Tag Archives: Gone Girl

Edgar winner winner chicken dinner

raindogsFriends, I am heartily sorry for spending the last five months away from my book blog, but I resolve to turn over a new leaf!  Where I left you last was waiting for the outcome of the Edgar Awards banquet in New York City, after having read, reviewed and ranked finalists in three categories.  I’ll cut to the chase:  I’m batting .333 here – Edgar judges only agreed with me on the Best Original Paperback.  We both selected Adrian McKinty’s Rain Dogs.  His series featuring Irish police detective Sean Duffy is set in the 1980s and feels fresh and funny, but has a noir edge.

harrow.jpgFor Best First Novel, I picked Heather Young’s The Lost Girls, which is a character-driven suspense novel with two story lines (1935 and present day).  I was a fan the first time I read it, and an even bigger fan on rereading for the Edgars.  Alas, the Edgar went to Flynn Berry  for Under the Harrow, which was fifth on my ranking.  To be fair, Berry;s thriller is a great read in the Girl on the Train “genre” – unreliable female protagonist is driven around the bend but prevails.  I expect a movie any month now.

fallAnd for Best Novel, I gave the Literary Lunchbox Edgar to Lyndsey Faye’s Jane Steele.  I am not usually a fan of historical, but this one is genre-bending tribute to Jane Eyre, very well-written with plenty of action.  The actual award went to Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall.  I did enjoy Hawley’s book a great deal, which takes a pretty ordinary guy, puts him into extraordinary circumstances, and then ramps up a mystery with a big dose of conspiracy.  It’s got some plot holes that are apparent on re-reading, and my friend and writing buddy Addy Whitehouse really hated it, but I was more forgiving.  It was third on my list.

In a non-reviewed category, Best Critical/Biographical, the winner was Ruth Franklin’s biography of Shirley Jackson, which I read and enjoyed despite its doorstopper length.  It was also good to see Charles Todd (Charles and Caroline Todd) win the Mary Higgins Clark award for The Shattered Tree.

This is my eighth year reviewing Edgar nominees, and what I’ve found is that some years the Edgar judges agree with me (100% in 2010!) and some years they don’t (0% in 2011).  Here’s a round-up!  If you’re looking for some great reads, generally you can’t go wrong with my picks OR Mystery Writers of America’s choices, and all are now available in paperback.   Happy reading!

2010:  MWA and I agreed on John Hart’s The Last Child for Best Novel and Stefanie Pintoff’s In the Shadow of Gotham for Best First Novel.

2011:  I still think MWA was crazy, giving Steve Hamilton’s The Lock Artist the Best Novel award over Tana French’s Faithful Place, and Rogue Island (Bruce De Silva) instead of Nic Pizzolatto’s Galveston for Best First Novel.  (Not that I don’t like Steve Hamilton.)

2012:  It was 50/50 – MWA and I both gave Mo Hayder’s Gone the Best Novel Edgar (I loooooove Mo Hayder), but Lori Roy’s Bent Road took home the actual Edgar while the Literary Lunchbox award went to Leonard Rosen’s All Cry Chaos.  (Rosen sent me a very nice note by email commenting on my review.  Swoon.)

2013:  Another 0% year.  Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night won Best Novel, while Gillian Flynn’s hugely popular Gone Girl was my pick.  Interestingly, both were made into movies featuring Ben Affleck.  Gone Girl was clearly superior, both book and film.  Meanwhile, Chris Pavoni took Best First Novel home for The Expats, while I would have given the award to Matthew Quirk’s The 500.

2014:  I was crazy this year.  Jason Matthews’ Red Sparrow won the Edgar for Best First Novel, while my pick was Becky Masterman’s Rage Against Dying.  Seriously?  What was I thinking?  William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace took home Best Novel, and I loved it, so that redeems me somewhat.  50-50.

2015:  Another 50% agreement with MWA;  Best First Novel went to Tom Bouton’s Dry Bones in the ValleyAnd it was the year that Stephen King won Best Novel for Mr. Mercedes.  It was fantastic.  But I gave the edge to Mo Hayder for Wolf.  Both fabulous writers.

2016:  As with this year, last year MWA and I were aligned 33% of the time.  We totally agreed that Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone deserved Best Paperback Original.  (I loved it so much I gave it as a gift at least three times!)  For Best Novel, Lori Roy was again an Edgar winner for Let Me Die in His Footsteps while I gave he nod to Duane Swierzynski’s Canary (both good but super-different).  And I gave the Best First Novel Edgar to Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive over the actual Edgar recipient, The Sympathizer by Viet Nanh Nguyen (my #2 pick).

So there you have it, a real round-up to make up for a lengthy absence.  Looking back, I see that I often run out of time or energy as the Edgar awards draw near and I go into hibernation mode immediately following.  I diagnose blogging burn-out!  In 2018, I’ll cut back to a single category (two at the most) and see if that helps.

You go, Girl on the Train

trainOM Serious G.  I just finished The Girl on the Train, and I am pretty amazed  with what author Paula Hawkins has accomplished.  The girl on the train is Rachel.  She’s a sad, pathetic woman – childless, divorced, jobless, and drunken much of the time, barely hanging on.  Her own life is so bleak that every day, as she passes through the neighborhood where she used to live, she looks out the window of the train and spies on a young couple that she calls Jess and Jason.  She sees how beautiful, how happy they are, living just a few doors down from where Tom – Rachel’s ex-husband – and his new wife, Anna, live with their baby.  They are also happy, and Anna is living the life that Rachel should have had with Tom.

Only it’s not that simple.  Jason and Jess are really Scott and Megan, and Megan is pretty messed up, with some serious backstory going on.  And Anna is not just a doting young mother.  In fact, almost everybody in this novel is complicated.  The book is told in first person, shifting from Rachel’s perspective to Anna’s to Megan’s.  Little by little we learn more about the women, their pasts and their tragic present, tied together in a way you won’t foresee.

Here’s the scoop:  Megan disappears one night.  Suspicion falls on her husband, of course.  What can Rachel do besides find a way to tell the police what she saw through the train window: Megan kissing another man.  Of course, Rachel is an unreliable witness.  In fact, she’s unreliable even to herself.  She’s haunted by the idea that she knows more than she can recall.  Her memory of the night that Megan disappeared is fragmented and incomplete, but when Megan’s body is found, Rachel becomes convinced that the truth is buried deep in her brain.  She pulls herself together, stays sober (mostly) and begins to investigate. Ineptly, of course, but that just adds to the suspense.  By the time she gets it figured out, the reader is right there with her, trying to stay alive.

The Girl on the Train is sure to elicit comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girlas they both have unreliable narrators, intricate plots, and OMG endings.  And while I raved about Gone Girl, I have to say that Train has an edge from my perspective:  characters that are worth caring about.  You really root for Rachel.  With GG, it was hard to find anybody to root for.

Reviewers have been raving about the book, for good reason.  As with Gone Girl, I foresee a movie in the making.

Guilt and revenge drive The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

noaNot a who done it, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is more of a “why’d she do it?” with a little bit of “did she really?” thrown in.  The premise:  at the tender age of 25, Noa’s on death row, just six months from execution for the murder of a pregnant woman and her unborn baby.  She spoke not a word in her own defense.  Now, her victim’s mother – a prominent lawyer – has stepped forward to help Noa avoid execution.  Why?  Because she wants to know what happened.  And Noa’s the only one who can tell her.

It’s a suspenseful set-up, and author Elizabeth Silver makes the most of it.  Although the book is in first person from Noa’s perspective, the reader is kept guessing as the story unfolds in two threads:  what’s happening in present day and Noa’s memories.  As is so often the case, it’s the past which drives the present.    And the countdown to X-Day is always tick-tick-ticking in the reader’s subconscious.

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is an amazing debut novel, and I will be amazed myself if it’s not one of the finalists for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best First Novel when they’re announced next spring!   If you liked Gone Girls unreliable narrator, you’ll like this one, too.

PS- And speaking of Gone Girl, I hear a movie’s in the works.  Look for Ben Affleck as Nick and potentially Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne.

Uh-oh. Gods of Gotham in cage match with Gone Girl

gothamGone Girl‘s had a pretty easy run of it so far.  The #2 book in the ranking, Al Lamada’s Sunset, is a fun ride and a classic type, but not a classic.  Now comes Lyndsay Faye’s The Gods of Gotham, featuring NYC “copper star” Timothy Wilde.  I’m not usually a big fan of historical novels, but this big-hearted story has all the urban urgency of 2013, including class warfare, racism, religious intolerance, graft and politics.  Add in personal tragedy, fraternal discord, unrequited love, and still manage to have an uplifting, positive outcome… wow.

Never someone who did well in the “brown pie” section of Trivial Pursuit, it doesn’t take much to convince me that Faye’s vision of mid-1800s New York City is accurate.  Timothy Wilde is a barkeep, with $400 in silver saved up with an eye toward marrying his beloved Mercy Underhill, when fire destroys his home, his livelihood, and his face.  Reeling, he’s pressed into service in the new NYC police department by his brother, Valentine, who’s well-connected and active in city politics.  With the large numbers of Irish emigrating to New York at the time, the police department’s job is more to keep the peace than to solve crimes, but Tim turns out to be a “dab hand” at detecting.  He’s the kind of guy that people talk to.

The crime he’s solving: at first, it’s the horrific murder of one kinchen-mab (child prostitute).  But with the discovery of a hidden graveyard, the number climbs to 19.  Who is the shadowy figure who visits this house of ill-repute and bears away the bodies of murdered children, tearing their chest cavities into a the shape of a ragged cross and removing various organs?  Is he the same person who is sending letters on the topic to the police and the newspapers?  Anti-Catholic sentiment is accelerating, and the racism and barely suppressed violence of 1845 NYC feels remarkably timely.

The stakes are high, for the NYPD’s days will be numbered if the politics tip against them.  It’s up to Tim and a few trustworthy others to solve it quickly and out of the limelight.  And solve it he does, in a most surprising and satisfying fashion.

So what’s my call on the Edgars?  It’s a tough one.  Gone Girl and the Gods of Gotham are completely different in almost every aspect.  For suspense, I’d have to give it to Gone Girl.  For plot resolution, it’s a toss-up: you’ll like the ending of Gotham, but Gone Girl is satisfying in its own, frustrating way.  For singular and well-developed characters, toss-up again.  For enjoyment, it’s Gotham… just because I don’t like being jerked around, even if it’s good for me.  So I’m just going to bite the bullet and say Gone Girl.  Gotham‘s fabulous, but Gone Girl‘s completely new.

MWA Edgar for Best Novel rankings:

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  2. The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
  3. Sunset by Al Lamanda
  4. The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins
  5. Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman
  6. All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley

Gone Girl rockets to top of list

gone-girl-book-cover-medI read Gone Girl before the hype, and I want full credit for the discovery!   Amazingly, I did not review it at the time.  (I don’t always review everything I read, mostly due to time constraints.)  So, no proof.  Sigh.  Reading Gillian Flynn’s twisty novel of suspense was perhaps even more enjoyable the second time around.  It was a bit like seeing The Sixth Sense for the second time – you don’t get the shock (What?  You mean Bruce Willis has been dead all along?) but you do get the fun of seeing how well the movie is put together.  And Ms. Flynn has done a bang-up job putting Gone Girl together.

Here’s the premise:  Nick Dunne and his wife Amy are madly in love.  They’re happy with their bookish life in Manhattan, but tragedy strikes in the form of job loss for the couple and a fatal illness for Nick’s mom, so they head back home to Missouri, where Amy invests the last of her trust fund in a bar for Nick and his twin, Margo, to run.  Then Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, and all indicators point to a kidnapping.  Or do they?   The reader begins to suspect that Nick has killed his wife.   And so do the cops.  Even faithful sister Margo has her moment of suspicion.  But no!  Nick’s a self-centered jerk, no doubt about it, but not a killer.  So what’s up?

Spoiler alert.

For those who have somehow not heard the secret to Gone Girl, Amy’s not dead.  In fact, she’s a conniving psychopath.  She knows Nick is having an affair, and she wants to punish him.  Her plan: to set Nick up for “murdering” her, even going so far as to kill herself in a way that makes determining the time of death difficult, so that the discovery of her body removes all reasonable doubt.   Not surprisingly, the suicide plan falls by the wayside.  And, as she intends, Nick realizes he’s been set up.  He feels the jaws of the trap.  But knowing her as well as he does, he is able to  manipulate her into coming home.  All is well!  Not.  For just as he looks forward to leaving the marriage, Amy schemes to tie him to her even more tightly.  How?  A baby.

Needless to say, the plot is killer and the characters are extremely compelling, including sister Margo, Amy’s parents, whacky hottie/paramour Andie, and especially Nick’s crafty lawyer.  In the final pages, you shudder for Nick and Amy’s unborn baby.  Gone Girl has taken the lead in the race for the MWA Edgar for Best Novel.  Also, I’m totally going to see this movie.

MWA Edgar for Best Novel rankings:

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  2. Sunset by Al Lamanda
  3. The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins
  4. Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman