I read a lot of mysteries. Not as many as some aficionados, but still, quite a few. In fact, I’d say of all the works of fiction I read, about 70% are mysteries. And, of all the mysteries I’ve read, most belong to a series, meaning that they feature recurring characters…usually the detective. Of course the “detective” is not always a professional policeman, or private eye. Many great mystery series feature characters who are ostensibly normal people who just happen to be good at solving crimes, and seem to be frequently in the neighborhood when one takes place. Think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. (Alas, none of Agatha’s many series made my top ten.)
As a devotee of the mystery series genre, I’m always looking for a new author, character, or series in which I can immerse myself for a while because eventually I either catch up with the author’s output and am stuck waiting for his or her next book (Elizabeth George, Sue Grafton), or I just outlive the author, (Rex Stout, Robert Parker, Steig Larsson). Occasionally, although I can’t think of a current instance, an author will just get tired of writing about the same characters and stop. The most famous instance of this was when Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes. But, of course, he was forced by the public and, no doubt, his publishers, to bring Holmes back to life.
So, in order to feed my habit, I’m offering you a swap: I’ll tell you my ten all-time favorite mystery series, and also share five on-going mystery series that I’m reading now. In return I’d appreciate it if you would share your favorites by adding a comment to this post.
My criteria for “All-time Favorites” is simply the number of hours of pleasurable reading provided.
The criteria for current favorites is:
- Am I engaged in reading the series now?
- Have I read at least three books in the series?
- Am I looking forward to reading more?
- Would I recommend the author to other mystery lovers?
Oh, there’s one exception: the aforementioned Sherlock Holmes. I’m going to make the not-so-rash assumption that almost everyone has heard of Holmes, and that he will appear on many people’s “All-time Best” lists. He would certainly be on mine, but since he’s already so overexposed, lets just consider him a given and move on from there.
My Ten All-Time Favorite Mystery Series (Author/Main Characters)
- Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe
- Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone (Alphabet series)
- Elizabeth George’s Inspector Thomas Linley
- Faye Kellerman’s Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus
- Josephine Tey’s Inspector Alan Grant
- Reginald Hill’s Andrew Dalziel and Peter Pascoe
- Dorothy L. Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey
- Steig Larsson’s Lizbeth Salander & Mikael Blomkvist (Millennium trilogy)
- Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone
- Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn
As you can see, I tend to like female writers, writing stories that take place in Great Britain or California, with Rex Stout (New York), and Steig Larsson (Sweden) being the exceptions that prove the rule.
Five Mystery Series I’m Currently Reading
- Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache (Three Pines series)
- Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway
- Carol O’Connell’s Kathleen Mallory
- Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar
- Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan
Certainly there are other great mystery writers with outstanding series including PD James, Henning Mankel, Raymond Chandler, Ellis Peters and more. And there are great mystery writers who did not or do not chose to write a series about one character including the excellent and very creepy Minette Walters, and Dashiel Hammett (well, he wrote two books each about Nick and Nora Charles, The Continental Op and Sam Spade, but two is not a series). But, to make a top ten list requires making choices, so I did. My list is just that…my list. Who’s on yours? (Let us know in the comments…just click on “Leave a comment” at the top of the page, or if you see the comments box below, you can just start writing.)