The Mysteries of 2020

January 22, 2021 | M. Elwood

Comments (0)

2020 was a year full of uncertainty, questions and challenges. Some of us chose to escape in fiction. Crime fiction is one of my favourite ways to get away from the real world.

As with the cookbooks, I have looked at lists of favourite crime fiction and compiled the top ten most recommended books. This year I looked at 40 different lists and ended up with over 300 books that got at least one recommendation. The books below are the ten books that were mentioned the most.

The list includes both veteran and debut authors. Perhaps as a reflection of 2020, the books here are mostly dark. The word "gritty" appeared often in the articles I consulted.

If you're looking for something suspenseful to read, you'll find something here.

Blacktop wasteland

Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby 

Half of the lists I consulted named this as one of the best books of the year. That's a good reason to check it out. Bug Montage has a criminal history but now he's on the right side of the law earning an honest living as a mechanic. Unfortunately he has debts and an honest living isn't paying the bills. Bug hears about a foolproof diamond heist and signs on for one last job; it doesn't go as planned. In its review, National Public Radio said that "this book is a cry about race that starts somewhere in Appalachia and echoes across the country. There are guns here, sure, but the strongest hits come from melancholy and the constant ache for a better life".

The searcher

The Searcher by Tana French

This is a stand-alone thriller from the author of the Dublin Murder series. Cal Hooper, a retired cop from Chicago moves to a small town in Ireland to leave his old life behind. It's idyllic and peaceful until a boy asks Cal to help find his missing brother. As Cal investigates, he uncovers a dark side to the town that some citizens would rather stay buried. This book was recommended by 12 reviewers.

The devil and the dark water

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Master detective Samuel Pipps and his loyal assistant Arent Hayes are onboard a ship heading to Amsterdam. The journey started out badly when a person on the dock foretold of a devil haunting the ship. Sure enough strange things happen almost immediately. Pipps is in no position to investigate. He is chained in a cell, on his way to Amsterdam for execution. It is up to Arent and a sympathetic traveller to figure out what's happening and prevent disaster. If you like your mysteries with a hint of the supernatural, this one may be for you. It is recommended by 9 reviewers.


The next five books were each selected by 8 reviewers.

Long bright river

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Mickey and Kacey are sisters on opposite sides of the law. Mickey is a cop; Kacey is an addict living on the streets. There is a series of murders in the neighbourhood and Kacey disappears. Mickey is determined to find her sister and bring the murderer to justice. Barack Obama named this one of his favorite books of 2020. 

One by one

One by One by Ruth Ware

I haven't always liked Ruth Ware's books but I loved this snowbound, closed circle mystery. It's about the executives and investors of a trendy social media company who head into the mountains for a ski trip that will also determine the future of the business. The company has recently received a lucrative buy-out offer and the investors must decide whether to accept. Sides are drawn. Great skiing and bitter conflicts are on the itinerary until an avalanche puts a stop to the outdoor fun. Trapped in a remote chalet with little hope of a speedy rescue, the group discovers another complication – there's a murderer among them.  

These women

These Women by Ivy Pochoda

In South Central Los Angeles in 1999, a serial killer begins targeting women. The police conclude that the victims are sex workers and don't seem all that eager to catch the murderer. Dorian knows the police are wrong. Her daughter Lecia was one of the victims and she was not a prostitute. Lecia's murder remains unsolved and in 2014 it looks like the killings have started again. The book alternates between 1999 and 2014 with six narrators, all women connected by the neighbourhood, violence and trauma. Pochoda's books are wonderful character studies of people on the margins. 

Thursday murder club

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Richard Osman, a British quiz show creator and host, has won a lot of fans with his debut novel. This quirky, charming mystery features 4 crime-solving septuagenarians living in a retirement village in Kent. The Thursday Murder Club gathers weekly to discuss unsolved cold cases over wine and baked goods. When a local developer is murdered and their are connections to their community, the Thursday Murder Club springs into action to solve their first real case.  

Winter counts

Winter Counts by David Heska Wambli Weiden

The story of the residents of the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota is one of betrayal. There is a long history of broken promises and injustice. Felonies committed on the reservation are often unprosecuted. Tribal police are limited in their power and federal authorities who do have jurisdiction often refuse to act. When justice is denied, the community turns to Virgil Wounded Horse, Rosebud's vigilante. When Virgil's nephew is arrested for selling pills, Virgil takes aim at the cartels responsible for the drug problem ravaging the community. 


These next books were each recommended 7 times.

Little secrets

Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

Marin and her son Sebastian were at a market when Marin is momentarily distracted. In that moment her child disappears. Before their child is kidnapped, Marin and her husband Derek have a perfect life. Now a year later, Sebastian is still gone; Marin and Derek are drowning in sorrow. When Marin discovers that Derek is having an affair, her grief turns to anger and a quest for revenge. Kirkus called it "delightfully twisty".

Song for the dark times

A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin

Though now retired from the police, John Rebus can't help investigating. When his daughter, Samantha calls to report her husband is missing, he dashes off to northern Scotland to figure out what has happened. Could the disappearance be tied to a local commune? Meanwhile in Edinburgh, Rebus' old partner Siobhan Clarke is working on the murder of a young playboy. The cases have unexpected connections. 


What 2020 mysteries would you recommend? Here's to more great reading in 2021!