It’s hard to imagine, even harder to believe, but the month of December—with all the various holiday seasons and gift giving—is here. The calendar year is almost over and it’s time . . . time for our gift to all the readers out there . . . the best books of 2015 list. Enjoy. And we wish you a Merry Christmas, as well as good health, peace and prosperity for you and yours in the coming New Year! –JDM
There were so many great mysteries, thrillers and noir novels published in 2015 that it was difficult to choose which ones to review . . . and even harder to winnow the list down to this dozen. The choices are arbitrary, they’re my personal favorites of the sixty-plus books I read last year and the fifty or so we reviewed in the Mysterious Book Report. All of the complete Mysterious Book Reports are available on my website: johdwainemckenna.com and you can receive them every week by liking us on Facebook or following us on LinkedIn.
Best Books of the Year 2015
MBR # 191 Prayer, by Philip Kerr
Known for his outstanding WWII Bernie Gunther series, here, in a brilliant paranormal stand-alone thriller, Kerr posits the possible existence of a different kind of God, as seen through the eyes of an FBI agent who’s struggling to find faith while at the same time attempting to solve a string of grisly murders and reconcile with his estranged wife in Houston, Texas.
MBR # 192 The Painter, by Peter Heller
Selected as the winner of the prestigious 2015 Reading of the West award from the multi-state Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association, Heller’s second novel, a thrilling murder mystery, explores the struggles of a brilliant—and highly successful —modernist painter who’s seeking solitude and an escape from his violent criminal past and prison term in New Mexico by reestablishing himself in the remote, west-slope Colorado town of Paonia, where he can work in peace and find solace fly fishing the remote streams and rivers there. He soon discovers however, that the past isn’t so easy to forget, or leave behind and that trouble has a way of finding anyone anywhere and anytime. Beautifully rendered and brilliantly told, The Painter will rip your heart right out.
MBR # 196 The Empire of Night, by Robert Olen Butler
The third novel of the acclaimed series featuring the daring newspaper reporter and intrepid American spy, Christopher Marlowe “Kitt” Cobb, the Pulitzer Prize winning Butler examines in detail and depth, the effects of all-out war and new technologies on the ordinary citizens of England and France during the Great War, as night-time bombing raids on London by terrifying Zeppelin dirigibles bring a new development to the war, and new heroics by Kitt to stop them. The Empire of the Night is packed full of enough intrigue, adventure and treachery to keep any thriller enthusiast fully engrossed, entertained and glued to the page. Kitt Cobb is one of my all time favorite characters in literature.
MBR # Supplemental Maus, by Art Spiegelman
April the nineteenth is Holcaust Remembrance Day. In observance of which, I read a book on the subject as a self-improvement exercise. For that reason, and because they’re not fiction, I don’t review them in the MBR. But MAUS is the exception to those rules. It’s a comic book. For adults. Now they’re called “graphic novels” to give them more cache, more legitimacy. But MAUS is in a class of its own. It’s the story of a man, an artist, re-connecting with his father—from whom he’s been estranged—as the older man tells the never before revealed narrative of his and his wife’s survival in the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz, and Buchenwald. The son, a cartoonist by trade, then puts his father’s tale into graphic form, illustrating the Jews as mice, and the Nazis as mean cats, the Poles as pigs and the Americans as friendly dogs. The book was first published in the ‘70s in installments and has since become a classic. It’s an unforgettable experience.
MBR # 200 The House of Wolfe, by James Carlos Blake
The Wolfe’s are a family of outlaws. Half of them live in America, near Brownsville, Texas while the other half live in Mexico City. They’ve been making their living smuggling guns, liquor and sometimes people, for more than 150 years. They’ve been so successful for so long that the family is not only ultra wealthy, but well situated in legitimate businesses with plenty of well-placed allies. So, when some members of the family are kidnapped at a wedding in Mexico, the family comes together and fights with elegant ferocity to save their loved ones. James Carlos Blake is the best and the most audacious writer crafting literary violence today.
MBR # 202 Chain of Events, by Fredrik T Olsson
A kidnapped group of the worlds’ greatest scientific minds are ensconced in a hidden castle located high in the alps, trying to find the answer to an imminent doomsday prophecy found encoded in the human DNA sequence. As the world begins collapsing around them, the more important question becomes: who put it there . . . How . . . and Why?
MBR #206 The Organ Broker, by Stu Sturmwasser
A scary, scary novel about organ replacement and what’s known as transplant tourism. Transplant tourism is the term given to ill patients who need a life-saving organ donation and have the money to go out and buy one in a foreign country with no questions asked about where or how the donated kidney or other organ came from. That’s where the organ brokers come in. They go to poor countries and buy organs from living, healthy and desperately poor donors who need money. The Organ Broker is a real eye-opener about how the rich and privileged are prolonging their lives at the expense of the desperately poor.
MBR # 208 The Swimmer, by Joakim Zander
Thirty years ago in the Middle East, the young father of a month old baby watches in horror as a car bomb meant for him, explodes and kills his wife—the baby’s mother. Heartsick, unable to cope with a newborn and fearing that his enemies will try again, the man who’s an American spy, leaves the infant girl at the door of the Swedish Embassy in Beirut and flees the country. The baby is raised by her grandparents on a remote island in the Swedish archipelago. Back in the present, the woman—now grown—is the executive assistant to the Trade Minister of Sweden, with headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. She comes into possession of a laptop computer containing sensitive—and highly secret—information that’s sought by several opposing countries . . . all of whom are willing to kill for it. Fighting for her life, she flees to the island of her childhood, and a last fatal showdown where she meets the father she never knew.
MBR # 210 The Cartel, by Don Winslow
Although it is written as fiction, The Cartel will do more to open your eyes to the current events in Mexico and the so-called Drug War in the USA than anything short of enlisting in the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) and going down to the border and fighting it yourself. Told from the point of view of a DEA agent’s lifetime fight to keep a Mexican drug lord in prison, The Cartel) drips with violence and blood, but it’s so frighteningly close to actual current events that readers will be transfixed, stunned and glued to the page. One of the most talked about books of the year.
MBR # 214 The Devil’s Detective, by Simon Kurt Unsworth
This unique debut novel was part of our month-long October Freak Fest of supernatural and other-worldly reads in observance of Halloween. It’s one of the most unique and creative novels I’ve ever read—and those very characteristics may make it become a cult classic. Thomas Fool is the Devil’s detective, one of only three so-called “information men” in all of Hell. He’s got a gun but only one bullet. He has many cases, but marks most of them with his no action taken rubber stamp and returns it to the complainant. But when the case comes from Hells own hierarchy, he’d damn-well better investigate. Someone’s been killed in a most brutal way, fiendish, even by Hell’s standards. It happens at a most inconvenient time, just as Fool is doing escort duty for a group of visiting angels who’ve come down to negotiate terms of elevation to Heaven for a few lucky souls. But then there’s another murder, and a mass-killing which puts Hells innumerable nasty, skinless and bloodthirsty demons in a frenzy and Fool in more trouble than he can handle. The Devil’s Detective is a raucous delight for horror and mystery enthusiasts.
MBR # 217 The Crossing, by Michael Connelly
After thirty years as a homicide investigator with the LAPD, detective Harry Bosch has retired. He’s the lonely, jazz-loving, tough, sanguine, altruistic, world-weary and honorable cop we’ve come to revere in Connolly’s twenty plus novels featuring him. Bosch is taking it easy, puttering around the house and working on a 1950 Harley-Davidson motorcycle he’s inherited. When his half-brother Mickey Haller (the Lincoln Lawyer,) asks Bosch to look into the murder case he’s defending, Harry has to decide whether or not to cross over to the dark side . . . helping defend the criminals he’s spent the last thirty years putting in jail . . . and going against all his principals. The Crossing is Connelly’s best yet and an enjoyable read for any and all.
MBR # 218 New Yorked, by Rob Hart
Another debut novel by a first-time author that’s included here because he’s managed to strike a near-perfect noir tone. Included is a mysterious phone call in the middle of the night, a murdered ex-girlfriend, a tough, down and nearly out, sometime private detective without a license who suffers from alcoholic blackouts and a broken heart—and lastly—a parade of the most unusual characters and alternative lifestyles since The Island of Dr. Moreau. New Yorked is an offbeat treat by a dynamic young writer who has the chops to go a long way in the crime fiction genre.
MBR # 220 Palace of Treason, by Jason Matthews
This novel is the latest Mysterious Book Report and makes the Best of the Year 2015 list because it’s simply the most awesome spy novel I’ve read in a long, long time . . . maybe ever. Together with his first, Red Sparrow, the Palace of Treason is the beginning of what we can only hope will be a long-running franchise.
That’s it! That’s our baker’s dozen of the best crime, mystery and thriller novels for the last year. They were dramatic, entertaining and some were even hair-raising, but guess what . . .stay tuned to the Mysterious Book Report because we’ve got many, many more new, exciting, thrilling, stimulating, provocative, moving, animated, rousing, exhilarating, galvanizing, and thought-provoking new reports coming in 2016! Keep reading! Books are medicines for the soul.
–John Dwaine McKenna Colorado Springs, Colorado November 2015