Whowunit? We’ll find out Thursday, when the Mystery Writers of America announce the 2013 Edgar Allan Poe Award winners at a gala banquet in New York. The awards, founded in 1946, honor the best mystery writing in fiction, nonfiction and television. One thing’s for sure: The winning novel won’t be a cozy. There are no sugar-laden recipes, needlework or twee doings in small villages among the seven best novel finalists, which range in hue from tar-sands black to abyss.
All I Did Was Shoot My Man , by Walter Mosley (Riverhead). Leonid McGill, private investigator and former boxer, has tried hard to make up for his crooked ways. He just freed Zella Grisham, who served eight years for a $58 million heist she didn’t commit. His efforts to help her would seem downright noble — if he hadn’t set her up in the first place. But even though he’s sure Zella is innocent, people connected to the robbery start turning up dead. Meanwhile, his wife is drinking too much, his oldest son just moved in with an ex-prostitute, his daughter is having an affair with a married man, and his youngest boy — who rivals McGill as a criminal genius, even though they aren’t biologically related — is now working with his dad. Mosley, an O. Henry winner and PEN/America’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, is in fine form in his fourth McGill mystery, a complicated tale of atonement and family.
The Gods of Gotham , by Lyndsay Faye (Amy Einhorn). As the potato famine sends Irish immigrants fleeing to New York in 1845, former barman Timothy Wilde starts a second career as a “copper star,” part of the city’s first police force. (A fire wiped out his life’s savings and left him disfigured, but his older brother, a politically connected morphine addict, got him the job.) One night, a girl covered in blood leads him to a mass grave of children. Faye employs flash (thieves’ slang), crafty twists and superb period detail in her second historical thriller, which has won favorable comparisons to Caleb Carr’s “The Alienist.”
Gone Girl , by Gillian Flynn (Crown). Wood might be traditional for a fifth-anniversary gift, but the Dunnes have gone with murder instead. This tale of a marriage gone very, very wrong was a runaway critical and commercial success in 2012. Selling more than 2 million copies and landing on multiple best-of-the-year lists, the tale of a hapless liar who may have killed his perfectionist wife was long-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and is slated to be turned into a movie produced by Reese Witherspoon. Fans of unreliable narrators, rejoice: You can’t believe anything either spouse tells you in Flynn’s acid-inked pages.
Live by Night , by Dennis Lehane (Morrow). A Boston cop’s son winds up a gangster in Lehane’s Prohibition-era novel, a follow-up to “The Given Day” (2008). Twenty-year-old Joe Coughlin commits two sins, either one of which could prove fatal: First, he robs gangster Albert White, then he steals his girlfriend. After a bank robbery goes south, Coughlin winds up in a Charleston prison, where another crime boss takes him under his wing. Oscar winner Ben Affleck, who adapted Lehane’s “Gone, Baby, Gone,” is set to direct and star in the movie version. Lehane, a multiple-award-winning writer, already has an Edgar on his shelf, shared for HBO’s “The Wire.”
The Lost Ones , by Ace Atkins (Putnam). Former Army Ranger Quinn Colson, now sheriff of Tibbehah County, Miss., finds himself mixed up in cases involving trafficked babies, stolen army rifles, Mexican drug gangs and a not-terribly-bright high school buddy. Atkins — whose first Colson novel, “The Ranger,” also was nominated for an Edgar — interspersesthe investigations with haunting episodes from the sheriff’s childhood. Despite one dead child, the feds seem more concerned with finding the guns than the kids, leaving Colson and his deputy to locate the children before their “caregivers” decide it’s easier to just cut their losses.
Potboiler , by Jesse Kellerman (Putnam). The lightest of this year’s finalists takes thriller writing and stands it on its head while making goofy faces. After a best-selling thriller writer is lost at sea, Art Pfefferkorn, a one-book has-been, steals a manuscript from his oldest friend’s office and passes it off as its own. That sets off a darkly hilarious chain of events that gets Pfefferkorn — the unlikeliest secret agent since “Chuck” — embroiled in international schemes, high-stakes rescues and multiple double crosses. There’s also epic poetry writing and plenty of root vegetables.
Sunset , by Al Lamanda (Five Star). Former police officer John Bekker finds salvation from a most unlikely source: The mob boss he thought had had his wife raped and murdered in front of their 5-year-old daughter. A decade later, the girl has never spoken again, and Bekker is a drunken shell living in a trailer. The mobster, now dying of cancer after his own wife is murdered, forcibly detoxes Bekker and hires him to discover the truth.
Zipp reviews books for The Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor.