Help me find new mystery authors.
January 26, 2011 8:46 AM   Subscribe

I've read everything by my favorite mystery authors. Help me find new favorites!

I love to read mysteries. Unfortunately, I've run out of the ones I like, and Amazon is recommending ones I don't like.

Authors that I've read (and re-read) all of: Dick Francis, Colin Dexter, Dana Stabenow, Tony Hillerman, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Louise Penny, David Hiltbrand, David Rosenfelt, Margaret Maron, Sharyn McCrumb, Marshall Karp.

Often-recommended authors I've found disappointing:
Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Alexander McCall Smith.

I do want:
Strong writing
Interesting characters
Tight plots
A good sense of place
A sense of humor
Current or recent authors (not Agatha Christie)

I do not want:
Cats, recipes, hobbies, vampires, "chick lit" or romantic suspense, historical settings, and gratuitous or extremely graphic violence. (I put down "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" when it turned from an intriguing mystery to torture porn.)

Amazon recommends either super-violent thrillers, or cat/recipe/etc. cozies. I know MeFites can do better! Please give me your recommendations. Bonus points for Kindle availability.
posted by Daily Alice to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (61 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
Nicolas Freeling, Janwillem van de Wetering, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Martha Grimes.
posted by jet_silver at 8:51 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Fletch series, esp. Confess, Fletch.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:51 AM on January 26, 2011

Tana French! Be sure to read them in order.

I don't know how you feel about crime fiction, but I love Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books.
posted by something something at 8:53 AM on January 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

Colin Cotterill's books about the old Laotian coroner are wonderful. NPR review. The characters and settings are vivid. The writing is humorous and sharp. They tend to be quick reads, but I really enoyed the,\m

I just read Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island (Never saw the movie) and it was nicely-written, engaging and a pretty good mystery. I liked the people in it.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:00 AM on January 26, 2011

I really liked Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody Egyptian mystery series. They are set in the early 20th century, so maybe that's too historical. But they definitely have a sense of humor and place and interesting characters (Ramses is my favorite). I'm not even a mystery fan, aside from the odd Dick Francis, but I sped through these, and they get better as the series progresses.
posted by 6550 at 9:01 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Tana French. Also suggesting C.J. Box and Nevada Barr.
posted by questionsandanchors at 9:02 AM on January 26, 2011

William Kent Kreuger. Terence Faherty's Owen Keane mysteries (unfortunately mostly out of print and not available in e-format). Donna Leon. Ken Bruen.
posted by BibiRose at 9:02 AM on January 26, 2011

Oh, yeah. Val McDermid. Denise Mina.
posted by BibiRose at 9:05 AM on January 26, 2011

Martin Cruz Smith.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 9:06 AM on January 26, 2011

2nding Freeling and van de Wetering.
How about Raymond Chandler? You can't ask for stronger writing, more interesting characters, or a tighter plot than The Big Sleep.
posted by spasm at 9:06 AM on January 26, 2011

I don't see Rex Stout on your list. Not recent, but damned good. Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin fit your requirement for "interesting characters".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:07 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon mysteries.
posted by ldthomps at 9:07 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I really really enjoy John Hart. My favorite was The Last Child.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:08 AM on January 26, 2011

Laurie R. King has a historical series (the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books) and a less-frequently updated modern series featuring the detective Kate Martinelli. I prefer the former, but it sounds like you might like the latter (both series overlap in The Art of Detection). She also has some standalone books but they tend more towards the thriller-ish.
posted by mskyle at 9:12 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might try the Henning Mankell books, set in Scania in southern Sweden. I don't think his plots are super tight (almost half of the nine or so books involve a critical plot point about the irascible detective protagonist losing, unplugging or turning off his phone and thus missing a critical warning). But there is a good cast of characters, and a strong sense of place. Similar authors include Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall (who wrote the Martin Beck series of novels), KO Dahl, Arnaldur Indridason.

I tend to read only Nordic mysteries, which have much less flowery prose than American novels. Someone upthread mentioned Shutter Island, and I thought it was awful. Anytime that an author resorts to lines like "the jagged rocks around the island were like teeth" as Lehane does in the first 20 pages or so of that one, loses my attention very quickly. The flipside, though is that I think the American authors have more sophisticated and tighter plots (Stieg Larsson being a notable exception, but, as you say, his gruesome pen is not for everyone).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:12 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm really liking Margaret Maron right now, too! To go along with her I recommend Kathy Reichs and Gail Bowen, who is awesome. She's also Canadian and therefore difficult to find here (this may be just a western NC problem though.) I think these have everything you're looking for - my tastes are similar. You've probably read Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton but if you haven't, they're also worth a look. And if you change your mind about historical settings I keep on recommending Lindsey Davis' Marcus Didius Falco books set in ancient Rome because they are just great.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:12 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nero Wolfe. I forget the author's name but excellent books.
posted by damiano99 at 9:14 AM on January 26, 2011

Seconding the recommendation for Laurie R King!
posted by rosa at 9:15 AM on January 26, 2011

griphus recently was talking up John Burdett's The Godfather of Kathmandu, so I took the cue and am about halfway through it now. It's a hell of a lot of fun! And apparently, it's one of a series of books about the main character, so if you like it, there's plenty more where it came from.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:18 AM on January 26, 2011

Best answer: My wife likes a lot of the same stuff you do and she just loves Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:22 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Recently I've started working my way through Robert Crais' work. I think the Elvis Cole novels may offer at least some of what you want. They're current. There is humour in them (not the funny, ha-ha stuff, but more character/personality depictions). There is a definite sense of place -- mainly LA, but the characters do venture off into other geographical regions. Overall there is a lightness and ease to the books and the writing that I find refreshing (there is at least one book in the serious that goes against this grain, but I think it's the exception rather than the rule).

The books aren't too violent, but there is typical P.I. violence in them: fist fights, gun battles, car chases, etc., but nothing that's too extreme.

I haven't read the full series yet. I began with Voodoo River, and I think it was a good place to start, even if it took Elvis out of California. It introduced key players in the supporting cast, and it set the tone for what to expect in the rest of the books. (Minor spoilerish warning: some elements of the main character's back-story seemed to have changed between this book and The Forgotten Man, so don't be too surprised if what you think you know about Elvis' history gets muddled as you continue through the novels).

I've also started going through the series something something recommended, Connelly's Harry Bosch books, and I find them also very readable. Initially I was a bit put-off by the blurbs on the back cover, but the books themselves aren't as grim or depressing or violent as the summaries make them sound. I'd say they're also worth a look.
posted by sardonyx at 9:26 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, lots of great recommendations so far! I'll come back and mark best answers when I've done some reading.
(Forgot to include Rex Stout on my list, I plowed through all of those years ago. Probably due for a re-read. And I've read all the Laurie R. King/Kate Martinelli books I can get my hands on.)
posted by Daily Alice at 9:28 AM on January 26, 2011

Ian Rankin - especially his Inspector Rebus novels. They are set in Edinburgh, beginning in the late(?) 80s. These are my personal gold standard of modern mystery/noir writing.

(Thirding the recommendation for Laurie R. King as well. *Very* different than the Rebus novels, but also truly excellent.)
posted by purlgurly at 9:28 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Try Reginald Hill (Dalziel & Pascoe series)l, Carol O' Connell, Ian Rankin, John Sandford, Laurie King (I even enjoyed the "Sherlock Holmes" ones, even though I thought they sounded stupid and read them under protest), Thomas Perry, Virginia Lanier.
posted by BoscosMom at 9:34 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Spellman books by Lisa Lutz, about a family of PIs, are very funny--though the mysteries are fairly low-impact (no murders or anything). Nthing recommendations for Tana French and Laurie R. King.
posted by leesh at 9:38 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Karin Fossum
posted by ambient2 at 9:39 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I've really been enjoying Laura Lippman's stuff--her stand-alone ones are great and I'm just getting into her Tess Monaghan series.
posted by leesh at 9:39 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

James Lee Burke: Strong writing and vivid sense of place (Cajun Louisiana)
Michael Connelly: Good cop procedurals vividly set in LA.
Donna Leon: Mysteries with social commentary set in Venice.
Jonathan Kellerman: Tight plots, intelligent writing, psychological mysteries in LA. Really first-rate.
John D. MacDonald: Somewhat dated, but no more so than Hillerman; suspense novels with social commentary.
Ross Macdonald: In the Chandler tradition, maybe better.
Peter Abrahams: One of the best suspense novelists working, each book new and original.
Val McDermid, Robert Wilson, Ian Rankin, C. J. Box, Ruth Rendell, George Pelicanos, Stephen Hunter . . . seconding Martin Cruz Smith and Henning Mankell.
Dennis Lehane's "Mystic River" was brilliant, his others not so much.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 9:40 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

What about Marcia Muller? I like both her Sharon McCone stories and her standalone books.

You might also enjoy: Sara Paretsky, Linda Barnes' Carlotta Carlyle series, and George C. Chesbro's Mongo books.
posted by mogget at 9:44 AM on January 26, 2011

Seconding Chandler, Hiassen & Dorsey. I'm also partial to Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall's Martin Beck series and Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander books, as well as The Amsterdam Cops series by Janwillem van de Wetering.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lisa Lutz, although there is a particular "gimmick" with her books that some members of my book group found annoying, particularly if they were reading it in eBook format.

Re Tana French, I have to give her thumbs sideways. I think her writing is very lush and dense, full of wordy descriptions that are easy to visualize. However, I tried reading The Likeness and it was like walking knee-deep in pudding. The pudding tastes good but geez it's a bit of a slog.
posted by fuse theorem at 9:50 AM on January 26, 2011

You might enjoy Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie books, which start with Case Histories.
posted by amarynth at 9:56 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Tana French, Carol O'Connell, Val McDermid, Kate Atkinson, Minette Walters, Elizabeth George. In that order.

Beverly Connor is more forensic anthropology mysteries, but I enjoy them. Ruth Rendell's earlier work is great, but stop about 5 years ago (also her alter ego, Barbara Vine). I can't really recommend Laurie King's series anymore (I read her Martinelli books because they weren't about Sherlock, so she fills the last one with half a Sherlock novel?), but her standalones (Folly, etc) are excellent.

I do not like historical in general, but there are two series I follow, by Ariana Franklin and Cora Harrison, and if you ever get an urge for historical, or run out of other ideas, those are good authors to consider for people who do not like historical mysteries.
posted by jeather at 10:09 AM on January 26, 2011

Looks like no one's mentioned Lawrence Block yet--terrific writer. The Matt Scudder series is really excellent, but some have a higher level of violence; try "When the Sacred Ginmill Closes" and see if it's to your taste. His "Burglar" series is much lighter, and very enjoyable.

And P.D. James is my own gold standard for excellent writing in the mystery genre.
posted by Kat Allison at 10:10 AM on January 26, 2011

Best answer: Thomas Perry's Jane Whitefield books are awesome.

Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins mysteries excel.

What about Simon Brett? I like both his Charles Paris mysteries and his Fethering mysteries.

Arnaldur Indridason is great. And speaking of mysteries with gender-ambiguous characters, if you haven't read Sarah Caudwell, you must.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:17 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding Ian Rankin and Elizabeth George.
posted by srah at 10:19 AM on January 26, 2011

Caroline Graham's Inspector Barnaby mysteries. Sure, they're the inspiration for Midsomer Murders, but the compare very well to Dexter's Morse books. Most of the time, the coppers don't even show up until halfway through the story. Instead you spend a lot of time in a character-rich village setting.

Christopher Fowler's Peculiar Crimes Unit series featuring Bryant and May. This series delves into the oft-overlooked history of London and has a fair bit of (non-wacky) humor.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:34 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A lot of my favorites have been mentioned already, so I'll second the Michael Connelly, Nevada Barr, Tony Hillerman and Laurie King recommendations.

I'll also add:
- Jan Burke - really like her series about Irene Kelly, a journalist who ends up researching the murder of one of her close friends - not too graphic, well written, memorable characters. Goodnight Irene is the first in the series.
- JA Jance - she has two main series, one about a small town Arizona sheriff named Joanna Brady, and one about Seattle detective JP Beaumont. They're a bit light but I quite enjoyed the Joanna Brady series. First in the series is Desert Heat.

If you like psychological thrillers, I also recommend Jonathan Kellerman (and, for murders against a kosher backdrop, his wife Faye Kellerman).

If you can make your way past the grisly descriptions of the murder scenes at the beginning of her books, Linda Castillo's books about Kate Burkholder, a formerly Amish chief of police in a small Pennsylvania town, are also very good. First in series of 2 so far is Sworn to Silence.

I also really liked Donald Harstad's series about a cop in a small Iowa town (Harstad himself was an Iowa sheriff for over 20 years) - first in the series is Known Dead.
posted by widdershins at 10:38 AM on January 26, 2011

Also, it's not fiction, and it doesn't go in-depth into the crimes, but Edna Buchanan's essays about her time as a crime reporter for the Miami Hearld do have interesting characters, a good sense of place, and a sense of humor. In between stories about her personal life, she talks about particular stories, how crime in Miami changed over the decades, good cops and very bad cops. This New Yorker profile gives you a pretty good taste. She writes fiction, too, but I've never read any of it.
posted by amarynth at 10:42 AM on January 26, 2011

You might also like the Rei Shimura series by Sujata Massey.
posted by mogget at 10:44 AM on January 26, 2011

Many good suggestions here. I'd add Ed McBain, king of the police procedural.
posted by bearwife at 10:50 AM on January 26, 2011

Elizabeth George, as mentioned above, has the Inspector Lynley books. Then, once you've gotten through those, you should try Deborah Crombie's Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James books.

Start from the bottom of both lists, but scroll quickly through the George because the newest references a major event.

Both series have similar settings and atmospheres (British police procedurals, detailed but not horribly gory, great character development on and off the job, etc.). I also like the throughline of the stories from book to book. Crombie has a few more than George, and the relationship themes are a little stronger because midway through the series -- not much of a spoiler here -- Kincaid and James get together as romantic partners and separate as professionals (but of course stay involved).

I've enjoyed the PD James books I've read, but many are from the 70s or so and seem a little dated with regards to women's roles, etc. In most cases, though, they're okay.
posted by Madamina at 12:02 PM on January 26, 2011

The criminally under-appreciated John Marshall Tanner series by Stephen Greenleaf. Classic PI novels, and almost every one holds up to repeated reading for me. The same holds true in my experience with Elizabeth George.
posted by Savannah at 12:36 PM on January 26, 2011

Nthing Janwillem van de Wetering. So fabulous.
posted by lvanshima at 12:50 PM on January 26, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much to everyone who responded. I can go through five or six novels in a lazy weekend, so I was in desperate need of some fresh reading. These authors should keep me busy for quite a while!
posted by Daily Alice at 1:03 PM on January 26, 2011

Nthing Laurie R King and Nevada Barr. I dug my heels in and avoided the Russell/Holmes series by King for years and when I finally capitulated and read them I was kicking myself for not having done it earlier. The Martinelli series by King is fabulous as well.
posted by 8dot3 at 1:12 PM on January 26, 2011

Mysteries are a "guilty pleasure" for me, so I fit them in between more "serious" reads. One way I've found to be less guilty about them is by reading only foreign (non-English writers). It's a cool way to learn about other cultures and ideologies. Some above already mentioned Swedes Mankell and Karin Fossum, and Brazilian Garzia-Roza. Some other very good authors include: Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland), Nesser Hakan (Sweden), Johan Theorin (Sweden), Rubem Fonseca (Brazil)

Some English language mystery authors (but I believe non US) are: Louise Welsh (The Cutting Room), Philip Kerr The Bernie Gunther series), John Burnside (The Glister), T. Jefferson Parker (the Outlaw series...he is an American).

Happy reading.
posted by subajestad at 1:42 PM on January 26, 2011

I emphatically second Martin Cruz Smith. It's nice if you read the Renko novels in order, but it's not required. Wolves Eat Dogs is my favorite, though it has a slow first chapter.

Bangkok 8 is another fun one. It's a police procedural in Thailand.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:07 PM on January 26, 2011

I just finished the most recent book in the Nathan Active series by Stan Jones and really enjoyed it.

You could also look through the archives of Marilyn Stasio's Crime column from the NYT Book Review for some good suggestions.
posted by mlis at 2:12 PM on January 26, 2011

Carolyn Heilbrun, a kickass feminist literature scholar, wrote mystery novels under the pen name Amanda Cross. They're pretty good.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:30 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Aaron Elkins
Jasper Fforde
Ann Granger
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (her Bill Slider mysteries)
L.C. Tyler
Ayelet Waldman
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:35 PM on January 26, 2011

Seconding John Burdett, who writes mysteries that take place in Thailand, mostly Bangkok; his protagonist is a Thai cop.

Strong writing - check
Interesting characters - check
Tight plots - check
A good sense of place - check
A sense of humor - check

They're excellent.
posted by rtha at 5:09 PM on January 26, 2011

John Burdett like the others.

Riffle through Donald Westlake's oeuvre. Esp. his Dortmunder series of comic crime novels
posted by IndigoJones at 5:54 PM on January 26, 2011

Nthing Tana French.

Also, you might want to check out Karin Slaughter (her first one is Blindsighted) and Greg Rucka (his first one is Keeper).
posted by bibliogrrl at 5:55 PM on January 26, 2011

Response by poster: I've read one Nevada Barr and two Gail Bowen so far today. I knew you folks would come through for me!
posted by Daily Alice at 7:09 PM on January 26, 2011

Laura Lippman has the Tess Monaghan mysteries, with a smart and cynical protagonist, based in Baltimore. But I think Lippman's best books are not part of that series: What the Dead Know and I'd Know You Anywhere - excellent writing and available on Kindle.
posted by kbar1 at 7:17 PM on January 26, 2011

Australian author Peter Temple is great, especially The Broken Shore and Truth, which won the 2010 Miles Franklin Award.
posted by naturesgreatestmiracle at 12:04 AM on January 27, 2011

Try G.M. Ford - his Leo Waterman series set in Seattle is everything that you are looking for, especially humor and sense of place.
posted by joyride at 6:04 AM on January 27, 2011

Carl. Freaking. Hiaasen.
posted by kostia at 9:20 AM on January 27, 2011

J. S. Borthwick
posted by dizziest at 11:25 AM on January 27, 2011

+1 for Westlake's completely delightful Dortmunder series.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:10 PM on January 27, 2011

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