Favorite Mysteries & Thrillers of 2021

Of the 74 books I read in 2021, 48 were mysteries and thrillers. That makes sense, considering I consider mysteries and thrillers to be my favorite genre!

Here is a round up of my favorite mysteries and thrillers of the year. These are the ones that were so thoroughly enjoyable, I find myself recommending them over and over. Two of the books on this list are more horror than mystery/thriller, but… they are excellent. Links to full reviews where possible.

Mini Synopsis: A normal, family-centric community loses first one person — Shirley Tebow — and then two more — Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old Delilah. When Delilah shows up out of the blue, eleven years later, all the questions that went unanswered back then come bubbling to the surface, bringing with them disturbing secrets that had been buried for so long.

My Year-End Thoughts: Local Woman Missing was the rarest of mysteries for me: well-written, perfectly paced, and full of genuine surprises. I had no idea where it was going and loved knowing nothing right along with the characters as the story unfolded. An excellent book and my favorite mystery/thriller of the year.

Mini Synopsis: Beth can’t resist trying to get a peek at her ex-best friend Flora’s new life. But when she sees Flora pull up to her house, and the children get out, Beth can’t believe her eyes: the children, ages five and three, haven’t aged a day… even though the last time she saw any of them was twelve years ago.

My End-of-Year Thoughts: Perfect Little Children (or, in the UK, Haven’t They Grown, which I personally think is a better title) is yet another example of what makes Sophie Hannah one of my all-time favorite mystery writers. She gives us a situation that is completely impossible… and then manages to explain it in a way that seems not only plausible, but horrific and chilling. Full review here.

Mini Synopsis: Four septuagenarian friends join every Thursday for meetings of their murder club. Mostly this means discussing cold cases, but when someone with ties to their retirement home winds up dead, they find themselves in the middle of a real investigation.

My End-of-Year Thoughts: The Thursday Murder Club was just a lovely book to read. A twisty, difficult-to-unravel mystery coupled with some of the most charming characters I’ve read in a long time. I found myself giggling at the detectives’ hi-jinx… and feeling overwhelmed with grief when they recount the nearing-end-of-life challenges that befall the elderly. Heartwarming, fun, surprisingly sentimental, this was a wonderful beginning to an excellent series. Full review here.

Mini Synopsis: Lara is overwhelmed by the grief of unexpectedly losing her brother. She finds solace, as so many of us do, in a book, which tells the story of Violet who lost her own sibling. When she hits another low point in her bereavement, Lara turns to the book again for comfort. Only to find that it’s changed, in unsettling and upsetting ways. And some of the strange things that are happening in the book, start happening to Lara, too.

My End-of-Year Thoughts: Weight of Memory is special to me because the author is a friend of mine. But it’s also special because it’s a special book. Lara’s all-encompassing grief has stuck with me… as has the way the author turned her source of comfort into a source of horror. This book has a slow-burn menace to it, and goes to very unusual places — all while taking a hard look at what we might give up in order to get back the people we’ve lost. This is one of those books that I just want to force into people’s hands because it is so unique and so powerful, and the writing and the characters are so strong. Full review here.

Mini Synopsis: DI Anjelica Henley investigates a spate of dark, grisly murders in which victims have been dismembered and scattered around London. She quickly discovers a link between this new serial murderer and notorious serial killer Peter Olivier, known to the public as The Jigsaw Man. Henley, battling panic attacks leftover from her own encounter with The Jigsaw Man, must find the copycat before the killings escalate and before the original Jigsaw Man figures out how to insert himself back into the spotlight.

My End-of-Year Thoughts: What sticks with me about The Jigsaw Man is not that it is a solid serial killer mystery, but that was so incredibly dark and gritty. I can’t get the feeling of it out of my mind. Anjelica Henley is an excellent strong, independent, and deeply damaged protagonist and I would read a dozen books with her at the helm. Full review here.

Mini Synopsis: Florence Darrow, who believes she is destined to be a great author, stumbles into the job of a lifetime: research assistant to the mysterious and pseudonymous author Maud Dixon. Florence – one of only two people in the world who know Dixon’s real identity – accompanies the revered author to Morocco to research the new book. When a terrible car crash lands Florence in the hospital, killing Maud, Florence has a new opportunity: take over the dead author’s life.

My End-of-Year Thoughts: Who Is Maud Dixon? was one of many books I read this year that was about the lengths writers would go to to find success and fame. And it was one of the best of this new (to me) genre. While I found the plot of this story to be predictable, it was still so well crafted that I am thinking about Florence to this day. The chilling consequences of too much ambition is definitely a story line that followed me through 2021. Full review here.

Mini Synopsis: Jake Bonner’s first novel achieved critical success, but never skyrocketed him to the level of Famous Author. While teaching at Ripley, a relatively unknown, low-residency MFA program, he meets a student who has a dynamite idea for a book. Years later, Jake discovers that the student with the remarkable plot is dead… without ever publishing his book. So Jake writes a novel – Crib – using his student’s plot. In the midst of the wealth and fame and credibility Jake always dreamed of, someone reveals that Jake isn’t the only one who knows the plot doesn’t belong to him… and he needs to own up to his theft… or else.

My End-of-Year Thoughts: Another in the writer-does-anything-for-success genre, The Plot was… wonderful. As with Maud Dixon, I found the story quite predictable, but it was delicious to go along with Jake — who had NO IDEA what was going on or who was after him — as he finally discovers the plot’s real owner. A fast-paced, well-thought book that I couldn’t put down. Full review here.

Mini Synopsis: Jade Daniels, a half-Indian high school senior, lives in tiny Proofrock, Idaho with her abusive father. Horrible things in its history made Proofrock and its idyllic Indian Lake what it is, and Jade – a scholar and enthusiast of horror films – is certain that her hometown is ripe for its own slasher cycle. When the first body shows up and proves her right, she’s equal parts elated and determined – because she, more than anyone else, knows exactly what’s going to happen… and just how much blood is about to be spilled. 

My End-of-Year Thoughts: My Heart Is a Chainsaw is technically horror, rather than a mystery or thriller, but I don’t read enough horror to have a separate list. And this book NEEDS to be on a favorites list. The protagonist, Jade Daniels, is a character I hold near to my heart. She was so vivid, so vulnerable, so desperately trying to be strong. I love her so much. She is what sticks out to me long after the fact, rather than the extensive (and awesome) gore. Full review here.

Mini Synopsis: Sixty-one-year-old author Gerry Anderson – renowned for his novel Dream Girl – has moved back to Baltimore to care for his mother in her final days. Then an accident leaves him bed-bound, with only his personal assistant Victoria and his night-nurse Aileen for company. The pain and immobilization are bad enough… but then he begins receiving mysterious communications from someone who says she is Aubrey, the main character in Gerry’s most famous book. The only thing is, there is no Aubrey. Gerry made her up. 

My End-of-Year Thoughts: Yet another entrant in the writer-will-do-anything-for-fame category, Dream Girl was a deeply unsettling thriller in the vein of Stephen King’s Misery. I couldn’t look away from Gerry’s captive invalid situation, and I absolutely loved how it ended up. Full review here.

Mini Synopsis: An old “friend” of Elizabeth’s shows up out of the blue, asking for help finding diamonds he’s been accused of stealing. Gamely, the Thursday Murder Club turn their attentions to solving the mystery… but then the bodies start piling up.

My End-of-Year Thoughts: It feels slightly like cheating to list the follow-up to one of my other 2021 favorites… but The Man Who Died Twice was really that good. I may even venture the opinion that it was BETTER than The Thursday Murder Club! The septuagenarian detectives and their relationships and struggles are so charming and the story is packed with humor, puzzles, and heartbreak in equal measure. Plus, the mystery is full of lots of twists and turns that I had trouble tracking!

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