Some of My Favorite Mystery Authors Together With a Tip of the Hat to Some (Now Mostly Dead) Science Fiction Authors

I mentioned on Facebook how for Christmas I received a much needed new bath robe together with a couple of mystery novels, which were a timely item as I was nearly finished with the last from my bedside stack. Several friends expressed an interest in what authors I liked.

An interesting assignment on this day after Christmas. Perhaps a small gift for someone.

I was raised in a household awash in genre fiction. My father loved science fiction, my mother mysteries. As a kid I devoured science fiction, starting with Edgar Rice Burroughs and then Andre Norton. Living in a chaotic household where we moved so often I never attended a single school for two years running, my formal education was patchy. The current that ran strong and truly gave me some critical perspectives came from all those science fiction novels. Some of the authors from those years were, just randomly ticking off names included Issac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Harry Harrison, James Blish, Theodore Sturgeon, and, of course Robert Heinlein. Later I read Ray Bradbury, Roger Zelazny, Alfred Bester and Philip K Dick. Ursula Le Guin was probably the last of the science fiction authors I sought out.

I remain ever grateful for these and other authors of speculative fiction.

But as I aged my tastes began to change. And somewhere along the line I stopped reading science fiction, pretty much entirely.

Instead, for that relaxing reading, I took up mysteries. I notice I enjoy the idea of a mystery with a solution that I can hypothetically figure out myself, although I rarely try. I don’t like too much violence. A little sex is fine. But, this is for relaxation – so the thriller isn’t to my taste.

That acknowledged, here is an almost random selection of those authors I really, really like.

Probably the first mystery author that I found myself reading everything from was Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series.

The next were Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series. Nero Wolfe got me through seminary.

I’ve enjoyed various pastiches on these authors in the years following. In fact one of the books I was given for Christmas was another of Robert Goldsborough’s continuation of the Nero Wolfe series.

In fact probably my all time favorite mystery author is the writer of a pastiche series, a continuation of the Sherlock Holmes books. I wait breathlessly for the latest Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes from the pen of Laurie R. King. There are several reasons for my enthusiasm. Among them is the simple fact King is a good writer. But, also, she’s theologically trained, and which leads to theological issues occasionally popping up, which just sweetens the pot for me.

Returning to the classics. I fairly quickly found the California masters of the hard boiled detective novel, Raymond Chandler and the immortal Dashiell Hammett. If you haven’t read ‘em, I think you will not regret finding a couple of their books.

Another classical mystery author I really liked is Dorothy L Sayers.

There are a number of one off mysteries that I count among my favorites. One of my all time favorites among these would be Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, which I guess also counts sort of as at least Sherlock Holmes inspired. Another of these one offs I find I remember is Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time.

For series authors, I have to admit while I love the film adaptations of her work, I’ve never enjoyed Agatha Christie, and I don’t think I’ve finished a single of her books. Among those I really have liked are Sue Grafton, Philip Kerr, Tony Hillerman, Walter Moseley, although he often is too violent for my tastes, and Steven Saylor, who interestingly I have almost all of his Roma Sub Rosa series in first editions.

Others, in no particular order, whom I adore, include Gyles Brandreth, John Dunning, Bruce Alexander, Donna Leon, Owen Parry, Jason Goodwin, and Iain Pears, (who is also a first rate literary writer, or, so says, my spouse).

I think there are some real treasures in this pile.

I hope you find one you like.

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  • Barry Graham (@BGAuthor)

    You might like George Simenon’s Maigret novels, and Janwillem Van de Wetering’s Grijpstra and de Gier novels. Van de Wetering also wrote some good nonfiction books about his time as a Zen monk.

  • jamesford

    I have enjoyed the Maigret novels, Barry. Thanks for the reminder. I’m not a big fan of police procedurals, but I really, really liked Van de Wetering’s one off Inspector Sato’s Small Satori…

  • Barry Graham (@BGAuthor)

    Do you know James Sallis’s work? I think you’d like him. Very serious, yet real page-turners. The Turner Trilogy isn’t too violent.

  • Dave Laser

    Thanks for the tip about Laurie King! The Holmes stories were my first, & all-time favorites- now I’m heading to the library! To the long list of suggestions you’ll be getting, I would add Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri books, starting with ‘The Coroner’s Lunch’- excellent writing, wonderful humor, delightful characters, Hmong shaman, not too much nastiness.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I also have not cared for the few Agatha Christie novels I have read. The narration leaves me cold, and the plot turns on something stupendously unbelievable, like a woman being married to the same man twice and not realising it.

  • jamesford

    I’m enjoying the various tips. Thanks all! I have to admit I didn’t like the Dr Siri books. I just have no taste for the fantastical and the spirit parts just turned me off. Same with John Burdett’s Bangkok series, although the first one is open ended enough that I enjoyed it. But I put the second one down a third of the way in. (I’ve long since learned if I don’t like it, I don’t have to finish it.) Back to Cotterill, Jan pointed me to a new series just begun, the first title is Killed at the Whim of a Hat, which I really liked and am looking forward to more…

  • Suzanne

    Thanks, Jmes. I, too loved Laurie King, Tony Hillerman, Dorothy Sayers, and enjoyed Sue Grafton. I have limited my experience by strongly prefering female authors and protagonists. I’ll try some of the others you mentioned.

  • David Ashton

    “Watson, for his part, never feared or resented me. Before that day I would have scornfully said he was too dim-witted to see me as a threat. By the afternoon I knew that it was because his heart was too large to exclude anything concerning Holmes.” OK I’m hooked. Thanks very much for the intro. Off to the bookstore now….

  • Cushing

    I’m surprised that you don’t incluse P.D. James in your mystery writers’ pantheon. I think she’s one of the all-time masters of narration.

  • jamesford

    I really liked P D James’ Death in Holy Orders, (I can be lured into most any mystery if it features clergy) but for whatever reason she’s not caught me. No idea why…

  • http://none denise

    Have you seen any of the BBC series Sherlock? Very well done modern take on the classic.

  • Jean-Marcel Duciaume

    I would like to suggest Louise Penny, a Canadian Writer whose mysteries all take place in Québec, mostly in a small village along the Vermont border. Her last one A Beautiful Mystery takes place in a monastery. Inspector Gamache is an enjoyable character.

    • Lisa

      I agree 100%! It’s best to go through her books sequentially. You’ll understand the relationship between the various characters better.

  • Sibyl McNulty

    I loved your list and many of the authors, but I found myself getting tired of Hillerman, Sue Grafton and other series writers after awhile. Having said that, I still love Mrs. Pollifax, whom you didn’t mention. The author is Dorothy Gillman. They’re really fun. Mrs. Pollifax is a woman “of a certain age” who decides she’d like to be a spy. So, because they’re novels, she becomes one.

  • James

    Dear Sibyl, I agree that Ms Grafton seems bored with her series and the previous one to the most recent I barely finished. I thought she mostly returned to form with the last. I didn’t, I have to admit, feel that way about Hillerman. Thanks for the pointer to Mrs Pollifax!

  • Cushing

    And as a former Bostonian (okay, Newtonian, but close enough) don’t you at least have a little soft spot in your who-done-it heart for Robert Parker? I’m just saying…

  • Stephen Slottow

    I too have read all of Sherlock Holmes, Dorothy Sayers, Tony Hillerman, and Nero Wolfe. I have not been able to get interested in Stout’s other books. I recommend four other series: (1) the Salziel/Pascoe mysteries of Reginald Hill; (2) Susan Dunlap’s Jill Smith series (Smith is a Berkeley cop); (3) John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books (each has a color in the title, e.g., “A Purple Place for Dying”, and especially (4) Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee mysteries, which are Ming Dynasty style stories about a famous T’ang style detective. They’re mostly written from a Confucian viewpoint, but there are some very striking Taoist and Ch’an characters, and I enjoy the Confucian view of Buddhist monks as untrustworthy con men and lechers. We think of Buddhism as largely Chinese, but the Chinese (and Japanese) largely viewed it as a foreign import. I am the only person I know about who reads Agatha Christie not for her plots but for her characters and dialogue–especially Miss Marple. But Christie’s best book, the one that was a perfect companion to two weeks in intensive care because it is such a friendly chatty wise book, is her autobiography. Even if you don’t like her mysteries, read that.
    If you ever go back to science fiction, check out Cordwainer Smith, R. A. Lafferty, and Ursula Leguin’s Earth-Sea books (you’ve probably read some of these). Incidentally, I am periodically amazed at how bad Heinlein’s later books are–all that spanking and cutesy sex babble all the time, almost like soft porn. Really, his juvenile stuff is much better.

  • Stephen Slottow

    Correction: should read “which are Ming Dynasty style stories about a famous T’ang-era detective.”