Thursday, October 31, 2019

Top Twelve Favorite Mystery Writers/Series

As I put the finishing touches on my latest book, I thought I’d share some of my most loved reads in the ‘whodunit’ genre. (It’s not a top ten because I had a hard-enough time narrowing this down to twelve. But here they are, in no special order.)

Agatha Christie – I actually think she’s underrated. Sure, she’s lauded for the cleverness of her plots, and deservedly so. But she should get more credit. For the quality of her writing, which is unequaled, for the way she sketches such fascinating characters with a minimum of description, and for her humor, which ranges from dry, wry wit to sublime lunacy. And while I usually prefer series mysteries – and hers, particularly the Miss Marples, are outstanding – I think her standalone books are even better.

Rex Stout – I haven’t read a Rex Stout mystery I didn’t love, but of course the Nero Wolfe books are his tour de force. And like Agatha, I think he’s dreadfully underrated. The dynamic between Archie and Wolfe make those stories always enjoyable, no matter how often you read them.

Emma Lathen – the pseudonym of a female writing duo who turned out obscure classics that compare well with the mysteries of Agatha Christie and Rex Stout. The John Putnam Thatcher books accomplish the amazing feat of making a Wall Street Banker a lovable hero, and the Ben Safford series the similarly remarkable job of turning a Washington (DC) politician into an admirable amateur sleuth.

Carol O’Connell’s Detective Mallory series – from the first book through the fascinating ‘Find Me’, the series is so superb I refuse to let the variable quality of the further volumes keep me from adding it to this list. At the same time dark and disturbing, heart-warming and hilarious, so many of the Best Characters Ever live in these storiest that it’s impossible not to love them.

Faith Martin – I’d never heard of her (under that name or any of the pen names she’d written under) until I got a Kindle and started snapping up bargain ebooks. Her DI Hillary Greene series seems to be her best known, but I think her best books are a tossup between the Jenny Starling culinary cozies and the Ryder and Loveday series (‘Constable and Coroner’ in my head.) With the Monica Noble mysteries a close runner-up.

Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series – I usually wouldn’t rate books with content so crude, but these novels are something truly special, and the crudeness is in service of great stories with real heart. And fascinating, captivating characters.

Daisy Dalrymple – these twenties-era England-set cozies may not be the cleverest mysteries ever written, but they’re consistently good. Even more important, the characters shine. And the stories are so satisfying they’re like the best comfort food.

Frances and Richard Lockridge – their Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries are wonderful and their claim to fame, but it’s the Captain Heimrich books I like best. Naturally. All highly enjoyable, well-written, and amusing (and often outright looney.)

Georgette Heyer’s Hannasyde/Hemingway mysteries – sure, she’s known for her romance, but these whodunits are up there with Agatha’s, fun, and eminently rereadable.

The Charlie Moon Mysteries by James D. Doss – immensely clever, terribly amusing, and improbably compelling tales, these books have a special place in my heart.

The Miss Silver Mysteries – some of these whodunits penned by Patricia Wentworth are among the best there are (and some are familiar gothic tales) but Miss Silver is always entertaining, so she gets these on my list.

There are more that should make my top twelve, that I love as much, but I’ve run out of space. I didn’t include the fabulous Mrs. Pollifax books or Helen MacInnes’s intriguing spy novels because they’re not ‘mysteries’ per se. But genre fiction doesn’t consist of discrete categories, it’s a continuum, and those are right next door to whodunits, so I wanted to mention them.

But I don’t have enough time to tell you about all my other favorites – Alan Bradley, Catherine Aird, Ngaio Marsh, Charlotte MacLeod, Patricia Moyes, T. E. Kinsey, Elizabeth LeMarchand, Dell Shannon, Sarah Woods, Dorothy Sayers, Elizabeth Edmonson…

I can’t even name them all, because I’ve got to get back to work.

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