It was a thrilling year for mystery lit, book lovers. From a true crime tale of infidelity and arsenic in Victorian England to a thoroughly brutal murder set in the ruins of Detroit, here are the most intriguing mysteries we cracked open in 2014.
7. The Axeman’s Jazz
By Ray Celestin
It’s 1919 in New Orleans and there’s a killer on the loose, threatening to butcher anyone who doesn’t play jazz. Now the race is on to find the deadly Axeman before he strikes again. Celestin deftly blends bloody history with the swinging music of the Big Easy in his gripping debut that features the mafia, a Sherlock-obsessed secretary to the Pinkertons, and a young Louis Armstrong.
Buy the book at Amazon.
6. Blood Will Out
By Walter Kirn
In this real-life crime drama, father-to-be Walter Kirn befriends an eccentric man who claims to be a blue-blooded Rockefeller – but is in fact a psychopathic conman, kidnapper, and killer. While the incredible details surrounding the Clark Rockefeller/Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter case are truly stranger than fiction, it is Kirn’s nuanced investigation into what feels like to be duped that sets Blood Will Out apart from traditional true crime narratives.
5. The Devil in the Marshalsea
By Antonia Hodgson
Despite his family’s prosperity, Tom Hawkins finds himself locked in a packed debtors’ prison outside of London. When an inmate is murdered all signs point to Tom’s cellmate – who just might be the Devil himself. Hodgson expertly captures the squalor and grime of 18th century England in this sprawling historical epic. No wonder she took home this year’s CWA Historical Dagger award.
By Grady Hendrix
The haunted house premise receives a modern makeover in this darkly funny tale set in a hellish home goods superstore. Something strange is afoot in the labyrinthine aisles of Cleveland’s Orsk furniture center. Now three intrepid employees must stay the night and encounter the nightmare head-on. Hendrix presents his devilishly satirical novel as an actual mail order catalog, replete with product descriptions, purchase order forms, and a map of Orsk’s giant retail space.
3. Did She Kill Him? A Victorian tale of deception, adultery, and arsenic
By Kate Colquhoun
In the summer of 1889, a lovely Florence Maybrick is charged with poisoning her wealthy older husband. As the trial unfolds so too do the scandalous details of their marriage – and a shocked British public cannot look away. Kate Colquhoun vividly recreates this lurid true crime tale of adultery and death that captivated Victorian England.
2. The Secret Place
By Tana French
French shines in her latest Dublin Murder Squad installment. The unsolved murder of handsome Chris Harper is resurrected when a grisly photo of his death is tacked onto the gossip billboard of an all-girls’ school, with a caption that reads: I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM. Detective Stephen Moran takes the case, though he soon discovers that the student body at St. Kilda’s is far more vicious than he first believed.
1. Broken Monsters
By Lauren Beukes
Award-winning author Lauren Beukes uses the modern ruins of Detroit as the backdrop to her wildly inventive murder mystery. Just when Detective Gabriella Versado thinks she’s seen it all, she steps onto the murder scene of a slaughtered boy whose upper torso is fused to the lower half of a deer – then things start to get really strange. Beukes excels at creating narratives that are equal parts horrifying and heartbreaking. Broken Monsters may be her best yet.