More detective stories!
June 8, 2009 1:30 PM   Subscribe

It's summertime and that means detective stories. I've read ALL of Simenon, Agatha Christie (Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot), Dorothy Sayers, John Sandford, Denise Hamilton, Lee Child, Edward Wright, Henning Mankell. Tried but didn't like Tony Hillerman. Any suggestions for another engaging series? Thanks.
posted by holdenjordahl to Media & Arts (63 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Inspector Morse?
posted by ocherdraco at 1:33 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown. They are.. a bit different than most normal detective stories, but they are very fun to read. The author's personal oddities aside, they are very fun stories, especially as they are quite a bit different from your normal detective story in many ways.
posted by strixus at 1:37 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Raymond Chandler
Dashiell Hammett
posted by box at 1:38 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Jeffrey Deaver.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:39 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Sue Grafton (the "x is for whatever" series,)
Sara Paretsky (the V.I. Warshawski series,)
Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael stories if you are in to historical fiction at all,
Stephen R. Donaldson's The Man Who... novels if you can deal with sort of baroque writing and dark themes (I quite enjoy it, but it's not for everyone,)
Rita Mae Brown's cat-themed mysteries (less catty than...)
Lillian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who... series if you like cozies (total popcorn reading imo,)
Charlaine Harris (vampires, psychics, cozies, or ass-kicking cleaning lady, depending on series - I like 'em all about as well)

That's a quick mental scan of my bookshelf. There are several other vampire-and-werewolf mysteryish series that I like, but that's a little out of the scope of your question.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:40 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Harlan Coben
Michael Connelly
Jonathan Kellerman
Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series
Kate Wilhelm's Barbara Holloway series
Leah Ruth Robinson
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:42 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Sarah Caudwell's Hilary Tamar series are my favorite detective novels. They would fit right in next to Agatha Christie -- just a tad more modern.
posted by bluefly at 1:44 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Do you like police procedurals? The 87th Precinct series was a favorite of mine a long while back. You could go off the beaten path and into Botswana, too.
posted by jquinby at 1:45 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Lisa Lutz's Spellman Files, Curse of the Spellmans, and Revenge of the Spellmans are among the best new private-eye books out there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:47 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Fletch
posted by Confess, Fletch at 1:48 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: If you liked Dorothy Sayers, you might want to try Margery Allingham -- admittedly, Albert Campion is the poor man's Peter Wimsey, but Allingham's books have a similar Golden Age vibe, albeit with a great deal of wackiness, surrealism, and occasional cheating. (Allingham really likes surprise twist endings, and her earlier novels are rather notorious for ditching all plot logic in the eleventh hour for the sake of a "twist.")

The first book featuring Campion is The Crime at the Black Dudley (also known as The Black Dudley Murder), but the book is awful, and you should feel free to skip it. I recommend beginning with Look to the Lady (aka The Gyrth Chalice Mystery), which has some Chesterton-like moments of breathtaking strangeness, or Sweet Danger, which is the point in the series where Allingham really hits her stride.
posted by cabezadevaca at 1:49 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding Jeffery Deaver especially his Lincoln Rhyme series - Engaging quadriplegic forensic scientist detective.

Kathy Reichs has a good run (if tad gruesome as they also include a forensic detective who works with corpses) with her Temperance Brennan series. (The tv show Bones is loosely based on her books).
posted by beautifulcheese at 1:50 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: I also find things I like by reading books that have won mystery awards.

Edgar Awards
Macavity Awards
Anthony Awards
Shamus Awards

(Note: I have no connection to Fantastic Fiction, I just find it to be a very convenient database.)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:53 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Also: you might like the Sherlock Holmes canon of short stories and novels, Any of the Elijah Bailey/R. Daneel Olivaw books by Isaac Asimov or Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko novels.
posted by jquinby at 1:54 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Donald E. Westlake and his pseudonym (oops -- outed!) Richard Stark. Lots of excerpts here. The Dortmunder series is great: here's Chapter One of What's So Funny.
posted by maudlin at 1:55 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: I recently discovered Jasper Fforde, and love his books. Detective stories...with a humorous twist.
posted by routergirl at 1:56 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: (Here's the MeFi obit thread for Westlake. Damn.)
posted by maudlin at 1:56 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley series, which are all terrific.

David Baldacci's Camel Club series, which can get a little cute.

Patricia Cornwall's Kay Scarpetta series, of which, imho, the early ones are best.

Brad Thor's Scot Harvath series, which owes a debt to Lee Child, as does Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp Series.
posted by carmicha at 2:01 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Check out used bookstores for Michael Innes' Inspector Appleby series.

Also: Martha Grimes (especially the early ones), Susan Wittig Albert, Laurie King
posted by lazydog at 2:08 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Ngaio Marsh
Martha Grimes (Richard Jury series)
Margaret Maron
Virginia Lanier
Reginald Hill (Dalziel and Pascoe series)
posted by BoscosMom at 2:17 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Ruth Rendell, aka Barbara Vine.
posted by Carol Anne at 2:17 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: P.D. James
Ngaio Marsh
Barry Maitland
Dana Stabenow
posted by mogget at 2:22 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Walter Mosley or George Pelecanos.
posted by electroboy at 2:24 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Father Cadfael by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter)
Janwillem van de Wetering - series about two detectives in Amsterdam with a bit of Zen thrown in. Have to admit, he's my all time favourite.
posted by x46 at 2:25 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus (police procedural set in Edinburgh, with a detective who ages in "real time")

Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe (start from Bones and Silence if you don't want to begin at the beginning) and Joe Sixsmith (much more lighthearted)

The late Janwillem van de Wetering's Grijpstra and de Gier (a police procedural with Zen Buddhist overtones)

Stephen Booth's Cooper/Fry (odd couple police procedural, rather Reginald Hill-ish)

Back to the golden age: try John Dickson Carr's/Carter Dickson's/etc.'s Dr. Gideon Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale mysteries (locked rooms aplenty)

"Charles Todd"'s Inspector Rutledge (post-WWI mysteries featuring a shell-shocked detective; better on atmosphere & characterization than plotting, though)
posted by thomas j wise at 2:29 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: If the Humorous British Village Cozy category appeals to you at all, you might want to check out M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin series: lite but reasonably intelligent entertainment.
posted by littlecatfeet at 2:39 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: I'm going to second box's suggestion with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I burned through almost all of Hammett's works in a couple months and have just started on Chandler.

I know a lot of people say they like one or the other, but I have enjoyed both. They're both fun to read.
posted by Kimothy at 2:50 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Erle Stanley Gardner of Perry Mason fame.
posted by torquemaniac at 2:58 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: ~ Books by Elizabeth George
~ Stories by Cornell Woolrich (author of Rear Window)
~ The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
~ Maisy Dobbs series by Jacueline Winspear

N-thing Hammett, Chandler, and the Cat Who series.
posted by litterateur at 2:59 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: I'm kind of surprised no one has mentioned Robert B. Parker. The entirety of the Spenser series, most of the Sunny Randall series, and most of the Jesse Stone series have a permanent home on my shelves. I've read many of them more than once, and quite a few of them more than twice, and enjoyed all of them every time.

They're not extremely deep, they're not horribly involved, but they're enjoyable. Parker has never tried to be overly-intellectual, but he's by no means a dullard. It's approachable, enjoyable fiction and makes for perfect summertime reading, in my opinion.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 3:02 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: You should try the Rex Stout "Nero Wolfe" stories.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:12 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Since you mentioned Henning Mankell, I'll recommend a couple of other Scandinavian series:

I am very fond of Helen Tursten's Detective Inspector Irene Huss novels. Arnaldur Indridason's Erlendur series, set in Iceland, is great too.

Both series feature well-plotted mysteries, interesting, complex characters, and thoughtful social commentary. The translations are top-quality, too; it seems they capture the spirit of the original writing while converting it to naturalistic English prose.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:13 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: For something a little different in the detective vein, try John D. McDonald's Travis McGee books
posted by Redhush at 3:14 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: They're not literally detective stories, but Scott Turow's mystery novels are really quite good. I'd start with Presumed Innocent.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 3:14 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Seconding Michael Connelly. I tore thru everything my library had by him. The plots can be sort of silly, but he has a way with a turn of phrase and his choices for character names are good for a laugh.
posted by thebrokedown at 3:20 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Elizabeth George - Lynley series (I haven't liked the recent ones, from What Came Before He Shot Her on)
Carol O'Connell - Mallory series (the first four, in particular, are excellent. Do not read them out of order)
Laurie R King - Russell/Holmes series and (the mostly neglected) Martinelli series
Kate Atkinson - Jackson Brodie series
Sharyn McCrumb -- Ballad series and the Elizabeth MacPherson series
Minette Walters -- she does multiple standalones
Frances Fyfield -- standalones, with occasional repeating of characters (very much an odd style)

There is always Ruth Rendell (or as Barbara Vine).

I swear, I read male authors too, but I cannot think of any I actively look for offhand. Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crimes series, perhaps; the Thursday Next ones are definitely not mysteries. (Fun! But not mystery.)
posted by jeather at 3:24 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Ditto Chandler, Hammet, and the Laurie King Russell/Holmes.
Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (first part of a trilogy, others not out yet I don't think).
Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series.
posted by juv3nal at 3:48 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon novels are great. Maybe a little more "thriller" than "mystery" but the mysteries are there, and I like 'em.
posted by Neofelis at 3:50 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Seconding Laurie R. King's "Mary Russell" series; there's not a bad book in the bunch. Also, Robert Crais's "Elvis Cole" series, totally fun and addictive.
posted by OolooKitty at 4:01 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Julia Spencer-Fleming's series about a female Episcopal priest who is also a former army helicopter pilot is awesome and totally addicting. (I am not at all religious.)

Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series about a totally fabulous 1920's femme fatale in Australia is mostly fluff and completely enjoyable.

Laurie King's Mary Russell novels (she is Sherlock Holmes's partner after he retires).

I also second Dana Stabenow (Aleut woman in Alaska), Minette Walters (standalones, can be gruesome), and Kate Atkinson (a bit more "literary"), and of course Rex Stout, Josephine Tey and Dick Francis.
posted by exceptinsects at 4:02 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Can you tell us what you liked about the mysteries you really liked? That might help narrow it down - i.e., folks are recommending classic hard-boiled stuff like Chandler and Hammett but you didn't mention any hard-boiled titles in your post. A lot of recent series - Robert Parker's Spenser and Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins, e.g. - fall squarely in that tradition. If you don't like it, you probably won't like them.
posted by mediareport at 4:10 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Harlan Coben. Definitely Harlan Coben.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:44 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Read James Ellroy's L.A. Quartet
posted by tylerfulltilt at 4:50 PM on June 8, 2009

Response by poster: brilliant, folks, thanks!!! i've just decided to read detective stories year-round and this is a staggering array of helpful suggestions...
posted by holdenjordahl at 4:59 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Seconding Sarah Caudwell (featuring the travails of English barristers and law experts), Jasper Fforde (witty alternate literary universe - even the non-mysteries are mysterious or thrilling), and Rex Stout (a fantastic marriage of the thinking detective and the lovable gumshoe) enthusiastically. I also enjoyed Sharyn McCrumb's mountain ballad mysteries.

In the light mystery arena with recurring casts to get fond of: Charlotte MacCloud's mysteries, both the Kelling/Bittersohn and Balaclava series, are fun She creates great recurring casts of characters, although the last few books will make you sad as you can see age taking over. I also like most of Elizabeth Peters' books - she has several series of books with the smart heroines (a librarian/writer, an art historian, an archaeologist, and lots of one-offs with women in related fields). Her alter ego, Barbara Michaels, tends to be a little bit spookier in her mysteries.
posted by julen at 5:03 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: You might enjoy the Victorian Egyptology Amelia Peabody series. If you like the romancey stuff that Christie does, you could look at Georgette Heyer (who does mostly romances but a fair amount of mysteries too).
posted by inkyz at 5:05 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: I came in to say exactly what x46 said and since nobody seems to have mentioned her, I'm going to also suggest Amanda Cross, who is smart and funny in sort of the same way as Sarah Caudwell, who I also love. I am very fond of Kinky Friedman, too.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:21 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Ngaio Marsh.
posted by leahwrenn at 6:01 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Seconding Elizabeth George and Charles Todd. If you like historical fiction, the Matthew Shardlake books by C J Sansome are quite good. Shardlake is a hunchback lawyer in Tudor England who gets roped into some unpleasant work for the government of Henry VIII, who is portrayed as a right bastard. The atmosphere of constant fear, corruption, violence and greed is well done and the historical details seem fairly accurate.
posted by Quietgal at 6:26 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: I figured I wouldn't say anything because someone would have to cover these, but I guess not:

George C. Chesbro's character Mongo.

John D. MacDonald's character Travis McGee.
posted by adipocere at 6:49 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: R. D. Wingfield's Jack Frost series.
posted by misozaki at 7:14 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Robert Crais' Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books, plus his stand alones.
posted by jvilter at 10:28 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Thanks for this thread! I've read many of the series you mention and loved Bruce Alexander's "Sir John Fielding Mystery" series about a blind magistrate in the 18th century. The first book is Blind Justice. Entire series in order here.
posted by MuckWeh at 10:31 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: nthing Michael Connelly, especially his earlier work. His latest books seem written for the screen, and have somewhat shallower plots. Or his sources at the LAPD dried up, who knows.

Somewhat more old school: Lawrence Block wrote about threehundred detectives about alcoholic cop Matt Scudder, and they're okay.
posted by NekulturnY at 4:13 AM on June 9, 2009

Best answer: One that hasn't been mentioned: I love Stephen Greenleaf's John Marshall Tanner books, and have found they hold up to rereads quite well. Highly recommended--why didn't this guy become better known?

I also concur with Elizabeth George, whose books stand up to re-reads as well. Even when you know whodunnit, the journey to getting there is still worth it. I also agree the last three books or so have not filled me with quite as much love. And ditto for a number of the suggestions above, so I won't repeat!

Enjoy your summer reading--I know I do. (Summer + reading = bliss.)
posted by Savannah at 7:43 AM on June 9, 2009

Best answer: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith and Garnet Hill by Denise Mina are both nontraditional detective stories with interesting settings.
posted by electroboy at 7:48 AM on June 9, 2009

Best answer: Thirding Robert Parker. I can't get enough. I'm about a third of the way through the Spenser series, and I'm already sad that it will end.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:36 AM on June 9, 2009

Best answer: The Fandorin series by Boris Akunin is quite fun; the first six have been translated into English. Each novel is a takeoff of a particular genre or author (The Winter Queen has been described as a murder mystery by Pushkin; Murder on the Leviathan is a takeoff of Agatha Christie, etc.).
posted by scody at 2:41 PM on June 9, 2009

Best answer: Oh, and speaking of historical mysteries: I've just started March Violets, the first book in Philip Kerr's "Berlin Noir" trilogy. Imagine Raymond Chandler transplanted to the early days of the Nazi regime. It's pretty great.
posted by scody at 2:52 PM on June 9, 2009

Best answer: If it's the detective part that's important, you should give the Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer books a try—they're kind of delightfully cheesy, with a lot of bizarre self-mythologizing but fairly involving prose. There's a reason they were huge best sellers.

If the detective part isn't as important, I'm really enjoying the Mr. Ripley series (The Talented Mr. Ripley, etc.), which are kind of anti-detective novels.

Then there's Jim Thompson, who has more than a few books about cops and detectives, like The Killer Inside Me and Pop. 1280. They're usually about rural law, sometimes incredibly fucked-up.

For true crime, and focusing on real detectives, I can't recommend David Simon's Homocide enough. It's an absolutely masterful book, and all true.

Then, to cap things off, you should read Paul Auster's City of Glass trilogy, which kind of explodes the traditions of detective novels and really made me much more aware of weird tropes in classic detective fiction (like the Chandler and Hammett that you should have read already).
posted by klangklangston at 8:22 AM on June 10, 2009

Best answer: PD James (with her Adam Dalgliesh stories) has been mentioned, but only once. I believe she should be mentioned many, many times. ;)
posted by gakiko at 10:20 AM on June 12, 2009

Best answer: If you have access to a good public library system, you'll probably be able to get a copy of Booklist. It's a magazine aimed at librarians, so it probably won't be on the open shelves, but if you ask for it I'm pretty sure they'll let you look at it. Anyway, every year (May, I think - this year's is May 1st) they have a whole issue dedicated to what they call "mysteries" - spy, thriller, detective, crime, etc. fiction. Brief(150-word) reviews of hundreds of books and suggestions for read-alikes - if you like X, you might like Y. Author profiles, the whole lot. This year they are featuring novels set in Latin America. They have a list of the "year's best crime novels", etc., etc.

BTW - if you have ever visited Venice, you'll love all novels by Donna Leon.
posted by feelinggood at 2:54 PM on June 15, 2009

Another Scandinavian author recommendation (Norwegian this time): Jo Nesbo's Detective Harry Hole series. Just started reading them and they are very good--well-written, suspenseful.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:30 PM on July 23, 2009

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