The best crime fiction offers equal parts entertainment and social commentary — stories we remember long after the final chapters.
Of the more than 125 or so novels I read during 2012, these are my favorites.
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane (Morrow): A lean, tightly focused epic that looks at Prohibition and the organized crime that flourished because of it. Lehane's 10th novel goes beyond the life of crime, skirting that fine line between glorifying the illegal and showing the humanity that exists even in mobsters. With action that moves from Boston to Ybor City, Fla., to Cuba, the novel examines our history and morality in an amoral world.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown): A wife's disappearance leads to the disintegration of what seems like a perfect marriage.
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The Drop by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown): Twenty years of Harry Bosch, and it still seems fresh.
And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman (Morrow): A suburban madam comes to terms with her career choice.
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke (Harper): The changing face of racism and classism intersect with the past and present on a Louisiana antebellum mansion that's managed as a tourist stop by a black woman whose ancestors were slaves on the plantation. This artificial look at the past might be impinged by a corporation that has been buying surrounding land and hiring illegal laborers instead of local workers.
A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller (Minotaur): An insightful look at the ennui of a community paralyzed by poverty and despair, and the pride of people who refuse to succumb to the insidiousness of drugs.
The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins (Putnam): A U.S. Ranger battles corruption that has overwhelmed his rural Mississippi hometown.
Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand (Minotaur): This stunning look at a woman forever teetering on the edge follows a burned-out asocial photographer from Helsinki to Iceland.
Defending Jacob by William Landay (Delacorte Press): What begins as a typical legal thriller matures into a suspense-laden insider's view of the law, ethics and familial bonds, with a shocking finale as believable as it is surprising.
The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge): Politics, dirty campaigns, compromised candidates and several "other women" make for a timely tale. This political thriller delves into romantic suspense and journalism ethics.
A must have for readers: Books to Die For, edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke (Emily Bestler Books): A sumptuous exploration of 119 authors from 20 countries discussing which writers' words encouraged them to become storytellers. Each thoughtful essay is a showcase for the passion of writing, with heartfelt tributes to fellow writers.