Top Mystery Books of 2021

Everyone loves a good mystery book, don’t they?

With so many new releases every year in a fiction genre that continues to grow in popularity, it’s often tough to choose which books make your top mystery list for any given year.

Personally, for a book to make my top mystery reads selection it needs to do the following:

  1. Keeps me riveted to the page so I forget what time it is (and often end up reading into the late hours)
  2. Stays in my mind for days after finishing it
  3. Makes me want to tell everyone to go and read it too.

With all that in mind, here are my top mystery books of 2021, in reverse order.

5. S.A. Cosby, Razorblade Tears

(UK pub date July 2021)

From the publisher:

Ike Randolph left jail fifteen years ago, with not so much as a speeding ticket since.

But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid.

Ike is devastated to learn his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah's white husband, Derek. Though he never fully accepted his son, Ike is broken by his death.

Derek's father Buddy Lee was as ashamed of Derek being gay as Derek was of his father's criminal past. But Buddy Lee - with seedy contacts deep in the underworld - needs to know who killed his only child.

Desperate to do better by them in death than they did in life, two hardened ex-cons must confront their own prejudices about their sons - and each other - as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.

Rachel’s thoughts:

Unflinching, confronting, and completely riveting, SA Crosby’s 2021 novel stayed in my mind for days after reading it.

Following bereaved fathers Ike and Bobby Lee, the story opens as each discovers that his son has been murdered in cold blood. As time passes and the police investigation falters, the two men join forces to being their sons’ killers to justice using the only way they know how - skills each man learned while incarcerated in some of the most brutal prisons in the US.

There are elements to this that made for uncomfortable reading and Cosby doesn’t shy away from the dangers facing both the Black and LGBTQ+ communities, but Rqzorblade Tears is a story about hope, regret - and revenge.

Highly recommended.

4. Steve Cavanagh, The Devil’s Advocate

(UK pub date: August 2021)

From the publisher:

Ambitious District Attorney Randal Korn lives to watch prisoners executed. Even if they are not guilty.

An innocent man, Andy Dubois, faces the death penalty for the murder of young girl. Korn has already fixed things to make sure he wins a fast conviction.

The one thing Korn didn't count on was Eddie Flynn.

Slick, street smart and cunning, the former con artist turned New York lawyer has only seven days to save an innocent man against a corrupt system and find the real killer.

In a week the Judge will read the verdict, but will Eddie be alive to hear it?

Rachel’s thoughts:

Although this is the fourth book in Cavanagh’s legal thriller series featuring defence attorney Eddie Flynn, rest assured it reads well as a standalone too.

Set in a small town in Alabama, tension runs high throughout the book, and the stakes are even higher.

If you enjoy Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer or any of John Grisham’s early books then you’ll love The Devil’s Advocate.

Highly recommended.

3. Karen Cleveland, You Can Run

(UK pub date: August 2021)

From the publisher:

We have your son. It's the call that's every parent's nightmare. And for CIA analyst Jill Bailey, it's the call that changes everything.

It's Jill's job to vet new CIA sources. Like Falcon, who's been on the recruitment fast track. But before she can get to work, Jill gets the call. Her son has been taken. And to get him back, Jill does something she thought she'd never do.

Alex Charles, a hard-hitting journalist, begins to investigate an anonymous tip: an explosive claim about the CIA's hottest new source. This is the story that Alex has been waiting for. The tip--and a fierce determination to find the truth--leads Alex to Jill, who would rather remain hidden.

As the two begin to work together, they uncover a vast conspiracy that will force them to confront their loyalties to family and country. An edge-of-your-seat thriller, You Can Run will have you asking: What would you do to save the ones you love?

Rachel’s thoughts:

After picking up a copy of Cleveland’s debut, Need to Know at CrimeFest a few years ago, I’ve been a huge fan of her fast-paced mysteries ever since.

You Can Run has a similar flavour to it and is just as unputdownable.

Jill Bailey was a CIA analyst – now she’s relocated to a new town and has a new life and family.

Except that all these years later, a journalist has discovered that one of her intelligence sources wasn’t the man she thought he was – so why did Jill approve the Syrian? And who was he really?

The best part about Cleveland’s books is the authencity – the author is a former CIA counterterrorism analyst and brings all her experience to the fore in this action-packed mystery.

Her writing has a lightness of touch that doesn’t get bogged down in the detail while propelling you into believable settings and edge-of-your-seat intrigue, and I can’t wait to read her next book.

Highly recommended.

2. Garry Disher, Consolation

(UK pub date June 2021)

From the publisher:

Winter in Tiverton, and Constable Paul Hirschhausen has a snowdropper on his patch. Someone is stealing women's underwear, and Hirsch knows how that kind of crime can escalate. Then two calls come in: a child abandoned in a caravan, filthy and starving. And a man on the rampage at the primary school.

Hirsch knows how things like that can escalate, too. An absent father who isn't where he's supposed to be; another who flees to the back country armed with a rifle. Families under pressure can break. But it's always a surprise when the killing starts.

Rachel’s thoughts:

The third book in an ad hoc series featuring rural policeman Paul Hirsch, Consolation lived up to the hype and was a perfect follow-up to the two previous books, Bitter Wash Road and Peace.

In Consolation, we return to the outback town of Tiverton in winter where the small community location creates a claustrophobic atmosphere despite the kilometres of open country around it.

Hirsch is a cop’s cop. He’s trying to run the remote town’s police station on his own for most of the time, as well as juggling having to deal with his superiors when they do show up – and sometimes, that’s not for the better.

On top of that, he has numerous investigations he’s juggling, but when he receives a call about an abandoned child and a second message about a man who’s run off into the bush having threatened another man with a rifle, the tension reaches tipping point.

Consolation is incredibly atmospheric, and as with its predecessors sends you into the middle of the outback alongside Hirsch as he tries to prevent a tragedy unfolding.

I was late discovering Disher’s writing and have been playing catch-up ever since.

Don’t make the same mistake. If you love the evocative settings of the Australian bush as described by Jane Harper’s The Dry, then this mystery series is for you.

Highly recommended.

1. Stephen King, Billy Summers

(UK pub date: August 2021)

From the publisher:

Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He's a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he'll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?

How about everything.

This spectacular can't-put-it-down novel is part war story, part love letter to small town America and the people who live there, and it features one of the most compelling and surprising duos in King fiction, who set out to avenge the crimes of an extraordinarily evil man. It's about love, luck, fate, and a complex hero with one last shot at redemption.

Rachel’s thoughts:

Billy is a hitman who’s the best in the business – but he’ll only kill bad people. After many years setting wrongs to right the only way he knows how, he’s had enough and plans to retire.

Except one of his best clients has one last job for him.

A master of disguise, Billy sets about installing himself in a location where he can watch the appointed target while posing as a writer. In the evenings, he retreats to a suburban neighbourhood, unwittingly becoming more and more involved with a young family over the street.

As his memoirs evolve and he waits for his intended target to show up, he befriends a traumatised woman called Alice and suddenly Billy’s life becomes even more complicated because it becomes more and more apparent that there is something very, very wrong with this last job.

Containing one of my favourite lines of narrative that I’ve ever read, Billy Summers was published in August 2021. It’s a slow burner to start with but the anticipation in the opening chapters builds until I couldn’t put the book down because I had to find out what happened.

The ending is both heartfelt and thrilling, with my only regret being that I couldn’t read the book all over again without knowing the ending.

Billy Summers is a mystery with heart from one of the greatest storytellers alive today and was a sure-fire winner for the number one spot on my list of top mystery reads of 2021.

Highly recommended.