Mystery series in atmospheric settings, not too much violence.
January 13, 2015 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend some well-established series of not-too-gory or graphic mystery novels in interesting settings.

My mom likes to read series of mystery novels rather than one-offs. She gets really into the characters and their personalities and she likes when minor characters reappear and events from past books come up, etc etc. She also likes it if the settings are novel or important to the plot in some way. I haven't read most of her favorites, so I'm not sure what else they have in common, but maybe some of you will notice another common thread.

Recently she enjoyed:
-Archer Mayor's Joe Gunther series (all set in Vermont)
-Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series (all set in National Parks)
-Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak series (a National Park* in Alaska)
-all of Michael Connelly's books, which are interconnected and very LA-y.

She's also read the Kinsey Milhone alphabet series, which used to be her favorite but hasn't seemed to hold her interest over the past few books. Robert B. Parker is too snarky and know-it-all for her. She'll read Dick Francis sometimes but said she finds his books too violent.

She likes there to be at least a double-digit number of books in the series when she starts it; she hates waiting for the next book to come out and likes to read them in big gulps. Please recommend some books, y'all!

*There is more than one murder mystery novel series set exclusively in US National Parks and my mother has read both of them. Idek.
posted by Snarl Furillo to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
I've only read a couple of Steve Hamilton's Alex McKnight series, but they didn't strike me as gory or graphic. They're set (mostly) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a very rural locale.
posted by Etrigan at 1:46 PM on January 13, 2015

I'm not sure if setting is quite important enough in this series, but I am a fan of the Donna Andrew Meg Langslow series.

There is a massive list of cozy mysteries by theme, and included in them are various locations (by state, cruise ships, British, churches). Cozy will cover not-gory/not-graphic, though she seems to be okay with things that are heavier.
posted by jeather at 1:52 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

John D. MacDonald's novels set in Florida may work, and James Lee Burke's set in Louisana.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 1:56 PM on January 13, 2015

Maybe Ruth Rendell's Wexford series? It's been around for ages so there'll be plenty of books to catch up on.
posted by orrnyereg at 1:58 PM on January 13, 2015

Craig Johnson's Longmire books (there are 12) take place in Wyoming, and the blood/violence level is about the same as Barr and Stabenow.
posted by rtha at 1:58 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Gideon Oliver novels (about a forensic anthropologist or something married to a park ranger - lots of exotic archaeological settings, lots of pacific northwest scenes)
posted by inkyz at 2:14 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series are set in the late 1920s Australia (there are something like 18 books now. Also the TV series, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, but there are some distinct differences between book and TV: I happen to like both, and they've got a lovely strong sense of both place and time. They might be a bit more violent than she likes, based on the Dick Francis comment, but I think maybe not in the way she means she dislikes?

Kerry Greenwood also has a modern series (also in Australia) with a baker, Corinna Chapman as the main character, and those deal with some complicated hard issues (drug abuse, f'ex) but have a bit more of a cozy feel in other ways.

Elizabeth Peters wrote a number of linked mystery series: she's probably best known for the Amelia Peabody books, of which there are many, which are early 20th century, mostly with plots centering around archaeological excavation in Egypt, but not all of them. (Some of them play up the pulp genre more than others.)

She has other series too (I'm especially fond of her Jacqueline Kirby books), and she also wrote a lot of romantic suspense as Barbara Michaels that I find has a lot of lovely sense of place and while there aren't overlapping characters along a series (there's one series of three books that does), I often read them in chains for comfort reading.
posted by modernhypatia at 2:16 PM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

She might like the Flavia De Luce series by Alan Bradley.
posted by amarynth at 2:23 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think the Mrs. Pollifax series by Dorothy Gilman is just the ticket. (I loooooove Mrs. Pollifax, and she checks all the boxes: not too gory/graphic, interesting settings, events/characters from past books come up.)
posted by pitrified at 2:29 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I like Dorothy L Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey books. They are probably some of the best written literature in the genre if not the entire English language.

Start at the beginning because the characters do follow an arc. They take place right after WWI and go through the start of WWII.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:30 PM on January 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

Second the Flavia de Luce series, though there are only 7 books so far. The detective is a young girl, the setting is a small English town post-WWII, with some fair amount of eccentricity and murders, but the books themselves are not violent.

I tend to like my murder mysteries set in the 20th century UK, so my favorites are - Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series (the heroine is Sherlock Holmes partner). The series starts during WWI and continues into the '20s, with the stories taking place in UK and around the globe. I like these because I've read Sherlock Holmes and enjoy the reimagining of the characters and characteristics. The 13th book is coming out next month, and these are longer than a lot of other mystery series (in the 300-400 page range).

Jacqueline Winspear writes the Maisie Dobbs mysteries, set in London post-WWI. The 11th of these comes out this spring I think.

PD James Adam Dagliesh mysteries (also UK), may be a bit too violent?

Of course there are the classics - Agatha Christie (my fave, particularly the Poirot books), Dorothy L. Sayers (the Lord Peter Whimsey books could work).

Stateside, Carolyn G. Hart's Death on Demand are a little fluffy for me, but your mom might like them because I don't find them at all violent, and there are already 20+ to read if she does. Set on a small island off Carolina, the main characters are a wife who runs a mystery bookstore and her PI husband. Lots of repeat characters and references (though it seems astonishing how many people get murdered on the picturesque small vacation island....)

I liked the Glynis Tryon historical mysties by Miriam Grace Monfredo, set in upstate New York during the mid-19th century. There are only 6 of them though.
posted by Caz721 at 2:47 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Cozy will cover not-gory/not-graphic, though she seems to be okay with things that are heavier.

Yeah, I wouldn't say she doesn't like any violence, just that I've never known her to be interested in horror, torture, etc. I feel like there's basically an entire genre of series about horrifying sexually-motivated serial killers and I've never known her to get into those either. I think "the dead guy was bludgeoned with a cricket bat and our hero is In Danger once or twice per book" is fine. But like I said, I haven't read some of her favorites so I don't have a perfect scale.

Thanks for the answers so far! Please keep suggesting- she is an avid reader and will burn through these in no time. :)
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:57 PM on January 13, 2015

Louise Penny's Inspector Armand Gamache series is set in a village in rural Quebec and they are a delight. I've only read the first three but I've heard they only get better and the sense of place is terrific.
posted by something something at 3:13 PM on January 13, 2015 [7 favorites]

One of my stock answers: the Bryant & May novels by Christopher Fowler. Lovely, evocative descriptions of London that make the city essentially a character in the novels; quirky, memorable personalities; interesting stories. They are SO GOOD. The US editions are, unfortunately, a little bit edited, but still excellent.

Fowler is a horror writer, but IMO the books are more atmospheric than gory.
posted by wintersweet at 3:15 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am a fan of the Louise Penny books, too. I think they work best if read in order, as the stories and people are interconnected. I love the Mary Russell and Flavia de Luce books, too. I have read most of the above, too, and concur on the Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, Lord Peter (and similarly Margaret Allingham's Campion series), and the other recommendations, too.

Violence and gore varies in the recommendations below, but none have the over-the-top blood and gore of Kay Scarpetta or the Kellerman books. I don't usually read those types either.

She might like Julia Spencer Fleming novels that have a woman who is an Episcopal priest as the main character. Only 8 books so far

There are 19 books in the Deborah Knott series by Margaret Maron. They are set in the south and Deborah has a large, extended family that helps set the atmosphere in the books.

Sharyn McCrumb has two different series. The Ballad series are set in the mountains South and explores the traditions and people of the area. 10 books in the series. The other is about a forensic anthropologist Elizabeth MacPherson--8 or 9 in that series.

There are 12 books in the Tess Monaghan series by Laura Lippman. The city of Baltimore is a key part of the books.

Marcia Muller 's Sharon McCone series is set in San Francisco over the last 30 years or so and are quite entertaining. There are 30 or so books in that series. Muller has other books, too, that are stand alone.

There are 9 books in the Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series by Jane Cleland--not so atmospheric, but one does learn a bit about antiques.

I have recommended this several times but the web site Stop, You're Killing Me is a great resource to find new things to read. Goodreads is another good source of recommendations--search a book you liked and then browse 'Readers Also Enjoyed.'

The last 10 years or so have produced dozens of series of "cozy" mysteries set in tea rooms, yarn shops, coffee houses, B&Bs, or with chefs, caterers, accountants, golfers, or other "regular" professions. Check out jeather's link above for some ideas.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 3:52 PM on January 13, 2015

Seconding Amelia Peabody; they'd be just right. They should be read in order, and they get better as they go along.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:04 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh my gravy! There's so many out there: Try the M. C. Beaton's Hamish McBeth novels set in a tiny Scottish village (I don't like the Agatha books, but she might) There's Alexander M. Smith's #1 Ladies Detective Agency books (Africa) , Ian Rankin's John Rebus novels, Author Upfield's Inspector Bonaparte, set in Australia with an Aborigine detective as well as the Richard Jury novels by Martha Grimes, whose name I always confuse with Elizabeth George. Grime's books are named for old English pubs. I love the Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters, James Doss has a great series set in the Four Corners country with Indian Charlie Moon (and his grandma, who is hilarious.) Lovejoy in the Johnathan Gash books is a great character--frustrating, funny, and clueless. Ian Samson is one I've been looking for, but haven't read--heard he's quite amusing. Gail Carriger's The Parasol Protectorate is good. Ruth Rendell is always at the top of the list with Inspector Wexford. Sofie Kelly's Magical Cats is supposed to be better than other cat-related mysteries, but I haven't been able to find any yet.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:29 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

She might like J.S. Borthwick; most of her Sarah Deane mysteries take place in Maine, but the first is set on a birding trip in Texas. Quite a few characters recur, including great-aunts and police offers, and relationships between all of the characters develop over the course of the series.
posted by dizziest at 6:12 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

How does she feels about topic-themed books? I really liked the Archer Mayor series and I also liked the John Dunning "booked" series. There are only five and there aren't going to be any more but they mostly take place around old books and mysteries therein. It's called the Cliff Janeway series.

I feel like there's basically an entire genre of series about horrifying sexually-motivated serial killers

Yep, avoid Patricia Cornwell, Jeffrey Deaver and Greg Iles then. Maybe John Lescroart's Dismas Hardy series? (how does she feel about major characters getting killed?)

Tana French also has only five books out (so maybe too early for her) but they are very atmospheric and nostalgic and take place in various parts of England. Similarly Deanna Raybourne has these Victorian period pieces but again there are only five. Maybe the Mary Russell series? You know, Sherlock Holmes WIFE? They travel all over but have people popping in and out and are very non-sadistic (I hate that same stuff)
posted by jessamyn at 6:31 PM on January 13, 2015

Now you've got me looking for more reads...

Oh, the places you'll go--a list of authors who place their mysteries in a foreign setting.

And the ultimate site for searching out books by location, occupation, sub-genre...
posted by BlueHorse at 8:13 PM on January 13, 2015

She might also enjoy the Roma Sub Rosa series, by Steven Saylor. They take place in Republican Rome, and the protagonist is Gordianus the Finder (beware the wikipedia article about the character, as it contains spoilers). Quite wonderful, and pretty historically accurate. They're not exactly cozies, but they're not stalked-by-serial-killers either.
posted by rtha at 8:40 PM on January 13, 2015

Came to nth Laurie King's Mary Russell series... so so good. The Beekeeper's Apprentice kept me up all night! On GoodReads. These are very very well written... atmospheric, great characters, solid plots, as well as excellent vocabulary and complex sentence structure. Stephanie Plum* this is not.

*These are fun, but oh so dumb. Beach reading.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:20 PM on January 13, 2015

Peter Lovesey writes two series and a few other books as well. I've read and enjoyed his Peter Diamond series taking place in contemporary Bath. I haven't yet read his "Sergeant Cribb" series featuring a Victorian-era police detective based in London.

Rhys Bowen writes at least three series. I've read and enjoyed the Molly Murphy books which features a female Irish immigrant who becomes a private investigator in 1900's New York City. I haven't yet read "Her Royal Spyness" series featuring minor royal Lady Georgie, 34th in line to the British throne, or her "Evan Evans" series featuring "the constable of Llanfair, a cozy little Welsh town filled with unforgettable characters--and the occasional mystery."

And although it may be a shorter series, Ann Cleeves writes an interesting series that takes place in the Shetland Islands. She also wrote the Vera Stanhope series and a few others.

Thanks for posting the question, I'm enjoying the suggestions.
posted by calgirl at 10:04 PM on January 13, 2015

The Aimee Leduc series by Cara Black is set in present-day Paris. I only read the first in the series (Murder in the Marais), so it's not a strong recommendation, but something to check out.
posted by Jane Austen at 10:17 PM on January 13, 2015

I'll bet she'd like the Richard Jury series by Martha Grimes. They're British mysteries, same set of characters, each book named after a pub - Help the Poor Straggler, The Old Silent, The Dirty Duck, The Grave Maurice, etc. There's a good little write-up on wikipedia under Richard Jury which lists all the characters and a little blip about each.

If she likes the mystery part more than the blood part, she'll like these. There are a load of 'em, too.
posted by aryma at 11:10 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

There's Alexander M. Smith's #1 Ladies Detective Agency books (Africa)
These are what I was going to recommend. They take place in Botswana, Mma Ramotswe is impossible not to love, and it's not gorey at all. Very cosy mysteries that smell of rooibos tea.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:13 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series (9 books, locations move from Germany to Argentina, set between 1930s and 1950).

Rumour has it that HBO might be picking it up for a series (Tom Hanks as executive producer), and while HBO drama can be great, the books (in particular the first three, the Berlin Trilogy) are excellently written in a way that might get lost in translation.

Gore? None. Violence - yes, usual level for detective fiction, and not at all pornographic about it. Cosy? Not particularly, Bernie lives through the build-up to WW2 and its aftermath. Atmospheric settings: yes – while this period has been somewhat over-imagined in popular culture, Weimar Berlin is represented in a way that's closer to Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz, and the action shifts to Poland, Munich, Buenos Airies, Havana and Prague.
posted by Joeruckus at 7:57 AM on January 14, 2015

Some wonderful recommendations here! I can't believe no-one's yet recommended Colin Cotterill's Dr Siri series - set in Laos, so you have that interesting backdrop, but also my favourite thing about the books is the relationship between Dr Siri and his friends, and the way they help him get through problems with the authorities and solve his mysteries.

Two recommendations set in Italy: Aurelio Zen by Michael Dibdin and the Montalbano books by Andrea Camilleri. They both have at least a dozen books in the series. I prefer the first, my mum prefers the second.
posted by ontheradio at 3:28 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have to recommend the Bryant & May series by Christopher Fowler. Full Dark House is the first; it is worth it to read them in order. There is a lot of London atmosphere and history, and it is really the perfect mix of Golden Age and modern.
posted by dame at 6:00 AM on January 15, 2015

I love Dick Francis for a change of pace. His horseracing-centered stories are off the beaten ... well ... track.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 2:41 PM on January 15, 2015

Since no once has mentioned it, I like Victoria Thompson's Gaslight mysteries, set in turn-of-the-(last)-century New York. There are 16 at this point.

I also heartily second Margaret Maron, I love the Deborah Knott series and recommend it often. Very strong sense of place. Over a dozen in that one right now too.
posted by timepiece at 12:16 PM on January 22, 2015

posted by The corpse in the library at 6:38 PM on January 22, 2015

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