Investigating the mystery aisles: what do I want?!
July 28, 2012 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I want to read a good mass market crime series featuring the same investigator(s). Of course, I have no idea what's "good" per my taste and the huge bookstore mystery section totally overwhelms me. Please help me figure out where to start?

To give you some ideas about what I'm looking for: I really enjoyed the heavy investigation & puzzling in The Bone Collector by Jeffrey Deaver and some of the other Lincoln Rhyme novels in college. I blew through the Scarpetta novels, also enjoying the investigation aspect of them, until Patricia Cornwell went third person crazypants. I like the writing and the sense of community between the detective and his neighborhood in the Easy Rawlins mysteries by Walter Mosely, but find the mystery parts of the plot less exciting.

What I don't like: I have read two Agatha Christies and think that's probably enough for me. I don't like hardboiled Dashiell Hammett affectation. I don't like mafia/mob stories; I do like Dennis Lehane's writing, but haven't picked up the Kenzie/Gennarro series as a whole because it seems like there's a lot of that. And while there's little better than Sherlock Holmes on a winter's day, I say "crime series" instead of "mystery series" because I like higher tech forensics and procedural details a lot more than that type of old fashioned sleuthing.

Oh, and I strongly prefer that series be contemporary and set in the US.

So what should I be reading? What should I avoid?
posted by houndsoflove to Writing & Language (32 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Ugh, I hate telling you this, but avoid the Matthew Scudder novels. They are fantastic, but Scudder's an alcoholic PI and doesn't have access to the CSI tech you're looking for.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:56 AM on July 28, 2012

The Kathy Reichs books might meet your criteria. I liked Bones for the first few seasons but the books can be much more realistic and detailed but I wouldn't base reading the books on whether you like/dislike the show . My Daughter bought me some of her first books and I found that though not my style were enjoyable reads.
posted by mrgroweler at 8:56 AM on July 28, 2012

Karin Slaughter and Tess Gerritsen.
posted by BibiRose at 8:57 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Janet Evanovich might work for you. (Stephanie Plum / One for the money novels, not her other series.) They're novels set in modern New Jersey and have a very New Jersey feel. It doesn't have high tech forensics, and it tends to be rather silly at times but it does provide a decent mass market mystery.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 8:59 AM on July 28, 2012

I really enjoy the Charlie Parker novels by John Connolly. They are supernatural in theme (NO vampires/werewolves/that type of thing); Parker basically has seen so much evil that he attracts it, but still real-world investigatory/crime-solving.
They're set in New England with a strong tie to those states and towns and that particular feel; a lot of attention is given to that. There's a little bit of organized crime going on the background in some books, except for the latest where there's quite a bit. There's not a SUPER high level of tech.
posted by Sayuri. at 9:05 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I like David Lindsey's series featuring Stuart Haydon.
posted by yclipse at 9:08 AM on July 28, 2012

Colin Harrison 's works, you will enjoy. Try Havana Room to start - real NYC understanding, mood, and dread...
posted by Kruger5 at 9:16 AM on July 28, 2012

John Sandford's Prey series. The characters remain the same all the way through. Start at the beginning, though. Also, Jonathan Kellerman's early stuff is right up there with Patricia Cornwell's. Although I don't think there's nearly as much of the CSI stuff in any of these suggestions as you will find with Scarpetta.
posted by raisingsand at 9:23 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

None of these are particularly high-tech, but you might like:

*Lawrence Block's the Bernie Rhodenbarr "The Burglar Who ...." books (starting with "Burglars Can't Be Choosers"; you're less likely to enjoy his Tanner series).
*David Handler's Berger & Mitry series (that's his series with a color in the title; the first is "The Cold Blue Blood" --- pass on his 'The Man Who ...' titles, you probably won't like them);
*Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak series (set in Alaska, the first one is "A Cold Day for Murder");
*Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire (set in Montana, these just got made into the new "Longmire" tv series; the first book is The Cold Dish");
*Peter Bowen's Gabriel Du Pre (set in Wyoming, the first one is "Coyote Wind");
*Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano series (translated from Italian and set in Sicily; the first in the series is "The Shape of Water");
*Lindsey Davis' Falco series (set in ancient Rome, the first one is "The Silver Pigs").
posted by easily confused at 9:38 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Marcia Muller's "Sharon McCone" series, her husband Bill Pronzini's "Nameless Detective" series. Both set in San Francisco, intelligent and well-written with engaging characters.
posted by mermayd at 9:43 AM on July 28, 2012

My favorite cop procedurals [and I also liked a lot of the more forensic-y things you mentioned] are Archer Mayor's Joe Gunther series. They're definitely more procedural than forensic, but the cop is likable and complicated without being a drunk or an addict. They are very place-y, they all take place in small towns in Vermont [Gunther is based in Brattleboro] and if you know the local area there's a lot of "oh hey!" when you're reading it which is fun, but you can still appreciate the stories without being from here.

You might also like John Lescroart's Dismas Hardy series. A large-ish cast of characters, very procedural, set in San Francisco with a real sense of place there as well.

Also strongly agree with Gerritsen and Reichs.
posted by jessamyn at 9:46 AM on July 28, 2012

Maybe the Inspector Lynley novels by Elizabeth George?
posted by elizardbits at 9:56 AM on July 28, 2012

Ed McBain! Ed McBain! Especially the ones set in the 87th Precinct and especially the ones involving "the Deaf Man".

Not particularly forensic, and mostly not exactly bang up to date modern, but all terrific fun to read.
posted by ZipRibbons at 10:18 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding 87th Precinct. One neat thing about them is how the precinct changes over the years. I think the later ones are perfectly fine in terms of being "bang-up modern," unless you want forensics up the wazoo. McBain (a pseudonym of Evan Hunter, author of The Blackboard Jungle) started writing them in the 50s and continued till his death some years ago.
posted by scratch at 10:45 AM on July 28, 2012

I have read every author suggested in this thread and think you and I have similar taste; I love Lincoln and also loved Scarpetta before it all fell apart. I would suggest Karin Slaugher's Will Trent novels: Triptych, Fractured, and Undone.

If you have a Kindle, my new favourite is the Kate Shugak series from Dana Stabenow. It has much to recommend it, begninning with the fact that the first book in a series of twenty is free. I read it, loved it and blew through the next 19 at a rate of knots, sometimes reading two a day.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:50 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My dad got me hooked on Micahel Connelley's books - I like the Lincoln Lawyer series.
posted by radioamy at 11:00 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anything by George Pelecanos.

posted by broadway bill at 12:04 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Richard Price is good, but don't think any books are part of a series. Seconding Pelecanos. Nthing Lehane.
posted by backwards guitar at 12:14 PM on July 28, 2012

There's also Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. Heavy on the well-dressed tough guy, snappy dialogue stuff, light on techy things.

Spenser has a badass sidekick / muscular backup guy called Hawk. He don't take no shit.
posted by ZipRibbons at 12:25 PM on July 28, 2012

Sorry to go on like this, but... you know how it is with detective stories.

If you can bear to leave the United States and the present day, I cannot recommend Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's series of Martin Beck novels enough. They're Swedish, and awesome.

I loved the squad room characters as much as the 87th Precinct guys by the time I'd read them all.
posted by ZipRibbons at 12:30 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not heavy on the forensics, but I really enjoy Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan books. Great thread by the way!
posted by auntie maim at 1:10 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm reading through Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books, after seeing the Lincoln Lawyer film and looking for more.

I'm really enjoying them; likeable, yet complicated character, a real sense of place (LA) and very much about the procedure and skill of investigating.

I also really enjoy the Wallander books by Henning Mankell, I'm about halfway through, similar in style to the Bosch books, but set in Sweden.

Another +1 for Tess Gerritsen too.
posted by chrispy108 at 2:03 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Go to Fantastic Fiction and poke around. Many good authors, well know and not known at all. Just read "For Whom the Minivan Rolls" the first book in the Aaron Tucker Mysteries series by Jeffrey Cohen. Funny and bizarre.
posted by bjgeiger at 2:10 PM on July 28, 2012

Seconding John Sandford's Prey series, and I agree that you should start at the beginning. They are pretty quick reads. He also has a spin off series now based on a character from the prey series. While there is a tech/forensics component in these books, there is also an emphasis on street-level detective work (talking to people, gathering info).

Michael Connelly (Lincoln Lawyer, Harry Bosch) is probably more what you are looking for than John Connolly, though I like Connolly also.

The Kate Shugak books are great (and thank you DarlingBri for the tip re: free Kindle book!). If those look appealing, I'd also recommend the Anna Pigeon books by Nevada Barr (mysteries set in various state parks...great settings, and an excellent cranky protagonist).

A final recommendation...Timothy Hallinan has, I think, three mystery series. There's an older 5-ish book series (Simeon Grist), set in LA, kind of hard-boiled PA/noir (except protagonist is a professor turned PI). There is a newer series (Poke Rafferty), with an ex-pat travel writer in Bangkok. He also has a couple of books released just for Kindle (Junior Bender...although for some reason only the first is showing up on Amazon right now). These are lighter; main character is a thief with...idiosyncratic morals.
posted by maryrussell at 2:17 PM on July 28, 2012

Linda Fairstein's Alexandra Cooper series is a lot of fun. Cooper is an assistant district attorney in New York who works on mostly sex crime cases. Plus, I can vouch that the details about the DA's Office are accurate!
posted by mlle valentine at 2:23 PM on July 28, 2012

S. J Rozan is good.
posted by Corvid at 4:09 PM on July 28, 2012

I borrowed Tess Gerritsen's Body Double from the library this afternoon and am now two thirds of the way through. This is exactly what I was looking for. I will surely stick with the Rizzoli and Isles series and check out many more of your suggestions. Thanks all!
posted by houndsoflove at 7:58 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you might like (disclosure: my friend) Alifair Burke's two series, one about a deputy DA and one about an NYPD detective, both informed by her experience as a deputy DA in Portland OR.
posted by nicwolff at 9:53 PM on July 28, 2012

The Jack Reacher books by Lee Child are fun.
posted by ms_rasclark at 11:06 PM on July 28, 2012

How could I have forgotten to list Michael McGarrity's Kevin Kearney series, set in New Mexico?!?
posted by easily confused at 12:14 PM on July 29, 2012

Seconding the Jack Reacher by Lee Child books.

Just try to ignore that bitsy, reedy-voiced little Tom Cruise will be playing gruff, gigantic Jack Reacher in what is Hollywood's worst casting EVAR.
posted by cyndigo at 5:45 PM on July 29, 2012

You might enjoy Julia Spencer-Fleming's series about Reverend Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne, a minister and sheriff in a small town in New York State. They're well written and have a terrific sense of place about them.

(The religious elements are not particularly didactic, if that could be a concern.)
posted by Georgina at 9:47 PM on August 1, 2012

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