Refresh my commute reading, if you please.
May 21, 2013 1:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for new mystery series with a strong, atmospheric setting.

I love mystery series with a strong sense of place, people or culture - series where the setting informs what the characters do and provides a sense of atmosphere that might as well be a character itself.

The location of the setting itself doesn't matter, as long as the story is written well and pulls me into a different world.

I have read and really enjoyed:
- Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak series
- Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series
- Tana French's Irish detectives series
- Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski series
- Tony Hillerman's Navajo Tribal Police series

I tried a few books from Faye Kellerman's Decker/Lazarus series and thought they were well-plotted, but not as atmospheric as what I'm looking for. I also found the first Maisie Dobbs book a little bland for the same reason. The recent spate of Scandinavian thrillers would seem to fit the bill, but I've tried the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Harry Hole series and both had a kind of chilly remove, perhaps as a result of the translation, that really missed the mark for me.

I slightly prefer a contemporary setting but am willing to try historical stuff, should it come highly recommended. Female and male protagonists are both fine, but as with most things I'd like to avoid outright misogyny.

I have seen (and posted, in fact) in this thread, but I'm looking specifically for mystery series.
posted by superfluousm to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (45 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Louise Penny for sure. I happen to enjoy the chilly style of Scandinavian writers like Jo Nesbo and Henning Mankell, but Penny's Armand Gamache series, set in Quebec and a neighboring idyllic village, has a much warmer atmosphere and very strong sense of place. Here is an accurate comment about her series.
posted by lalex at 1:24 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lindsey Davis's Falco mysteries. Wiseguy informer/former soldier investigates crime in ancient Rome. Good historical detail, fantastic characters, solid writing.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:24 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Boris Akunin's Fandorin series, set in late 19th century Russia, is great fun and very evocative, and (IMO) better written than most historical mysteries.
posted by scody at 1:25 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I absolutely adore Dorothy L Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey stories. Incredibly well written, they take place from the end of WW1 through WW2 in London. Adult, funny, and with good women characters, you just can't go wrong.

Start at the beginning and work your way through. Although if you like a good romance, the four with Harriet Vane are pretty fantastic.

Strong Poison
Have His Carcase (she's the primary character in this one)
Murder Must Advertise (she's referenced briefly)
Gaudy Night (takes place in a women's college at Oxford)
Busman's Honeymoon

But really, all the books are excellent.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:26 PM on May 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

The Sherlock Holmes stories certainly qualify. They've got atmosphere out the wazoo. And they've finally lapsed into the public domain.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:26 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

May Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's ten book Martin Beck series is absolutely splendid.
posted by ZipRibbons at 1:27 PM on May 21, 2013

Any of the Reykjavik (Iceland) mysteries by Arnaldur Indridason.
posted by matildaben at 1:29 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Dennis Lehane's Patrick Kenzie novels.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:30 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Donna Leon's Brunetti series.
posted by BibiRose at 1:36 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan series, very atmospheric Baltimore setting (most of her non-series books are in the same "universe", as well).
posted by Kriesa at 1:37 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you like Stabenow, you should love William Kent Krueger.
posted by BibiRose at 1:37 PM on May 21, 2013

Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther books. Historical (WWII and after). The atmosphere is created with amazing but unobtrusive period detail, and great noir-ish dialog. They take place in a number of different countries.
posted by Sybil Stockwell Oop at 1:37 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

James Lee Burke's atmospheric renderings of bayou life in Louisiana are one of the best parts of his excellent Dave Robicheaux series (clocking in at some twenty titles now).
posted by hydatius at 1:38 PM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

May I sugget Cadfael.
posted by BenPens at 1:39 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Steven Saylor's Gordianus the Finder series (ancient Rome)
Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles series (Texas Hill Country)
Lauren Haney's Lieutenant Bak series (ancient Egypt)
Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series (mainly Egypt, 1880s on)
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:40 PM on May 21, 2013

The Benjamin January mysteries by Barbara Hambly (post-purchase New Orleans)
Also the Sister Fidelma ones (7th century Ireland)
posted by calistasm at 1:41 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, the Bernie Gunther books are great.
posted by scody at 1:51 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rick Riordan's mystery series that started with Big Red Tequila really nailed the San Antonio I lived in 20 years ago. I couldn't tell you how good the mystery itself is, as every time I sit down to read I am overcome with nostalgia for my years there.
posted by telophase at 1:51 PM on May 21, 2013

Colin Cotterill's "Dr. Siri" series, set in Laos.
posted by Corvid at 2:00 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

P. D. James' Adam Dalgliesh series. I'd recommend skipping the first few books and starting with Shroud for a Nightingale or The Black Tower, I think that's where the series really hits its stride.
posted by fox problems at 2:06 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

First off, thanks for this thread, because I love these too.

I second Dennis Lehane Kenzie/Genaro series.

I also would add Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus series.

I just recently read Walter Mosley's first book in his Leonid McGill series -- I hear good things of the Easy Rawlins books too.
posted by hrj at 2:13 PM on May 21, 2013

Stephen Booth's Cooper and Fry series.
posted by oneear at 2:27 PM on May 21, 2013

Gilliam Flynn's books all have a wonderful Gothic take on small-town Midwest.
posted by BibiRose at 2:31 PM on May 21, 2013

Julia Spencer-Fleming's Reverend Clare Ferguson/Russ Van Alstyne series, starting with In the Bleak Midwinter, is fantastic. The series has a strong sense of place (a small town in the Adirondacks), people (the town's community, and Clare as a newcomer), and culture (Clare is former Army and an Episcopalian priest).

Sharon Kay Penman's Justin de Quincy series (starting with The Queen's Man) is medieval, set in 1193, but I thought I'd mention it because I thought it was pretty atmospheric and I was delighted by how police-procedural-y it seemed at times.

And thirding Lehane's Kenzie/Genarro series.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 2:45 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is how I look for books, too. A couple of my favorite series that haven't been mentioned:

Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott series (begins with Bootlegger's Daughter). Set in Eastern North Carolina with a very strong feel for the culture of the modern, changing rural South. (The author has another series set in NYC which is good, too, but there are of course thousands of mystery series set in NYC.)

Nevada Barr's books are set in a variety of US National Parks and all star the same ranger, Anna Pigeon. You get a taste of the geology and ecology of many cool places (and plants, animals, and rocks frequently take on important roles), and also park ranger culture itself is pretty fascinating.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:51 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

John D MacDonald's Travis McGee series may be dated, but it does capture that area of Florida well.
posted by youchirren at 2:57 PM on May 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Julie Smith's Skip Langdon series, wonderful pre-Katrina New Orleans series following a female police officer.
posted by Kriesa at 3:06 PM on May 21, 2013

I am cluck-clucking to come into this late and find no plug for Elizabeth George, Inspector Lynley series. Really great and engrossing and "takes you there" to various UK locales.

Also, for those interested in Minnesota, and mystery, there's a series of mysteries where Sherlock Holmes and Watson solve mysteries in 19th century Minnesoa that are quite fun.
posted by loveyallaround at 3:33 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

2nding the Travis McGhee books. Bonus with them is that they are out of print yet plentiful so you can easily find the paperbacks for a buck or 2 used.
posted by COD at 4:12 PM on May 21, 2013

Denise Mina! She has several Glasgow-based series that are gripping and atmospheric (I'm surprised they haven't been made into TV yet).
posted by orrnyereg at 4:14 PM on May 21, 2013

Laurie King's Mary Russell series - starting with The Beekeepers' Apprentice! Excellent Sherlock spinoff - great female lead, smart, well-researched and written, bucket loads of atmosphere; set in the Post WWI-1920's but all over the world. I was never much into history, but loved this representation of everyday life. My favourites are The Beekeepers' Apprentice, The Game, The Moor... worth reading in order though, despite that the series isn't written chonologically ;)

She also writes a contemporary series set in San Francisco (Kate Martinelli), which a lot of people also love. Personally, I don't find Kate as compelling as Mary, but YMMV. Try both =)
posted by jrobin276 at 5:01 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thirding the Wallander series--Swedish, indeed, but not chilly.
posted by like_a_friend at 5:24 PM on May 21, 2013

There aren't enough of them but Michael Malone's Justin & Cuddy books are wonderful. And I'm surprised no one has mentioned Sue Grafton's Kinsey series (unless someone did and I missed it). They're like pulling on a favorite pair of sweats!
posted by rdnnyc at 6:03 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

YES yes Sayers x1000000. Gaudy Night is my favorite book of all time, and it will give you just gobs of Oxford feelings.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:01 PM on May 21, 2013

Seconding Louise Penny-well written books about a lovely part of the world. And nthing Wallander.
posted by purenitrous at 8:18 PM on May 21, 2013

  • Vazquez Montalban's Pepe Carvalho series (Spain)
  • Helene Tursten's Irene Huss series (Sweden)
  • Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza's Inspector Espinoza series (Brazil)
  • Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano series (Italy)

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:39 PM on May 21, 2013

Try Stop, you're killing me for some more ideas for series with specific flavor.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:46 PM on May 21, 2013

If you don't mind that each book gets specifically into some aspect of London, Christopher Fowler's Peculiar Crimes Unit novels are perfect (get the UK editions if you can, without the goofy-ass North American covers). They are amazingly steeped in place and thoroughly underrated outside the UK. They're set in the present day but include (lengthy) flashbacks to earlier parts of London's history.
posted by wintersweet at 9:32 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Karin Fossum is another Scandinavian author, but her books are more well written [well translated?] and there is more character development and she has a better way of setting the scene. It's not quite at the Tana French level, but Karin Fossum's pretty good.
posted by the twistinside at 11:31 PM on May 21, 2013

Nthing Sayers, Laurie R King, PD James and Cadfael.

Ellis Peters (who does Cadfael) also has a series with Inspector George Felse, his wife Bunty and his son Dominic. I like these even better than Cadfael, I have to say. They were more or less contemporary when she wrote them, but seem sort of sweetly archaic now. Fluffy but fun.

Nicola Upson has a series featuring Josephine Tey as her main character. If you don't know, Josephine Tey is the pen name of Elizabeth Mackintosh, a mystery writer in her own right and also very good (she is best known for her defence of Richard III in The Daughter of Time , but my all-time favourite of hers is Brat Farrar). Anyway, Upson's books have a very interesting meta quality because of this. They have a strong sense of place and atmosphere, which is sometimes quite disturbing.

Kerry Greenwood (Australian writer) has two mystery series: the Phryne Fisher books and the Corinna Chapman series. The Phryne books are set in 1920s Melbourne for the most part (there are some adventures in other places) and are just fabulously entertaining and frivolous. Greenwood has said she was aiming for a kind of female James Bond when she wrote them. The Corinna books are set in modern-day Melbourne (though the apartment complex which is the central setting sadly does not exist) and have a similarly strong sense of place. Not really on the same level as Sayers, but nevertheless very enjoyable.
posted by Athanassiel at 2:28 AM on May 22, 2013

G K Chesterton's Father Brown stories are free and rather special.
posted by BenPens at 3:31 AM on May 22, 2013

Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant series.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:53 PM on May 22, 2013

I just read my first Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery, Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill. The protagonist is Dr. Siri Paiboun, a French-trained physician, the national coroner of Laos. The series is set in the mid-1970s. I'll certainly chase down the rest of the series. Cotterill's website is...interesting.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:47 AM on May 28, 2013

« Older Help me stay awake.   |   Too hot to work Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.