Crime and Comfort: 90 Mysteries for Our Times Promise Escape and Coziness | Mystery Preview 2021

In coming months, cozy mysteries will make room for millennial and Gen Z sleuths; travel on pause drives reader desire for far-off settings; and readers can revisit familiar favorites in new titles and formats.

LJ donned the deerstalker and grabbed the magnifying glass to investigate crime fiction. We cross-examined publishers and scrutinized the evidence in their 2021 catalogues to get the inside scoop on the trends they’re seeing and the continuing appeal of the genre. We discovered debuts they’re excited about, a surge of Own Voices and diverse narratives, fan-favorite authors, and new series in the docket.
The findings? The genre is as popular as ever, with a particular emphasis on escapism and comfort. “What we are finding, in the COVID age, is that mystery readers are looking for escapism—either to another time, another place—or for something lighthearted, which will enable them to forget the current dire situation for a while,” says Kate Lyall Grant, Severn House publisher. “We are finding that cozies and historical mysteries are doing well, as well as crime fiction set in [international] locations.”
Cozy mysteries are, in line with Grant’s observation, key this year, especially those featuring millennial and Gen Z sleuths. Serial crime and adaptations support the need for comfort too, albeit in different ways. The long arm of the pandemic can also be seen in books that sweep readers to far-flung locales, even back in history. It is not only a season of comfort however; intriguing puzzles, daring sleuths, and heart-pounding excitement are in the lineup too. Rounding up the suspects, these 73 titles showcase the range and focus of the season.
Check out the new titles mentioned in this article, and the list of new entries in long-running series, all available in a downloadable spreadsheet.


A key trend is the retooling of mystery titles for a younger audience. The subgenre of cozy mysteries—gentle reads that usually feature an amateur sleuth in a small-town setting—have broad appeal, and some publishers are specifically targeting younger readers with this year’s crop of cozies. Loren Jaggers, assistant director of publicity at Berkley Books, notes that new titles from the imprint feature “protagonists in their 20s from diverse backgrounds and in settings that reflect the wider world we live in.” For example, debut Own Voices author Mia P. Manansala introduces 25-year-old Lila Macapagal and her relatives in the small town of Shady Palms, IL, where they run Tita Rosie’s Kitchen, serve delicious Filipino dishes, and solve crimes on the side in Arsenic and Adobo (May). Dial A for Aunties (Apr.) is a hilariously quirky novel that is equal parts murder mystery, rom-com, and a celebration of mothers and daughters as well as a deep dive into Chinese-Indonesian culture, from Own Voices debut author Jesse Q. Sutanto. It is already set for a Netflix adaptation.
Larissa Ackerman, communications manager at Kensington, also highlights new trade paperback cozy mysteries targeting Gen Y and Z readers: “Some standout debuts include: Fresh Brewed Murder (Mar.) by Emmeline Duncan, which is a modern cozy with an edge that [considers] issues like homelessness and gentrification; Much Ado about Nauticaling (Jul.) by Gabby Allan, a ‘RomCozy’ that has a perfect blend of romance and mystery; and Be My Ghost (Aug.) by Carol J. Perry, a paranormal cozy mystery about a woman who inherits a haunted inn in Florida.”


For more traditional cozies, there are a few new series to entice readers. Murder at Mallowan Hall (Kensington, Oct.), by Colleen Cambridge, launches an elegant series featuring Phyllida Bright, the redoubtable (fictional) housekeeper to Agatha Christie. It Takes Two To Mango (Poisoned Pen, Jun.), by Carrie Doyle, is a delight starring Plum Lockhart adjusting to life at an island resort—open ocean, sandy beaches, cold drinks, and occasional murder. Pint of No Return (Poisoned Pen, May), by Dana Mentink, is a delicious charmer featuring Trinidad Jones, whose new shake shop in Oregon comes with a triple scoop of murder.


Another way the comfort trend plays out is with readers gravitating toward the authors and characters who brought them to the genre. “In 2020, we certainly saw readers coming to their favorite, most-treasured authors of crime, mystery, and thrillers in even greater numbers than usual, with strong publications for fan favorites David Baldacci, Harlan Coben, Sandra Brown, Preston and Child, and many others,” says Ben Sevier, senior vice president and publisher of Grand Central Publishing. “ ‘Comfort reading’ was the term I heard used in 2020, which I take to mean that readers prioritized the comfort that comes with sitting down with an old friend, whether that is the author or a series character.”
With 2021 still seeming far from normal, what better way to find comfort than to revisit favorite characters? See this downloadable spreadsheet for a list of forthcoming entries in long-running crime fiction series.
On the other hand, some established authors are starting fresh with a new series. Most notably, Janet Evanovich will release The Recovery Agent (Atria, Jun.), featuring Gabriella Rose. In Grave Reservations (Atria, Oct.), Cherie Priest offers a quirky and lightly comic mystery featuring a psychic travel agent and a Seattle PD detective who team up to solve a murder, perfect for fans of “The Spellman Files.” M.J. Trow’s The Knight’s Tale (Severn House, Aug.) introduces poet Geoffrey Chaucer as a memorable new amateur sleuth in the first of a medieval mystery series. Edgar Award-nominated mystery writer Ashley Weaver starts a new series with A Peculiar Combination (Minotaur, May), in which a World War II–era woman safecracker is recruited for some sleuthing. Gone for Good (Minotaur, Aug.) is the first in a new mystery series from award-winning author Joanna Schaffhausen, featuring Detective Annalisa Vega, in which a cold case heats up; and in The Last Commandment (Mysterious Press, Jul.), by Scott Shepherd, a Scotland Yard detective tracks a serial killer from London to New York City. Finally, best known for his children’s picture book series “Walter the Farting Dog,” William Kotzwinkle debuts an adult mystery featuring Tommy Martini, a monk with an anger management problem, in Felonious Monk (Blackstone, Aug.).
There’s no shortage of new titles from favorite best-selling authors. This spring offers up the second book featuring Archer in A Gambling Man (Grand Central, Apr.) from David Baldacci, while Paula McLain, known for her historical fiction, switches genres in When the Stars Go Dark (Ballantine, Apr.) about a detective looking for a missing teenage girl in 1993 California. Mary Kubica’s Local Woman Missing (Park Row, May) is a riveting new thriller about a series of disappearances that rock a small Chicago suburb. Several best-selling and award-winning crime fiction authors such as Michael Connelly, Dean Koontz, Joe Hill, and Attica Locke appear in the forthcoming anthology from Mystery Writers of America titled When a Stranger Comes to Town (Hanover Square, Apr.), edited by Michael Koryta and featuring terrifying tales of encounters with strangers.
The summer brings False Witness (Morrow, Jul.), a new stand-alone legal thriller from Karin Slaughter, whose last stand-alone, Pieces of Her, will be an eight-episode limited series on Netflix. From Alex Michaelides, whose first novel, The Silent Patient, spent over a year on the New York Times best-seller list and sold in 49 countries, comes an atmospheric tale of psychological suspense, weaving together Greek mythology, murder, and obsession in The Maidens (Celadon, Jun.). Choose Me (Thomas & Mercer, Jul.) is a sexy procedural thriller about an affair gone wrong told from “his and hers” perspectives by best sellers Tess Gerritsen and Gary Braver. A Slow Fire Burning (Riverhead, Aug.), by Paula Hawkins, finds a young man gruesomely murdered on a London houseboat, triggering questions about three women. There will also be new thrillers from Daniel Silva, The Cellist (Harper, Jul.); Peter Heller, The Guide (Knopf, Aug.); and Sandra Brown, Blind Tiger (Grand Central, Sept.), a page-turning historical thriller set in Prohibition-era Texas.


The year 2021 will also bear witness to the continuing focus on adaptations, as readers become viewers and producers fill the demand for more content on streaming services. There is comfort here too, as readers watch a story they already know. The Reincarnationist Papers (Blackstone, May), by D. Eric Maikranz, is a debut novel about a secret society of people who possess total recall of their past lives. It is being adapted as the film Infinite, coming out this May from Paramount Pictures and starring Mark Wahlberg. Already a UK best seller, The Other Passenger (Atria, Jul.), Louise Candlish’s suspense novel about a commuter who becomes a suspect in his friend’s mysterious disappearance, arrives in the United States this summer; Joseph Cross is already on board to direct the movie adaptation. CNN anchor Jake Tapper returns with The Devil May Dance (Little, Brown, May), a sequel to the best-selling political thriller The Hellfire Club, which is being made into a TV series by HBO Max.
Three best-selling spy thrillers are slated for the small screen. Netflix is currently shooting the film adaptation of the first book in Mark Greaney’s series “The Gray Man,” starring Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling, while Apple is adapting Mick Herron’s “Slough House” series with Gary Oldman starring as the main character, Jackson Lamb. Amazon is currently filming Olen Steinhauer’s spy thriller All the Old Knives for a film to be released on its streaming service.
On the horizon, The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, a mind-bending murder mystery by Stuart Turton, is in development as a series for Netflix, and the historical thriller Woman 99, by Greer Macallister, is in development as a series produced by and starring Nina Dobrev. Ann Cleeves’s sleuth Vera Stanhope proved wildly popular in a UK TV series; now Matthew Venn, the detective from her book The Heron’s Cry (Minotaur, Sept.), will also be getting a series.


As COVID-19 restrictions continue to hamper real-life travel for most, publishers are seeing increased demand for foreign locales and sleuths. “Given the popularity of far-flung settings, it’s no surprise that translated mysteries from other countries [than the United States] continue to find a large readership. Novels set in such places as Scandinavia have, if anything, grown in popularity, with readers continuing to demand more in this category,” says Hector DeJean, associate director of publicity at Minotaur Books, which is publishing two new titles that take place in Iceland: The Girl Who Died (May) by Ragnar Jónasson, and The Darkness Knows (Jul.), a new series by Arnaldur Indridason. More Nordic noir includes Black Ice (Scarlet, Jun.), by Carin Gerhardsen, in which a terrible accident and a deadly secret draw several strangers together. A Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year, We Know You Remember (HarperCollins, Sept.) by Tove Alsterdal, and a top Danish crime series title, The Corpse Flower (Crooked Lane, Oct.) by Anne Mette Hancock, make their American debuts. There’s also Norwegian best seller The Seven Doors (Orenda, Apr.) by Agnes Ravatn, and Finnish investigator Jessica Niemi returns in The Ice Coven (Berkley, Sept.) by Max Seeck.
If readers need to warm up after those titles, suggest a visit to a private island retreat for the rich and famous in Murder on Mustique (Mobius, May), the debut novel from Lady Anne Glenconner, author of the best-selling memoir Lady in Waiting.


Publishers are making efforts toward better representation in the crime fiction genre, and are offering titles that feature a range of lived experiences. Grace Doyle, editorial director of Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint, says, “We’re seeing new voices represented in tried-and-true mystery and thriller subgenres in ways that are fresh, exciting, and often based on the author’s own unique story. For example, Isabella Maldonado’s FBI agent heroine Nina Guerrera, star of last year’s best-selling The Cipher and the upcoming A Different Dawn (Aug.), which have been optioned by Jennifer Lopez for an upcoming TV series, is based on the author’s experiences as a Quantico graduate, former hostage negotiator, and first Latina captain in her police department.” There’s also These Toxic Things (Thomas & Mercer, Aug.) in which Black author Rachel Howzell Hall’s amateur sleuth is a digital curator who finds herself in the midst of a terrifying mystery when a dead woman’s trinkets become pieces of a murderous puzzle.
Crooked Lane has an upcoming anthology of crime fiction by authors of color called Midnight Hour (Sept.), along with Mango, Mambo, and Murder (Oct.), a Cuban-inspired food cozy set in Florida from Cuban American author Raquel V. Reyes.
Historical fiction titles to look forward to include Nekesa Afia’s Dead Dead Girls (Berkley, Jun.), an exciting new Own Voices historical mystery series set in 1920s Harlem featuring Louise Lloyd, a young Black woman caught up in a series of murders way too close to home. Also suggest Black author Patricia Raybon’s All That Is Secret (Tyndale, Oct.), in which a prim theologian at a small Chicago Bible college (who is also a zealous fan of Sherlock Holmes) receives a cryptic telegram calling her home to Denver to help solve the murder of her father.
Some new series entries from Black authors include V.M. Burns’s cozy mystery Killer Words (Kensington, Nov.), which has bookstore owner and amateur sleuth Samantha Washington examining police corruption; Runner (Kensington, Jun.), starring former Chicago PD–turned–private detective Cass Raines, from Tracy Clark; and Dead of Winter (Soho Crime, May), by Stephen Mack Jones, the latest in the August Snow series, featuring an ex-police detective solving crimes in Detroit’s Mexicantown neighborhood (being adapted for ABC). Candas Jane Dorsey’s Own Voices queer mystery What’s the Matter with Mary Jane? (ECW, Oct.), the second entry in the “Epitome Apartments Mysteries,” is a gritty and darkly humorous series that follows a nameless social worker–turned–sleuth.
Stand-alone titles include We Are Watching Eliza Bright (Grand Central, Apr.), by trans author A.E. Osworth, a thrilling story of survival and anger about a woman who has her whole life turned upside down after speaking out against workplace hostility—and inadvertently becomes the leader of a cultural movement. Clark and Division (Soho Crime, Aug.) by Naomi Hirahara, is the story of a young woman searching for the truth about her older sister’s death in 1944 Chicago, bringing into focus the struggles of one Japanese American family released from a U.S. concentration camp during World War II. Velvet Was the Night (Del Rey, Aug.), from the best-selling author of Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, is a riveting noir tale about a daydreaming secretary, a lonesome enforcer, and the mystery of the missing woman that brings them together.


Despite the emphasis on the comforting familiar, 2021 promises a buzzy gathering of debut voices as well. Expect lots of attention for Down Range (Morrow, Aug.), by former CIA Intelligence Officer Taylor Moore, an action-packed ride starring DEA agent Garrett Kohl, who fights to protect his home in Texas when a vicious criminal enterprise threatens his family; a good bet for fans of C.J. Box. Also of particular note is Never Saw Me Coming (Park Row, Sept.), by Vera Kurian, a dynamic thriller about a group of students diagnosed with psychopathy who are being hunted on campus. Politician and activist Stacey Abrams has already written romance and nonfiction, but she turns to political thrills in While Justice Sleeps (Doubleday, May), set within the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mary Dixie Carter delivers an explosive debut with The Photographer (Minotaur, May), a tale of suspense in which a New York photographer tries to manipulate a wealthy family. Crime reporter Aggie Blum Thompson writes her first novel, I Don’t Forgive You (Forge, Jun.), a thriller about a mom who’s welcomed to her new neighborhood in the DC suburbs by being framed for murder. From National Geographic’s founder of Special Investigations, Bryan Christy, comes the propulsive thriller In the Company of Killers (Putnam, Apr.) about Tom Klay, an investigative reporter leading a double life as a CIA spy.
The past is haunting in several debuts. A university reunion turns deadly as someone tries to flush out a murderer in Ashley Winstead’s In My Dreams I Hold a Knife (Sourcebooks Landmark, Aug.). A woman disappears and frames her husband for her murder—but she soon learns the past isn’t so easily left behind in Finding Tessa (Scarlet, May), by Jaime Lynn Hendricks.
The Damage (Pamela Dorman, Jun.), by Caitlin Wahrer, explores how far a small-town family will go to protect one of their own when pushed to the brink. In Where the Truth Lies (Atria, Aug.), by Anna Bailey, when a teenage girl disappears from an insular small town, the whole community’s most devastating secrets come to light in this stunning suspense novel—perfect for fans of Megan Miranda and Celeste Ng.


Readers will look forward to Find Me (HarperCollins, Jan. 2022.), a thrilling mystery by Alafair Burke; Version Zero (Putnam, May), a tech thriller from David Yoon; and the spy thriller City on the Edge (Mulholland, May) by David Swinson.
There’s plenty of psychological suspense in store for readers with Carole Johnstone’s Mirrorland (Scribner, Apr.); The Drowning Kind (Scout: Gallery, Apr.) by Jennifer McMahon; A Gingerbread House (Severn House, Aug.) from Catriona McPherson; Not a Happy Family (Pamela Dorman, Jul.) by Shari Lapena; What’s Done in Darkness (Random, Jun.) by Laura McHugh; Kimberly McCreight’s Friends Like These (HarperCollins, Sept.); and The Final Child (Titan, Sept.) by Fran Dorricott.
Two authors previously featured in Reese Witherspoon’s book club have new books out this year: Liv Constantine returns with The Stranger in the Mirror (HarperCollins, Jul.), a diabolically twisty and psychologically unsettling novel about a woman with no recollection of her past; and Maria Hummel’s Lesson in Red (Counterpoint, Jun.) is a savvy thriller that explores dark questions about power and the art world.
In a year filled with so many unknowns, crime fiction fans can rest assured they’ll have plenty of crimes and misdemeanors on page and screen to satisfy them.

Check out the new titles mentioned in this article, and the list of new entries in long-running series, all available in a downloadable spreadsheet.

Melissa DeWild received her MLS from Indiana University and has worked in collection development and administration at several public libraries, including Spring Lake and Kent District Libraries in Michigan and BookOps in New York City. She has been reviewing for LJ for nine years and was named an LJ Mover & Shaker in 2014 and Reviewer of the Year (Fiction) in 2017.
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