Mystery was my first genre love (I had an early reader crush on Encyclopedia Brown), but I’ve read much less in the past few years. And I’ve burned out on some favorite series–they may still be going strong, but after 12 or 15 books, I’ve had enough.
I’d like a new series or two to love, but recent attempts at finding one by library browsing were not effective. When I mentioned this on Twitter, I started getting recommendations, but they are hard to track there. Hence, this post, in which I will describe my recent DNFs, list some favorites to give you a sense of my taste, and ask for your help finding good stuff!
Anna Loan-Wilsey, A Lack of Temperance (DNF at about 50%)
Great concept: 1890s US; female secretary Hattie Davish as the protagonist; set at an Arkansas health resort where people go to drink/bathe from various springs (faddish at the time); an eccentric group of women from a temperance union as victim and suspects. Loan-Wilsey’s research seemed sound, but when I realized that half way in the book hadn’t engaged me, I gave up. The problem was Hattie’s first person point of view: she lacked a strong voice and I never felt I understood her or what motivated her, despite a lot of italicized interior monologue. I just did not care what happened to her. I still might try the next, which is set in Galena, Illinois, where I went on a well-remembered elementary school trip.
Anne Cleeland, Murder in Thrall (DNF at 10-15%, plus I skimmed a bit later)
Um. OK. Obviously I did not read the whole book. And there are people who gave it 5 stars. But I quit early because it was an utter fail for me. Basically this is a Fifty Shades rip-off romance (there’s no graphic sex, I think, but one review I read said there is a D/s vibe) grafted on to a police procedural. These two things do not mix well. Obsessive stalker-alpha hero/hapless virgin is a fantasy, and though police procedurals don’t always get it right, the bedrock of the genre is meant to be the day-to-day realism of police work. You really can’t do both satisfactorily in the same book, I think. Here, neither worked for me.
The stalkery rich hero is DCI Acton (He’s also a Lord. Because billionaire copper would be too implausible?). The hapless, ordinary virgin who enthralls him is newly-minted DC Doyle, whom he plucks from obscurity because she’s gifted with some kind of second sight that tells her when people are lying (because she’s Irish. Cliché alert!). And because he’s obsessed with her. By hapless I mean she’s such a bad driver that she’s damaged two unmarked cars, and she leaves her phone on vibrate and misses her boss’s calls. At least she didn’t trip in what I read.
Look, I admit I hate this romance trope, but in erotic romance it’s fully developed and given an emotional logic that works for many readers. I don’t think they’d find it satisfying here. Acton tracks Doyle by her phone GPS and enters her apartment without her knowledge. I couldn’t stop thinking about real-life corrupt, sexually harrassing cops. He’s her superior officer. In that context, I could only read this as really, really creepy, not romantic. After they have sex the first time, he cuts off a lock of her hair while she’s sleeping. This struck me as “serial killer trophy” not sweet, especially as I initially thought the Acton-POV paragraphs that open each chapter (there’s an example in the link above) were villain-POV. Also, police procedure up to the point I reached mostly seemed to consist of Acton mooning over Doyle as they staked out a pub. So it didn’t work for me on that level either. I wish I had read this PW review before I tried it. Also (highlight to see spoiler but not for the mystery): at the end they’re married. She offers to quit so he doesn’t have to worry about her safety, but he says no, he just maybe won’t assign her to some dangerous cases. She’s cool with that. WTF? Just no on all counts–no realism about the job, no professionalism, no respect from him or me for the heroine, no no no.
So. Please help me do better! Here are things I like: classic British police procedurals, historicals, non-UK and US settings (though those are fine too), strong female characters, complex relationships (between the detectives and/or romantic, whatever). I’m burned out on Nordic crime, having read tons for a while (starting with Henning Mankell)–too bleak for my current reading taste. I don’t like too much gore and I’m tired of serial killers.
Here are some series I have enjoyed (and you might too). I’ve marked the ones with strong romantic elements with a ♥
- Reginald Hill, Dalziel and Pascoe (maybe my favorite ever)
- Colin Dexter, Inspector Morse
- Peter Robinson, Inspector Banks
- Deborah Crombie, Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James ♥
Historicals (mostly 19th-century or post-WWI):
- Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs
- Barbara Cleverly, Joe Sandilands (especially the ones set in India) (also her Letitia Talbot books, which I liked but not as much)
- Tasha Alexander, Lady Emily ♥
- Deanna Raybourn, Lady Julia ♥
- Charles Todd, Inspector Rutledge (did not like their other series much)
- Kate Ross, Julian Kestrel (if only there were more!)
- Barbara Hambly, Benjamin January
Other (mostly with “different” settings):
- Elizabeth Peters, Peabody and Emerson ♥
- Kerry Greenwood, Corinna Chapman ♥ (Melbourne) (+ one Phryne Fisher)
- Donna Leon, Inspector Brunetti (Venice)
- Michael Pearce, Mamur Zapt (Edwardian Egypt)
- Jason Goodwin, Yashim (19th-century Constantinople)
- Iain Pears, Jonathan Argyll and Flavia di Stefano ♥ (Rome)
- Julia Spencer-Fleming, Russ van Alstyne and Clare Fergusson (an Episcopal priest!)
Tried one, maybe you can persuade me to go further:
- Louise Penny
- C. S. Harris