One of my favorite things as a reader and crime fiction fan is to discover a new series. Even better if it’s well established with plenty of books to catch up on. I know I won’t have to wonder what book I’ll be reading next for a little while. And once I catch up, I know I can look forward to spending some time with ‘new friends’ each year.
Often it’s the high concept hook or unconventional crime that will initially drawn you in but once you commit to a series the crimes rarely matter all the much, you keep coming back for the characters. Sure, justice and catching the bad guy are great but series are a staple in the mystery and suspense genre for creating compelling characters and worlds that you want to keep coming back to, not only for the action and thrills, but for the emotional attachment to the characters.
As we head into prime beach reading season, here are my favorite current mystery and thriller series. Any of them would be great to throw in your suitcase for a vacation or in your beach bag to pass a lazy, sunny afternoon.
The basis for the Amazon TV show, this is a long running series features a homicide detective in LA, in later books he retires and eventually works cold cases. Harry hits all the classic police procedural tropes: driven, loner, on a mission, doesn’t like authority. But he gets results. And the writing is so good and the police bits so authentic, the reliance on the tropes to get the series going is easy to overlook. If you’re looking for a long-running series with tons of books to choose from, Connelly’s famed detective is a great place to look.
The Davenport series may be more popular but if forced to pick between the two, I think I’d go with Virgil. Sort of a spin-off from Sandford’s Prey series, Virgil “only works the hard stuff.” He tends to be a little looser and a little more easy going than Davenport. More humor and silly exchanges sneak into these books which give them a slightly cockeyed tone sitting next to the violent crimes he’s trying to solve.
There’s a reason Lee Child’s blurb is prominently featured on these books. The good news is it is well warranted. If Jack Reacher was a bit more introspective and had a touch (okay, maybe more than a touch) of PTSD from his service, he might have ended up like Peter Ash. Put another way, if Child rebooted Reacher and started today, he might end up with a character that looks a lot like Peter Ash. Still, big, tough, morally uncompromising and more than capable of handling himself, Peter has a knack for getting himself involved in sticky situations. Plus, he has a couple of excellent sidekicks to round out the cast and provide some levity.
This long-running and best-selling series will soon transition to Child’s brother to continue. That should be interesting to watch. I recently spoke to someone that read 27 of the Reacher books back to back. I found that oddly impressive. I’m not sure I could do it. Child’s knight-errant hero certainly follows the thriller handbook but Child has pared down the writing and plotting over the course of the series to a fine honed knife’s blade. When you crack a Reacher book these days you know you’ll get a propolsive and suspenseful story with precise descriptions of Reacher mentally and physically abusing the bad guys. Twenty seven times in a row might be too much but once a year is perfect.
This is my favorite of Baldacci’s series. Sometimes called the Memory Man series, it features Decker as an FBI agent who, after head trauma, can’t forget anything. It doesn’t exactly make his life easier. It’s been interesting to watch how Decker has evolved. He has many unlikeable characteristics early in the series and the crime is the first book is pretty intense. I know some people don’t make it to the second book but if you stick it out you’ll be rewarded with one of the more unique and interesting series leads in commercial genre fiction.
My most recent discovery, the second book in the series was published late last year, reminds me most of Lehane’s early Kenzie/Gennaro series. The books’ plots themselves follow a relatively common blueprint, what really casts the spell on the reader is the almost elegiac writing and the characterization of the leads. Alice Vega is very enigmatic even after two full novels she remains very much a mystery that her partner (and the reader) are still trhying to figure out. I find myself reading very much to find out just how Vega will react to different situations and, so far, find myself constantly surprised.
Crais’s long running series, like Connelly’s or Child’s, is so well established you could probably bring a checklist or a bingo card along as you read: loud shirts, bad jokes, morning karate on the deck, unique office clock, etc. But occupying the center square would be solid, well executed mystery. There is a reason afterall that it is a long running series.
Another relatively young series but from a well established author. Jeffrey Deaver’s newest features a series lead with a unique job, reward seeker. This gets him close to the police investigation without being a cop or a PI, plus it adds an interesting element not seen in other series. Of course, Shaw also has a strange backstory that lends the series some ongoing mythology but the first two books (the most recent was just published in May) are also well plotted standalone thrillers.