By Amy J. Stephson
I love crime fiction. All types: police procedurals, private investigators, outlaw heroes, courtroom dramas, historical mysteries and thrillers of all types. Though not the so-called “cozies,” which are gentle and nonviolent, or the “mind-of-the-psycho” genre in which every few chapters are from the point of view of the sociopath everyone is chasing. Often, the only thing I feel like reading is a good crime novel. True crime can be great also.
Five years ago I wrote Part 1 of this article. When I got last month’s email soliciting articles from editor Gene Barton, I checked to see if I had some new suggestions. I do! For those who may have missed or forgotten the August 2011 issue of the Bar Bulletin, i.e., all of you, I’ve listed in this footnote the authors noted in that article (minus the commentary and titles), so if you find you like my taste, you can check out some additional names.1
Following are some authors and books I’ve particularly liked since 2011. One note: It’s usually better to read a series in order so you’ll see how the character develops and not encounter spoilers of earlier books in the later ones.
Police procedurals involve cops and the law enforcement bureaucracy in which they work. The best American police procedural series in my view continues to be the Detective Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch series by Michael Connelly. The writing is superb and the plots and characters are terrific. You really do want to start at the beginning of the series because Harry ages in real time. There are 18 books in the series, beginning with The Black Echo (1992); the most recent is The Crossing (2015). Harry Bosch also appears in the Amazon Prime series “Bosch.”
Much more spotty, but with some great reads are the various series by John Sandford, including those with Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers, both Minnesota police detectives. If you’ve read any of the zillions of Prey novels, you’re familiar with them. Sandford also has another spotty, but good, series with Kidd, a computer bad boy.
Another interesting police procedural series features Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden. They’re written by C.J. Box. I’ve only read a couple (Open Season and Savage Run), but I liked them. There are about 20 in the series.
If we go abroad, I’ve read all five of a terrific new series by Adrian McKinty. They take place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the “conflict” between the Protestants and Catholics. The main character, Sean Duffy, is a young Catholic detective in a Protestant police department. Great writing and characters plus some insight into how awful that period was. Witty also.
I also really liked The Keeper of Lost Causes, by Denmark’s Jussi Adler-
Olsen. It is the first of the “Department Q Novels” featuring detective Carl Morck. Keeper is pretty violent, but I found the subsequent ones too violent for my taste. You may not. And of course I read the fourth Dragon Tattoo book, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, written by David Lagercrantz. I thought it was really good. If I better remembered books I’ve read, I’m sure I could say, “He’s no Stieg Larsson,” but I don’t, so I won’t.
Off Duty or Retired Cops
Another subgenre involves off-duty or retired law enforcement figures. The last four of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels are back in great form after a couple of weak entries. A former military police officer, Reacher is a 6-foot-5 muscular drifter with no home and no ties who wanders the country butting into troublesome situations that require him to kill bad guys. The writing is clipped and the plots move along well. And yes, since you asked, I boycotted the Jack Reacher movie starring Tom Cruise. I’m sorry, Cruise is no Reacher. (Editor’s Note: He’s too short.)
Everyone has their favorite PIs, but mine are the wise-alecks. Exhibit “A” is Elvis Cole, Robert Crais’ smart-mouthed, but sensitive Los Angeles PI. The books are well written and the plots good. He also has a terrific sidekick, Joe Pike, a strong silent type who rarely smiles and runs a gun shop when he’s not fighting bad guys.
More recently, in Suspect, Crais added two new characters: Scott James, an LAPD K-9 detective, and his dog Maggie. The book is great and actually is written from both characters’ points of view. Crais’ latest book, The Promise, includes all four of his characters. Loved it — I gave it a rare three stars. (Yes, I keep a list of the books I’ve read; how else would I remember anything? Feel free to write to me for names of specific books.)
Two new entries for me to the PI category are the Fina Ludlow series by Seattle author Ingrid Thoft and the Izzy Spellman series by Lisa Lutz. Both characters work in family businesses and the books are well plotted, well written and funny. Start at the beginning.
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