A friend asked me why I liked mysteries and to recommend “three mystery type books that I think typify the genre, yet at the same time represent the finer points of it…” Nice, huh? This friend wants to familiarize himself with the genre… So, here goes.
I had a long long list of authors I like and I tried to figure out why I liked them.
Overall, I like mysteries because there are two stories going on at the same time. There is usually a hero or heroine who is damaged in some way (physically, psychologically) or has a skewed perspective gained through experience. Often they are outsiders or loners. With which, I identify strongly. Through the story in the book, they overcome great odds. They resolve the narrative issues and move a bit forward on their own path as well. I tend to like the ones with recurring characters so I can see personal growth over time (over several books).
I also like books with a strong sense of place: New York City, New Orleans, Cajun country, San Francisco Bay Area, Scotland, Paris, Boston, Montreal. I like to have a way to learn about other places and worlds. I tend to like the dark mysteries as long as the blood and guts are relevant to the story. However, I’m getting tired of the books that get into serial killers heads and books that have too many points of view.
Okay, but what rises to the top of my list? Hmmmm.
- James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels. Robicheaux is a Cajun ex-cop. He can be very violent. What draws me to these books is how he tries to deal with his violent tendencies and his relationships with women. The sense of place is very strong and specific and I like to read about men struggling with their emotions. It’s why I like Rock n Roll. Grown men on stage screaming about pain and lost love.
- Dennis Lehane of Mystic River fame. While I loved Mystic River, I also loved his early Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro novels, set in Eastern Massachusetts. Good stories. Troubled relationships. Great sense of place.
- And of course, we have Barry Eisler who’s hero is an assassin of Japanese American descent (cultural clashes along the way); David Morell who also has trained killers as heroes who then are betrayed by their father figures who trained them (often government agents); Lee Child who’s hero is always on the move, literally; Jonathan Kellerman’s psychologist hero, Alex Delaware, with a copy buddy in LA; and Robert Parker’s Spenser novels with his mysterious pal Hawk and his witty, well-read hero.
Okay. Now for the women:
- Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb with Eve Dallas novels set in a futuristic New York City. Eve had a terribly violent childhood that really never leaves her. She is a cop. Her husband lived on the other side of the law and is now mostly straight. They are a great team. This is probably a romance as much as a mystery. Oddball characters that end up becoming Eve’s family.
- Tami Hoag. I got caught in her web when she was writing about southern Louisiana and Minnesota. Lots of great mysteries are set in Minnesota (in the cold north)…. Great sense of place. No recurring characters, but I like her writing.
- Nevada Barr. All her Anna Pigeon novels take place in National Parks. So we get wilderness murders and learn about the Park Service. The heroine has lost the great love of her life and she has trouble connecting with others — so even when she connects, she is often out in the wilderness away from the relationship. Obviously great sense of place.
- And then there’s SJ Rozan with her Chinese American cop who marries a Hispanic cop in New York City; Diana Stabenow bases Kate Shugak in Alaska (she’s an Aleut); Sara Paretsky in Chicago; Marcia Muller has Sharon McCone here in San Francisco; Faye Kellerman with her LA cop hero married to an orthodox Jewish woman in LA.
- The LA guys: Michael Connelly, Harlan Coban,
- The Florida guys: Randy Wayne White; Stuart Kaminsky, Barbara Parker; PJ Parrish;
- New Mexico: Tony Hillerman (Navajo country)
- New York: Robert Tannenbaum (district attorney hero)
Aiiii aiiiiiii yaiiiiiiii. This list could go on. I apologize to other great writers I love who aren’t on this list. I have to go home now.
Causes Paula Hendricks Supports
Grace Cathedral Labyrinth Guild, Bay Area Independent Publishers Association, Litquake, Center for the Book, San Francisco Public Library