As avid readers, is there anything better than discovering a new series of books to devour? Crime and thriller books seem to lend themselves particularly well to series, presumably because early on the writer can establish the main character – the professional or amateur detective – and this leaves plenty of room for rich development of plot and the secondary characters- the villains and victims. Picking up a new book in a series can be like meeting up with an old friend. This blog is part of a series about crime and thrillers, which began with top locations and was followed by top weird narratives For clarity, I list here the first book in the series, which is not necessarily the best one, but is probably where you should start.
- Mr Mercedes by Stephen King. Published in 2014, Stephen King called this book his first ‘hard boiled detective novel.’ featuring Bill Hodges, a recently retired police detective. A Mercedes Benz plows into a queue for a jobs fair, killing or maiming several people. King followed this with Finders Keepers and End of Watch. His sidekick, Holly Gibney, gets her own book The Outsiders. I really adored all of these books – they are fast paced, short, clever, and – as it’s Stephen King – containing a little bit of supernatural stuff too.
- The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. Mma Precious Ramotswe, who lives in Botswana, sets up her own detective agency and as of today there are 23 books in the series. For me, the enjoyable aspect of these books is not only the setting and the mysteries to be solved, but the marvellous main character. Easy enjoyable reads.
- A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George. There are twenty-one Inspector Lynley books to date, and I’ve been reading them since they first appeared in 1988. The author is actually American, living in the USA, but I think she captures the English characters and setting really well. I’ve enjoyed watching the life of the main character – Lynley – unfold in real time, like Harry Potter, and interestingly his fortunes have fluctuated through good and bad. Many other series suffer from having a detective with huge personal problems which never seem to change.
- The Cuckoo’s calling by Robert Galbraith. I’ll admit I didn’t start reading this series until after the author was outed as being JK Rowling; however I think they do stand as great books in their own right. If you think about it, the Harry Potter books are really whodunnits with a magical setting, and probably JK Rowling was always destined to be a crime writer. The detective Cormoran Strike is a great character, although his sidekick Robin Ellacott is even stronger. I have to say the most recent title The Ink Black Heart did not grab me, but the previous ones have all been great.
- Dissolution by CJ Sansom. Again these move through real time – in this case Tudor times – starting with the early years of Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries, through to the latest book Tombland, which is after his death. Amateur detective Matthew Shardlake is a likeable character and we worry for him as he tries to navigate the intricate world of the Tudor court. Tombland was published in 2018 so we’re due another one soon, and I for one, can’t wait!
- Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin. As an Edinburgh resident of course I’ve got to include Rebus, though to be honest I’m not that fond of him as a character! I do however, like the settings, the plots, and the weaving in of current affairs.
- Cover her Face by PD James. Adam Dalgliesh might not be a particularly believable character but he is likeable, and the plots and the writing are so strong, you have to go with the idea of a detective having time to write poetry and be famous for it.
- Never Somewhere Else by Alex Gray. Set in Glasgow, this series, featuring DCI Lorimer, benefits from the help of Dr Solomon Brightman, a psychologist and criminal profiler. Nifty plots and good characterisation, if a little gruesome at times, there are at least 15 in the series so far.
- Whose Body? Dorothy L Sayers. Although these books could be said to be quite dated now, if you can look past this, they are an enjoyable read, following Lord Peter Wimsey, amateur sleuth, solving crimes aided by his butler side kick. There is good character development for Wimsey as he meets and eventually marries one of the murder suspects in an early book, and although there is much humour in the stories, there are also undertones of darkness, with Whimsy’s shell shock from the First World War lurking below the surface.
- The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. Saving the best till last. I often see people sneering at Agatha Christie and her Belgian detective Poirot, but no-one can touch her plotting, and although Poirot can seem a bit ridiculous at times, that is the point. If you read her carefully she is really having a go at the British class system and its overt racism. She was ahead of her time and no-one has yet come close to her achievements.
So many I have not managed to mention! Ngaio Marsh, Ruth Rendell, Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves, Peter Robinson, Henning Mankell to name just a few. Let me know who else I’ve forgotten! I’m always keen to discover a new series.