Monday, February 26, 2007

Favorite Mystery Writers of Library Thing Users - So Far

The Library Thing website continues to amaze and amuse me to the point where I find myself spending at least a few minutes on the site every day of the week. It’s the kind of website that becomes more valuable as a user gains more and more familiarity with all the ways to mine it for useful information.

For instance, I noticed a Group thread just before Christmas that was started by a simple question: “Certainly while some authors should have stopped writing after the sixth book, others have been able to continue to write, book after book, and still write top-notch mysteries. What long-running series would you recommend?”

I’ve read mysteries on a regular basis ever since, as a teenager, I discovered Conan Doyle and Rex Stout and fell in love with the concept of “series fiction.” Over the years, of course, I managed to read all of those Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe books and moved on to more modern series that continue to grow. And I’m always on the lookout for new writers who maintain the tradition started by writers like Doyle and Stout, so I found this to be an interesting question. From the numerous responses to the question, I have learned of a few mystery writers that were still unknown to me, have had my opinion of a few others confirmed, and found myself disagreeing with the way that others were rated by the respondents. This is what I found and the list I've put together based on the responses:

1. Michael Connelly - was most-mentioned and his Harry Bosch series was consistently praised (I’ve been meaning to read Connelly for several years and never seem to get around to him.)

Connelly was followed by a group of writers, old and new, who received unanimously high marks from everyone who mentioned them:

2. Reginald Hill – Andy Dalziel series

3. Robert Crais – Elvis Cole and Pike series

4. John D. MacDonald – Travis McGee series (one of those series that I read at least 20 years ago and I wonder if they would measure up on a re-reading to the good memories I have of them)

5. James Lee Burke – Dave Robicheaux series (a series that I’ve kept up with almost from the beginning and one that is wonderful if read in the order in which the books were written because Dave’s character develops as we watch the story of his life unfold)

Members of this second group were also highly rated but not mentioned as often as those in group one:

6. Ian Rankin – John Rebus series (A series that I’ve just started to dip into recently)

7. Elizabeth Peters – historical mysteries using Ameila Peabody or Jacqueline Kirby

8. Dennis Lehane – Kenzie and Genarro series (Lehane seems to have abandoned the series but I think it’s still his best work)

9. Lawrence Block – Matt Scudder series (haven’t read these in a while for some reason)

10. Walter Mosley – Easy Rawlins series (a really good series set in 1950s-1960s Los Angeles and I find this still to be Mosley’s best work)

11. C.J. Box – Joe Pickett series

12. Raymond Chandler (maybe the best of them all, in my opinion)

13. Tony Hillerman – Navajo series (have read a few of these but not really a fan)

14. Anne Perry – William Monk or Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series (Have read some of the Pitt books but am a little bit put off by Perry’s personal history, I think)

15. Ed McBain – 87th Precinct series (great series but prefer the longer books that come later in the series)

Next came a group that all had their fans but were not as often mentioned:

16. Margaret Yorke (have found that her characters and plots to be a little spookier and more realistic than indicated by the dust jackets of her books)

17. P.D. James (have read some of her work but not really a fan)

18. Peter Robinson

19. Jane Hadden – Gregor Demarkien series

20. Archer Mayer – Joe Gunther series

22. J.A. Jance – J.P. Beaumont series

23. Donna Leon – Guido Brunetti series set in modern Milan

24. John Lescroart – Dismas Hardy or Hardy & Glitzky series

25. Emma Lathan – Wall Street series

26. Robert B. Parker – Spenser series (found this series to be excellent and exciting for quite a few years but Parker seems to be producing Spenser books by formula for last few years)

27. Stephen Hunter – Earl Swagger series

28. Rex Stout – Nero Wolfe series (one of those classics that deserve to be read even today)

29. Marcia Muller – Sharon McCone series (interesting series but have read very little of it)

30. Peter Tremayne – Sister Fidelma series set in ancient Ireland

31. Sue Grafton – Kinsey Milhone series (much like the comment about Parker, above, Grafton seems to have peaked several books back)

32. Agatha Christie – Miss Marple series

33. Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes series (classic series not to be missed)

34. Ruth Rendell – Inspector Wexford series (one of my favorite crime and suspense novelists, including the books she writes as Barbara Vine)

35. John Mortimer – Rumpole series (crimes and comedy, a great combination)

36. Sharon Newman – Catherine LeVendeur series

37. Minette Walters

38. Jill Churchill – Jane Jeffries series

And then there were those who were mentioned several times but who ended up with more negative comments, or “votes,” than they did positive ones:

39. J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts) – mentioned were the “In Death” series and Eve Dallas series

40. Martha Grimes – Richard Jury series (a little surprised by some of the negative comments but agree that her books are not what they used to be)

41. Lee Child – Jack Reacher series

42. Janet Evanovich – Stephanie Plum series (defenders were lukewarm and detractors dislike her writing very much but she is constantly on Best Seller lists and I saw where Stephen King has made somewhat negative remarks about her as part of a cover blurb for a new British mystery writer)

While this list is far from complete, I think it’s a good example of the type of information that can be picked up from just one of the hundreds of questions that are posted at Library Thing every week. I always keep a few mysteries and crime novels around as a change-of-pace so something like this will help me the next time that I’m looking for someone new to read. If you haven’t found yet, now’s the time.


  1. Thanks for the breakdown, Sam. Seeing all these books at the store, I'm often intrigued, so it's nice to get some feedback about them.

    I haven't had much time to explore Library Thing, but I just finished cataloguing the books I have access to, so now I can spend some time looking around.

  2. I think that the list will continue to evolve over the next few weeks but a definite trend is there and I don't think that the "rankings" will change all that much over time. It will probably be more a case of more names being added.

    Library Thing continues to surprise me. I really haven't figured out all the ways to use it even yet...but I suspect that it's filled with good blog material.

    BTW, I hope you haven't given up on Plan B...

  3. No, I haven't given up... just been preoccupied lately.

  4. Hey Sam, I am suprised you have not got around to Connelly; he is a great read. It's not a Bosch book but I suggest you start off with "poet", a truly great thriller.
    James Lee Burke is without doubt my fave American writer. A lot of people claim not to like crime novels, but I find JLB a very literary writer whose genre just happens to be crime. I have never been to the USA but this man has made me want to visit Southern Louisiana. His descriptions of the land he grew up in are simply breathtaking imo.
    On a parochial note it's good to see so many Brits on the list :)
    I am wondering over to take a look at this library thing website right now....


  5. It's kind of strange, Nick. I even met Connelly several years ago when he was signing at a Houston bookstore. It was for one of his first books and I didn't buy it because I had no idea what his style was like (still don't, really). I know that I'll get to him sooner or later, however, because I hear so many good things about him.

    As for James Lee Burke, he's been one of my favorites for a long time. I'm originally from the part of the country that he describes in his books and I swear that when I read some of his dialogue that I read it while hearing a Cajun accent in my head. I agree that he's novels are much more than just crime novels. Have you read some of his other stuff...the one about the Civil War, for instance?

    I have to wonder why Elizabeth George didn't even make the list...she has a great series set in London that is about ten books deep now and I don't think she's lost a thing.

  6. I like all his work; White Doves at Morning is a great book about the American civil war.

  7. ''Two For Texas'' is an early work of his; as far as I remember he introduces the Holland family for the first time. The Billie Bob Holland books are nearly as good as Robicheaux. But my fave character has got to be Clete Purcel, he is truly one of the great tragi-comic characters in fiction :)

    I need to investigate Elizabeth George. I don't want anyone to jump on me but I have never really read any female crime writers. From what you and the other people who voted in the library thingy poll it looks like the loss has been mine.

  8. My particular favorites, when it comes to female crime writers, Nick, are Elizabeth George and Ruth Rendell. I particularly love George's work because she writes her novels as one continuous story (for the most part...she does use flashback sometimes) and you can watch the characters evolve over time and see their relationships change. If you read her stuff, try to start at the beginning. She didn't really hit her stride until about the third book in the series, IMO, but you need to read them all in order to have the proper background for the later novels to be appreciated at their best.

    I agee about Clete Purcel...not a guy I'd like to ever get on the wrong side of, but one heck of a loyal friend, for sure.

  9. One small, correction. Donna leon's Guido Brunetti works in Venice, not Milan!

  10. Whoops, thanks for the correction. Much appreciated...

  11. That's all right!

    Some of my favourite setective series writers include:

    Carol O'Connell (her Mallory is a sociopath detective);

    Barbara Nadel - Inspector Ikmen Cetin works the Istanbul beat;

    Andrea Camilleri - Inspector Montalbano from Sicily. Also made into an Italian TV series;

    Peter Corris - Cliff hardy, his PI protagonist is from my town, Sydney.

    The wonderful Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen (I see you did another blog on him elsewhere)

    I can throw off a Sue Grafton in a day, and the series is patchy, but some are very good;

    Ian Pears - more Italians - this time workign for the art theft squad

    Another Australian, is Shane Maloney. Murray Whelan is alabor Party politician - very very funny, but you probably appreciate them more if you know Aust "left" politics!

  12. Thanks for the list, Sally...more goodies for me to check out! :-)

  13. I finally stopped reading the Anne Perry books for that reason -- I just didn't want to support a murderer in any way. For the same moral qualms, I don't go to Jane Fonda, Woody Allen or Roman Polanski movies.

  14. Factotum, I could not agree with you more on all those you listed. I feel the same way about them, probably most strongly about Hanoi Jane since I come from the generation that she slandered so badly.