No sooner have we made it through 2011’s biggest book-buying and giving season than it’s time to think about next year’s crop of mystery and thriller fiction. Below are seven works I’m betting will be big sellers during the opening three months of 2012, plus a rundown of 14 other criminous yarns meriting serious attention.

Did you read the Rap Sheet’s list of five favorite British crime novels from 2011?

Defending Jacob, by William Landay (January): After debuting with Mission Flats in 2003, former New England assistant district attorney Landay delivers this fleet legal drama about a fictional ADA, Andy Barber, whose moody teenage son, Jacob, is charged with slaying a fellow student. Andy naturally believes his son innocent, but as the evidence against Jacob builds and his marriage collapses, he’s torn between familial devotion and a search for justice that will rake up his past and wreck his future.


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dark field The Darkening Field, by William Ryan (January): Capt. Alexei Korolev, recognized for discretion within Moscow’s Stalin-era Criminal Investigation Division, is dispatched to Odessa in 1937, where film production assistant Maria Alexandrovna Lenskaya has evidently committed suicide. Korolev must determine if she really killed herself, or was murdered, and prevent word of Lenskaya’s illicit affair with a senior Party director from leaking out. The sequel to last year’s The Holy Thief.



night rounds Night Rounds, by Helene Tursten (February): Det. Insp. Irene Huss may be the mother of two girls, a jiu-jitsu champ and a member of the Violent Crimes Unit in Göteborg, Sweden, but she’s not up to the task of chasing ghosts. And that seems to be her assignment in this latest of four English-translated procedurals. Following a blackout at a local hospital, one nurse is found dead while another has disappeared. The closest Huss can get to finding an eyewitness is an elderly caregiver who contends that she saw the spirit of a nurse who took her own life at the hospital six decades ago.



ech The Technologists, by Matthew Pearl (February): Set, like Pearl’s The Dante Club, in 1860s Boston, this novel focuses on the inaugural class of graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, particularly, a gifted subset of those scholars, who hope to use their scientific expertise to solve a succession of frightening local disturbances, including the sudden loss of instrument control among ships in Boston Harbor. The methods employed by these “technologists,” though, are vigorously opposed by the sensationalistic press, the “traditionalists” at rival Harvard and a diabolical agitator bent on bringing the city to its knees.


comedy finished The Comedy Is Finished, by Donald E. Westlake (February): Although Westlake penned this standalone novel in the late 1970s, he never published it, fearing its premise was too similar to that of The King of Comedy, Martin Scorsese’s 1983 film. That’s true only in the most general sense. The Comedy Is Finished finds an aging and famous comedian, Koo Davis, being kidnapped in 1977 by a waning militant group hoping to reignite its revolutionary cause.



god of gotham The Gods of Gotham, by Lyndsay Faye (March): Timothy Wilde isn’t sure which makes him less lucky—the 1845 Manhattan fire that left him disfigured, or his subsequent employment with the fledging New York police force. One night, while making his rounds near the notorious Five Points neighborhood, he encounters a young girl, covered in blood, who tells him there are dozens of bodies buried among the woods north of 23rd Street. That incredible yarn sends Wilde after a brutal killer, threatens to cost him his older brother and lands him in the middle of tensions surrounding recent Irish immigration.


american spy An American Spy, by Olen Steinhauer (March): Back for a third episode of espionage (after 2010’s The Nearest Exit) is Milo Weaver with the CIA’s supersecret arm, the Department of Tourism. His mission this time is to find Alan Drummond, the department’s director, who is believed to have gone off in pursuit of a Chinese spymaster responsible for the deaths of some of Weaver’s fellow “tourists.” In order to stop Drummond, though, and maybe prevent an international disaster, our hero must make deals with other spying entities that could provoke a different disaster.

Also worth a look: Blindside, by Ed Gorman (January); What It Was, by George Pelecanos (January); Hanging Hill, by Mo Hayder (January); The Retribution, by Val McDermid (January); Agent 6, by Tom Rob Smith (January); Wild Thing, by Josh Bazell (February); Archive 17, by Sam Eastland (February); Before the Poison, by Peter Robinson (February); Blues in the Night, by Dick Lochte (February); Death at the Jesus Hospital, by David Dickinson (March); The Piccadilly Plot, by Susanna Gregory (March); The Memory of Blood, by Christopher Fowler (March); Deception, by Adrian Magson (March); and Another Time, Another Life, by Leif G.W. Persson (March).

J. Kingston Pierce is both the editor of The Rap Sheet and the senior editor of January Magazine.