Beltie Mystery Prize
The Beltie Mystery Prize is our annual award given to the best mystery book of the year. Pete Mock, McIntyre's lead buyer and resident Mystery Guru, is the sole judge and jury. Pete's list and his recommendations for the 2023 prize are below! You'll also find a deal on our bundle of all the nominees together.
Who would ever have thought that a legal thriller about patent law could be so darn good! The small town of Marshall, Texas is the epicenter of patent law in in the U.S. because of one particular judge. Then that judge is murdered and off we go. For local attorney James Euchre the judge was his mentor and why he got into patent law. Now his client is accused of the murder and wants local boy James to defend him but he’s never done criminal law, plus he thinks his client is guilty and just wants to punch the man’s lights out. His bosses lean on him and he reluctantly takes on the case. As he does his legal best for his client, while still wanting to punch out his lights, James uncovers evidence that maybe his client is innocent. Slowly, the twists and turns becoming more sinuous, the truth comes out and it’s worth every page turned.
What a stunner! I couldn't put down this story of a young Navajo forensic photographer in Albuquerque New Mexico who can communicate with the lost spirits of the dead. It's a mystery mixed with the myth and mysticism of the Navajo people that almost had me calling in sick to work because I wanted to read it from cover to cover, and almost did, much to my boss's chagrin every time she had to shake me by the shoulder to keep me from nodding off.
J.G., from Durham, has created a scintillating and convoluted 20 year old mystery set in Hillsborough. Full of local color the story begins with the killing of almost an entire family. The only survivor, an eight old girl whisked away to distant relatives. 20 years later Laura Chambers, a smart, hard-charging, reporter for the local paper gets a phone call from a number she doesn’t recognize and hears the caller die as she runs onto I-40 and is hit by a truck. Could this be her childhood friend returning to town and running from someone? Laura’s going to find out and nothing’s going to stop her as digs deep into Hillsborough’s secrets even as her life is threatened. J.G. has crafted a story full of drama that will have you looking at Hillsborough in a different light once you’re finished. If you ever have chance catch him at The Yonder Bars (https://yonderbarnc.com/) Noir in the Bar where he occasionally reads. He’s as good a reader as he is a writer.
If you’re tired of those puffed-up wonder bread books of 600, 700, pages then here’s the book for you. At only 292 pages it’s the tight, every word matters, story of an eighteen year old girl named Lily whose fiancé, Peter Cutchin, has disappeared and no one cares. not her father, the Pentecostal minister in town trying to reconcile his daughter’s pregnancy with his diminishing respect within the congregation. Not the police who believe he just got cold feet and took off. But Lily knows better and with the help of an uncle she barely knows she begins to learn more about the dark underworld around her than she really cares too. But to save Peter she is willing to do almost anything. Tight! Tight! Tight! And, oh, so good.
This is like riding a roller coaster in the dark. There are the dizzying drops, the abrupt turns, but you can’t see them coming. Patton Harcourt is a smalltown North Carolina librarian. She’s also a former Special Ops intelligence officer who knows how to take care of herself and when she comes under fire from a couple of hired killers, well, she takes care of them and we’re off to the races! All over the world we go as Patton, and a motley crew of partners she picks up along the way, follow clues to a secret organization that is seeking a horde of gold hidden by Heinrich Himmler in the quest to bring about the Fourth Reich. Secret codes, enigma machines, libraries filled with ancient arcana run throughout this book that is so reminiscent of early Ken Follett and just as enthralling. Give this a shot and I bet you will be turning the pages at a furious pace because this is one heck of a ride.
Art is in the eye of the beholder, especially when you’re an inspector of provenance working for the British government. Which is what Thomas Tallis is when he is sent to Edinburgh to assess a painting that has been in the hands of one family since the 20’s. But when he finds the family unwilling to allow him to inspect the painting on his term and then threats start arriving at his desk it gets him to thinking. Then a local reporter tenuously ties two murders, a local artist and a city councilor, to the family. But it’s only when his boss tells him to backoff that he begins to seriously wonder what is going on and redoubles his efforts to see the painting and complete his report in spite of the dangers he is facing. This is a gorgeously bleak, wondrously written, story that brings Edinburgh alive in ways that would make Ian Rankin, the king if Edinburgh noir, jealous, and proves once again that sometimes the best travel guide is a good mystery.
Natasha Pulley is one of those rare authors whose ideas are so creative, so original, you have to wonder how she does it. The Half Life is a perfect example. At the start of the story Valery K is imprisoned in a Soviet gulag where he has learned how to survive under brutal conditions. Suddenly he is taken away and he thinks he is about to die but is instead taken to a secret city not located on any map where his skills are needed for a special project that, if successful, could change the trajectory of life everywhere. While he is just one cog in a large machine his cognitive abilities allow him to see the whole picture and what he sees is not pleasant. With the help of an empathetic KGB, an octopus that likes to wonder from its tank, and a village of escapees from the secret city, Valery sets out to thwart the project and show to the world the dangers of Soviet ambitions. This is one of those hybrids that is more than just the sum of its parts but it is a story you can just sink into like sitting on a cloud.
Do you like a good locked room mystery ala Agatha Christie? Well, how about a whole building of locked rooms. That is Metropolis, a storage facility of nothing but locked rooms where hidden stories lie behind each door. Supposedly no one lives there, it’s against the law, but some do, kicking back an added fee to the manager so she’ll look the other way when they come and go. All is good until someone falls down the elevator shaft and the police come investigating and secrets begin to emerge. Told mainly through six very diverse characters whose stories slowly entwine until what was once set apart is now a part of the whole, each life influencing the others until the very end, and a very satisfying one at that.