New or obscure mystery novels set outside the U.S. and UK
December 15, 2017 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Hi, I'm finishing up shopping for my wife and I'd like to get her a really good mystery novel. That's the type of book she seems to enjoy reading most. In the past, she's particularly enjoyed novels set outside of the U.S. and UK (tons of Scandinavian stuff, but also books set in many other countries), but she's read so many of them that I'm having trouble finding something for her this year. So, can you suggest something that is obscure or new?
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
My aunt is a voracious mystery reader, and I'm always nervous about getting her books because I figure if I've heard of them she's already read them; I took a chance with James Church's first Inspector O novel, A Corpse in the Koryo, set in North Korea, and she loved it, so this year I'm getting her the second one, Hidden Moon. You might give them a try.
posted by languagehat at 7:12 AM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Has she read the Inspector Chen ones, like Death of a Red Heroine? I really like those.
posted by Frowner at 7:25 AM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Any of the Miyuki Miyabe novels may be good, such as All She Was Worth or The Devil's Whisper.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 7:35 AM on December 15, 2017

And while we're talking Chens (I plan to start reading the ones Frowner mentions), absolutely check out Snake Agent, the first in the Detective Inspector Chen series. It includes a ton of fantasy, but it's terrific too. Here's a blurb from the Amazon link: "detective in charge of supernatural and mystical investigations. Chen has several problems: In addition to colleagues who don't trust him and his mystical ways, a patron goddess whom he has offended, and a demonic wife who's tired of staying home alone, he's been paired with one of Hell's own vice officeers, Seneschal Zhu Irzh, to investigate the illegal trade in souls. "

Here in Canada we have Louise Penny's Armande Gamache novels (start with her first, Still Life), Gail Bowen's Joanne Kilbourne series (again, starting with the first, Deadly Appearances), Giles Blunt's John Cardinal series and Inger Ashe Wolfe's Hazel Micallef series.

Here's a great link for you that I stumbled across while I was looking for Detective Inspector Chen info: 100 Must-Read Mystery & Crime Novels Around the World.
posted by purplesludge at 7:37 AM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Zoe Ferraris's mysteries set in Saudi Arabia and Malla Nunn's set in South Africa are excellent.
posted by mareli at 7:45 AM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Aliette de Bodard wrote three historical fantasy/mysteries set in the pre-colonization Aztec empire. One of my friends thinks they are really great, although I have not yet read them. I like Aliette de Bodard a lot in general, though.
posted by Frowner at 7:49 AM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Unfortunately, Sujata Massey's newest book doesn't come out until January, but maybe your wife hasn't read The Sleeping Dictionary, which is set in 1930s India (published 2013). I really love her Rei Shimura series, too, set in 1990s Japan mostly, but they are not new.
posted by Kriesa at 7:51 AM on December 15, 2017

Has she read Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver books? They are dated, but very fun.

What about Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher books? They're set in Australia in the 1920's and the heroine is a flapper detective. She also has a shorter series that's more contemporary, featuring a baker named Corinna Chapman.

I haven't read them, but one of my friends really likes Suzanne Aruda's Jade del Cameron books - the heroine is a female, Indiana-Jones type.

I'm assuming she's already read Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters. This author wrote romantic suspense (under Barbara Michaels) and more straight-up mystery novels under the name Elizabeth Peters. She's famous for her Amelia Peabody books, but she wrote dozens of other titles as well.

Dorothy Gilman is another one she's probably already read, but it really fits the bill. Its protagonist is an older woman turned CIA agent, who ends up going to various locations and solving crimes.

If she's at all into futuristic fiction with a romance crossover, author J.D. Robb (a pseudonym for Nora Roberts, the extremely successful romance author), has written a 40-plus volume series set in 2058. The heroine is a (somewhat) hard-bitten NYPD police lieutenant.
posted by dancing_angel at 7:57 AM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Carmen Amato's Emilia Cruz series takes place in Acapulco.

Toby Neal's Lei Crime series takes place in Hawaii. Technically it's the U.S. of course but the stories have a lot of local flavor. Neal was born and raised on Kauai.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:57 AM on December 15, 2017

I love Italian crime books! Donna Leon, Maurizio de Giovanni, Andrea Camilleri.

I also liked Martin Walker's Bruno series, set in France, but it ultimately got too grim for me.
posted by ferret branca at 8:35 AM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Has she read Georges Simenon? Maigret is famous, but a surprising number of people haven't actually read his books, and they should.

Nicolas Freeling's Van Der Valk novels are also old, and also an enduring favourite. The King of the Rainy Country is one of my favourite detective novels.
posted by frumiousb at 8:36 AM on December 15, 2017

Zoo City is a 2010 novel by South African author Lauren Beukes, set in an alternate version of the South African city of Johannesburg. "If you wanted to throw genre signifiers at it, you could say that it’s new African urban fantasy sci-fi noir with a strong musical component. There is even an accompanying soundtrack , released on African Dope records."

There's a lot to this story, but it is in part a mystery novel. I'm not a mystery story buff, so I can't tell you how it fares as a mystery, but as a total work, it's fantastic, IMO. (And the soundtrack is great, too.)
posted by filthy light thief at 8:40 AM on December 15, 2017

Wolf Haas is a very popular Austrian crime / mystery author, several of his books have been translated into English.

Jakob Arjouni a German, also very popular with many books translated into English.
posted by 15L06 at 8:50 AM on December 15, 2017

This thread nudged me to go check for more Detective Inspector Chen books. Good and bad news - there is one more I haven't read, but it appears to be the last one. Wah.

Also seconding Andrea Camilieri, I really enjoy his books. The translations convey the vibrant writing.
posted by PussKillian at 9:04 AM on December 15, 2017

They are a little too...fluffy for my particular mystery tastes, but Alexander McCall Smith's No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series is well written and has interesting characters. Set in Botswana with lots of local color.
posted by bluejayway at 9:51 AM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just remembered that I enjoyed the Bernie Gunther series by Phillip Kerr. Hard-boiled detective series set during and after WWII in Berlin and Vienna. Was recommended in another AskMe thread about Nazi Germany Police.
posted by bluejayway at 9:59 AM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not the MOST non-UK or US, but The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan is set in Toronto and deals with a possible war criminal living there who may have been involved in the Srebrenica massacre. I particularly liked it because it was a pretty multicultural story, the main character detective is a woman and her partner is a Muslim and it was an interesting history lesson about the Bosnian War. There are a couple of other novels (so far) in a series with the same characters.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:05 PM on December 15, 2017

Another favourite of mine is Friedrich Glauser five of his books have been translated into English.
posted by 15L06 at 12:47 PM on December 15, 2017

I recently enjoyed The Borrowed by Simon Chan Ho-Jei, which is set in Hong Kong. It follows the career of one detective through a series of cases with a backdrop of Hong Kong's history and changing social world. I think it came out in 2016.
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 2:14 PM on December 15, 2017

Definitely seconding Donna Leon. Also the 2 Abir Mukherjee novels - set in colonial India.
posted by smudge at 2:57 PM on December 15, 2017

William Marshall's Yellowthread Street mysteries, written back in the 1970s-80s was a wonderfully looney series set in Hong Kong and well worth seeking out.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:57 PM on December 15, 2017

Claudia Piñeiro is really great Argentine crime novelist. I've specifically enjoyed Betty Boo and All Yours.

Thirding Andrea Camiliero.

If historical is ok, Elsa Hart has a series in 18th century China. I liked the first one, which I linked, but haven't gotten around to the second yet.

I also enjoyed The Kiss Murders, a novel I read awhile ago that is set in Istanbul in which the protagonist is a detective/drag performer. I really liked the main character and the setting; this one is a little lighter fare than the other recommendations.
posted by the primroses were over at 9:06 PM on December 15, 2017

Sigh, Andrea Camilleri, sorry, typing too fast.
posted by the primroses were over at 9:18 PM on December 15, 2017

Colin Cotterill's Dr Siri series is set in Laos.

Love Donna Leon's Comissario Brunetti series for the sense of place (Venice--city, food, people)

Stan Jones Nathan Active mysteries--set in Alaska, so US, but not well known and very interesting culture/setting details.

This is my favorite type of book so I'm looking forward to checking out all these other recommendations!
posted by msbubbaclees at 11:21 AM on December 16, 2017

Death Under Sail by C. P. Snow (1932) May not be easy to find.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:06 PM on December 16, 2017

While still Scandinavian (or at least Nordic) you might want to give the Faroese writer Jógvan Isaksen a try. So far, only one of his novels has been translated to english - Walpurgis Tide.
posted by Sourisnoire at 3:49 AM on December 18, 2017

Late to the party here, but Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache books are fantastic. Start with Still Life - set in the Eastern townships of Quebec.
posted by Enid Lareg at 6:42 PM on December 19, 2017

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