Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Literary Mystery Novelists—A List Part 2

As I’ve said before, I believe that we’re living in the second Golden Age of the crime novel. After mentioning this at literary parties recently and having writers ask me for crime fiction writers who write really well—in other words, being asked to prove my claim that many crime writers today are writing works of high quality that can hold their own against most literary novels published currently—I’ve posted the first half of a list of such gifted mystery writers. I’ve been running a series of interviews or profiles on these mystery writers whose work ranks with that of literary novelists, and I’ll continue it in the future. But now, I’ll post the second half of that list.

Because I’m a faulty human and haven’t read everyone and may not even remember everyone I have read, this will be nowhere near a complete list, but rather a starting place for people who want to explore the riches of the current crime novel scene. (And for writers I missed in the first half of the list, see the comments for that last post. I suspect there will be more who will show up in the comments on this post, as well.)

William Kent Krueger—his Cork O’Connor series is written with skill and depth

John Le Carré—ALL of his work—the death of the Cold War didn’t phase him, see The Constant Gardener for proof of that

Dennis Lehane—his Kenzie and Gennaro books are underappreciated in my opinion, but his standalones, such as Mystic River and The Given Day, deserve the attention they receive

John Lescroart—his Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitsky series is wonderful and any of his standalone books make a fine read

Laura Lippman—her Tess Monaghan series and her standalone novels are complex and riveting

Margaret Maron—her Judge Deborah Knott series is one of the best things around, start with The Bootlegger’s Daughter—she’s also reissued her Sigrid Harald series as e-books, as well as writing Three Day Town, which brings Sigrid and Deborah together in New York

Ngaio Marsh—she died in 1982, but her Roderick Alleyn series is still full of beautifully wrought books

Sharyn McCrumb—though she prefers not to be called a mystery writer any longer, her Elizabeth MacPherson series and her Ballad series are fine mysteries

Val McDermid—her Tony Hill series, on which the TV series Wire in the Blood was based, is a chilling exploration of the minds of psychopaths and those who try to outguess them

Walter Mosley—he’s one of our finest writers, and whether you read his Easy Rawlins series, his Leonid McGill series, or any of his many standalone novels, you will find excellent writing and consideration of serious issues in modern America

Marcia Muller—her Sharon McCone series was groundbreaking at its start in 1977 and continues to be critically acclaimed today

Katherine Hall Page—her Faith Fairchild series is written with great skill and warmth

Sara Paretsky—one of the great icons of the mystery community, her V.I. Warshawski series takes on all the important social and political issues of our time with impeccable writing and fascinating characters

George Pelecanos—his published work includes lots of A-list journals, as well as his eighteen crime novels—Stephen King once called him “perhaps the greatest living American crime writer"

Louise Penny—this Canadian author’s Gamache series set in the tiny town of Three Pines outside of Montreal is a feast for the lover of fine writing

Ann Perry—she has two Victorian mystery series that have both won critical acclaim, but her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series is her finest, the longest sustained crime series by a living writer

Thomas Perry—a fine writer whose Jane Whitefield series is superb

Elizabeth Peters—ever since Crocodile on a Sandbank, Amelia Peabody has become one of those character who live on forever for generations of readers, a classic

Nancy Pickard—her Jenny Cain series and her Truth series used elegant prose to probe serious societal issues, but her most recent standalone novels are her finest with superb writing, characterization, and plotting—The Virgin of Small Plains is my favorite

Sandra Parshall—her Rachel Goddard mysteries are rich mélanges of character, place, and story complexity—Disturbing the Dead is a standout in a series of excellent novels

Ian Rankin—his Inspector Rebus series is the UK’s #1 bestseller and has spawned several TV series

Ruth Rendell—John Mortimer famously said, “If it weren't for a ridiculous literary snobbery about ‘crime writing,’ Ruth Rendell would be acclaimed as one of our most important novelists”

Hank Phillippi Ryan—her Charlotte McNally series showcases her gift for keeping the reader turning the page—I’m eagerly awaiting publication of her new standalone thriller, The Other Woman, in September

John Sandford—his Lucas Davenport series is dark and visceral

Julia Spencer-Fleming—her Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series is one of the finest around—her supple prose, living and breathing characters, and treatment of many important cultural and societal issues make her one of our finest writers of any kind

Charles Todd—this American mother-and-son writing team have taken the British experience of World War II as their focus, and they bring it to life in their Ian Rutledge series and their Bess Crawford series

Jacqueline Winspear—her Maisie Dobbs series is another for the British World War I buff

Daniel Woodrell—his novels capture the misery and violence of the hardscrabble Ozarks backwoods—Winter’s Bone is my favorite among his many wonders


  1. Thank you, Linda, for your lists. It's always interesting to me what writers think of their peers. There are quite a few I haven't tasted yet, either, so will enjoy that, too.

  2. Thank you for another great list. Thanks for turning me on to Julia-Spencer-Fleming. I wouldn't question a single name on either list. I would consider adding Adrian McKinty and his DEAD I WELL MAY BE series and Scott Turrow. My favorite novel of his is ORDINARY HEROES. His non-fiction is also well worth reading.

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Ann. I think you'll enjoy anyone you pick from this list.

  4. Warren, you're so right about Scott Turow. I haven't read him in years so my brain just didn't pop his name out with the others, but he definitely does belong.

    Adrian McKinty is a new name for me. I'll add him to my TBR list. Thanks!

    I'm so glad you're enjoying Julia Spencer-Fleming. She's just one of the finest writers--period!--writing today. And she keeps setting the bar for herself and her books ever higher, not content to rest on her laurels. Her most recent book, One Was a Soldier, is the best about what our current wars are doing to our veterans that I've seen in any field or genre.