Searching for literary mystery/crime books
December 23, 2017 3:13 PM   Subscribe

I've burned through all of James Ellroy and I'm looking for new literary mystery/crime books in the same vein.

I've been on an Ellroy binge for a few months and I'd like to read some similar books. I love American Tabloid, with perhaps LA Confidential as the runner up. I like the dark themes, the tough guy characters, the period slang, and the insane conspiracy/corruption stuff. I also like that he's smart - he doesn't spoon feed or provide obvious exposition on how a character is feeling (the old writing advice - "show don't tell"). (I recently read the Power of the Dog by Wilson and there was way too much "tell don't show.") The demented sex/incest stuff in some of Ellroy's books is not so interesting. I love Pete Bondurant, who has killed over 300 men in cold blood but who seems like a pretty good guy otherwise. Same with Buzz Meeks.

I know about the older noir writers like Hammett and Chandler, but I think I'd prefer something fresher? I've also thought about picking up the Ripley books by Highsmith, but always get put off by the idea they might be old/dated. This might be dumb. Amazon recommends Connelly, but I read a couple of his and found them just not as smart as Ellroy or others I like. Google also recommends Pelecanos - never tried him, though the Amazon reviews are kind of lukewarm? To throw out a few random others I like: Richard Price, Elmore Leonard, and Jo Nesbo.

If you've got an author I should try, what's the book you would start with?
posted by Mid to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You read Phillip Kerr's Berlin Noir books? Hardboiled detective, set in the Third Reich. The first is March Violets. He returned to the series and has written a bunch more chronicling his detective's career in the war and after. I wouldn't say he's as smart as Ellroy, but I liked both.
posted by thelonius at 3:21 PM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Walter Mosley might be a cool flipside of Ellroy, as his work is often set in the LA of the same time. Since both Mosley and many of his characters (including maybe his best known creation, Easy Rawlins) are POC, it would be a different window into a similar world. Devil in a Blue Dress is the logical first step there, as it's the first Rawlins novel.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:22 PM on December 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I started on James Lee Burke with Black Cherry Blues and have been enjoying his novels since.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:22 PM on December 23, 2017

Yes, Kerr is in the right ballpark, though I find the Holocaust stuff a little too much - and somehow his depictions of violence are somehow a little too disturbing; Ellroy is like a dark comic book whereas with Kerr people are really getting hurt. I should have also mentioned that I love Le Carre's older books.
posted by Mid at 3:27 PM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Robert B Parker
posted by theora55 at 3:32 PM on December 23, 2017

I should have also mentioned that I love Le Carre's older books.

Have you read the new one? I liked it a lot. It revisits his old characters and the story from "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold".
posted by thelonius at 3:34 PM on December 23, 2017

Thomas Perry's older books, starting with Metzger's Dog, are quite good. The Jane Whitefield ones are somewhat different, and might not be to your taste, but the rest are a varied and interesting bunch. Perry's last few books have been well off the mark.

Down on Ponce by Fred Willard is a hysterically funny crime story. Sadly, he's only written one other book, and it's less good.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:00 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

You might try the series by Jussi Adler-Olsen (read 'em in order). It's Scandi crime fiction, but a very compelling cast of characters (one of which is still pretty much a mystery after several books).

Most importantly however, is a vein of humour running through these, which imho sets them apart from a lot of other Scandinavian crime fiction which can get pretty bleak.
posted by parki at 5:15 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your tastes seem to line up rather well with mine when it comes to crime fiction. I've lately been enjoying the Parker novels by Richard Stark (aka Donald E Westlake).
posted by philip-random at 6:05 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Tana French.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:07 PM on December 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'd try Robert Crais. Start with his Elvis Cole books. If you like those, you can move to the Joe Pike ones and then his other characters (although I don't find these as compelling).
posted by sardonyx at 6:22 PM on December 23, 2017

You might enjoy Ross Thomas' work, as well - political/crime thrillers, with a good, distinct voice.
posted by sagc at 6:28 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Series of 20 Doc Ford mysteries by Randy Wayne White: set on the Gulf Coast of Florida, deeply grounded in local culture and eco-systems.

DKA Files series by Joe Gores: wisecracking and fast moving.

Logan Macrae series by Stuart MacBride: extraordinary voice and sense of place (Aberdeen, Scotland)

Sonchai Jitpleecheep seies by John Burdett and Dr. Siri Paiboun series by Colin Cotterill. Settings in Southeast Asia and complex social relationships.

Pelecanos, Crumley, and James Lee Burke are drenched with distilled spirits. I have less sympathy for protagonists who drink bottles of bourbon each day.
posted by ohshenandoah at 7:46 PM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

You might like Marcia Clark's books, especially the Samantha Brinkman ones (the series starts with Blood Defense), or Alafair Burke's.

(Noting your response upthread about violence, I will say that personally found the second Jussi Adler-Olsen book too violent and did not keep reading the series.)
posted by ferret branca at 8:26 PM on December 23, 2017

Came here to mention Ross Thomas and Joe Gores and am seconding the recs.
Dennis Lehane
Ishmael Reed
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:54 PM on December 23, 2017

I think you'll find that sense in a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction. I'd suggest Arnaldur IndriĆ°ason's Detective Erlendur Sveinsson...I didn't know that Reykjavik could be so noirish, but it is. There are two series: one set in the present day and one set in the late Cold War era, when there was a huge US military base located in Iceland. Erlendur is very much in the tradition of detective as outsider in both.
posted by filthy_prescriptivist at 9:34 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Robert Crais's Elvis Cole / Joe Pike novels are kind of an acquired taste. They're largely first-person, and Cole has a penchant for asides directly to the reader, like "You see what I mean?" After reading a few of them, they seem formulaic, and the heroes' trumpeted, but flexible morality begins to feel contrived. The Cole books are of that genre where the hero has an unstoppable war-veteran ally (Pike). There are lots of those, from authors like Dennis LeHane and others. I actually like Crais's other books more than the Elvis Cole ones.

Speaking of LeHane, a lot of his are very good.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:55 AM on December 24, 2017

Echoing the Robert Crais and Richard Stark recommendations. Another possibility: Joe R. Lansdale's "East Texas noir" books about Hap and Leonard.
posted by Epixonti at 6:08 AM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've read a couple-or-three Ellroy novels, and even though it seems quite different, I'm thinking you'd like Smilla's Sense of Snow, if you haven't read it: smart; dark; chilly; very atmospheric; a tough, complex, emotionally elusive protagonist; shadowy back story, and ... some other psychological similarities that I'm struggling to immediately articulate.
posted by taz at 10:42 AM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

You might also want to give Charles Willeford a shot.

Definite second on the Willeford. Miami Blues and its sequels are reasonably easy to find, but if you can find his earlier stuff... (His works tend to range between existential and lightly sociopathic, but don't fall into Ellroy depths.)
posted by Guy Smiley at 1:56 AM on December 25, 2017

If you're looking for something modern, I'd recommend the following:

Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem. Takes place in future SF/Bay Area. The world is interesting. Everyone has karma points. Do something good, they go up. Do something bad, they go down. Low enough and you get put on deep freeze and come out some time later. There are genetically modified talking animals and babies with the heads and brains (and lifestyle) of adults. People buy drugs from vending machines and everyone has their own personal blend. The detective is a Chandler-esque tough guy who's ex girlfriend essentially ran off with his penis while leaving him with her vagina, an opportunity that arose due to the miracles of modern (future) science. People get the news via interpretive classical music. It's rude to ask direct questions. And of course there's a murder.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. Set in the present day but in an alternate reality in which European Jewish refugees were sent to what was supposed to be a temporary settlement in Alaska in 1941 but are still there. Israel was destroyed in the late 1940's and the Jews living in the Alaskan settlement are contending with a possible eviction looming. The detective is a divorced alcoholic investigating the murder of a man who lived in the same building.

The City and The City by China MiƩville. Detective investigates murder in fictitious city that occupies the same (or at least much of the same) geographical space as its sister city but due to the politics of the situation every resident in each of the respective cities has to ignore every resident and everything in the other city - as if none of it is there. It's illegal to acknowledge or interact with people from the other city. There's a whole cultural set of behaviors and thinking for dealing with this (can't remember what they call it). Of course the murder investigation forces the detective to cross these lines.

Motherless Brooklyn also by Jonathan Lethem. Not as good as Gun, with Occasional Music but still pretty interesting. Follows a crime family underling with Tourette Syndrome who's trying to piece together his life after the small-time crime boss he works for is murdered. The dialogue is pretty interesting considering the protagonist's disorder.
posted by ConradLandsman at 12:59 AM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Small update:

I read The Dry by Jane Harper and it was pretty decent. Not really noir, but a good crime read sort of along the lines of Gone Girl.

I also read Willeford's Miami Blues - really weird! Definitely overtones of Elmore Leonard, though weirder and the hero/protagonist was surprisingly sort of a loser (lives in a welfare motel, gets beat up, doesn't really do any amazing detective work).

Thanks for all the suggestions - will keep going.
posted by Mid at 2:08 PM on December 30, 2017

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