I do love a good mystery, and since my mom and some others have been asking what I’d recommend, I thought I’d follow up with this List of Mysteries. Since this is all new, I’m not using NEW until I update this in 2015, although I may add series in as I find them in my bookshelves, and yes, I’ll use that NEW then. I hope you find it useful.
Maeve Maddox at Daily Writing Tips has defined the differences between mystery, thriller, and suspense — I know I’ve been curious.
If you know someone else who would enjoy it, please share or tweet it!
Mystery finds “the main character is occupied in tracking down the truth about an event, usually a murder. If the protagonist is in any danger, it is usually moderate, and becomes a problem only as the detective approaches the truth. You can also divide Mystery into seven sub-genres: amateur sleuth, cozies, crime, detective, historical, police procedural, and private investigator.
Suspense finds “the main character may become aware of danger only gradually. In a mystery, the reader is exposed to the same information as the detective, but in a suspense story, the reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist. The reader sees the bad guy plant the bomb, and then suffers the suspense of wondering when or if it will explode.”
Thriller finds “the protagonist is in danger from the outset”.
I’ve definitely decided to keep romantic suspense in an upcoming romance list.
Clive Cussler‘s Dirk Pitt thriller series involving NUMA, an organization involved in marine environmental and scientific research as well as righting any wrongs. It’s the “wrongs” that are the focus of the stories with lots of action and adventure on the high seas as marine engineer, Dirk Pitt, and his partner, Al Giordino, find shipwrecks and avert global catastrophe or world domination. Cussler’s NUMA Files is a thriller spin-off from Dirk Pitt with NUMA agents Kurt Austin and Joe Zavala taking down the bad guys. I own a few of both. Great Saturday-afternoon-at-the-movies adventures!
Adventure – Middle-Grade
Iain Reading‘s Kitty Hawk Flying Detective Agency is a children’s mystery with an intrepid female protagonist. It’s both adventurous and educational. A fun read. I was given one as an ARC, and I look forward to reading more.
Dana Cameron‘s Emma Fielding is an archeologist who keeps finding dead bodies.
Clive Cussler‘s Fargo Adventure is an adventurous suspense as Sam and Remi Fargo travel the world hunting down treasures. They’re actually quite scrupulous in their finds, so it’s a good example of responsible digging. And it’s Saturday-afternoon-at-the-movies with this loving and very capable couple.
Elizabeth Peters‘ Amelia Peabody is hilarious about an archeological couple digging in Egypt in the late 1800s. It’s an interesting relationship she has with her singleminded husband. She’s a Victorian feminist who knows all and isn’t afraid to let you know! To be fair, Peabody has a heart as big as the pyramids and will do anything to help anyone. It’s quite the household she and Emerson put together throughout the series, and you’ll love the variety of characters. She’s witty and includes historical tidbits that pull you in. I can always feel the heat and need to wash off the dust after I’ve read her. Trust me, you’ll never be bored with Peabody! I own less than half…and I NEED more!! Peabody is just too funny, and I love the archeological aspect besides the support and quirkiness found in this family.
Jennifer Chiaverini‘s Elm Creek Quilts revolves around a group of quilters in Waterford, Pennsylvania, who solve mysteries and aid each other through life’s ordeals. Some of the stories go back in time. I own one.
Elizabeth Peters‘ Vicky Bliss is “an art historian with a specialty in medieval Europe who works at the National Museum in Munich. Her work brings her into the realm of brilliant artists and cold-blooded killers, forgers and art thieves, embroiling her in danger”.
Maggie Sefton‘s Knitting Mysteries takes us to Fort Collins, oops, I mean, Fort Connor in Colorado where Kelly Flynn, an accountant, has relocated from Washington DC after the death of her aunt. Part of her grief therapy was taking up knitting lessons at the House of Lambspun where she’s made some great friends and encountered more mysteries than you can shake a knitting needle at.
Books, Librarians, Writing
Lucy Arlington‘s Novel Idea is a cute title and has cute titles for the books, very useful when it’s all about a middle-aged journalist who’s been laid off a long-term job and is forced to take a job as secretary at a literary agency. Based in Inspiration Valley, North Carolina. I’ve only read the first book in the series, annnddd the main character was too stupid for words.
Michael Connelly‘s Jack McEvoy is a suspense driven series which moves between Denver, Colorado, and Los Angeles as a journalist and an FBI agent team up to solve crime. Connelly has a number of other series that are on my TBR.
Charlaine Harris‘ Aurora Teagarden finds a librarian in a small town in Georgia who enjoys discussing crime with her Murders Club until it happens for real.
Carolyn G. Hart‘s Death on Demand finds a mystery bookstore owner involved in solving crime. It’s cozy with a quirky cast of characters, and as irritating as I find Annie, it’s a good thing this town has her as the police are useless. I own a couple.
Alice Kimberly‘s Haunted Bookshop is set in Quindicott, Rhode Island, where Penelope Thornton-McClure solves crimes with the help of Jack Shepard, the store’s resident ghost-sleuth, a private investigator murdered over 50 years ago in the bookstore. A different sort of romance as well. Any future books will be released under her other name, Cleo Coyle.
Stieg Larsson‘s Millennium Trilogy involves a Swedish reporter and an anti-social genius hacker/investigator. Tense and dramatic, your heart rate and brain activity will definitely be up.
Kelley Armstrong‘s Nadia Stafford is a woman assassin, and if that ain’t a switch-up, I don’t know what is. It’s a fun read that lets you inside an assassin’s mindset and motivations.
Adrian McKinty‘s Michael Forsythe, a.k.a., Dead Trilogy, focuses on Michael, an illegal immigrant from Ireland and a criminal looking to get out. I’ve only read the first book and found the philosophizing the most interesting. It felt slow and took awhile to get into the story.
Robin Allen‘s Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop is about a restaurant inspector. It’s a fascinating cast of characters with some interesting scenarios. I have at least one.
Diane Mott Davidson‘s Goldy Schulz Culinary Mysteries is one of those cozy cooking ones and revolves around Goldy Schulz, a caterer in Aspen Meadow, Colorado, who’s married to a deputy in this mountain town and is busy raising her son. It includes recipes in the book. I have most of these.
Cleo Coyle‘s Coffeehouse Mystery finds Clare running Madame’s coffeehouse and solving crimes. A cozy mystery series that will make you crave coffee and pastries.
Katherine Page Hall‘s Faith Fairchild includes some great recipes in between Faith solving crimes in her Massachusetts small town or at their vacation home in Maine…and sometimes when they travel abroad. It’s a great homey mystery series that shows us the behind-the-scenes travails of a minister’s wife even as Hall brings in everyday life. I think I own one.
Melinda Wells‘ Della Cooks Mystery is definitely a cozy. Della Carmichael has opened a cooking school that emphasizes easy and practical cooking — and she just got an offer to do a cooking show! I do like the characters in this, and Della is a strong woman who pulls herself and those around her up as she solves the mysteries.
Detectives, Agents, Oh My
As huge as this category became, I thought I’d try dividing it into sub-categories… As this collection combines mysteries, thrillers, and suspense, I’ve broken it up my own way.
Cops & Detectives
Rhys Bowen‘s Constable Evans is set in Wales with a single cop who lives in the village of Llanfair. It’s cozy with insight into Welsh village life and hearty fare. I absolutely adore Evans, and I think I have one of them.
Ken Bruen‘s Inspector Brant dives into a corrupt southeast London police precinct with a very corrupt Brant for whom you can’t help but cheer. Bruen’s Jack Taylor is an Irish ex-Garda who now does private investigation. He’s a drunk who smokes too much and isn’t averse to drugs, and yet he gets the job done. Gritty and excellent.
James Lee Burke‘s Dave Robicheaux is a deputy sheriff and recovering alcoholic in New Iberia, Louisiana. You will always want Dave on your side with his kind heart and unswerving sense of justice. It’s a strange mix of cozy — you can’t help but love his family and his work ethic — and brutal, especially when he and Clete Purcell, his former Homicide partner, get together on a case. Brilliant writing. I’ve read the entire series and am slowly buying them as the budget allows!
Tania Carver‘s Brennan & Esposito is a horror-thriller and finds a British detective and a profiler solving some incredibly awful crimes amidst great tension. It reminds me of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad.
Nelson DeMille‘s John Corey is a mystery-thriller and cracks me up with his snark. He’s the police part of a federal terrorism task force, and it’s more of a battle against the FBI than it is against the terrorists. Full of tension and quite the adrenaline booster.
Tana French‘s Dublin Murder Squad gives each man on the squad a chance to solve a mystery. Based in Ireland and full of drama and tension. Well-written.
Elizabeth George‘s Inspector Lynley follows a Scotland Yard detective-cum-earl, Thomas Lynley, and the abrasive Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers as they solve crimes. There’s a nice supporting cast in this and each important character has an opportunity to dominate. I own at least half.
Martha Grimes‘ Inspector Jury is one of those cozy mysteries with the titles taken from pubs. It’s a very likable cast of characters that finds a war orphan becoming friends with an eccentric ex-earl and both diving into the highs and lows of society assisted by Jury’s hypochondriacal but dependable sergeant, Alfred Wiggins. The last couple stories are losing that warm fuzzy though. I own most of these.
David Hewson‘s Nic Costa is set in Rome, Italy, and I adore roaming the streets and getting a personal tour of so many ancient buildings and artwork as Nic and his fellow characters solve crimes. We get a sense of what it’s like to live in Rome as well as the police procedure in Italy. Great stories. One warning: stock up on Italian food before reading! I managed to buy one…and I need more!
Reginald Hill‘s Dalziel & Pascoe are two mismatched British detectives who somehow complement each other as they solve crimes in Yorkshire.
Tami Hoag‘s Oak Knoll is a suspense series which features Detective Tony Mendez as he solves crimes in southern California.
Craig Johnson‘s Walt Longmire finds us tagging along with the sheriff of Absaroka County in Wyoming. It’s something of a wild west with broad, empty plains, ghost Indians coming to the rescue, and a small cast of eccentric characters including Henry Standing Bear. I do love Henry! It’s warm and cozy, and if you like mysteries, you’ll adore Walt. I’m buying these up as I can.
J.A. Konrath‘s Jack Daniels Mystery finds Lieutenant Jacqueline Daniels of the Chicago PD a mess in her personal life but battling the bad guys in her professional one. She’s cranky and tough with a vulnerability you can’t help but worry over. Especially with all the bad guys she battles! I own a couple.
David Lawrence‘s DS Stella Mooney is a detective sergeant in London who makes bad life choices. Well worth reading, however, for its strong, very realistic characters with true-to-life backgrounds AND reactions. The worst I can say about it is that there aren’t enough stories written! I think there are only four so far.
Michael McGarrity‘s Kevin Kerney is temporarily sidelined by an on-the-job injury and quickly slips back into various positions in different police departments in New Mexico as the series progresses. McGarrity has a nice hand with the twists and turns, and I loved my trip around New Mexico. I also enjoyed Kerney’s character. The rest of the series is on my TBR.
Jo Nesbø‘s Inspector Harry Hole is about a Norwegian detective who never seems to solve any crimes in Norway. I only read the first story as I found it slow to start, it wasn’t until halfway through that it got interesting. Hole’s weaknesses felt contrived, there were lots of loose threads and stuff that didn’t add up. I’ll probably try again later…when I’m bored…nothing to read…
Robert B. Parker‘s Jesse Stone is a classic about a police chief in Paradise, Massachusetts.
Ridley Pearson‘s Walt Fleming is about a sheriff in Sun Valley, Idaho. This character makes me think of Johnson’s Walt Longmire. No, it’s not the first name *grin*, but it is the style of both policemen who seem laidback but are constantly aware of what’s going on and are determined to exact justice. Although Fleming has more going on in his life than Longmire does with all those high-powered jerks complicating his life. Great characters with breadth and depth. Incredibly intelligent people in the population surrounding Sun Valley, Idaho, with an unexpectedly homey, small town setting yet with the glitterati revolving about making it a location for intrigue and suspense.
Louise Penny‘s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is one of my new favorites. It’s a cozy mystery with a sharp yet fatherly detective in Montreal, Canada. And brilliant writing! And a must-have. I’ve picked up one so far.
Ian Rankin‘s Inspector Rebus, former SAS, now an Edinburgh cop determined to take the bad guys down no matter where it takes him. Intelligent and brilliant. And he’s influencing Siobhan his way, lol. Yeah, I want this one. His Inspector Malcolm Fox is a subseries with Fox part of Complaints and out to get Rebus.
John Sandford‘s Lucas Davenport is a switch with a “corrupt” hero who will do what he must to bring down the right bad guy. To relax, he designs video games. Based in Minneapolis, this is a compelling series with a great core of characters and lots of tension and suspense. I love it. A series I want to own.
Catherine Aird‘s Inspector Sloan is a traditional British mystery. I’ve only read one book, and it was too long ago for me to remember much about it.
Nevada Barr‘s Anna Pigeon Mysteries follows Anna from park to park on a grand tour of America’s national parks as she solves mysteries. Almost a cozy. I own a few of them.
Graham Brown‘s Hawker & Laidlaw is a mixed-bag of a thriller incorporating ex-CIA, archeology, and science. I’ve only read one book so far in the series (of three books), and it started off feeling same-same, but it quickly developed into a story that got my heart rate going. Being inside Hawker’s head is a bit like being inside Reacher’s, and Brown’s characters have unique personalities with unexpected deliveries. Danielle (the Laidlaw half) has a heart and wants to help people. I’m anxious to find out what happens next.
Lee Child‘s Jack Reacher is something of a lone vigilante. Retired from the army, Reacher is finally seeing the country he’s protected most of his life. And he’s doing it his way. He can’t help it, however, that he continually runs into situations where people are threatened. Being Reacher, he just has to help. And it is so much fun to read how Reacher’s mind works, how he deduces and concludes…and then acts. BAM! If you love a story about the underdog winning out…pick this one up! I’ve started collecting this one too!
J.A. Konrath and Ann Voss Peterson‘s Codename: Chandler is a horrifying suspense series involving a “cold-as-ice female assassin whose cover gets blown and she goes on the run”. This one’ll get your heart rate up!
Robert Ludlum began his Jason Bourne suspense series about a highly trained assassin with amnesia struggling to survive his past and keep the new life he builds. Eric van Lustbader has taken the series over with Ludlum’s death.
Ian Rankin writes as Jack Harvey — I’m not sure about the reasoning for this — in his Jack Harvey “series”, which is well-written. They’re standalones about men on a mission, and the style is a bit different from Rankin’s usual.
Government Agents & Spies
Dorothy Dunnett‘s Johnson Johnson is a British agent in the 1960s whose cover is a portrait painter. Each mystery seems to find him in the background. I only have one of these; they’re hard to find.
Ian Flemings‘ original James Bond is the epitome of the dashing spy and is more known through the movies about Flemings’ books.
Dorothy Gilman‘s Mrs. Pollifax is a cozy with this unassuming white-haired NJ widow with unusual hats and a brown belt in karate who volunteers for CIA Carstairs and Bishop around the world. I own at least half.
Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child‘s Pendergast, a thriller, is about a quirky FBI agent, and the main reason I want to read more of this series. I’ve only read one, and it was Pendergast’s persona that has pulled me in.
M.C. Beaton‘s Agatha Raisin is an incredibly irritating character in a cozy English mystery. I love the setting but couldn’t get past Agatha, a retired PR agent who eventually sets up her own detective agency in Carsley in the Cotswolds.
Sue Grafton‘s Kinsey Millhone is a private investigator in (fictional) Santa Teresa, California (based on the city of Santa Barbara). I own some of these.
Laura Lippman‘s Tess Monaghan is a former journalist and now a private investigator working to get her PI career off the ground in Baltimore, Maryland. She’ll pull you right in…
Sara Paretsky‘s V.I. Warshawski is great fun as a woman private detective with a hankering for high heels. Based in Chicago, V.I. hunts down the bad guys and solves her cases. I own about a third of this series.
Rick Riordan‘s Tres Navarre is a former English professor and tai chi master who has become a private investigator in Texas. He also seems to have sunk pretty low…
Zoë Sharp‘s Charlie Fox is a sadly terrifying thriller with a wronged woman, ex-British-army, determined to help other women learn how to defend themselves even as she investigates injustice. Excellent read.
Detectives, Agents, Oh My – Middle-Grade
Franklin W. Dixon‘s The Hardy Boys is another classic about two teenage brothers, Frank and Joe Hardy, who solve crimes.
Carolyn Keene‘s Nancy Drew is a classic about a teen with a driver’s license and a convertible who solves mysteries. In 2003, a ghostwriter was brought in to continue the series as Nancy Drew: Girl Detective.
Detectives, Agents, Oh My – YA
Jennifer Lynn Barnes‘ The Squad features a cheerleading squad who happen to be spies with the perfect cover. This is fun with a twist, as the new reluctant cheerleader gets pulled on board to save the country between pep rallies.
Josh Lanyon‘s Adrien English Mystery about a gay bookseller and the closeted gay homicide detective Jake Riordan. This is really well-written and, ahem, hot as we read along with Adrien solving murders and developing a precarious relationship with Riordan. Definitely a series I want to pick up as Adrian makes me laugh with his wit. Lanyon’s Holmes & Moriarity finds two gay writers solving mysteries. It’s funny, but it’s missing the homeyness of Adrien English.
Abigail Roux & Madeline Urban‘s Cut & Run is hilariously funny about a pair of gay FBI agents struggling with their relationship as they take down the bad guys. This is a great read when you need a lift. I’ve started buying these up.
Jefferson Bass‘ Body Farm focuses on Dr. Bill Brockton, a forensic anthropologist in Tennessee. It’s good but a bit cold, although to be fair, I’ve only read one story so far, and it’s in my TBR.
Patricia Cornwell‘s Kay Scarpetta is a renowned forensics pathologist, a colonel with the reserves, and a lawyer with her own quirky group of family and friends as she moves up and down the East Coast. Most of Cornwell’s stories are excellent, but the latter ones are making me question her continued interest in the series. I own her earlier stories. Her Winston Garano is another forensics series (of two books) that involves a mixed-race state investigator in Massachusetts.
Kathy Reichs‘ Temperance Brennan is a forensics anthropologist who divides her time between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Montreal, Canada. It’s intrigue, mystery, history, great characters, and beautifully detailed (and involving) details in a well-written story. The only connection the published series has with the TV series is the author’s name, the primary character’s name, and her profession. Yep, I have a few of these too.
Karin Slaughter‘s Grant County (I’ve also seen it referred to as Dr. Sara Linton) finds Sara, a pediatrician in a small town, also handling forensic chores. I’ve only read one book so far, and it struck me as sweetly small town with some great characters including Sara’s loving family. Her ex-husband is the sheriff who wants her back. Definitely in my TBR.
Funny / Comics
You can’t help but crack up at Donna Andrews‘ Meg Langslow Mysteries — also a cozy mystery set in Yorktown, Virginia — that revolves around Meg, a blacksmith, and her family — her whole family. Between Meg and her dad, Dr. Langslow, the bad guys and the police chief don’t stand a chance. I own a few of her books…so far.
Deborah Sharp‘s Mace Bauer finds us up to our elbows in the crazy Bauer family in smalltown Florida. Somehow, Mace, her sisters, and her mama just keep falling into it. Sharp reminds me of Carl Hiaasen, although his stories have a deeper storyline. Very surface, very Florida cozy. Line up the daiquiris and boil up some shrimp!
Another huge category that I’ve broken down into somewhat chronological subcategories.
Lindsey Davis‘ Marcus Didius Falco is a first century Roman smart aleck detective. It’s more of a cozy than a realistic example of Roman culture. Her series, Flavia Albia is Falco’s adopted daughter who was born in Britain and works as a private investigator during the reign of Emperor Domitian.
Ruth Downie‘s Gaius Petreius Ruso is a Roman army doctor “who transfers to the 20th Legion in the remote Britannia port of Deva (now Chester) to start over after a ruinous divorce and his father’s death. Things go downhill from there.” An interesting look at Roman military habits and its interactions with a primitive Britain. I own one of ’em.
John Maddox Roberts‘ SPQR finds us in ancient Rome where the wild Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger is serving as a commissioner for the Commission of Twenty-six and has discovered he has a flair for snooping. Roberts does a beautiful job of conveying a sense of the time from the clothing, the food, the streets, the politics, and more.
Steve Saylor‘s Roma Sub Rosa is another ancient Roman detective series that’s warmer than Maddox’s SPQR. Saylor does a great job of showing us Rome. You’ll feel, smell, and taste your way as Gordianus solves one mystery after another. Another brilliant series.
Medieval: 600s to 1600s
Michelle Diener‘s Susanna Horenbout and John Parker is historical suspense with a twist set in the court of Henry VIII. It’s a partnership between a Dutch painter and a King’s man who thwart plots and thefts. On my TBR list.
Margaret Frazer‘s Dame Frevisse, a.k.a., Sister Frevisse, finds a Benedictine nun solving mysteries in medieval England. Frazer makes me feel as though I’m there in mid-1400s England and pulls in a great many historical facts to give additional life to her stories. Her Joliffe the Player series follows a troupe of actors around England, providing a fascinating look, literally, behind-the-scenes of an actor’s life in medieval days. Towards the end, Joliffe ends up spying for Bishop Beaufort. There are a few stories in which Joliffe and Frevisse meet. My one irritation? Frazer died.
Philip Gooden‘s “Shakespearean Murder mysteries feature Nick Revill, a fledging detective and actor with the Chamberlain’s Men theatrical company in the early 17th century.”
Alan Gordon‘s Fools’ Guild Mystery is excellent! Discover the truth about jesters as spies and advisers of this secret, 13th century organization, as Gordon incorporates Shakespeare into these stories. This is an always-read for me.
C.L. Grace‘s Kathryn Swinbrooke, a fifteenth century physician and chemist, solves murders. Grace also captures the sense of the times, the manners, the dress, the interiors of buildings, the styles. An excellent series. Another gotta have.
Susanna Gregory‘s Matthew Bartholomew started well with this fourteenth century physician and his friend, Brother Michael. Gregory shows you the time period of Cambridge, England with an in-depth look at the town-and-gown controversies as well as a look at the college itself in its beginnings. I must, however, confess, that Bartholomew quickly drove me nuts with his obliviousness.
Ellis Peters‘ Chronicles of Brother Cadfael relates the twelfth century stories of a warrior-turned-Benedictine-monk who uses the lessons he learned in the Holy Land to work with his herbs in the monastery to heal. Those same lessons come in handy to solve mysteries as well. The stories are historically accurate and take place during the battles between King Stephen and Empress Maud for the crown of England. I own most of ’em.
Candace Robb‘s Owen Archer, a former Welsh archer who lost an eye and now spies for the powers-that-be in 1360s York, England. I own all but the last one.
Peter Tremayne‘s Sister Fidelma takes place in mid-600 Ireland, mostly, since Fidelma and Eadulf do travel quite a bit. She’s the sister of an Irish king and a lawyer holding a high rank of her own. She uses her logic and her husband’s knowledge of medicine to solve crimes from the byre to court to the Vatican. Another series I adore for Tremayne’s portrayal of the time period AND for the equality that Irish women are accorded. Another series I’ve started buying into.
1700s to 1850s
Diana Gabaldon‘s Lord John Grey is a spin-off series from Gabaldon’s Outlander series and revolves around the military man who loves Jamie Fraser. Most of the mysteries involve some aspect of the lifestyle John must hide. I own several of these.
Robert McCammon‘s Matthew Corbett is a law clerk (he later becomes a problem solver) in eighteenth century New York solving crimes.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes is another classic.
Anne Perry‘s Charlotte & Thomas Pitt are a Victorian couple. She’s from farther up the class scale than her husband who has struggled to make his way as a policeman. They’re in love, and Thomas is much more liberal than the average man as he accepts sleuthing help from his wife. There are some great core characters in this you can’t help but love, and Perry takes us back to the time period with a strong showing of its smells, styles, manners, and dress. I own about half of this series. Perry’s William Monk has had several careers — police inspector to private inquiry agent to superintendent with the Thames River Police — who works with his wife, Hester, to solve mysteries. I’ve only read a couple of stories, and I suspect it’s very much like Charlotte & Thomas Pitt.
The Turn of the Twentieth Century
Rhys Bowen crosses the Atlantic and goes decidedly down-market with Molly Murphy, a very bright young Irish immigrant in turn-of-the-century New York City who interns with a detective before she sets up on her own. One of my favorites. Bowen is brilliant at setting the scene with the dress, manners, mores, and taste of the times. I have a few books.
Clive Cussler‘s Isaac Bell is a mystery involving Isaac Bell, a no-nonsense private investigator with the Van Dorn Detective Agency, in early 20th century America.
Influenced by World War I
Dorothy Sayers‘ Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries is both historical and cozy as Lord Peter and Bunter stick their noses in everywhere. Peter to stay busy and slay the demons that have come home from World War I with him, and Bunter to support his lordship. It’s great fun and a fascinating peek behind the scenes, so to speak. Compassionate, intelligent, and all the fun of the 1920s. And I own every one of ’em! Decades later, the Sayers estate granted Jill Paton Walsh a license to continue the Lord Peter Wimsey series with Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and she’s taken off with Lord and Lady Peter’s married life. The first two were pretty good, but it’s been losing its Sayers-ness since then.
Charles Todd‘s Bess Crawford focuses on a World War I British army nurse who begins investigating mysteries during the war and continues after the war ends. Her father, the Colonel who uses his contacts in government and the military when she needs the help, and her mother are supportive. And a family friend helps out at times. Todd does a nice job of bringing the time period to life. Todd also writes Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard who returned from serving in World War I suffering from shell shock and haunted by a ghost from the battlefield. Another series you can feel. I’m slowly picking these up for my own library.
Jacqueline Winspear‘s Maisie Dobbs is another that begins before World War I but quickly progresses past it into the 1920s. Maisie is a private investigator and psychologist who uses yoga to discover whodunnit. It’s somewhat cold in feeling, but a poignant exploration of the English class system, for Maisie starts as a curious servant in a lord’s home in London who catches their attention and interest. Beautifully written. Yes, I own some of these.
1920s through the 1970s
Margery Allingham‘s Albert Campion Mystery is said to be a parody of Sayers’ Wimsey, but one which matured and came into its own. Like Wimsey, he’s an unprepossessing noble who is an amateur sleuth in early twentieth century England.
Nicholas Blake‘s Nigel Strangeways is an Oxford graduate and amateur sleuth in England. Blake was a pseudonym for poet, Cecil Day-Lewis, who set his stories to be contemporary with his time period, in other words, the year of publication is the time period for the story.
Rhys Bowen‘s Her Royal Spyness finds Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter to the Duke of Atholt and Rannoch. And she is flat broke at the start of the Great Depression. As the thirty-fourth in line for the throne, she has been taught only a few things, among them, the perfect curtsey. But when her brother cuts off her allowance, she leaves Scotland, and her fiancé Fish-Face, for London. It’s antics-away as Georgiana tries just about everything to earn her keep even though she’s trained for nothing, avoid her shrew of a sister-in-law, and not bring dishonor upon the monarchy. Her only real success is sleuthing… I find it a touch uneven.
Heron Carvic‘s Miss Seeton Mysteries remind me very much of Agatha Christie except, Miss Seeton is a befuddled, retired art teacher who has a “slight psychic ability for drawing things more accurately than they appear”. If you like Christie, you will adore Miss Seeton. Be aware that only the first six or so of the stories are by Carvic. After that, different authors were brought on board to continue the series with varying degrees of success. I think it’s set in the late 1960s or 70s. I want these. I find that I keep myself back over the various stories, and I so want to read about her again!
Agatha Christie‘s many standalone novels; Hercule Poirot is her fussy Belgian detective with the little grey cells while Miss Marple is the extremely observant spinster; Superintendent Battle and Bundle Brent are with Scotland Yard and while good, they’re not as compelling as the others; I vaguely remember Ariadne Oliver, Poirot’s sometimes sidekick and a sleuthing novelist; Tommy & Tuppence is one of my favorites, for they’re a typical 1920s fun-loving couple of the Jazz Age who detect for a living; and, Mr Harley Quin who confuses his friend, Satterthwaite. I haven’t made a list of the ones I own, but I suspect I own most of ’em. Agatha Christie set her stories to be contemporary with her time period, in other words, the year of publication is the time period for the story.
John Creasey has a slew of series and pseudonyms, and Creasey wrote them throughout this time period. They’re not literature, but Saturday-afternoon-at-the-movies books that are perfect for an easy escape. My favorite is the Toff, the high-living, villain-hating, law-bending Honorable Richard Rollison who will make you laugh and weep; his Inspector West is with Scotland Yard and a warm man who hunts for justice; I adore John Mannering, The Baron, a highly successful jewel thief and antiques dealer who thwarts the law and solves crimes in London; Creasey as J.J. Marric wrote Gideon, a gruffer detective and the Commander of Scotland Yard’s Criminal Investigation Division; Dr. Palfrey heads up a super-secret government department (think Q) bent on thwarting Nazi spies; Gordon Craigie and his Department Z is always working to protect national security; Dr. Cellini written under the pseudonyms Michael Halliday (for U.K. readers), Jeremy York (for U.S. readers), and sometimes as Kyle Hunt; Superintendent Folly written under the pseudonym, Jeremy York; and, I also adore Gordon Ashe’s Patrick Dawlish, who works with British Intelligence and later at Scotland Yard, for he’s such a teddy bear with his wife.
I knew I didn’t own all the John Creaseys, but I at least thought I knew all the series, so Bruce Murdoch was a surprise along with Liberator and were originally published under the pseudonym, Norman Deane.
Frances and Richard Lockridge‘s Mr. and Mrs. North takes you back to the late 1930s with Pam as the ubiquitous housewife and Jerry an editor. An intriguing look into the time period with its manners, clothes, drinking, and style as the Norths — Pam in particular — solve mysteries. While it’s easy enough for the Lockridges to pull us into their time period because they’re writing a contemporary [to them] detective novel, it’s still well written as it pulls me in.
John D. MacDonald‘s Travis McGee is a most unusual, ahem, detective. Based in Florida, he’s actually more of a bum who takes on jobs to help people when he needs the money. He’s fun! I own a few of his, so far.
Ngaio Marsh‘s writing style is so similar to Agatha Christie’s that I had to keep checking the cover to verify who I was reading. If you like Christie, you will enjoy Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn, a Scotland Yard detective whose wife is a famous painter, Troy Alleyn, and is usually accompanied by Br’er Fox. The series begins in the 1930s and goes through to the 1970s. I own ’em all…bwah-ha-ha…
Walter Mosley‘s Fearless Jones should include bookstore owner, Paris Minton, as well since it takes the two of them to solve the problems that seem to come to Paris. Particularly good for its portrayal of black men in 1950s L.A.
Nicola Upson‘s Josephine Tey is all about a writer of mysteries in 1930s British theatre. I wouldn’t think of calling this a cozy, but Upson does a beautiful job of conveying the time period, and I like her characters.
James Lee Burke‘s Hackberry Holland is an alcoholic who dabbles in the law as he attempts to follow his family legacy. A life-changing series of encounters in the first book, changes Hack’s life and sets him on a new path. I enjoyed the third book the most.
Marcia Clark‘s Rachel Knight is a mystery and finds an L.A. DA paired up with a Homicide detective solving crimes as they prep for trial. This is cozy with a close group of women friends who support each other. I have the first four as eARCs.
John Grisham‘s Jake Brigance is a renegade lawyer determined on justice.
Åsa Larsson‘s Rebecka Martinsson is set in the countryside in Sweden around the town of Kiruna and focuses on Rebecka Martinsson, a tax attorney with a history in Kiruna. Excellent series, and one I want to own!
Sir John Mortimer‘s Rumpole of the Bailey is a barrister who tries cases in the Old Bailey in London by day and snarks about “She Who Must Be Obeyed” by night. He’s an irreverent old fart who doesn’t get on because he won’t play the game. Good stories. I own a couple.
David S. Khara‘s Consortium is a terrifying thriller about a clandestine organization that began with the Nazis and intends to remake the world.
Maggie Sefton‘s Molly Malone is another accountant who gets involved in mysteries — a reversal of Sefton’s Kelly Flynn in that Molly has moved to Washington D.C. to care for her ailing mother hmmm, talk about keeping in tune with the times, *grin*. Molly works for a politician she respects, but hey, it’s Washington… I own one of these.
Dan Brown‘s Robert Langdon is a Harvard professor of symbology whose sleuthing incorporates the world of art, history, religious organizations, and science. I find it fascinating.
Ralph McInerny‘s Father Dowling series finds a Catholic priest at St. Hilary’s in Fox River, Illinois, who can’t resist getting involved in murder.
Laurien Berenson‘s Melanie Travis Mysteries is a cozy that revolves around a woman who shows dogs and runs a kennel.
Lisa Bork‘s Broken Vows revolves around a luxury car saleswoman (who owns her own place) and her deputy sheriff husband in upstate New York in the Fingerlakes region. Cute with a bipolar sister who causes problems.
Jane K. Cleland‘s Josie Prescott Antiques finds Josie Prescott in almost constant hot water, and she has to investigate to get herself or her company cleared of any wrongdoing. I do enjoy this series, but it could use more warmth.
Vicki Doudera‘s Darby Farr is a realtor based in California but with a connection in Maine, and she keeps stumbling over dead bodies.
Dick Francis‘ horseracing mysteries includes those his son, Felix, has carried on writing. I prefer the Dick Francis books, however, they’re all an easy read with great tension and characters you can care about. A very few of them turned into their own series: Sid Halley (one of my faves!) and Kit Fielding. I own just about all the Dick Francis ones.
Charlaine Harris‘ Lily Bard is suspense with a cleaning lady who’s struggling to get past a traumatic event in her past. Lily was raped, and now she’s learning self-defense, how to become sociable again, and solving crimes in her sleepy town in Arkansas. She’s a real-life character in a real-life situation, and we’re peeking in as Lily evolves and solves.
Donna Andrews‘ Turing Hopper will grab the interest of computer geeks as it’s based on, ahem, the Turing test. This Turing is an Artificial Intelligence Personality (AIP) in Crystal City, outside Washington, DC. For all that Turing is a computer, it’s amazingly human and great fun to read as Turing and her human friends plot, plan, and investigate. To be honest, I’d like a Turing in my life…
Cecelia Aubrey and Chris Almeida‘s overall Countermeasure series is about two agents pursuing private agendas amid data espionage. I’ve only read one of the short stories from Countermeasure: Bytes of Life which provides snapshot views into the lives of individual characters, and which I found fascinating if frustrating ’cause it was too short(!).
Clive Cussler‘s Oregon Files is my favorite of the Cussler series — if only for all the cool, fun gadgets Juan Cabrillo and company get to play with! The Corporation sails the world in their camouflaged tramp steamer saving the world. Great characters, and it’s Saturday-afternoon-at-the-movies!
Technology – YA
Michelle Gagnon‘s PERSEFoNE is a thriller in which teens “race across the country in their search to destroy the government-sponsored Project Persephone before time runs out. This’ll get your heart racing!