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This roundup of under-the-radar 2021 mysteries was originally published in our mystery/thriller newsletter, Unusual Suspects. Sign up for it here to get news and recommendations for mystery/thriller/crime readers.
Hello mystery fans! I am here to tell you that the ratings number on Goodreads and/or a book’s popularity is not indicative of the quality of the book. Especially this year, when we are inundated in so much terrible news, information, and have now spent two years in an ongoing apocalypse pandemic. So many great books just don’t get the marketing money, or selection by a celebrity book club, or a chance to break through all the noise. So with that in mind, I wanted to highlight books that have not had many readers this year and absolutely should have many readers. To give myself a guideline, I stuck to books under 1,000 ratings which is why Ophie’s Ghost by Justina Ireland and Last Call by Elon Green aren’t on the list. But those books should have much larger reader numbers than they do.
(trigger warnings are notes or can be found in provided review links)
Concealed by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
This was a really fun book that actually took a left turn I did not see coming into territory of a favorite TV series of mine buuuuuuuuut I can’t tell you or I’d spoil the fun of the twist. And this is why writing about mysteries, when your goal is to never spoil the fun, can be tricky.
Katrina, at least that’s her name right now, is in the Witness Protection Program with her parents. Being a blink away from turning into a teenager, life already has its own challenges of growing up. But in Katrina’s case she literally has to figure out who she is and what to do when her mom is taken into custody and her dad disappears. There’s a safe house she needs to get to, and a new friend willing to help, but who is the man at the safe house and can she trust him? Or her new friend? And what did her dad do to land them in the Witness Protection Program?
This is a fun ride if you’re looking for a middle grade mystery that centers on identity, with some action scenes.
(TW mentions past overdose, addiction)
The Hollow Inside by Brooke Lauren Davis
This is a great page-turner that gives you past and present mysteries, revenge, and family—chosen and not. Mother and daughter duo Phoenix and Nina live out of a van and steal everything they need to survive. But Nina has a revenge plan for the man who ruined her life and Phoenix is going to have to improvise her way through the plan once they arrive at Nina’s hometown. (Review)
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When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris
I love starting a new year with a great read and that’s how my 2021 started in part thanks to this title. You get a fantastic character with Jay, an introspective and thoughtful teen who fiercely loves his grandmother and sister and finds himself trying to have to figure out where his missing sister has gone… Bonus: the audiobook has an exceptional narrator, Preston Butler III. (Review)
The Conjure-Man Dies: A Mystery Tale of Dark Harlem by Rudolph Fisher
This is a great classic mystery written by a Harlem Renaissance writer, which if not for his death before turning 40 could have been the start of a long running series. It stars a Harlem doctor in the 1930s looking into the death of an African immigrant mystic, and eventually helping the detective on the case. Reading classics now usually means that what was once a twist or surprise no longer feels like it because it’s since been done so many times, but this book still feels surprising. If you listen to audiobooks, absolutely choose that format with J. D. Jackson as the narrator. (Review)
The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt by Audrey Clare Farley
Many people focused on Britney Spears’ case and in wanting to see her be freed from an abusive conservatorship, but it’s easy to only see the few cases that get wide attention and not realize the amount of other people that continue to suffer without help or change in laws. This book focuses on a specific case of a mother who sterilized her daughter without consent or her knowledge for an inheritance and the court case that ensued. But it also goes into the history of eugenics and laws that are still harming people today. (Review)
Runner (Cass Raines #4) by Tracy Clark
If you’re a fan of PI mysteries, you should absolutely be reading this series that consistently delivers a good mystery, has fun side characters, and walks you through the entire case in each book. (Review) If you want to start at the beginning, grab Broken Places (Review).
Mango, Mambo, and Murder (A Caribbean Kitchen Mystery #1) by Raquel V. Reyes
If you want to end the year with a warm weather setting, mouth-watering food, and a little murder, you absolutely want to grab this cozy mystery series starter. It follows a food anthropologist in South Florida who has to prove her best friend isn’t a killer. Bonus: you get recipes at the end of the book! (Review)
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