The Best Mysteries of 2012? Are You Sure?

question-mark After the AAR Annual Reader Poll results came out this year a number of readers commented on the forum that they felt “out of sync” with many voters, as they either had not read, or disliked, many of the winning titles. As a pollster I’ve often felt this way. I believe I voted for two of the winning entries this year; in many years I don’t vote for a single one.

But I honestly feel even more “out of sync” with the mystery community. I read a lot of mysteries — both old and new — each year. As the nominations have come out for some of the major mystery awards I’ve been appalled at just how few I’ve read and have no desire to read.

The Edgar Awards will be presented by the Mystery Writers of America in May of 2013. I haven’t read any of the nominations for Best Novel or Best Paperback Original. I did read one of the nominations — Mr. Churchill’s Secretary — for Best First Novel, but that’s it. And honestly, after reading the descriptions of most of the nominees, I know that they’re not ones I’ll want to read.

Edgar Nominations for 2012 Mysteries

Best Novel:
The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins
The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn
Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman
Sunset by Al Lamanda
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley

Best First Novel:
The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay
Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
The Expats by Chris Pavone
The 500 by Matthew Quirk
Black Fridays by Michael Sears

Best Paperback Original:
Complication by Isaac Adamson
Whiplash River by Lou Berney
Bloodland by Alan Glynn
Blessed are the Dead by Malla Nunn
The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben H. Winters

The Agatha Nominations often come a bit closer to my mystery reading taste. As the Malice Domestic site explains, “The genre is loosely defined as mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence.”

I’ve read and enjoyed three of the nominees for Best Novel (A Fatal Winter, The Buzzard Table, and The Beautiful Mystery) and have the other two in my TBR pile. I haven’t read any of the nominations for Best First Novel, but several sound interesting and I intend to check them out. One of my favorite mystery genres is historical mysteries, and I’ve read three of the nominees. I liked The Twelve Clues of Christmas and An Unmarked Grave. But while I’ve adored the Maisie Dobbs series, the latest, Elegy for Eddie, just didn’t work for me, and I have yet to finish it. I’ve been meaning to start Victoria Thompson’s series but haven’t found the time. Until I read the nominations, I’d never heard of the Dandy Gilver series. It does sound interesting, so I think I’ll give the series a try, starting with the first.

Agatha Nominees for the Best of 2012 in mystery

Best Novel:
The Diva Digs Up the Dirt by Krista Davis
A Fatal Winter by G.M. Malliet
The Buzzard Table by Margaret Maron
The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny
The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Best First Novel:
Lowcountry Boil by Susan M. Boyer
Iced Chiffon by Duffy Brown
A Scrapbook of Secrets by Mollie Cox Bryan
A Killer Read by Erika Chase
Faithful Unto Death by Stephanie Jaye Evans

Best Historical Novel:
The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen
Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for Murder by Catriona McPherson
Murder on Fifth Avenue by Victoria Thompson
An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd
Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

The Dilys Winn Award is given out at Left Coast Crime (an annual event sponsored by mystery fans) by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA) to the book they most enjoyed selling during the past year. I read and enjoyed two of the nominees (Granddad, There’s a Head on the Beach and Mr. Churchill’s Secretary). I’ve been meaning to start on Peter Robinson’s books as well as Tana French’s series as well.

Dilys Nominees

Granddad, There’s a Head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill
Broken Harbor by Tana French
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
The Expats by Chris Pavone
Before the Poison by Peter Robinson

Some of my favorite mysteries of 2012 didn’t get nominated for any of these awards, most notably: A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths, The Girl is Trouble by Kathryn Miller Haines, No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie, Valley of Ashes by Cornelia Read, and Death in a Floating City by Tasha Alexander.

I know there are a number of mystery readers among AAR readers. How do the nominations I’ve listed fit with your 2012 reading? Are there surprises? Books you think should have made the cut that didn’t, or books you hated that garnered a nomination?

– LinnieGayl Kimmel

NOTE: I’ve only listed the nomination categories that I actually read here. For example, I don’t read short stories or true crime, so didn’t list those categories. You can find the full list of nominations at the links I’ve provided.


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03/07/2013 4:31 pm

I read and enjoyed The Expats and Grandpa, There’s A Head on the Beach (although I like Cotterill’s other series better). Anything by Margaret Maron is superb, but The Buzzard Table was especially strong I thought.

Thanks for discussing mysteries. I am happy for recommendations. I tend to particularly enjoy mysteries that incorporate romance elements, so I’m happy to see this post and encourage you to keep it as part of your repertoire.

And….I’m off to check out some of those authors/books new to me mentioned above!

03/06/2013 11:10 pm

I too read very few of the nominees, just A Beautiful Mystery which I had to skip ahead to finish, Victoria Thompson’s latest and Susan Elia MacNeal’s that I listened to rather than read. I may check out a few of those listed here, but will probably pass on most. Authors (new to me) that started series in 2011 that I read this past year, include Andrea Penrose’s Lady Arianna Hadley Mysteries, Teresa Grant’s Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch series and Elizabeth Bailey’s Lady Fan Mysteries. While I’ve definitely continued with other ongoing series (some I’ve been reading for years – Charles Finch, Joanne Fluke, Carolyn Hart, Katherine Hall Page, David Rosenfelt, Aaron Elkins and othres that don’t come to mind right now), typing this up makes me realize how much I enjoy historical mysteries. So LinnieGayl, if you ever want to do a column dedicated to these types of mysteries specifically I know I’d enjoy it, especially if you included audio reviews (where possible).

03/06/2013 7:38 pm

The only book I read that’s on your list is “”Gone Girl”” and I absolutely loved it. But as to the rest of the books that were nominated, I most likely would not read them. As it was in the beginning with me while discovering romance fiction, I’m compiling my own list of suspense/mystery authors I prefer reading using trial and error, along with recommendations. I’m not sure what niche they fit into or don’t, but they definitely match mine. Good article, LinnieGayl. It really just proves that we all enjoy reading what we like and sometimes it doesn’t always translate into a Column A or Column B way of choosing material or authors.

03/06/2013 3:22 pm

Finally! I have found others that did not like Gone Girl! I thought I was completely alone in that regard. I haven’t read any of the others, but do have The Last Policeman on my kindle TBR.

03/06/2013 2:26 pm

I am also out of sync with the mystery community. I have read only a few of the nominees and didn’t like any of them.
A Beautiful Mystery was very disappointing. I don’t care for Penny’s direction and treatment of Inspector M. he deserves better.
Gone Girl: Hated it!
Broken Harbor was my first Tana French and I didn’t finish it.
Mr Churchill’s Secretary was one of the worst mysteries I have ever read. It was badly written and historically inaccurate. I’m sure it will win.
Twelve Clues of Christmas: DNF

I love the Elly Griffith mystery series too, it’s a crime she wasn’t nominated.
Tasha Alexander latest was okay, but not as good as her previous novels.

Reply to  leslie
03/06/2013 2:30 pm

The Beautiful Mystery. Inspector Gamache.

03/06/2013 1:56 pm

I think Gone Girl was pretty awful, so it’ll probably win. Enjoyed Broken Harbour by French, but not my favorite by her.

03/06/2013 9:42 am

I’ve read Gone Girl and The Expats, the latter of which I quite enjoyed.

Mrs. Fairfax
Mrs. Fairfax
03/06/2013 9:21 am

Thanks for posting these! I’ll be digging into these lists. I loved, loved Gods of Gotham by Lindsay Faye, and I’ve been following Malla Nunn’s Emmanuel Cooper mysteries set in 1950s South Africa for a while now, so it’s good to see her getting some recognition.

In the “”Don’t deserve the hype”” column, I’d have to put Louise Penny’s Beautiful Mystery for setting a story in a monastery without the faintest clue about how the Church operates or even bothering to get accurate translation for a key Latin phrase. And I’m endlessly annoyed at Susan Elia MacNeal for cribbing her second book’s plot & dialogue from easily identifiable tv shows, so I’m not anxious to see her taking home awards.

Looks like I’m adding some titles to the TBR! Thanks!

03/06/2013 9:17 am

I agree with you that it’s a crying shame that Elly Griffiths’ novel was not nominated. I love her books. I read and enjoyed Lowcountry Boil and Faithful Unto Death (both nominated for best first novel Agathas). Your mystery likes/dislikes are compatible with mine, so you might like them, too.