December: time for the Books of the Year posts. I’ve finished 125 books so far this year and, although it was a better year than 2011, I struggled to find good biographies or a new historical mystery author that truly amazed me. Still, lots of good reading.
Best Historical Mystery (foreign setting): The Darkening Field by William Ryan. This excellent follow-up to Ryan’s debut, The Holy Thief, takes readers into the pre-WWII Russia world of Captain Alexei Korolev, a stellar Moscow detective with a couple secrets he’d rather stay hidden. Unfortunately, his talents have come to the attention of higher-ups in the Organs of State Security, so he gets assigned cases with political ramifications where certain questions cannot be asked, the complete truth cannot be told and failure is not acceptable. In The Darkening Field, he is sent to Odessa, near the Romanian border, to determine if a young female employee of the state film commission has committed suicide or has been murdered. Smugglers, rivalries within the film community and local residents’ long-held hatred of the state complicate the case.
These stories are definitely not light-hearted cozies and a strong set of secondary characters is still under development, but the idea that one false step or ill-considered word can lead to a ten-year sentence someplace very, very cold give them an extra edge. Fans of this series should consider Sam Eastland’s Inspector Pekkela books, also set in between-the-wars Russia.
Best Historical Mystery (U.S. setting): As was the case last year, the choices here were too few (only one this year) and not that special.
For all my previous “books of the year” lists, see my dedicated page for these titles.