More sex & crime, please!
January 10, 2008 2:24 AM   Subscribe

Robert B. Parker, Carl Hiaasen, Janet Evanovich, Tim Cockey, Patrick Quinlan, James Crumley, Elmore Leonard - NOW WHAT?

Looking for crime fiction. Must be American, must be contemporary. Can be funny, dry witted or earnest and grim - as long as it is fun and exciting to read. Private Eyes or other lonesome hero types a plus. Not looking for "bad" pulp fiction (I know that the literary qualities of the mentioned writers can be debated - but I think all of them do not fall under the trash category.)
Please no classics like Chandler and co., no fantasy, no Sherlock Holmes etc.
I want to be right there among the crime in the streets of America.
Thanks! Looking forward to your input!
posted by ollsen to Writing & Language (55 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
James Ellroy. I highly recommend his American Underworld trilogy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:26 AM on January 10, 2008

href="">Nelson de Mille

Start with "Spencerville" and/or Plum Island"

posted by lungtaworld at 2:40 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

My wife, a big Carl Hiassen fan, recommends Tim Dorsey.
posted by JaredSeth at 2:46 AM on January 10, 2008

John Connelly?. Crime fiction with an touch of the supernatural. Think of a modern day Angel Heart.
posted by oh pollo! at 2:58 AM on January 10, 2008

I liked George Higgins' The Friends of Eddie Coyle and The Digger's Game. Heard about Higgins through Elmore Leonard's website. Both great writers.
posted by Tacodog at 3:20 AM on January 10, 2008

I've enjoyed a number of George P Pelecanos' novels. (linkypoo)
posted by Jofus at 3:39 AM on January 10, 2008

Jim Thompson: The Grifters, The Killer Inside Me. Or maybe James M. Cain: The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity. All noir classics that also made some great movies.
posted by spasm at 3:42 AM on January 10, 2008

From the lightweight end, Dave Barry's Big Trouble and Tricky Business are in the Hiaasen crime/farce mould, but imho a little less earnest.
posted by Jakey at 3:56 AM on January 10, 2008

Another suggestion from the Mrs. - Laurie King. Personally I've only read the first of her Kate Martinelli mysteries, A Grave Talent, and it was years ago but I do remember it being a very good read. My wife has read the first three or four.

Jeez, I just noticed I mis-spelled Hiaasen. If she sees that, I'll never hear the end of it.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:08 AM on January 10, 2008

Tell No One by Harlan Coben is a great book. Never read any of his others, though, so wouldn't be too sure if any of them are worth recommending.
posted by tapeguy at 4:18 AM on January 10, 2008

Robert Crais.
posted by bac at 4:33 AM on January 10, 2008

Loren D Estleman is pretty good. His PI Amos Walker is as hardboiled as they come.
posted by goo at 4:36 AM on January 10, 2008

Well, since you're cool with "grim", I heartily suggest the Burke novels by Andrew Vachss.
I'm not so sure how "fun" they are, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:40 AM on January 10, 2008

See also: ReadMe.
posted by yoga at 4:51 AM on January 10, 2008

Donald Westlake specializes in comic crime (some of these books were filmed as The Hot Rock and What's the Worst that Could Happen). Under the pen name Richard Stark he specializes in violent crime (as filmed in Payback and Point Blank). His web site includes samples.

Corson Hirschfeld writes the Mr Lucky series (the detective is a journalist, Mr Lucky is his dog), which sort of does for Hawaii what Hiassen does for Florida.

James Swain (who oddly enough also wrote a book called Mr Lucky) writes hardboiled novels about gambling-oriented crimes.

Jonathan Valin wrote the Harry Stoner series, a worthy successor to Chandler, but they're hard to find now.

And here's an idea for sources: get hold of RAYMOND CHANDLER'S PHILIP MARLOWE: A CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION, a collection of Marlowe stories written by some of the best crime writers in America. Read it, and then follow up on the writers of the stories you liked best.
posted by ubiquity at 4:55 AM on January 10, 2008

The Fletch series of books by Gregory McDonald is pretty breezy and fun. A couple of clunkers, but overall a worthy group of mysteries. Also, McDonald's Flynn books are a branch of the Fletch family tree, and are probably more entertaining than the Fletch canon is.
posted by peacecorn at 5:00 AM on January 10, 2008

Seconding Michael Connolly and Harlan Coben (I've just seen the excellent French film version too).

John Katzenbach (especially In the Heat of the Summer, Shadow Man and Hart's War).

Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone series might be a bit lightweight but they're huge fun to read.

If it doesn't have to be America's mean streets, Robert Goddard has some written some good thrillers.

I'll also add Paul Auster's Music of Chance for good measure because I've enjoyed all of those on your list and love Paul Auster too :-).
posted by ceri richard at 5:10 AM on January 10, 2008

Oh and definitely Dennis Lehane!
posted by ceri richard at 5:12 AM on January 10, 2008

Thank you all very much so far.
I already knew a couple of your suggestions - my list was far from complete, obviously (like James Ellroy - though I sometimes find him unreadable, like for example The Cold Six Thousand, had to put it away after a couple of pages because of the artificial prose style).
Most of your recommendations I don't know yet so I have a couple of hours of amazon browsing and surely a couple of good reads ahead of me.
posted by ollsen at 5:21 AM on January 10, 2008

Kinky Friedman.
posted by softlord at 5:24 AM on January 10, 2008

Joe R. Lansdale’s ‘Hap Collins’ series: Savage Season, Mucho Mojo, The Two-Bear Mambo, Bad Chili, Rumble Tumble and Captains Outrageous.
posted by misteraitch at 5:27 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ollsen - yeah, Elroy's stripped his prose back further and further as he went - I'm not sure if this was a conscious thing or not. If you take a look at this anthology of the three Dudley Smith novels, you can see it happening over the three books. By the time you get to White Jazz he's pretty much dropped all adjectives and modifiers in favour of this scat machine gun kind of delivery. Gritty, and in keeping with the story, but pretty hard going.

By the Cold Six Thousand - which I thought was as near to unreadable as it gets - he may as well be omitting vowels as well for all the sense it makes.

LA Confidential though, is pretty much the best crime novel I've ever read.
posted by Jofus at 5:36 AM on January 10, 2008

I am a huge fan of Robert B. Parker and Carl Hiaasen. I think you might like Jeffrey Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme books - The Bone Collector is the first one in the series.

Another of my favorites is Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder novels - The Sins of the Fathers is the first.

Block also wrote the Bernie Rhodenbarr series which I enjoyed as well.
posted by zoel at 5:37 AM on January 10, 2008

Seconding ceri richard's suggestion of Dennis Lehane. He's the guy behind Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, and probably my favorite crime writer out there these days. His website needs an update (and I seriously hope his new novel is out soon), but I don't think you'll be disappointed with his current works.
posted by Rewind at 5:56 AM on January 10, 2008

Kinky Friedman! Yeah! Totally forgot to mention him, read all his books!
Joe R. Landsdale: Once read a collection of short stories by him that I liked a lot. Actually "The Two Bear Mambo" is already resting in my bookshelf for a couple of years - you know how it is that you sometimes seem to save a book for later and then never get around to read it.
James Ellroy: I was totally fascinated by "My Dark Places", his memoir of the murder of his mother.
posted by ollsen at 6:00 AM on January 10, 2008

Carol O'Connell - especially Stone Angel. Her character Mallory is a NYC cop, but about as lone wolf as you can get.

I'm taking a small liberty with your request for American authors by assuming that you mean North American (and yeah, I know you mean USAmerican, but you gotta read this guy, honest) by giving a huge rec for Giles Blunt, whose books take place in a small Canadian town, and whose protagonist John Cardinal is a cop with secrets. This is not a polite Canada. This is not "nice" Canada.

Another Northern setting, but this time Alaska: Read Dana Stabenow, who writes a longrunning series with a female Native Alaskan former PI as her main character, Kate Shugak. Stabenow's got another series as well, with a male Alaskan state trooper as the lead. If you want to know about political corruption in Alaska, crab boat fishing, or how to store your meat so the bears can't get it, these books will tell you. Fantastic reads.

I know I've got more - I mean, it's scary how much crime fiction/mystery stuff I read. But these are the ones I keep coming back to; these are authors whose books I'll buy in hardcover because I can't wait a year for the paperback. Definitely nthing Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos - Pelecanos is a god - as mentioned above.
posted by rtha at 6:04 AM on January 10, 2008

Sara Paretsky (the VI Warshawsky series - witty and dark)

Patricia Cornwell (the earlier ones are great police/medical examiner procedurals; her later ones get a bit weird)

Kathy Reichs (forensic anthropologist who writes mystery novels about a forensic anthropologist; TV series "Bones" based on her work)

Martha Grimes (British series that is a bit police procedural/a bit Agatha Christie-like cozy)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:15 AM on January 10, 2008

Seconding Pelecanos, especially if you've spent any time in DC. Incidentally, Pelecanos is also a writer for the best show on television.
posted by electroboy at 6:16 AM on January 10, 2008

Dammit, I knew that as soon as I hit post I'd think of a few more.

Thomas Perry
might write more what one would call thrillers, and not so much crime fiction. But the distinctions get so fuzzy that I lose track. No matter: he's good. Very good. He doesn't have a set series, but he's got a couple-three books with a contract killer (the Butcher's boy is how he's known) as the lead, and several others with a female lead whose job is to help people in trouble "disappear."

Lee Child. His protagonist is Jack Reacher, a former Army MP. I'll be blunt: great literature these ain't. But the writing is decent enough to not get in the way of stories that rocket along like...rockets. Reacher is cool, tough, totally competent, and Always Alone. It's a schtick, but it works. These books are delicious candy.
posted by rtha at 6:20 AM on January 10, 2008

Modesty prevents me from recommending my own, but I must say that I'm really shocked that no one has recommended one of the masters of noir, Cornell Woolrich. Dude was brilliant and a big influence on me, along with Erle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason) and Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin).

Again, it's Cornell Woolrich FTW.
posted by willmize at 6:41 AM on January 10, 2008

Second Robert Crais
James Lee Burke
posted by ptm at 6:45 AM on January 10, 2008

Lansdale by all means
posted by matteo at 6:52 AM on January 10, 2008

Dear willmize: Nicely done! And very modest ;-) I just checked out your books at You got me interested.
I guess the reason no one recommended the classics you mentioned is that when I asked for "contemporary" I really did mean "taking place in the here and now".
My dad introduced me to crime fiction when I was a kid and I read all the Nero Wolfe mysteries I could get my hands on as a teenager. Along came Erle Stanley Gardner, Ed McBain, Mickey Spillane among others.
posted by ollsen at 7:09 AM on January 10, 2008

For very good well-written stuff I'd say Sara Paretsky, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane. Head a notch over in the direction of flat-out action/entertainment and I'd say John Sandford. Another notch or two that way and I'd say Lee Child (well-described above). On the humorous end, you already hit my favorite (Hiassen).
posted by madmethods at 7:19 AM on January 10, 2008

Michael Connelly was a crime reporter in LA. I hear that many cops and DAs is LA read him. George Pelecanos writes about DC and Baltimore. I like the way Pelecanos writes about violence: he seems very familiar with the realities of everyday violence.
posted by RussHy at 7:20 AM on January 10, 2008

whatever-ing Michael Connelly. James Lee Burke's New Orleans-based Dave Robicheaux novels are excellent, particularly last year's Tin Roof Blowdown.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:34 AM on January 10, 2008

I'll second Harlan Coben, because I like his stuff, too.

But if you haven't read John Sandford's Prey books with Detective Lucas Davenport...well, dude, you don't know what you are missing! Davenport alone is an amazing character. You can see him develop from stoic cop to insightful investigator, blue-collar man to independently wealthy entrepreneur (he likes Civil War re-enactments and puts together software for strategy games in his spare time). Virgil Flowers, Sloane...there's some other amazing characters in his work, too.

And the criminals! They are really well fleshed-out, too. Sinister, self-righteous and intriguingly insane.

Must. Read. Sandford.
posted by misha at 7:39 AM on January 10, 2008

Seconding Tim Dorsey. I haven't laughed so hard during a book in years, though part of the charm (for me) are his dead-on representations of the Tampa area (especially in Triggerfish Twist).

You also have to love a series featuring a combination spree killer/trivia expert as its hero.
posted by jquinby at 8:33 AM on January 10, 2008

Nthing Lansdale and Ellroy, as well as a number of others mentioned here, and will add Walter Mosley -- great, great stuff.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:35 AM on January 10, 2008

I already have at least three Christmas present books that are in my pile of things to read/in the process of reading, but this thread is offering great temptation to head down to Kepler's (my local-ish favorite indie bookstore) and commit some financial damage upon myself.

misha - if I'm going to start reading Sandford, is there a book I should read first?

Can I put another plug in for Giles Blunt? Y'all here have to read him, because he's just that good.
posted by rtha at 8:39 AM on January 10, 2008

@ollsen: I guess while I'm pretty good at writing, my reading skills leave something to be desired :)
Nevertheless there are some GREAT suggestions in this thread, enough to have something on your nightstand for at least the next several months.

Bon appetit! (Which is French for "Damn, must be a big nightstand")
posted by willmize at 8:47 AM on January 10, 2008

I have been meaning to ask a similar question for ages - yey!

Absolutely agree re Michael Connelly - I think he's excellent. I tend to get really into series where I can see the main character evolve over time, and his Detective Harry Bosch series is exactly the type of thing I love. Gritty, believable and absorbing.

Other authors' series I've enjoyed:
- Jonathan Kellerman - on the psychological side
- Faye Kellerman (his wife) - for an interesting intersection of crime and orthodox Judaism
- J.A. Jance - really love her small-town AZ sheriff Joanna Brady series
- G.H. Ephron - Peter Zak series, again on the psychological side
- Jan Burke - series re a reporter in small town in CA
- Don Harstad - really love his series of small-town cop in midwest - excellently written
- Anna Salter - again on the psychological side

There are tons more but of course now I can't remember any. A great place to go for other suggestions is the Mystery Writers of America's site, in particular the archives of Edgar award winners - I particularly like the Best First Novel by an American Writer list. (Loved the 2000 winner, A Skull Mantra by Elliot Pattison - a murder mystery set in Tibet - really interesting angle if you want something different.)
posted by widdershins at 9:21 AM on January 10, 2008

Nthing Kinky Friedman; he's wonderful, particularly the earlier ones IMHO. Also, although she's not funny like Friedman or Hiaasen, you might like Nevada Barr. You've probably already read Tony Hillerman, right?

And I'm going to leave North America briefly because I swear, if you like the books you're listing, you will also like one of my all time favorite authors, Janwillem van de Wettering. Yeah, okay, his detectives, Grijpstra and de Gier, are mostly in the Netherlands (they're in Maine once and in New York least once) but they are awesome and well worth a trip away from the States.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:24 AM on January 10, 2008

Nthing Lawrence Block & Loren D Estleman. Suggesting Earl Emerson.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:30 AM on January 10, 2008

How could I forget Robert Crais? His The Two Minute Rule is the second-to-last book I read.
posted by tapeguy at 10:10 AM on January 10, 2008

All of these are great individual suggestions but for personal fishing, get yourself over to goodreads. Slug in your favorite and then pick from the 'try these' section. My tastes are pretty much yours. I am slowly moving my list of books read over to goodreads but already have a healthy representation of contemporary American crime and mayhem with mini reviews for you to pick from.
posted by susandennis at 10:20 AM on January 10, 2008

Bill Fitzhugh - Especially Radio Activity.
posted by toxic at 11:34 AM on January 10, 2008

Max Allan Collins is my hero. I haven't read a great deal of Elmore Leonard, but I see a lot of similarities between him and Collins. On the other hand, I should tell you that Max considers Robert B. Parker an annoying, pretentious wuss. But hey, take a look and see what you think.
posted by Clay201 at 12:05 PM on January 10, 2008

A good web site to check out Fantastic Fiction.
posted by bjgeiger at 12:14 PM on January 10, 2008

I will also chime in to support the recommendations for Lawrence Block and Robert Crais. It is my personal opinion that Lawrence Block is one of the best mystery writer's currently alive. I also think Robert Crais is excellent.

Someone above mentioned Donald Westlake, and while very good, his crime novels are often more comic in tone.
posted by bove at 1:17 PM on January 10, 2008

You're just going to have to trust me when I tell you how great Laura Lippman is. She alternates books about Baltimore detective Tess Monaghan with fascinating one-offs. Please read her.
posted by princesspathos at 6:46 PM on January 10, 2008

The Ethical Assassin by David Liss.

It's his only contemporary crime novel so far; funny but grim (and smart).
posted by snoe at 12:02 AM on January 11, 2008

Thank you very very much mefites!
As far as I my research of your suggestions went so far, I have a lot of great new stuff to discover!
Thanks again!
posted by ollsen at 1:56 AM on January 11, 2008

The Kay Scarpetta Series written by Patricia Cornwell. First book in the series is titled Postmortem
posted by GlowWyrm at 3:29 AM on January 11, 2008

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