Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Five Favorite Mystery Series +

Crackers in Bed by Norman Rockwell.

Are you a series reader?

These days it's hard to get away from series since every publisher seems to favor them - the better to get return readers, I suppose.  Also, trilogies appear to be making a comeback - if they ever left the scene.

Well, I'm a series reader from way back so I'm all for it.

But the problem is, to my way of thinking, that some books are best left as stand-alones. There are characters and stories not really meant to continue, book after book. Also, not every author has a series in her. I'm never for forcing the issue.

Then too, some series just get weighed down after awhile, they become tired. Spent. It's obvious the author can't think up anything else to do with the characters. Time to call it quits. Easier said then done, I suppose.

Series are more popular than ever.

I'm pleased.

But what about you? Is this a happy trend?


5 Favorite Mystery and/or Thriller Book Series:

1) The Sherlock Holmes and Watson stories, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Well, of course. These are timeless books to which we return again and again. 221-B Baker Street will always be a very special address. The allure of these stories has been theorized about and dissected many times. I won't do it here. It's enough to know that Holmes and Watson live forever.

The first Hercule Poirot story.

2) The Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple series of books by Agatha Christie.

I'm grouping them together because they're written by the same author of course. These books show how genre series should work in the hands of a master. But they are done in a fairly specific way: the main character never really changes much. Thank goodness.

Well, Poirot ages a bit, but not enough to prevent him solving crimes. (Except in the last book.) And Hastings does marry eventually and move to South America - which I always found odd - but then he comes back and everything is all right again. In these stories, Poirot and Jane Marple are the fixed points in their particular worlds.

The first Jane Marple story.

I've often wished that Christie had written a story in which they meet. But perhaps she was wise not to.

3) The Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin books by Rex Stout. 

This is another perfect example of a series in which the main characters, the orchid loving genius and his wise-cracking alter ego, never change, nor do they age. In fact, it is essential that they NOT change. Again, they are fixed points.

That is part of their attraction, I think. No matter what, you know you can go visit the brownstone on 35th Street and all will be the same. It's only the mysteries that are brought to Wolfe's door that continue to change. It all works remarkably well. Possibly because Stout was a genius.

The first Elvis Cole and Joe Pike story.

4) The Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books by Robert Crais.

My first encounter with a non-vintage L.A. private detective was, thankfully, luckily, with Elvis Cole - the world's greatest detective. (At least according to Elvis.)

I was never one for the L.A. lifestyle, I much prefer books set in NYC or Boston, but Robert Crais, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike soon changed my mind. These characters remain unchanged as well, though Elvis does, eventually, fall in love. But even that doesn't change him much. He's not going anywhere. He'll be there in that little A-frame California hill house forever. I hope.

Joe Pike, Elvis's silent, enigmatic and very dangerous partner does get a series of his own. But Elvis appears in that as well. It's just that those books are told from Joe's point of view.

The first Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes book.

5) The Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes books by Laurie R. King.

Here Holmes is not so much a fixed point. Nor is Watson - he has aged and is not really much of a part of King's series. Instead it's the Holmes of old but with a new side-kick, an apprentice who happens to be a young woman. Mary Russell tells these stories (with a few rare exceptions) in the first person, from her point of view. 

Russell is just brilliant enough, just fussy enough, just eccentric enough to suit Holmes. This is an exceptionally inventive series. Especially so in the early books.

 Honorable Mentions:

The Roderick Allyn books by Ngaio Marsh -- Scotland Yard

The Lew Archer books by Ross MacDonald - L.A. Detective

The Jack Reacher books by Lee Child - Ex- Army M.P./Modern day knight in shining armor.

The Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters - Victorian Egyptologists - humorous

The Inspector Appleby books by Michael Innes - Scotland Yard - Literate.

The Spenser books by Robert Parker - Boston Private Detective

The Richard Jury books by Martha Grimes - Scotland Yard - Literate.

The Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde - Literary Detective - Fantasy - Very literate and wickedly humorous.

The Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley - Young prodigy as detective - 1950's England.

The Chet and Bernie books by Spencer Quinn - Dog and private detective - humorous.

The Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich - Hapless Trenton, NJ bounty hunter - Very humorous.

The Toby Peters books by Stuart Kaminsky - 1940's L.A. Private eye - Very humorous.

The Fred Taylor and Clayton Reed books by Nicholas Kilmer - Boston art dealer and literate henchman.

The Gideon Oliver books by Aaron Elkins - Forensic archaeologist

The Stanley Hastings books by Parnell Hall - NYC detective - Humorous

The William Monk books by Anne Perry - Victorian detective

The Thomas Pitt books by Anne Perry - Victorian policeman

The Maigret books by Georges Simenon - French policeman

The Philip Marlowe books by Raymond Chandler - L.A. Detective

The Rachel Alexander and Dash  books by Carol Lea Benjamin -  NYC Dog trainer and private detective

The Adelia Aguilera books by Ariana Franklin - Historical mystery set in Medieval England.

The Alex McKnight books by Steve Hamilton - Upper Michigan Private Eye - ice cold setting.

...I know I've forgotten a few, but in the meantime, there's plenty of good reading here.


  1. I love that Rockwell picture!

    A series featuring the same character(s) is tricky, when you look at it from a writer's point of view. You've got to decide whether to keep the characters always the same (that might mean ignoring the passage of time, like Christie and Stout did), or let them develop. But if you do choose to develop them, you can't let them change so much that they're not the character you first knew and loved! They've got to grow up or grow old gracefully. :)

    Christie did write about her choice not to let Poirot and Miss Marple meet, in her autobiography. Basically, she said she didn't think they would get along - Poirot would not like being taught his business by a little old lady. I wonder?

  2. You bet there's plenty of reading here! Many I'd forgotten even. I don't mind a series provided there's no continuity as in the case of Poirot and Marple or Perry Mason where every mystery is new, because I'm not good at keeping track. However, if there is no continuity (of story), can it be called a series at all? In that sense Harry Potter is a series with a storyline from start to finish. I still have to read the last two parts, though!

  3. Great list of series, Yvette. May I recommend a couple more (as if you didn't have enough in the TBR pile):

    The Gervase Fen books by Edmund Crispin;

    The Asey Mayo books (and, for that matter, the Leonidas Witherall farces) by Phoebe Atwood Taylor;

    The Mrs. Bradley books by Gladys Mitchell;

    The Rabbi David Small books by Harry Kemelman;

    The Inspector Cockrill books by Christianna Brand;

    The Judge Dee books by Robert Van Gulik.

    There are so so many...!!!!

  4. The local Waterstones book store has a display of Sherlock Holmes titles. The covers are all `olde worlde` attractive, and the prices are sensible. For Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts, an addition to a collection. And also a good introduction to the Mr Holmes, and his long suffering but amazing, Dr Watson. Mustn't forget him.

  5. Isn't that a great picture? I love it too.

    I think Poirot repects brainpower and acuity, I think he would have respected Miss Marple.

    She might have thought him a bit 'foreign-ish', but would have recognized his genius.

    In the Nero Wolfe books, the world changes outside the brownstone's door - Stout was writing into the 70's or late 60's, after all.

    I'm of the opinion that that unless you are very sure as a writer, it's best to leave well enough alone. :)

    But, we'll never know.

  6. Prashant: I know what you mean. I'm not all that keen on strict continuity either. I like each mystery to be a new one.

    But there are series in which the two main character's relationship grows - that I don't mind.

  7. Les: Yes, add to the list. We don't mind. HA! I didn't add the Cockrill books because I've only read two. You have to give me a chance to get to know the books a bit better.

    Also the Gervase Fen books. :)

    The only one on your list I'm not crazy about are the Mrs. Bradley books. I did try and read one, but...

  8. Dave: Sounds good. If I were in the neighborhood of a Waterstones, I'd surely step in and take a good look. :)

  9. When I was growing up, I read every Hardy Boys book there was, and there were many. That series actually drew me into the joy of reading, as Harry Potter has done for many young readers today. But I agree with you that sometimes a great book, like The Hobbit, is enough of a genre for me. But then, I'm always balancing reading with other pastimes...

  10. Mark: For me, growing up, it was Nancy Drew and The Dana Girls. Same as The Hardy Boys, but not. Series are a great way to get kids reading, I think.

  11. In the Nero Wolfe books, the world changes outside the brownstone's door - Stout was writing into the 70's or late 60's, after all.

    Right. Agatha Christie did the same thing - it was her detectives who never really aged.

  12. Finally, someone's mentioned THE HARDY BOYS! Yes, Mark, I was into HB long before I picked up anything else. It had a charm of its own. I am happy to see new and lean hardbound editions of the series in bookstores. It took me a while to realise that Franklin W. Dixon was a collective pseudonym for several writers who penned the stories.

  13. I agree that the Gladys Mitchell/Mrs. Bradley books should have been at least mentioned. Maybe also Margery Allingham/Albert Campion and Dorothy Sayers/Lord Peter.

    I have read most of those mentioned and am looking forward to those I have not.

    Thanks, Dee

  14. You've named a lot of my favorites and given me some new authors to consider.

    My all-time favorite is Reginald Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe series. Lee Child's Jack Reacher books are another favorite along with Martha Grimes' Richard Jury. Reacher and Jury are such opposites, but both are great characters.

  15. Elizabeth: I think that's my favorite kind of series. :)

  16. jenclair: I've never read the Dalziel and Pascoe series, but that's not saying I won't. There's just SO MUCH TO READ...! I've read every series mentioned on my list.

  17. Dee: I've read the Peter Wimsey series. What can I say? I had to stop somewhere. Thanks for dropping by.

    Comments are much appreciated.

  18. Prashant: Growing up I was more a Nancy Drew and The Dana Girls books kind of gal. But to my way of thinking they were the equivalent of The Hardy boys.

    These series are a terrific way to get kids into reading mysteries, or just reading in general.

    If they're not seen as too old fashioned, I suppose.

  19. The new trend with series crime fiction is to treat the novels as if they are SERIALS. I dislike writers who require you to read books in order. It never was that way for decades. It just started happening in the last ten years or so. I read a Laurie King Mary Russell book out of sequence and the previous book was completely ruined. Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead absolutely cannot be read out of sequence or the previous book is also ruined. I don't mind watching a series character age, get married, lose a partner, go thorugh all sorts of life changes and transform over time, but I do take issue with the growing trend to make a series of novels seem like one continuous work. Seems more that it’s being done as built-in marketing with the hope of automatically increasing book sales.

  20. Oh, I do agree with you, John. Though I don't mind it as much as you do. For me, knowing what happens at the end isn't as important as the quality of writing. So the previous book must stand on its own even if I already know or have a strong hint as to who did what to whom.

    Know what I mean?

    But I do prefer when each book is a separate story. Though it must be very hard to do, for an author.

  21. One of my favorite series are the Inspector Rebus books by Ian Rankin. He's a Scottish detective novelist, and the books are just fantastic, in my opinion.

    I also love Christie but just found an author who may have surpassed her...Patricia Wentworth and her Miss Silver books. They are so incredibly smart and fun. They remind me of Christie's The Man in the Brown Suit.

    LOVE this list. :)

  22. Thanks, Picky! I've read Patricia Wentworth - eons ago. I noticed on your blog that you were mentioning her books. I do remember Miss Silver. Time to reread, I think.

    Now, Inspector Rebus, I've never cottoned to. I've tried in the past, but...I know I am in the minority here since everyone else in the world seems to love Rebus.

  23. Great post Yvette - to put you out of your literary (and hopefully mild) misery, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are shown working together ... in a Japanese cartoon seres! Details can be found at Wikipedia (inevitably?) - here:'s_Great_Detectives_Poirot_and_Marple

    The other series that I would personally add above all others would be the Ellery Queen stories, especially because of the way that the character changed over the decades, which I think is a requirement in a series to keep it going - though having said that, there are more traditional ones that I would never want to part with, such as the three series created by John Dickson Carr!

  24. Sergio: Thanks! I will definitely have to check out that Wikipedia page. This is the first I've heard of this. :)

    I might have added the Ellery Queen series except I only remember one or two of the books. Those that I read recently. But the rest have faded for me into the mists of time...

    Same with the John Dickson Carr books. I read them all as well as the Carter Dickson books when I was much MUCH younger, but can't remember any except Skull Island which I loved.

  25. This is quite an impressive list, and many of the series are new ideas for me to try or I've read one and should read more.

    I would add:
    The Guido Brunetti Venice series by Donna Leon
    The Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo series about Swedish police detective Martin Beck
    Sara Paretsky's series about V.I. Warshawski, private detective
    Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone books
    Michael Connelly's two series about Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller
    Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone books
    Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon, forest ranger series, which are also great on environmental issues
    Salvo Montalbano, Sicilian police detective, by Andrea Camilleri
    Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole books (Nemesis, great thriller)
    Gianrico Carofiglio's books starring a defense attorney, set in Bari, Italy
    Scottish writer, Denise Mina's three series
    Walter Mosley's series
    Ann Cleeves' quartet set on the Shetland Islands
    Kerry Greenwood's series about Melbourne bakery owner, Corinna Chapman
    A slew of series about WWII by Rebecca Cantwell, Alan Furst, Phillip Kerr, John Lawton

    There are just so many!

  26. I knew I'd forgotten some good ones. I did say that. Donna Leon. Well, of course.

    A couple of these series I've read bits and pieces here and there. Some I don't like, like the Mickey Haller series by Michael Conneelly. Not for me.

    But I do like the occasional Bosch book. My favorite was ECHO PARK.

  27. I forgot Arnaldur Indridason's series set in Iceland starring police detective Erlendur. I love this writing, especiall Hypothermia.

  28. If we keep this up, we'll have a fairly comprehensive list. :)


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