Vanessa Bell - source
The idea for my list sprang from a post over at Fred's Place. His list inspired mine. Thanks again, Fred. As you might expect I was a bit more garrulous when composing my own favorites.
I tried for some order, but I'm not overly strict about these things - so without further fuss, are my 10, no my 15, okay make it my 20 Favorite Book Series
1) (Vintage) SHERLOCK HOLMES - The Adventures of, The Return of, The Further Adventures of, etc. by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
I've read them all. My favorites among the favorite are: THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE, THE SPECKLED BAND, THE SIX NAPOLEONS, THE MUSGRAVE RITUAL, CHARLES AUGUSTUS MILVERTON, THE NORWOOD BUILDER, THE COPPER BEECHES, THE CROOKED MAN, THE DEVIL'S FOOT, THE FINAL PROBLEM, THE EMPTY HOUSE, THE SOLITARY CYCLIST, THE YELLOW FACE and three or four others.
Lately I listen to the audio versions and find Simon Vance's vocal interpretations most satisfactory. What in literature is more thrilling than: "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"
? Not much.
2) SHERLOCK HOLMES and MARY RUSSELL in the series of adventures by Laurie R. King.
My favorites: THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE, O JERUSALEM, THE MOOR and JUSTICE HALL. King takes Holmes into the realm of flesh and blood man and invents a woman just quirky and brilliant enough (equally brilliant which takes a bit of daring) to get and keep his attention.
The age difference between them might raise an eyebrow or two, but I quickly got used to it - I could see how Russell might be attracted to the much older Holmes, especially since she would never have appreciated someone who would have expected her to behave like other women. No, Russell is Jewish (though non-practicing), a brilliant scholar and problem solver, not to mention, a specialist in Middle Eastern history. She is also not averse to masquerading as male when the occasion calls for it.
3) The AMELIA PEABODY series by Elizabeth Peters, aka Dr. Barbara Mertz, Egyptologist and mystery author.
My favorites in this series set in the late 19th, early 20th century and in which the beginning four books must
be read in order: CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK, THE CURSE OF THE PHARAOHS, THE MUMMY CASE, LION IN THE VALLEY, THE DEEDS OF THE DISTURBER, THE HIPPOPOTAMUS POOL, THE SNAKE, THE CROCODILE and the DOG, A RIVER IN THE SKY.
This is a delightful historical series set in the early days of Victorian style archaeology, it is full of outrageous good humor, satirical wit, mysterious doings in Egypt and elsewhere and
enormously engaging characters. Amelia Peabody and her crazed (in a good way) archaeologist hubby, Radcliffe Emerson are the king and queen of wildly eccentric crime-fighting Egyptologists.
I was never a big fan of Nefret, so the books in which she is featured are not among my favorites, though I read them all. However I may be in the minority so don't let me sway you from reading the second half of the series. Any Amelia Peabody is better than no Amelia Peabody.
4) (Vintage)The HERCULE POIROT series by Agatha Christie.
I fell in love with the 'little' Belgian detective with the charming manners and luxuriant mustache when I was a kid and never fell out. My favorites: THE ABC MURDERS, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, CARDS ON THE TABLE, CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS, ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE, EVIL UNDER THE SUN, MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD, subject to change as I reread the books year after year.
5) (Vintage)The JANE MARPLE series by Agatha Christie. "There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands."
My favorites: A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED, THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY, A POCKET FULL OF RYE, 4:50 FROM PADDINGTON, A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY, also subject to change as I reread the books year after year.
6) (Vintage)The NERO WOLFE series by Rex Stout.
My favorites: MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD (the Wolfe book I reread most), MURDER BY THE BOOK, PLOT IT YOURSELF, OVER MY DEAD BODY, THE RUBBER BAND, THE DOORBELL RANG, THE SILENT SPEAKER and BEFORE MIDNIGHT. Of course I reread all the others as well, including the short stories, but I have to stop somewhere. Reading and rereading the Wolfe books is almost the same as a journey back in time to Manhattan when the city was fun and familiar and the comfortable brownstone on West 35th Street seemed the perfect place to live.
7) The ELVIS COLE and JOE PIKE series by Robert Crais.
My favorites: LULLABY TOWN, FREE FALL, VOODOO RIVER, INDIGO SLAM, L.A. REQUIEM, THE WATCHMAN and THE SENTRY. The books are all about the close friendship between two men working together, Elvis Cole, a wisenheimer
private detective and his partner, the taciturn Joe Pike, an ex-cop turned mercenary.The strength of this friendship is what, for me, holds the books together. These two men are just so vividly etched in my imagination.
There's lots of snappy dialogue and humor, not to mention, heinous crimes and vile bad guys. The series is set in L.A. though occasionally we venture to the east coast and even down south to Louisiana.
This is one of the few series set in this country that I read religiously and love enormously. One of the few series in which bits of dialogue and action remain in my mind, year after year, never quite disappearing.
8) (Vintage)The CHIEF INSPECTOR JOHN APPLEBY series by Michael Innes.
My favorites: THE SECRET VANGUARD (The Appleby book I reread most.), OPERATION PAX, SHEIKS AND ADDERS, APPLEBY'S END, THE AWKWARD LIE (though in this one it's Appleby's son who takes the lead), DEATH ON A QUIET DAY, THE CRABTREE AFFAIR, and THE OPEN HOUSE, interspersed with two of my very favorite Innes stand-alones: THE JOURNEYING BOY and FROM LONDON FAR. Currently I'm still attempting to read all the Appleby books I can find. Just discovered APPLEBY'S ANSWER hidden away on one of my shelves - hooray!
This is a series steeped in literary quotations and allusions (everyone in these books is apparently well and classically read) so the new reader must get used to that. Truth be known, I often don't know exactly what the heck Appleby is alluding to but that never seems to dampen my enthusiasm. I'm mad for these whodunits especially when they are laced with Innes' impish phantasmagoria of strange characters and weird happenings.
9) The CHIEF INSPECTOR RICHARD JURY series by Martha Grimes.
My favorites: THE OLD SILENT, THE MAN WITH A LOAD OF MISCHIEF, THE LAMORNA WINK, THE STARGAZEY, THE OLD WINE SHADES, I AM THE ONLY RUNNING FOOTMAN, THE ANODYNE NECKLACE, THE DIRTY DUCK, VERTIGO 42, etc. These books are a rather odd combo of contemporary (and often brutal) mystery and old fashioned cozy - never strictly one or the other. That, on first reading, can be hard to get used to since, to my mind, no other writer does this sort of thing in quite the same way. The stories are peopled with decidedly quirky customers and though the crimes committed are often horrible, strangely enough there are occasional laugh out loud moments betwixt and between. It can make for an uneasy experience.
But there is a surreal quality to these books which fascinates me and there is nothing I like more than getting my hands on the latest Jury book. Obviously up to you if you want to put up with this odd juxtaposition.
In fact, for a modern day cop, Jury and his non-cop cohort Melrose Plant, a filthy rich upper class type (he drives both a Bentley and
a Rolls, though not at the same time), are given to flights of reminiscent fancies which somehow in someway are meant to help solve the mystery - or maybe not. This is not like any other mystery series out there, occasionally, a dog or a cat take center stage so that takes getting used to as well. I've read every book so I can hardly be expected to be rational about Jury, a character I am crazy about. And let's not forget that it was a small dog that saved Jury's life once when all seemed lost and I was about to tear my hair out. I can say no more.
10) (Vintage) The JANE and DAGOBERT BROWN series by Delano Ames.
My favorites: CORPSE DIPLOMATIQUE, MURDER MAESTRO PLEASE, FOR OLD CRIME'S SAKE and DEATH OF A FELLOW TRAVELER. I'm still trying to track down other Dagobert Brown mysteries, but some titles tend to be rather pricey. I dream of a day when they will all be re-issued. Jane and Dagobert Brown (don't you love that name?) are a young English couple who always seem to stumble across murder every time they go off on holiday, though occasionally the murders are closer to home.
Jane Brown is a struggling author and her hubby Dagobert is fond of not
looking for work and having no fixed source of income except for his wife and some vague monthly stipend. Fun series. I love the few books I've read so far. Too damn bad that they are so hard to track down. P.S. This would make a terrific television series - pay attention Masterpiece Mystery!
11) The BRYANT AND MAY 'PECULIAR CRIMES' UNIT series by Christopher Fowler.
My favorites: FULL DARK HOUSE, BRYANT AND MAY OFF THE RAILS, THE BLEEDING HEART, THE INVISIBLE CODE, BRYANT AND MAY ON THE LOOSE, THE TEN SECOND STAIRCASE, etc. In fact, I loved them all. (And I still haven't gotten to the graphic comics version.) Another unique series (yeah, I use that word a lot, but that's the sort of series I like best), set in modern day London but which has the feel of a much earlier time.
The two chief detectives of the peculiarly named Peculiar Crimes Unit are elderly (Bryant is VERY
elderly and curmudgeonly and May is three years younger and not so impossible), egregiously eccentric and perfectly at home in the sort of weird police unit no one is comfortable admitting exists. You will be required to have a willing suspension of disbelief all the while reading these books, but that's part of the fun. Yes, the books are peculiar, but you knew that going in.
I began rereading THE TEN SECOND STAIRCASE last night and was soon laughing out loud. Couldn't help myself.
"Arthur Bryant took a deep breath and folded his notes back into his jacket. 'I see nothing wrong with speaking my mind. After all, it is a special occasion.' He fixed his DS with a beady, unforgiving eye. 'I rarely get invited to make speeches. People always think I'm going to be insulting. I've never upset anyone before.'
'Perhaps I could remind you of the mayor's banquet at Mansion House? You told the assembly he had herpes.'
'I said he had a hairpiece. It was a misquote.'
Not that the series is lighthearted and full of foolish fun, not at all. Fowler writes about a London that has changed enormously and not for the better. But there are moments in between the mayhem. And after all, the office cat is
12) The JACK REACHER series by Lee Child.
My favorites: WITHOUT FAIL, PERSUADER, ONE SHOT, 61 HOURS and WORTH DYING FOR. Haven't read the very latest one, MAKE ME, but am on the reserve list at the library. This is one of the very few thriller series I read and here's the reason why: ex-Army military cop, Jack Reacher. He is the ultimate competent man, a modern day itinerant knight in shining armor who steps in when things need saving and bad guys need putting down. I like the way we're invited into Reacher's analytical thought processes and the quietly self-assured way he goes about his business. Lots of dead bodies in his wake, but hey, you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Also, which is nice, there's very little if any unnecessary foul language. At least on Reacher's part.
13) The WESTERMAN and CROWTHER series by Imogen Robertson.
My favorites: INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS, ANATOMY OF MURDER, CIRCLE OF SHADOWS. Haven't read the latest, THEFT OF LIFE. Hard to get series since her books seem not to be published in the USA. Very strange since they are absolutely brilliant English historical mysteries (set in the 18th century). And you know how much we love our Brit mysteries here in this country.
I am devilishly picky about 'historicals' and these are very definitely top of the trees. Gabriel Crowther is a mysterious 'anatomist' who works with Mrs. Harriet Westerman, an eccentric (meaning independent in thought and deed in a time when most society women weren't), inquisitive woman/mother/wife/adventurer. I recommend this series very highly - if you can find it.
14) (Vintage) The RODERICK ALLEYN series by Ngaio Marsh.
My favorites: DEATH IN A WHITE TIE, ARTISTS IN CRIME, DEATH AT THE BAR, DEATH OF A PEER aka
SURFEIT OF LAMPREYS, DIED IN THE WOOL, SINGING IN THE SHROUDS, SPINSTERS IN JEOPARDY, A CLUTCH OF CONSTABLES and DEATH AT THE DOLPHIN aka
KILLER DOLPHIN. Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn is the handsomest cop in the C.I.D. He is also an elegant gentleman (his brother has a title or some cushy government job or both - can't remember), but best of all, he is a finely-tuned detective. As the series progresses, he will meet and fall in love with his future wife, painter Agatha Troy (whom he calls 'Troy'). But that won't hamper Alleyn's crime solving career in any way.
Golden Age author Marsh was also a theater producer and playwright (in New Zealand) so several of the Alleyn tales are set in a milieu she knew very well and many more are set in the upper-crust and murderous English countryside we all love.
15) The FRED TAYLOR series by Nicholas Kilmer.
My favorites: HARMONY IN FLESH AND BLACK, MAN WITH A SQUIRREL, DIRTY LINEN and A BUTTERFLY IN FLAME. An art mystery series set in and around Boston's exclusive Beacon Hill. Fred Taylor is an ex-Vietnam vet who works for the very eccentric art collector Clayton Reed, a man paranoid about his privacy and art collecting proclivities.
Though Fred is thuggish in appearance, he is an art aficionado whose girlfriend is a librarian. And when not out solving crimes and running down lost art treasures, Fred checks in at the home he keeps for troubled veterans.
The author of this series is an art historian and painter so there's lots of interesting art stuff woven throughout the tales. Who knew the cultured world of art was rife with such skulduggery?
16) The JONATHAN ARGYLL series by Iain Pears.
My favorites: THE RAPHAEL AFFAIR, THE TITIAN COMMITTEE, THE LAST JUDGEMENT, GIOTTO'S HAND...actually, all the books in the series are pretty much favorites - there are only seven. This is another art series that I recommend highly especially if you, like me, love arcane art history mixed in with your murder and mayhem. Jonathan Argyll is a lovable if hapless English art historian who lives and works in Rome and I guess I'm a sucker for 'hapless English types' - most especially if they have brains and a love of Renaissance art.
When a painting goes missing or a collector or museum mucky-muck is murdered, Argyll is often to be seen cahooting
with the Italian National Art Theft Squad. I love this series and wish there had been many more books.
17) The TOBY PETERS series by Stuart Kaminsky.
My favorites: MILDRED PIERCED, BULLET FOR A STAR, THE HOWARD HUGHES AFFAIR, HIGH MIDNIGHT, HE DONE HER WRONG, THE FALA FACTOR, SMART MOVES, THE MELTING CLOCK, THE DEVIL MET A LADY, etc. A series set in Hollywood in the late thirties and forties, chock full of eccentric characters, famous actors and actresses and often absurdly funny plot machinations. Toby's a noir-ish type (he wears a fedora) who also happens to be a bit of a schlemiel - a guy who never quite grew up and shuns adult responsibility. Yet somehow, he always manages to solve the mystery, usually with the aid of his three quirky friends: a deranged dentist, a wrestler turned poet, and a Swiss dwarf.
Stuart Kaminsky was a prolific author who wrote several excellent series, but Toby is my favorite of them all.
18) The Detective Inspector Bill Slider series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.
ORCHESTRATED DEATH, DEATH WATCH, GRAVE MUSIC, BLOOD LINES, KILLING TIME, SHALLOW GRAVE. A contemporary British police procedural which features a bunch of mostly sympathetic (though occasionally disgruntled) London cops whom we get to know and mostly like, from book to book (which is why the series should be read in order
). Though it is Bill Slider's personal life which is most often in the forefront - when the unit isn't chasing down murderers that is. While serious about his job, Detective Inspector Bill Slider is still an engaging and likable character, not at all in the bullying, irascible mold of most modern day cops, which is one of the main reasons I like him and this series so much - especially the earlier books.
19) The JANE WHITEFIELD series by Thomas Perry.
My favorites: DANCE FOR THE DEAD, SHADOW WOMAN, THE FACE-CHANGERS and BLOOD MONEY. Jane Whitefield is an Onondaga Indian (her mother was white, her father Native American) who lives in upstate New York. Her profession is uniquely her own and has made her many deadly enemies - if only they knew where to look for her. Jane is a self-described 'guide'. She guides people in danger into new lives under new identities and she is very good at what she does. Unfortunately, with the onset of technology as it is today, the work is becoming harder and harder and Jane has mostly given it up, knowing that she is that much closer to being found out every time she undertakes a new mission.
Always cognizant of her roots and the legends of her tribe, Jane is one of the more intriguing heroines in modern day thriller lit.
20) The CORMORAN STRIKE series by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling).
My favorites: THE CUCKOO'S CALLING and THE SILKWORM. Waiting for CAREER OF EVIL. The series is only three books along but I am already smitten and waiting breathlessly for the latest: CAREER OF EVIL
. Another series set in contemporary London, so obviously I must be fond of books with an English setting. Right. You think?
I've left off several other series I read all the time because I have to end this list at some point. But you all know I read the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde, and the Spenser books by Robert B. Parker and the Gideon Oliver books by Aaron Elkins and the Chet and Bernie books by Spencer Quinn and the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley and the William Monk and the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt books by Anne Perry and the Armand Gamache books by Louise Penny and the Sean Drummond books by Brian Haig and...well, see what I mean?