1) CONNIE WILLIS. Though her latest book, ALL CLEAR (sequel to BLACK OUT ) published last year was a disappointment, everything previous to that has been top notch. She tackles time travel in many of her books (which are primarily set in England) and I love her take on the vicissitudes of travelling backwards: she's set it up so that only historians use the time travel mechanism - makes a lot of sense to me. Her characters are generally likable, her humor ironic and her drama can be heart-stopping.
She has written two masterpieces as far as I'm concerned: PASSAGE and THE DOOMSDAY BOOK. Only one of which involves time-travel. PASSAGE (2001) is the almost claustrophobic story of a doctor and a group of medical students who are working on a near-death research project. The setting is a dark warren of a hospital. Halfway through this book something happens so shocking that you have to set the book down and think about it for awhile. Then you either pick the book up and continue or you walk away. Connie Willis is fearless. An extraordinary book.
DOOMSDAY BOOK (1992) is the story of a historian who goes back in time to medieval England and through a series of technical missteps gets stranded with a family trying desperately to avoid the plague - the black death - which is ravaging the countryside. A harrowing book which, ultimately breaks your heart. For a list of Connie Willis books, please go here.
2) EARL EMERSON. Emerson was a Seattle firefighter for many years. He writes thrillers which often involve the tragedy of deadly fire and its aftermath. He has a unique writing style as well as a unique perspective. He has written many stand-alone books and also two mystery series: one features ex-firefighter and current small town sheriff Mac Fontana and the other, Thomas Black, Portland private detective. Emerson's books are set in the Pacific Northwest, an area of the country that I am especially fond of and enjoy reading about. His latest book CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT (2010) is the long-awaited and very well received continuation of his Thomas Black series. For a list of all of Emerson's books, please go here.
3) AARON ELKINS. Another writer from the Pacific Northwest, Elkins is an Edgar Award winner and has been writing for years. He is the creator of three series (one of which is written with his wife) and several stand-alones. One of these, LOOT (1999), is on my list of favorite books of all time. Elkins' main series features forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver. Where Oliver goes, bones and a mystery always turn up. Oliver travels all over the world, usually with his forest ranger wife, and adventure is always waiting for him. These are great escapist books, I've read every one. Another series of his that I love features Chris Norgren, art historian and museum curator. I wish there were more books in this series, but the few that there are definitely worth looking for, especially if you, like me, are fond of art mysteries. For a list of all of Elkins' books, please go here.
4) MARTHA GRIMES. It always confounds me how a woman who has been writing wonderful books for so many years and is often on the best seller lists, still manages, somehow, to exist under the radar. It's almost as if since she's been around so long, people just assume you've heard of her and have read her books. All I can say is, I've yet to meet more than a handful of people who know her work. Go figure.
Grimes writes the Richard Jury series set in England, though she, herself, is an American who lives, I believe, in Washington D.C. But no matter where she lives, her love of all things British shines in her work. (All the Jury books are titled after existing British pubs.) Her main characters are Richard Jury, detective superintendent of Scotland Yard, an enigmatic, lonely man unable to find personal happiness and Melrose Plant, a titled Englishman (he's refused the title, but finds it comes in handy in his investigations) with property and wealth who is Jury's friend. The stories are all set in Great Britain and usually involve the most dreadful of fiendish murders. Grimes is excellent at setting up the eerie underpinnings of her crimes. Her writing style is like no other.
Grimes also writes an excellent series set in this country, which features 12 year old Emma Graham as the protagonist. The series is four books strong. I'm currently reading the latest, FADEAWAY GIRL (2011) Emma is one of several young (mostly female) main characters appearing in books lately, it's kind of a trend right now. But Grimes was one of the originators. She has also published a few stand-alones and several books of poetry. For a list of all of Grimes' books, please go here.
5) MARSHALL BROWNE.Browne is an Australian author but that's no excuse as to why he's not better known and/or better read in this country. He is a fine writer of mystery/thrillers and creator of one of the more memorable book titles in history: THE WOODEN LEG OF INSPECTOR ANDERS (1999). How's that for a title? LOVE it! His books are very hard to find, but so worth the effort. I loved the Inspector Anders series set in Italy and also the stand-alone and one of my very favorite books, THE EYE OF THE ABYSS (2003) set in pre-WWII Germany. If you can find this, read it immediately. There is a sequel, but so far I haven't had any luck in finding it in this country. Very frustrating. To see a list of most of Browne's books, please go here.
6) KEITH COPLIN. Well, Coplin has only written one book as far as I know. But WHAT a book! It should have instantly made him a star. But the vagaries of publishing and publicity and general reading tastes continue to elude me. CROFTON'S FIRE (2004) is one of the best books I've read in many years. It is that rarity: a book that makes you gasp with astonishment at just how good it really is and why haven't you heard of this guy before? Here's a blurb I actually agree with, from the backcover of CROFTON'S FIRE:
This is a book that takes you by surprise. It seems to be about war in the late nineteenth century, but it is really about a human being who manages to find his humanity as well as his courage on battlefields from Little Big Horn to Zululand. Thomas Fleming. Yes. Exactly. AND with a sense of humor to boot. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
7) LYNN FLEWELLING. I wasn't, until a couple of years ago, a very enthusiastic fan of science fiction or fantasy books, but that seems to have changed. Since I discovered Connie Willis and a few other writers of this sort of thing, my view of sci-fi and fantasy has changed entirely. I did always love the movies, so it was not a stretch to find that I do like certain authors writing in this genre. Naomi Novik and her Temeraire series is, of course, one. Jasper Fforde, another. Both are brilliant in their own unique way. I think, really, great science fiction or fantasy attracts brilliance. To do this well, one needs a goodly amount of brain power.
Lynn Flewelling has been writing fiction for awhile. I know she writes another series, but the one I am most familiar with is the Nightrunner series which I began reading just a couple of years ago. These books are set in a land which most resembles, to me anyway, the sort of place Tolkien might have invented. Another land faraway with its own geography, its own set of rules, societies and people and most inventively, it's own language. Flewelling is very good at inventing language - names of characters and places - you can check her website for pronunciations. She is an author who appears to totally immerse herself in the world she creates.
The two heroes of the Nightrunner series, Seregil and Alec, are unique in many respects, not the least of which is the fact that they are lovers and partners as well as master spies. Their relationship has developed over several books, so I advise anyone wanting to read this series to begin at the beginning with LUCK IN THE SHADOWS (1996). The emotional involvement of the two leads is incidental to the excellent story-telling, but of course, it binds the two men together. The depth of their feelings adds to our understanding of their characters and though the death defying adventures, outlined in each book, often separate the two men, they usually find their way back to each other in the end. I love these books for the author's invention of another world as well as their sense of grand adventure and romance. For a list of all of Lynn Flewelling's books, please go here.
8) JEFFREY COHEN. Cohen writes some of the funniest books ever, I mean, laugh-out-loud funny. I discovered him when I picked up an arc of his first Aaron Tucker book, FOR WHOM THE MINIVAN ROLLS (2002). Then went on to read the next two Tucker books, grinning all the while. He also writes the Double Feature paperback series featuring Elliot Freed, owner of a small theater which specializes in classic comedy films. Both of these series are set in New Jersey where Cohen lives. Jeffrey Cohen has also written several non-fiction books about autism and Asperger's Syndrome. For a complete list of Jeff's books, please go here.
9) JONATHAN ROSS. One of the best kick-ass British police procedural series that no one ever heard of except me - or so it seems. These are terrific, well written, tightly plotted books that deserve a much wider audience. The main character is George Rogers, a Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent. The cast: his working team of oddly assorted regulars. The stories: all manner of murderous doings in London and its environs. I've read almost all the books and I can recommend them to anyone who likes great police procedurals, a terrific story and an all too human chief protagonist with occasional feet of clay. For a complete list of Ross's books, please go here.
10)PAULA MARANTZ COHEN. I love this author's books. Her sense of humor is priceless and pitiless though never cruel. She takes the classics and skewers them in her own special way. For instance: JANE AUSTEIN IN BOCA - a tale of Pride and Prejudice among the elder set at a Florida retirement home. Wait, wait, don't run screaming from the room! It works AND what's more, it's funny as heck. JANE AUSTEN IN SCARSDALE is a re-imagining of Austen's Persuasion set in the suburbs. MUCH ADO ABOUT JESSIE KAPLAN is a take on Shakespeare set in Cherry Hill, New Jersey - hilarious. Most of Cohen's likable characters are women of a certain age and yet, somehow, she makes it all work without denigrating the original tales on which the books are based.
I've just learned that Paula has a new book. Hooray! WHAT ALICE KNEW A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper. (How intriguing is this title?) Can't wait to read it. Learn more about Paula's books here.