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Top 25 Best Modern Mystery Books

The Best Mystery Books Written After 1980

Again this is not a list to be nailed to the wall as gospel or hailed as the end all be all of the modern mystery classics but honestly it's pretty close to perfection. Obviously the genre has altered since Edgar Allan Poe started writing away all the disturbing thoughts that ran around his mind way back in the 1830's and 1840's, so 1980 is the measuring stick used to provide some kind of qualifier between the modern and the classic. 

While there's a great deal of variation as to when and what defines the exact shift from classic to modern, we are going with 1980, a period which saw the rejuvenation and renaissance of the genre and a shift in tone, style, and substance -- and in many ways, for the better. For example, female authors stepping it up and making the mystery genre their own, churning out bestselling, highly regarded mystery novels year after year, a realm that hitherto was mostly held (with the exception of a few) by the old guard male authors.

Still, you can't ignore the significance of the classic mystery books which helped form the genre into what it is (and of course, a period of mystery which saw the rise of some household name mystery names such as Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler which have, even in 2016, become synonymous with mystery genre itself). 

But with an eye towards the future, a future if we are to believe what mystery writers tell us through their writing, will continue to be full of bloody crimes, dastard plots to confound, and hidden killers to unmask.

With that said, we present to you our picks for the Top 25 Best Modern Mystery Books, or simply, the best mystery books written after 1980.

For one of the best modern mysteries that's widely now considered a classic, Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow nabs the top spot and with a vengeance. Compared to Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler, which is pretty heavyweight company, Turow was a former prosecutor and this book is a legal thriller that blows the socks off most other works of this nature because he is an excellent scribe and does a terrific job with the legal descriptions.

A lot of people enjoy this novel because of the ending and the nature of the legal drama, but it is a bit slow paced until the middle. Also, while Turow certainly deserves this spot he is no Dashiell Hammet by any means. The book definitely has plot turns and twists and keeps you guessing, but you wont have trouble sleeping at night. More people probably know this is a movie, as the rights were purchased immediately after the novel came out, but dont waste your time on the film if you already havent. The novel is the real deal and only Josephine Tey, Edgar Allan Poe, Hammet and Arthur Conan Doyle rated higher as the best mystery writers in the history of the genre by the Mystery Writers of America. They know what they are talking about and their opinion is good enough for me so it should be anyone else as well.

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Award Nominations:1989 WFA

It does stink to come in second but there is certainly no disgrace in it and certainly not when it's about the most famous fictioma; psychopathic serial killer who likes the taste of human flesh. Certainly, most of the general populace from 18 to 80 is familiar with FBI agent Clarice Starling and her relationship with the cannibal Hannibal Lector, so theres no need to go into any great detail about the plot especially since they are highly similar to one another. A rarity in the world in the Hollywood.

Some of the scenes are a little drawn out and the book certainly is not as graphic as the movie, but when Harris wants to make a scene intense its out of this world -- you can literally cut the tension with a butter knife.

Truly its Buffalo Bill that keeps those fingers turning the pages and remember this book is a sequel to The Red Dragon which is pretty damn odd when the sequel exceeds the original work. Not that it was a dud, but this is most definitely Harris masterpiece before he commenced his foray into kind of selling out. Why should you read it? Because theres only one modern day mystery book that is better so take your shot.

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This book will take the show dough on this list. Originally published in 1991 it became a very successful film in 1993 that brought Grisham a bunch of attention and caused his first novel, A Time To Kill to start receiving some recognition. This is another legal thriller as Grisham is a criminal defense attorney and describes Mitch McDeeres supposedly successful transition from Harvard Law School grad to obtaining his position in firm that he and wife were thrilled with. That is until things started becoming downright creepy. Then the FBI comes knocking, blah blah.

Grishams writing is excellent and the plots pace is quite speedy which keeps the reader entertained, but quite honestly it seems like mystery books or at least commercial successes such as this one are all based in the legal field now which is really disappointing. Unfortunately we have to keep with the Jones and when the New York Times as well as the Mystery Writers of America rank this up with the classic detective stories it is a must read, no matter that Im kind of burnt out on these types of books.

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One of the top bestseller authors of our modern times is Mary Higgins Clark and her first novel in the suspense category Where Are The Children? kicked her career off with a bang and this is her best work, although every one of her 42 novels has been a bestseller. Can you imagine the dough shes raking in from that? Especially after being a former secretary and copy editor.

This particular Higgins Clark work tells the story of a woman that puts her old life behind her after being accused of murdering her own two children and starts up her life anew. Unfortunately, she has two more children that go missing while playing and obviously the rest of the novel revolves around that drama. As Higgins Clark has progressed, her work has become less suspenseful and her prose isnt what could be called top notch, but her plots move successfully enough, as well as her characters being well-defined. As she is one of the most decorated writers of the last several decades and this is her first mystery novel, it has to be in the top five on this list. Read this one before you read any of her other books.

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Kinsey Milhone first appeared on the scene in 1982 and has become one of the most popular protagonists in suspense novels over the last thirty years. Created by Sue Grafton in her first novel in this genre, A Is For Alibi, Ms Milhone shows the world what being a female private investigator is all about. For this book, Grafton garnered the concept on the thoughts she had about murdering her then husband as she was going through a divorce. That alone should grab you as the murder was conducted by putting oleander in an antihistamine tablet. Therefore, no alibi would hold water as the switch could have been made long before the pill was actually ingested.

Grafton is one of the top authors of her time and this book got it all started. Its cool Kinsey is chick but its difficult to develop a real bond with her as a character. What Grafton does very well as use the period of the early 80s to perfection in her plotline. The references to phone booths and typewriters harken back to that era and certainly are a strength to the book. The critics and public agree with this placing, as this novel is present on every list out there. Its impossible to refute this is book is one of the best produced since the 60s and 70s.

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This was his eighth novel and created quite a stir when people got their paws on these pages. The plot encompasses some stolen pottery from the Anasazi Indians and the detectives that are assigned to the case. It was adapted into a movie in 2004 that appeared on the BBC channel.

This is a mystery that stands apart from others due to its archaeological descriptions, that it took 18 years for this man to get some attention from the general public when his former novels had been nominated for numerous awards and the characters are so richly detailed they leap out at you. Very difficult to even conjure up anything bad about it except that some parts do drag a little but hey no one is perfect right? Especially a writer.

They take flack and abuse like no other. Well, except maybe actors or artists. Anyhow, to get back on track, this book won the 1989 Macavity Award, and was nominated for an Anthony and Edgar Award. Hillermans sense of an adventure mystery is outstanding and if you ever want to get out of the rut of everyday storytelling this is your time. Fire up that Kindle or Nook or pull it up on an app.

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The Dickens of Detroit aka Elmore Leonard grabs this spot with The Stick. Leonard started out writing western novels and then adjusted to the world of thrillers as well as suspense. What is striking about this work is how colorful the characters are and how Elmore weaves the plot. It seriously kicks ass and keeps you guessing until the end while making sure you will be tired at the work the next day because you were up reading all night.

Even better, hes not a hot author when it comes to this genre although he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America the year this novel debuted, received the F. Scott Fitzgerald award in 2008 and just last year was a National Book Award Medal victor. Most people know him as the writer of films such as Jackie Brown, Get Shorty, 3:10 To Yuma, and Out Of Sight. Steven King called him the Great American Writer and it was said his prose makes Raymond Chandlers look clumsy. So go on learn something today and read this novel. People will be impressed when you tell them you know who this man is if thats your sort of thing.

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The image of Sean Connery is automatically conjured up when The Hunt For Red October enters any conversation. Tom Clancys 1984 was developed into a major motion picture starring none other than the former James Bond. Whats super shocking about this one is this was the first fictional novel published by the U.S. Naval Institute and nearly three decades later is still its most successful. The book is about the adventures of a submarine captain and a CIA agent known to the world as Jack Ryan.

Like several other scribes on this list, this was Clancys first novel and really set off his future in the industry. While he wasnt exactly raking in Edgar Awards, he was prized in popular culture and nearly all his work has become a bestseller, making him one of the most recognized authors in the world. This one is well written, the plot is suspenseful and the movie is so much better than the book. If you dont want to listen to me, listen to former President Ronald Reagan when he exclaimed a televised press conference it was unput-downable and the perfect yarn. Besides theres just something about that submarine.

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As we open up into our top 10 ten, lets talk about Dennis Lehane because thats who is here in this spot with the 2001 novel Mystic River. Yes, Clint Eastwood directed the movie and Sean Penn picked up an Oscar for best leading man and Tim Robbins got the supporting actor hardware, but without Lehane that film never would have existed and it became the first since Ben Hur (1959) to nab both those accolades.

The book chronicles the stories of three boys that grow up in Boston and the murder of one of their daughters at the hands of a kid they had abused in childhood. There are all kinds of plot turns, twists and suspense, not only in the big screen version but the book. This isnt Lehanes first walk in the park these types of works. Think Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island. Then there is his work with the HBO Series Boardwalk Empire, and The Wire. This book won the Massachusetts Book Award, the Dilys Award, and the Anthony as well as the Barry. This man is a veritable force in print, film and television. You cant go wrong with one thing he puts his pen or keyboard to.

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When they were children, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. But then a strange car pulled up to their street. One boy got into the car, two did not, and something terrible happenedsomething that ended their friendship and changed all three boys forever.

Now, years later, murder has tied their lives together again . . .

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He died before this masterpiece ever made it into print, but Stieg Larrson certainly outdid himself when he gave us Lisbeth Salander and this is definitely one of the best crime mystery novels to leap onto bookshelves in quite some time. There are two other books in the trilogy, but this one is the best as is what normally happens with an authors first work in a series. You arent quite sure what to make of Salander in the beginning, but as the book goes on you cant help falling in love with her strength and intelligence. It doesnt hurt the plot is so outstanding you will not be able to put the book down even when you want to strangle Lisbeth for being such a pain in the ass, which you will.

Of course the movie came out in the U.S. here two years ago and was a pretty decent success, but the book is completely the way to go. Characters are modeled after Larssons experience as a journalist, the Swedish references are top notch and so is the crime. This is one long book, but you wont want to miss reading it and the ending is killer. Because Im in a giving mood today, I wont spoil it for you, but that means you have to read it. If there werent more established authors out there it would have been in the top three.

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Here we have the Queen of Crime, also known as P.D. James. This British lady started out ala the style of Dorothy Sayers, but with A Taste For Death, she let the world know even an older dog could learn new tricks even though it still includes her protagonist Adam Dalgliesh. This woman, who formerly worked for the Secret Service, began writing in the 1960s but this one is her best and won the Silver Dagger in 1986.

James has a long history as being an esteemed member of the literary world and her seven honorary doctorates along with her 14 awards which would seem a bit excessive. Well, not the awards but all those degrees. What does she need those for? Her detailed descriptions of London and the workings of Secret Intelligence almost make you wish you were born a Londoner, but then again not quite! While Im not saying the rest of her books are garbage and I might have some serious threats on my life if I did, I do repeat this is her best and I shouldnt have to say one more thing about a woman that has withstood the test of time.

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How about some Matthew Scudder through Lawrence Block in 8 Million Ways To Die? Lets discuss this one. Blocks Scudder has appeared in 15 books but this one, which was published in 1982 may well be his best and was adapted into a feature film of the same name. Scudder, a raging alcoholic, is a Sheriffs Deputy in the Los Angeles Police Department and naturally gets involved with some pretty shady characters due to his profession. In this one its a hooker that needs his help. Desperately struggling with his alcoholism, which is threatening to destroy his life, how Scudder is portrayed by Block will really grab the pants off you as the characters is very deeply developed and although a sense of sadness pervades at his plight, you rather emphasize with him.

A drunk looking into the deaths of some hookers may not have the panache of other plot lines, but Block carries it with ease. Dont watch the movie, which stunk up the screen and do yourself a favor, let yourself go down into where the lowest places humanity can tumble. Its not going to kill you, in fact it will make you stronger or least make you not be so self-righteous.

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Now its time for some Mickey Haller. Developed by Michael Connolly, of Harry Bosch fame, Haller is introduced in the 2005 novel The Lincoln Lawyer. And yep, this is another legal thriller as Connolly himself is an attorney and Haller, who just happens to be Boschs half-brother, is one as well. Haller isnt exactly raking in the dough as most of his cases are criminals and gangsters and he even does his work out of a Lincoln Town Car, but this case pertains to a big bucks realtor named Roulet. It appears he was set up by some crazy chick, but eventually Haller discovers Roulet is the creepo. Hes killed and raped and Haller is his next target. Naturally Haller prevails, but not without a little bit of drama involved.

Connolly writes extremely well and the plot moves in a fashion that keeps the reader engaged throughout. Trust me the book is much better than the movie and Connolly is too good of an author to ignore. Dont turn to Netflix to keep you warm on a cold winters night. Treat yourself to some downright angst and suspense.

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Published in 2001, this comes in at this spot. Fforde brings out the child that lives in all of us and admit it, that part never fully retreats, through his protagonist Thursday Next. How Fforde does this is interweaving a little bit, okay a ton, of fantasy in this prose. In this book, which is also the first book in a series, this little lady tracks down some seriously bad boys in a parallel universe very similar to Charlotte Brontes backdrop in Jane Eyre. Can you say taking it to another level?

This is Ffordes first novel and was rejected by 76 publishers before finally getting the green light. Most definitely it was because it was so different than anything that had really been produced in this genre before and obviously incorporates a little science fiction, fantasy, humor and of course, bleck, romance. As with anything, this book isnt perfect although many critics revered it as the next coming of Christ. Sometimes it leaves you absolutely hanging and the dialogue can be a bit jacked up as Fforde pulls characters in and out all over the place. This style, however, I think will be emulated in mass over the coming years and this is the book that started it all. What are you waiting for? Are you just upset Fforde put a modern twist on Dungeons and Dragons?

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Reacher. Jack Reacher. Does that name sound familiar to anyone? It should! And Jim Grant through the alias of Lee Child brought him out into the light in 1997 in The Killing Floor which was his first novel of this type. All Reacher gets to do is travel around the United States as a military policeman encountering all those situations we like to read and watch but not be a part of if we are sober. The character has become so popular a movie all about him came out last year, but unfortunately Tom Cruise played his role. You know how that turned out then. And as for Jack, if you have your own Wiki page you know you are somebody.

Child or Grant, whichever you choose to call him, writes a decent novel. Jack Reacher doesnt bring home the awards in my world, but its easy to understand why people do identify him. This book also won these awards, Anthony and Barry, while being a Dilys and Macavity nominee. It is Childs most honored book by his peers. So if you want to see where all the hoopla about Reacher commenced pick this up. Dont you want to know what you are talking about when the subject comes up? And it will. It so will.

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This has to be here. Although her lead character of Kate Shugak at this point appears in 20 books, this one was the first and establishing our Alaskan heroine with mass appeal so obviously its the most important. Stabenow first made her mark in science fiction, but mystery might be where she needs to remain. Shugak is an ex-DNA investigator with a dog named Mutt and 160 acres of tundra she has the deed for in some made up National Park. Of course she lives there and its shocking Stabenow is an Alaska native.

Not only are the books well written, the Alaskan setting really does have some appeal. Mainlanders here so many tales and feel the area is just a very intriguing place. Stabenow does tremendous justice to her home state and besides what better place for violence, rape, death and destruction that the Alaskan wilds? You cant beat it. Oh and this book won the Edgar Award in 1993. Learn a little more about Alaska and come to grips with the fact that some women actually do reside there.

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Lets put this here and talk a little bit about an old Japanese gardener that finds himself solving some pretty cool mysteries. Mas Aras would be the old coots moniker and hes an extremely likeable gent. So is Hiraharas writing style. Not elderly, likeable. She used her father as material to create Aras and does a delightful job of including a boatload of Japanese-American culture in her work.

Normally I prefer much darker, more destructive and insane mysteries, but I have to be honest I was intrigued by Aras moving about doing his business with an aplomb that comes from years of dealing with people. Hes quite the unlikely detective, which makes him so cool. Also, this book did garner Hirahama an Edgar Award in 2007. Step out of the box and take a peek at this novel. Even if you dont like the writing style you will be quite enamored with how Aras carries out his tasks.

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Heres name you will probably be hearing a lot more of over the coming years. His Jaqueline Collins or Jack Daniels is a lieutenant in Chicago. She isnt exactly blooming with youth and hasnt reached her golden years, but was introduced in Whiskey Sour in 2004. Quite an interesting lady, but its the man behind her that is the up and comer as he was considered to be an author to watch two years ago. Not everyone is going to enjoy Konraths style. He has no problem getting to the nitty gritty and presents super gruesome crime scenes, but this style is terrific.

It is difficult to keep on bead on where he is going sometimes, which is good and bad, but thats like anything else. Another thing is Konrath is a true self promoter. That does come through in his work, but hes worth the abrasiveness that might get your fists curled up in a ball. Snatch this up and start reading so you know what all the people at the NY Times Book Review are talking about when Konrath begins to haul in hardware, because he will.

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Here's name you will probably be hearing a lot more of over the coming years. His Jaqueline Collins or 'Jack' Daniels is a lieutenant in Chicago. She isn't exactly blooming with youth and hasn't reached her golden years, but was introduced in Whiskey Sour in 2004. Quite an interesting lady, but it's the man behind her that is the up and comer as he was considered to be an author to watch two years ago. Not everyone is going to enjoy Konrath's style. He has no problem getting to the nitty gritty and presents super gruesome crime scenes, but this style is terrific.

It is difficult to keep on bead on where he is going sometimes, which is good and bad, but that's like anything else. Another thing is Konrath is a true self promoter. That does come through in his work, but he's worth the abrasiveness that might get your fists curled up in a ball. Snatch this up and start reading so you know what all the people at the NY Times Book Review are talking about when Konrath begins to haul in hardware, because he will.

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Elvis Cole is an ex-Ranger that transitioned to private life as an investigator and he came into this world after Robert Crais father passed and that man tired of the grind of living under Hollywoods lights decided to leave his career as a screenwriter/producer to write some detective fiction. Strange path? Not really. Crais already his feet wet by working on shows such as Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacey and Miami Vice. He had a clue of what he needed to do before he ever took a super big plunge and besides he already some cash in the bank if he, gasp, failed.

His debut novel The Monkeys Raincoat is where Cole first comes on the radar but the series now totals 15 books which are all best sellers. Besides being a mystery, The Monkeys Raincoat also incorporates themes of loyalty, honesty and family which sound yucky but the public is eating it up. Besides being entertaining with a speedy plot and great dialogue The Monkeys Raincoat also happened to pick up some prizes from critics such as the Anthony and Macavity Awards, while being an Edgar and Shamus contender. The buck hasnt stopped there, but get in on the action where it all begins. People in more than 40 countries totally gush over this guy so get on board and start turning the pages on whatever digital device you care to use.

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This where this book comes in. Like most of the other books mentioned here this book is a first in a series called The New York Trilogy where Auster explores those exceptionally deep ideas of existentialism and what life really means. Does this have an impact on a good old crime or mystery book? You wouldnt think so, but his colleagues sure do and world populace. Thats why the entire series are bestsellers. This book certainly wasnt my favorite, but I have to give the guy props. He does an outstanding job of covering this material while making it an entertaining mystery. Honestly I dont think there are too many humans out there capable of doing that and enabling me to not put down the book to move onto something more entertaining rather than cerebral, but Auster was successful in my case.

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This is the first book in James Ellroys LA Quartet and marks the authors transition from fiction to crime fiction, although this novel is based on the real life slaughter of Elizabeth Short. Shorts grossly sliced up corpse was discovered by two gentleman, Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard, in January of 1947. The crime garnered a boat load of attention in the LA area and got under Lees skin.

Bleichert begins to invest the comings and goings of one Madeline Sprague how eerily resembles short and after two years of detective investigations, an affair with the above named and Lee taking off for parts unknown never to be heard from again, Bleichart begins to put all the pieces together and unearths Shorts killer. The problem is, he destroys his own personal and professional life in the process as he becomes utterly besotted with the crime. Eventually he does discover what happened to Lee and that it is linked to Short. Thats it in a nutshell.

The book was adapted for the big screen by big dog Brian DePalma in 2005 and aired in 2006, but was a huge flop. That could be for various reasons that dont deserve our attention here, but mainly due to the plot being pretty darn difficult to follow.

So why is this book on the list? Because Elizabeth Short did exist and Bleicherts mania in regards to her becomes pretty engrossing to read about. Plus her murder is nothing short of grossly creepy. The kind sensational things come from. I like the darkness of it. It gets my juices flowing and since it was an international best seller that really put Ellroy on the map, Id say my opinion holds some weight.

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This first appeared on the shelves of bookstores in 1992 to wide acclaim. Heres what the New York Times Book Review had to say, Ms. Walters makes an art of uncertainty by twisting familiar conventions of the traditional British mystery into a stylish, non-tradition mystery in which ambiguity abounds. That book review is normally the marker for whats hot or whats not in the U.S. so its safe to say Walters was loved by critics that generally do not do a whole a lot of loving.

The novel centers around three English women in the countryside and yes, it involves the requisite dead body, gossip and intrigue. The yarn is spun very well, especially since lets face it, the lives of three lonely English ladies dont have too much sparkle and may even tempt you to put the book down. But heres another review from the St. Petersburg Times This is a splendid first book by a British author bound to be compared with Ruth Rendell and P.D. James-which is hardly company to be sneered at.

This is a rich, dark drama thats got as many layers as an onion-its an extraordinary debut. Why did I include the reviews? Not only was I looking for some back up, but the critics awarded it the John Creasey Award for the best first novel. You will fall in the love with the English countryside. Trust me.

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Yes there is a movie adaptation where naturally the lead role is played by Denzel Washington because the main character, Ezekiel, Easy Rollins, is a person of color. The story begins in the City of Angels in 1948 with Easy struggling to find some bread to pay his bills. Hes downing a couple cold ones when an acquaintance offers him some cash to find this missing woman. Easy jumps all over the opportunity and does find her, but thats only the beginning of his travails. Throughout the plot, Easy takes on the role as a private investigator and decides to stick with that profession.

This book is a major work in African American literary circles because there arent too many black lead characters out there. Also, Easy speaks in African-American slang English and even listens to this chirping aptly titled The Voice in head when he is all stressed out or at his wits end.

If reading an awesome mystery novel with a colored character is not enough for you, well how about the fact that the novel won the 1991 Shamus award. One of the better modern classics in the genre.

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