Murder gang, its leader and two of its foot soldiers, as well as the efforts of the police officers, F.B.I. officers and prosecutors who risked their lives to bring the gang to heel and to bring some kind of justice to the most dangerous parts of the city.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, by Michelle McNamara, is also a nominee for Best Fact Crime, and also a New York Times bestseller. While many people are fascinated by serial killers, especially the ones who never got caught (how many books are there on Jack the Ripper, for instance?), McNamara took her fascination to new heights or depths, becoming totally engrossed with a rapist-murderer in California in the 1970’s, seeking out all possible information about who he might have been, how he remained free, talking to everybody who had any connection to the murders and falling down the rabbit hole of conspiracy websites and chat rooms. The book is as much about her obsession and pursuit as it is about the killer himself and his horrible acts, but both are compelling and intriguing, in a horrible way.
Interested in the best crime writing around? Check out the Edgar nominees here at The Field Library.