For a certain type of reader, no book satisfies like a puzzling mystery or a breathless thriller: the season gumshoe assembling painstaking clues, the military veteran racing to get his man. We know our readers can’t get enough of these books, so when it came time to sit down and list the standout mysteries and thrillers of 2019, we decided to turn to our seasoned team of booksellers for help. These are our bookseller-approved reads—every one a sure bet. (Explore all of our booksellers’ 2019 favorites.)
This Tender Land, by William Kent Krueger
A beautifully crafted story of four orphaned children—the irrepressible Odie O’Banion and his brother Albert, their friend Mose, and the mysterious Emmy, who escape from a terrible Minnesota institution called the Lincoln School and embark on a journey across the US during the Great Depression. This one manages to feel at once fresh and timeless, and will appeal to fans of Where the Crawdads Sing. B&N’s Exclusive Edition features a bonus essay by the author, along with archival photographs that help bring some of the history behind the novel to life.
The Bitterroots, by C. J. Box
Cassie Dewell is done being a sheriff’s investigator and is striking out on her own with a private practice. The last few years have been tough on her, and she relishes finally being her own boss. But things get complicated when an old pal asks Cassie to help prove the innocence of a man, part of a prominent Montana family, the Kleinsassers, who has been accused of assault. Although up on first glance this seems like an open and shut case, before long Cassie begins to realize that the accused is the black sheep of the family, and many of its members seem dead-set on his conviction. The deeper she digs into the past to find the truth, the darker and more malevolent this family’s roots grow.
Lady in the Lake, by Laura Lippman
This gorgeous, cross-genre masterpiece set in 1960s Baltimore features Maddie Schwartz, a discontent housewife who casts her seemingly idyllic life aside in order to make a difference in the world and pursue a life that matters. Her ambition leads her to become an investigative journalist, and she grows fixated on solving a murder that saw little-to-no media coverage: that of Cleo Sherwood, a young black woman whose body was found in a public fountain. As her investigation deepens and becomes increasingly obsessive, Maddie unknowingly begins to put those around her at risk, including the police officer with whom she is having an affair. If you loved Lippman’s previous standalone stunner, Sunburn, prepare to be dazzled again.
Blue Moon, by Lee Child
Jack Reacher is once again restlessly moving around the country in Child’s 24th novel following the oversized, highly intelligent former army cop. When he happens upon a mugging, he steps in in classic Reacher fashion, saving an elderly man named Aaron Shevick from losing an envelope full of cash being stolen. Reacher helps the old man home and learns the Shevicks are in deep with a loan shark due to their unmanageable medical bills. While in the background a turf war breaks out between the Ukrainian and Albanian gangs, Reacher takes up for the Shevicks, and as the stakes get higher he recruits a few allies and brings the fight to the criminals the way only Jack Reacher can—with surprising wit and bareknuckle action.
The Guardians, by John Grisham
John Grisham returns with a taut thriller that opens with the murder of a small town lawyer in Seabrook, Florida, more than 20 years in the past. The shocking killing offers few clues, but the police eventually arrest Quincy Miller, a young black man who was once the lawyer’s client. There is little doubt that Quincy has been framed, but for decades he languishes in prison without hope—until one day he writes a letter to Guardian Ministries, an innocence group run by attorney and minister Cullen Post, who is also the firm’s only investigator. Post takes on Miller’s case, and soon finds himself enmeshed in a dangerous game as the powerful forces that framed Miller in the first place intend to prevent justice from finally being served—even if it requires another dead lawyer turning up dead.
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The Night Fire, by Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly reunites the winning team of Harry Bosch and Renée Ballard, as Bosch attends the funeral of his one-time mentor, John Jack Thompson, and receives a surprising gift from Thompson’s widow: a murder casefile Thompson took with him when he retired from the LAPD two decades before. The cold case inside involves a young man killed in an alley known to be used by drug dealers. Bosch decides to honor his mentor’s legacy and brings the case to Ballard for help—but as they dig into the evidence, Bosch begins to wonder if Thompson made off with case file because he wanted to solve a crime—or cover one up.
A Better Man, by Louise Penny
Things are in an awkward place for Chief Inspector Gamache in the 15th novel in Louise Penny’s unsurpassed series. Gamache is taking up the reins in his new position as head of homicide, after his recent demotion from head of the whole force. To make matters even touchier, he’s now working alongside his former subordinate, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Although he’s being viciously attacked on social media, Gamache focuses on the task at hand: Finding a woman, Vivienne Godin, who has gone missing. The further he goes in his search, the more he finds himself sympathizing with Vivienne’s agonized father. The father of a daughter himself, Gamache finds it difficult not to put himself in the man’s shoes, and ask himself what he would do. When a body turns up, the question becomes even more urgent, and the answer more unsettling.
A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci
David Baldacci’s second Atlee Pine novel follows the FBI agent back to her rural Georgia hometown, where she’s retreated from a professional setback to investigate the decades-old disappearance of her twin sister Mercy. Just as she begins to dig into the deeply-buried past, a woman is found dead—murdered ritualistically and dressed in a wedding veil. A second victim follows, and Atlee finds her search for her own truth complicated by the urgent need to stop a serial killer before they strike again.
Cemetery Road, by Greg Iles
If books that combine twisty puzzles and deep, dark secrets tend to float to the top of your reading pile, Iles’ latest is your perfect pick. Marshall McEwan escaped Bienville when he was young, heading off to Washington, D.C., to become a journalist. When his father’s death and his family’s struggling newspaper force him to return home, Marshall finds a transformed town flush with sketchy money and controlled by Max Matheson’s shadowy Bienville Poker Club—and discovers his old flame Jet has married Max’s son. After Max is implicated in the murder of his wife, he insists Jet serve as his defense lawyer. She secretly teams up with Marshall to investigate the whole web of lies, corruption, and murder, acting as a confidential informant to the journalist. Soon, the whole town seems to turn against Marshall, refusing to deal with the horrifying truth he’s threatening to reveal. The B&N exclusive edition includes a note from Greg Iles to his readers.
These are the mysteries and thrillers Barnes & Noble booksellers loved in 2019. What would you add?