Detective fiction -- what next for me?
October 11, 2017 8:22 AM   Subscribe

I need a new series to read, but don't know where to turn. I've only read a few, and like Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder and John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee best.

I want, however, a detective and stories that aren't overly concerned with women or relationships, and not exceptionally violent. Or politically liberal. Also tried Spenser novels by Parker but gave up after a few, though he was pretty good. Have also tried Patricia Cornwell stuff, which was good for a while. Got too icky medical. Patterson OK for a few but not long-term. Stephen King's Hodges trilogy was good, but of course got too Kingy/left-leaning. I'm not sayin I'm a total conservative, but more a libertarian. Kind of apolitical. So something fairly hardboiled? Didn't take to Mike Hammer for some reason, but that era sounds about right. The Scudder and McGee I read years ago but went the distance. McGee was best overall. Someone else? Thanks.
posted by noelpratt2nd to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: McGee and Scudder are two of my favorites.

You might like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series. More violent (and less hard boiled) but also similar are the Lucas Davenport novels by John Sanford. Not a detective but Jack Reacher books by Lee Child might also be up your alley.

Overall though, I’d recommend Bosch. There are like 16ish books and they follow a nice slow arc kind of like Scudder.
posted by paulcole at 8:27 AM on October 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

I also like the Bosch books (although the most recent few have been a little less great). There is a side series (that sorta converges into the Bosch books) about his half-brother, Mikey Haller, The Lincoln Lawyer. You don't need to read the Bosch books in order, but you might as well.
posted by radioamy at 10:21 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

As a mystery novelist, and a LOVER of good detective and mystery stories, please let me introduce you to the world of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.
Please check out the first book "Fer De Lance" and go from there. There are over 45 books, and they DO need to kind of be read in order, but don't worry too much about it. Just immerse yourself in the world, it will pay benefits.

They are my absolute Go To for good characters, a good mystery and wonderful writing.
Stout was a Grandmaster for a reason.
You're welcome!
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 10:24 AM on October 11, 2017 [14 favorites]

Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire books. Sheriff Longmire solves a lot of murders in Absaroka County, Wyoming, which, because of its very low population, exceeds the per-capita murder rate of Cabot Cove, Maine, the stomping grounds of Jessica Fletcher.

I enjoy the Reacher novels; he does solve mysteries, usually followed by delivering justice, and I don't mean by calling the cops.

Dan Simmons writes excellent SF, but also writes detective novels, of a kind. I've read the standalone book "Flashback," which is a detective story set in a speculative future of a fragmented former USA, and is not at all left-leaning-- it imagines a world where many right-wing fears and fantasies played out in the future-history. I haven't read his Joe Kurtz trilogy, Hard Case/Hard Freeze/Hard as Nails, which are reputedly hardboiled but also reputedly violent.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:34 AM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ed McBain's 87th precinct books were some of my go-tos when I was into Travis McGee back a few years ago. Also, if you haven't read the Jack Reacher series, you might like them. I found them to be a fast read though, but really hard to put down, if you see what I'm saying

But really, I'm just stoked to find someone else who likes Travis McGee!
posted by Ecgtheow at 10:40 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Robert Crais might work for you. He's best known for his Elvis Cole mysteries, which feature a PI who is sort of an irascible smartass and his laconic, badass partner Joe Pike. Later, Pike got his own novels and those are the ones I think you might like.

Sample Joe Pike dialogue. Pike holds a low-rent gunman face first against the hood of a car while his backup have their guns drawn. "These men are professionals. You are just some asshole with a gun. Nod if you understand."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:43 AM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I also love Trav McGee, and came in here to excitedly recommend Nero Wolfe too. My other suggestion may be too obvious, but if you haven't read Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe books, you absolutely should. I kind of see McGee as a Marlowe of the 60s in a lot of ways.
posted by The Man from Lardfork at 10:55 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sweet good lord YES to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe and Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire! You might also like Lawrence Block's Bernie Rodenbarr ("The Burglar Who...") and Evan Tanner ("The Spy Who Couldn't Sleep") books, as well as both of Peter Bowen's series, Gabriel Du Pre and Yellowstone Kelly.
posted by easily confused at 11:35 AM on October 11, 2017

Love T McGee and I always look forward to reading Lee Child and Michael Connelly. Here are a couple other series set in Florida, Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford series. Although they don't need to be read sequentially, in the later books his marine biologist character was getting too much back story where he was a former covert CIA agent or something. Too much wish fulfillment there. The author has a couple other series as well which I just learned. James W Hall's Thorn series is set in Key West, this character makes a living tying fishing flies and getting involved with nefarious goings on.

If you find yourself liking Crais' wise-ass Elvis Cole books, try Carl Hiassen, also set in Florida, mostly dealing with corrupt politicians, overdevelopment and environmental disasters. Which sounds deadly dull but the books are very funny and irreverent. Some continuing characters (Skink!) but not a series.

For a change in temperature, William Tapley's Brady Coyne series is a Boston lawyer who is always ducking out to go fishing with Rick Boyer's adventurous dental surgeon series character, Doc Adams, so cute. Both series were written in the 80s-90s. The Brady Coyne series seemed to have an ending IIRC so I would read the most recent books last.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:57 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to all, that should be good.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 12:01 PM on October 11, 2017

Another T. McGee fan (well, you could have seen that by my username). Seconding Carl Hiassen, the Bosch books, and Nero Wolfe. Maybe also Elmore Leonard?
posted by PussKillian at 12:16 PM on October 11, 2017

For a change of pace you might try the Erlandur series by Arnaldur Indridason. They are set in
Iceland. Also try the Sean Duffy series by Adrian McKinty. They are set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.
posted by leaper at 12:29 PM on October 11, 2017

The Dave Robicheaux books by James Lee Burke are fantastic.
posted by Ipsifendus at 1:02 PM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm astonished that I'm the first to mention the "Dublin Murder Squad" books by Tana French. They're really, really rich and wonderful.

The first is In The Woods; there are (currently) 6 in all. This series is, I think, unique in that each story is told from the point of view of a different character in the same world, which is pretty interesting.

On the lighter side, btw, don't be too quick to abandon Parker. Once he really got rolling, the books got a LOT better (common to series fiction, I assume -- I found it also true of Sue Grafton). If you started with the earliest Spenser books, drop back in a bit later and see if you like the later work better.

I remember Pale Kings and Princes being particular good; also Double Deuce, Thin Air, and especially Small Vices, etc., all dating from about '87 through the turn of the century. (The latter two were made into TV films, but don't hold that against them.)

Towards the VERY end, Parker started doing "ripped from the headlines" stuff (Bad Business is Enron; School Days is about school shootings; etc.). Skip those. However, if you liked Small Vices, a supporting character from there turns up again in Cold Service and Rough Weather.

In re: callbacks, Potshot is fun because Parker brings back a bunch of other alternative Hawks/"thuggish sidekicks with hearts of gold" to form a Spenserian Voltron of sorts. It's fun, but probably only if you're the sort of obsessive who recognizes the players (and has a spreadsheet to keep track of these books, about which SHUT UP).
posted by uberchet at 1:16 PM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Let me be the first to introduce you to Dashiell Hammett. The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, The Dain Curse ...
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:53 PM on October 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

Nthing Tana French, James Lee Burke, and Dashiell Hammett. Also adding Alafair Burke (J.L. Burke's daughter).
posted by Capri at 4:02 PM on October 11, 2017

Does Perry Mason qualify? On the milder side is Murder She Wrote. There are also around a dozen books based on the Monk tv series.
posted by Beholder at 4:26 PM on October 11, 2017

Ian Rankin's books about Rebus (an Edinburgh detective) are really great. Since they're set in Scotland they probably won't intersect strongly with American politics. I will also say that the Nero Wolfe books are golden.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:41 PM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The classics, of course, are Hammett and Chandler.

Bridging the chronological and stylistic gap between those two (30's & 40's) and the Travis McGee books (which are very 60's/70's) is the Lew Archer series by Ross Macdonald.

Nthing Connelly, Crais, Child, and White, although you might find Child's Reacher series too violent.

I think if you're looking for "hardboiled", most of Block's other series aren't really going to do much for you, except maybe the "Keller" series about a hitman.

Simmons' "Joe Kurtz" short series is worth checking out, and it's very directly inspired by Richard Stark's (Donald Westlake under a pen name) Parker series, where the protagonist is not a detective but a professional thief, tracking down where the spoils of a heist have gone after he's either been double-crossed or had some unexpected development throw the job into chaos.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:02 AM on October 12, 2017

Response by poster: Does Spenser remain w/ his steady girlfriend ("Sara"?) past about four novels in from the beginning?
posted by noelpratt2nd at 9:52 AM on October 12, 2017

I think you mean "Susan Silverman", and yes, he does, at least as far as I read the series, so into the mid-2000's.
posted by soundguy99 at 10:39 AM on October 12, 2017

Response by poster: Stout's Too Many Cooks three pages in... As I feared, and I know I'm being terribly hasty, but may turn out too detailed, and too many characters. And I prefer first-person. Hmm. Above all, I want story and escape. Stuart Woods, in a kind of different genre, sends me right up.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 4:51 PM on October 12, 2017

Response by poster: Loving the Ross MacDonald -- The Ivory Grin. And Joe Kurtz sounds fine over Hoopla. Have the first Bosch and Robicheaux, too, from library.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 11:27 AM on October 13, 2017

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