Help me catch the killer.
July 23, 2010 3:21 PM   Subscribe

What are some great mystery/thriller novels focused on investigation?

I'm looking for mystery/thriller novels that focus on the nuts-and-bolts of the investigative process. I'd prefer a realistic depiction of investigation - be it historical or contemporary - rather than science fiction or supernatural, but I'm really open to anything, as long as it features a compelling picture of the investigative process, i.e. finding clues, interrogating suspects, creating profiles, dealing with bureaucracy, etc.

- I'd prefer the novel to focus on an investigative body, such as the FBI or Interpol, rather than on local police departments or private eyes, but it's not a deal breaker.

- I'd also prefer the novels to focus on hunting down a serial killer, or something dealing with gruesome murder, rather than bank robbers or counterfeiters. But again, not a deal breaker.

- I like novels featuring strong female protagonists, not deal breaker though.

An example of what I'm looking for would be Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs.
posted by fryman to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You seem to be describing Kay Scarpetta novels to a T.
posted by Duffington at 3:24 PM on July 23, 2010

Are you aware of the genre known as the procedural? It sounds like that's what you're looking for.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:27 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd love to see the answers here. My particular preference is for the various Nordic mysteries for the more sparse prose (though I find that the plots tend to have more holes in them--Henning Mankell, I'm looking at you). I recently read Silence of the Grave by Iceland's Arnaldur Indridason, and I found it to be a better procedural than the Wallander books--though perhaps its hard to tell when you're reading about police in other countries. There is a series of scenes at the start of the book where the protagonist is trying to find someone and the process of locating them really struck me as intelligent detective work. But there wasn't as much of the nuts and bolts, The Wire-style grinding out policework.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:29 PM on July 23, 2010

Best answer: The Alienist by Caleb Carr fits most of your criteria
posted by brainmouse at 3:33 PM on July 23, 2010

If you're willing to stretch the requirements a little bit, The Name of the Rose is simply amazing.
posted by ecurtz at 3:37 PM on July 23, 2010

Michael Connelly, Donna Leon, Jonathan Kellerman, Val McDermid, Robert Wilson, Tony Hillerman, James Lee Burke . . . Older ones: John D. MacDonald, Ross MacDonald, Ed McBain . . .
posted by fivesavagepalms at 3:47 PM on July 23, 2010

It's a local precinct but I loved this part of Lush Life by Richard Price.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 3:51 PM on July 23, 2010

Your interest in the nuts-and-bolts of investigation makes me think you might want to try Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon of The Wire fame. It is nonfiction and utterly destroys any idea that homicide detectives spend their days doing elegant, subtle investigations. I mean, I love me some P. D. James too, but real cops apparently don't worry much about motive. Or even physical evidence, because the forensics labs are so backlogged. Just find witnesses and lean on 'em, seems to be the most common investigative approach. Maybe not quite what you were looking for, but impressively well written and an interesting counterpoint to detective fiction.
posted by Quietgal at 4:42 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not a novel, but non-fiction that feels like a novel is David Simon's Homicide
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 4:43 PM on July 23, 2010

Lush Life (and Clockers, which I liked more) are both city PD, but otherwise, they're good. And, with the same caveat and Quietgal's as well, Simon's Homicide is all shades of kick-ass.
posted by Beardman at 4:44 PM on July 23, 2010

Ruth Rendell, Lee Child, John Dunning, Stephen Hunter . . .
posted by fivesavagepalms at 5:01 PM on July 23, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the great suggestions so far. I just wanted to add that Homicide is a great book, one of my all-time favorites. If anyone else is interested in the investigative process, but hasn't read it, I highly, highly recommend it, for all the reasons Quietgal stated.

That being said, the sort of book I'm looking for is like Homicide, but of a more fictional, "entertaining" sort.
posted by fryman at 5:19 PM on July 23, 2010

Best answer: Read the wonderful "Martin Beck Police Procedurals" series. Read them in order. Each is a separate mystery, but there's a series-wide arc. Each is set in the year it's written.
posted by grumblebee at 5:39 PM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

By the way, if you like audiobooks, the entire Martin Beck series was just recorded. has it.
posted by grumblebee at 5:41 PM on July 23, 2010

Best answer: You might like Tana French - her novels take place in Dublin and are very, very good. There are three, all tangentially connected: In the Woods (detective investigates the disappearance/presumed murder of two childhood friends), The Likeness (1st detective's female partner goes undercover as a murdered woman), Faithful Place (their sergeant investigates the murder of his high school sweetheart).
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:53 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you liked Homicide, most of Richard Price's stuff is likely right up your alley. He writes procedural stuff in a really engaging and creative way, and has some seriously great character skills.

I read Lush Life immediately after Homicide, and it totally filled the gap that I was looking to have filled.

George Pelecanos (another Wire alum) also writes great procedural novels, though they are bit more paperbacky and "cheap" (if that makes sense).
posted by broadway bill at 9:27 PM on July 23, 2010


Also, this is an excellent read. Not murder, but rather art theft. It is, however, quite compelling and pleasurable to read.
posted by broadway bill at 9:32 PM on July 23, 2010

At least in my neck of the woods, everyone ever is reading it, so you may know already, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems like it would suit.

I also second the recommendation of Tana French novels.
posted by librarina at 9:50 PM on July 23, 2010

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