I’ve been reading mysteries for decades. Here are the authors I’ve found most compelling.
An American who sets her stories in the UK and writes about detectives Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers, is my absolute favorite mystery author. Aside from the fact that I find her style elegant and her engaging, I love Sergeant Havers, who is smart, insightful, bullheaded, and a walking disaster.
The Irish writer Tana French is a recent discovery. Someone in a Goodreads group added her to a list and I picked her almost at random. Her style can be a bit precious, but you quickly get past that and become immersed in her dark, creepy world. I especially enjoyed The Likeness, in which her protagonist, Cassie Maddox, goes undercover.
Scottish crime author Ian Rankin has been around for twenty-five years, and thank goodness. His Inspector John Rebus stories, which are set in Edinburgh, are police procedural masterpieces. Of course Rebus is rather a mess as a human being, but a smart and dedicated cop. I really enjoy the way Rankin uses the setting too.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
What is there to say about Sherlock Holmes? The Hound of the Baskervilles is my favorite.
Grafton’s private investigator, Kinsey Millhone, works out of Santa Teresa, a fictional stand-in for Santa Barbara. She’s hard-boiled, organized, and unbelievably interesting despite the fact that she does a humongous amount of paperwork. Who knew record-keeping could be so much fun?
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
These two American authors write books about FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast together and other heroes separately. Pendergast, a wealthy weirdo from New Orleans, is a superhuman who sounds like he was drawn by horror cartoonist Edward Gorey. I love the magical realism in these books as well as the fun characters and the great plotting.
I had the good fortune to interview Chuck Box for The Writing Show a few years ago and have loved his work ever since. His Joe Pickett stories are set in the U.S. Intermountain West, so they’re sort of westerns. Pickett is a game warden, of all things, and a very principled one at that. Chuck is a gonzo storyteller and I read everything he publishes.
Of course Harris is the author of the Sookie Stackhouse “True Blood” paranormal series, but she also writes mysteries featuring sleuths like Aurora Teagarden, Lily Bard, and Harper Connelly. After reading the Sookie books it took me a while to get into the others because they’re so low-key, but once I did I was hooked. Breezy and just plain fun, they are deceptively simple. While the Teagarden and Bard stories are fairly straightforward, the Connelly series is about a ghost hunter with real powers. Harris’s protagonists tend to be a bit prickly, kind of like Grafton’s Millhone, and I love them.
My favorite series by Scottish author McDermid features criminal profiler Tony Hill and police detective Carol Jordan. You may remember that these stories were made into the BBC series “The Wire in the Blood” starring Robson Green and Hermione Norris. They’re unbelievably creepy and violent, sometimes too much so for me. But McDermid is such a great storyteller that I forgive her.
I’ve just discovered Sheriff Walt Longmire and I think he’s the bee’s knees. After watching umpty episodes of the amazing TV show, I picked up one of the books and was gobsmacked to find that it was even better.
Of course there is no Carolyn Keene. The name is a pseudonym for all those writers who penned the Nancy Drew stories (and still do). Sneer all you like, but these books are classics for a reason and I love them.
While I really enjoy the following authors, I don’t go out of my way to read them anymore, possibly because I’ve read most or all of their books already and most of them are dead and won’t be producing any more.
P.D. James- the English author of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and Cover Her Face was a master plotter who used setting brilliantly.
Ruth Rendell- always creepy, Rendell came up with warped characters you would never want to meet in real life. Inspector Wexford is a pretty nice guy though.
Tony Hillerman- another western! What is it with me and western mysteries? I love the Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee Navajo Tribal Police stories.
Kathy Reichs- you probably know her as the creator of Temperance Brennan, the main character of the TV show “Bones.” You may also know that the books are completely different. Reichs creates fast-moving, factually accurate stories but sometimes her flippant writing style drives me crazy. I still read all her books though.
Agatha Christie- the queen of mystery. I think I’ve read it all now—at least twice.
Dorothy Sayers- Agatha Christie for grownups, or something like that. Sayers didn’t produce many books, but the ones she did write are sophisticated and intricate. Of course Lord Peter Wimsey is the ancestor of one of my characters (but I haven’t used the name for intellectual property reasons).
R.D. Wingfield- this English writer’s stories formed the basis for the TV series “A Touch of Frost,” starring David Jason. He isn’t that well known, but what an interesting writer!