This list is a work in progress, mysteries and thrillers I recommend
to my friends when we are sitting, elbows on the table, glasses in our hands, talking books.
Some are prize winners, best sellers—others just books I like that you might like too.
Many more to come. Stay tuned to this space. SJ


AMATEUR SLEUTH. Albert writes a traditional/cozy-ish series set in Pecan Springs, a fictional small town in the Texas hill country. China Bayles, her heroine, is a former criminal attorney who decided she’d had enough of the justice system. She now owns a store, Thyme and Seasons, that sells herbs. In addition, as the series goes on, she and her friend Ruby start a tearoom and a catering business. With all this going on, she still can’t seem to stay away from crime, particularly when a friend or family member is involved. The books are written in the first person and China takes the reader into her confidence as she narrates the story so there is plenty of background and you can pretty much pick up the series at any point. They do qualify as cozies, complete with recipes, but China can be gruff and occasionally abrasive. I find her no nonsense attitude wears well and I enjoy the herbal lore that finds its way into the books.

China Bayles
Thyme of Death (1992)
Witches’ Bane
Hangman’s Root
Rosemary Remembered
Rueful Death
Love Lies Bleeding
Chile Death
Lavender Lies
Mistletoe Man
Indigo Dying
A Dilly of a Death
Dead Man’s Bones
Bleeding Hearts
Spanish Dagger
Holly Blues
Mourning Gloria
Cat’s Claw
Widow’s Tears
Death Comes Quickly
Blood Orange (2016)


HIT WOMAN. NADIA STAFFORD SERIES. As Nadia Stafford, the heroine of this three book series (with an additional novella published in e-book this spring), is an ex Canadian cop who owns and operates a wilderness lodge. As Dee she is a contract killer for the Thomasetti’s, a small traditional Mafia family from Boston. Dee’s mentor is Jack, a more dedicated and experienced contract killer who talks with a minimum number of pronouns as he shares his wisdom. “I’m not a shrink. Never been to one. Shot a couple. Don’t think that counts.”

This is a satisfying, compact series in which the likable (yes, really) characters are chattier and more introspective between hits than the guns for hire in the four series written by men that spring to mind. That isn’t a judgment about better or a worse—just a different reading experience.

Exit Strategy (Bantam 2007)
Made to be Broken (Bantam 2009)
Wild Justice (Plume 2013)
Double Play (novella e-book 2016)

BASS, JEFFERSON (co writers Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson)

FORENSIC MYSTERIES. DR.BILL BROCKTON. Dr. Bill Brockton is loosely based on the professional life of one of the coauthors of the series, Dr. Bill Bass. In 1971 he founded what is popularly known as ‘The Body Farm” a four acre site that is part of the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center located in Knoxville. If you are interested you can view several videos of the farm on the Jefferson Bass website. Not for the squeamish—blow flies crawl over the open eyes of the dead, maggots hatch in ears, skin takes on the look of tanned leather, bellies swell with gas as decomposition advances – it is fairly gruesome. Dr. Bass appears in the videos, looking like a kindly small town grandfather with a pocket full of peppermints. But as we mystery readers know appearances can be deceiving. For example the doctor introduces a portable Experimental Ground Radar System by saying, “We have a problem in the United States of the husband and wife, one of them gets mad, kills the other one, they take them out in the backyard and bury them. Then they pour a concrete slab over them. And it’s hard to find.” If you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail; and if you’re a forensics expert it seems your neighbor’s new patio looks like a possible crime scene.

The Body Farm already was well known to law enforcement professionals before Patricia Cornwall made it famous to the world at large in her best selling book of the same name. Sometime later Dr. Bass began crafting his own mysteries with collaborator Jon Jefferson, a freelance writer who first collaborated with Dr. Bass on a non fiction book and then in 2006 on the first book in their Body Farm Novels series. Most of the mysteries hero Bill Brockton solves are set in and around Knoxville, and Eastern Tennessee, though there is one trip to France. The books have terrific appeal especially, though not only, for forensics fans. As is often the case in books like this, Dr. Brockton’s romantic relationships are blah to ‘oh dear’ but that being noted, for me forensics rule.

Carved in Bone 2006
Flesh and Bone 2007
The Devil’s Bones 2008
Bones of Betrayal 2009
The Bone Thief 2010
The Bone Yard 2011
The Inquisitor’s Key 2012
Jordan’s Stormy Banks (novella about the beginning of his career)Cut to the Bone 2013
The Breaking Point 2015 (prequel to series)

NOTE: There are ten novels and one novella in the series and according to the note at the end of the last book Dr. Brockton is going on sabbatical and so are the authors.


FORENSIC SPECIALIST. Therese MacLean, an appealing heroine, lives and works in Cleveland (and suburbs). She and her police friends/cousin drive around Brookpark and Lakewood, go to Pier W and talk about “Birdtown.” If you are from the West Side of Cleveland (that’s me) you probably will enjoy them for that reason alone, but they also are good for forensics fans.

Evidence of Murder
Trail of Blood
Defensive Wounds
Blunt Impact
The Price of Innocence
Close to the Bone


CONTEMPORARY PRIVATE EYE. Mr. Block has two series I follow avidly and one (Bernie Rhodenbarr) I can’t read. I’m not sure why I’ve taken against Bernie, but this is my list and so be it.I do like –make that love – Scudder and Keller.

MATHEW SCUDDER NOVELS: Matthew Scudder, formerly slightly bent cop, an alcoholic in the first four books, lives a NYC life not as a PI but as someone with investigative skills who does ‘favors’ for people who need them in return for ‘presents’ of money. He starts to struggle with drinking in A Stab in the Dark and Eight Million Ways to Die. When the Sacred Ginmill Closes is a story set ten years earlier when he was drinking hard, but narrated by the more sober Matt. By A Ticket to the Boneyard,he is in AA and working the program, but he isn’t all angsty about it.A great series. I originally picked it up at Eight Million Ways to Die and read from there – only recently have I caught up with the earlier books.They are not bad, but it is the books after number four that make him a not-to-be-missed writer.

NOTE: Liam Neeson starred as Matthew Scudder in the movie A Ticket to the Boneyard. He is a convincing Scudder, but JMO the movie was meh.

The Sins of the Fathers
Time to Murder and Create
In the Midst of Death
A Stab in the Dark
Eight Mullion Ways to Die
When the Sacred Ginmill Closes
Out on the Cutting Edge
A Ticket to the Boneyard
A Dance at the Slaughterhouse
A Walk Among the Tombstones
The Devil Knows You’re Dead
A Long Line of Dead Men
Even the Wicked
Everybody Dies
Hope to Die
All the Flowers are Dying
A Drop of the Hard Stuff
The Night and the Music

KELLER NOVELS: Keller is a very efficient hit man – intelligent, reliable, discreet, and, as originally presented, obsessed only with his work and his stamp collection. If you had to be killed by someone, Keller might be your choice. He isn’t into pain, suffering or blood and most of his targets never know what hit them. Rather emotionally cool our Keller, but he has hidden depths and he is evolving. Actually, in some strange way, he comes across as light-hearted. Write faster, Lawrence Block.

Hit List
Hit Parade
Hit and Run
Hit Me

Keller in Dallas
Keller on the Spot
Keller’s Adjustment


POLICE PROCEDURAL. Castillo’s protagonist, Kate Burkholder, grew up Amish but moved away from the religion and was ritually shunned by the Amish Community in Painter’s Mills, Ohio. Now, after some big-city experience, she is invited back to town as the new Chief of Police. Ostensibly, she is “English” but she also has a deep understanding of and ties to the Amish community, which is very useful when bad luck and trouble come to the sleepy rural locale. I find it hard to believe that the Amish would have so much bloody mindedness just below the surface, but I don’t let it stop me from enjoying these mysteries. I do have a weakness for tough cookies, and Kate manages to be that without being annoying about it.

Sworn to Silence
Pray for Silence
Breaking Silence
Gone Missing
Her Last Breath
The Dead Will Tell
After the Storm
Among the Wicked


THRILLERS, ALMOST ALWAYS SET IN THE U.S. I read Lee Child, usually within a day or two of publication day, and almost everybody else I know who reads mysteries and thrillers does the same. Child seems to transcend people’s usual preferences, though I have a couple of friends who find the body count too high. My favorite Child after the earliest ones is Bad Luck and Trouble, although I also very much enjoyed the prequel to the series The Affair and his most recent book Make Me. Truth to tell what always draws me to the books is the character of Reacher as he wanders across the US, living off the grid, his only enduring possession a folding tooth brush. He consistently makes choices from his strong sense of justice instead of what passes for common sense, and so lives a life I like to imagine, though I am far too lazy to attempt to make my fantasies a reality. Anyway, theoretically, I can picture buying new underwear as you go, and purchasing a new cheap shirt and throwing away the old one every few days, but Reacher never says, “Gee I really liked the way that tee shirt fit, I think I’ll give it a rinse in the motel sink and wear it again,” or, “That shirt was cheap but it was a great color. Maybe I’ll stop at the laundry….” And, while, having no iPhone is appealing, he also has no books, no e-reader, no computer, no journal, not even a pencil. Once, to my great pleasure, he did get even with a villain who broke his tooth brush. This stripped-down life is never going to work for me personally, but then it doesn’t have to. I have Reacher to be consistent, disciplined, live in the moment with no messy ‘stuff’ to slow him down while the bad guys are brought to justice.

Killing Floor (1997)
Die Trying (1998)
Tripwire (1999)
Running Blind (US title); The Visitor(UK title) (2000)
Echo Burning (2001)
Without Fail (2002)
Persuader (2003)
The Enemy (2004) (Prequel – set eight years before Killing Floor)
One Shot (2005)
The Hard Way (2006)
Bad Luck and Trouble (2007)
Nothing to Lose (2008)
Gone Tomorrow (2009)
61) Hours (Spring 2010)
Worth Dying For (Fall 2010)
The Affair (2011) (This is another prequel set just before Killing Floor.)
A Wanted Man (2012)
Never Go Back (2013)
Personal (2014)
Make Me (2015)
Night School (2016)


AMATUER DETECTIVE. MYRON BOLITAR SERIES. Myron Bolitar, Coben’s hero, is a former basketball star derailed from a big career by a crippling knee injury. Now he’s a sports agent, with a sideline in solving mysteries–mysteries often associated with one of his athletes. If you haven’t read them it’s hard to explain the appeal of a 6’4” guy who still sleeps in the basement of his parent’s house in Livingston, New Jersey, but the books are great, perhaps for me because even though I’m not terribly interested in watching sports I really like fiction about them. Also, generally speaking, these books are mildly humorous and witty, a different vibe from Coben’s stand alones. Myron has an assistant/partner, a gorgeous, hip former lady wrestler who was once the star of FLOW (Fabulous Ladies of Wrestling) under the name Little Pocahontas. And a best friend, Windsor Horn Lockwood III, better known as Win, who is a v. rich Lilly Pulitizer tie wearing WASP psycho who can hurt you with either hand. Both much loved friends are useful in Myron’s line of work. The role of the major people in his life evolves as the series go on but the relationships endure. Coben also has a series about Myron’s nephew Mickey Bolitar. I am not such a fan of the Mickey books, but Myron does appear in them so they are listed fyi.

Myron Bolitar
Deal Breaker
Drop Shot
Fade Away
Back Spin
One False Move
The Final Detail
Darkest Fear
Promise Me
Long Lost
Live Wire

Mickey Bolitar
Seconds Away


Michael Connelly is another writer on my personal “buy on publication day” list. His two main characters, each with their own series, are Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller. However there are other characters who appear and reappear. Since Mr. Connolly is delightfully organized about this, I will let his website material speak for itself.

HARRY BOSCH SERIES: Police procedural. On his website Michael Connelly writes: “Harry Bosch Background: Born in 1950 in Los Angeles to Marjorie Phillips Lowe. He was named Hieronymus Bosch after the 15th century Dutch artist and nicknamed “Harry.” He became an orphan at 11 when his mother, a prostitute, was murdered. He grew up living in a youth hall and foster homes. He joined the army and did two tours in Vietnam. Harry returned to Los Angeles and joined the LAPD in 1972. He became a detective after five years in patrol.”

The Black Echo (1992)
The Black Ice (1993)
The Concrete Blonde (1994)
The Last Coyote (1995)
Trunk Music (1997)
Angels Flight (1999)
A Darkness More Than Night (2001)
City Of Bones (2002)
Lost Light (2003)
The Narrows (2004)
The Closers (2005)
Echo Park (2006)
The Overlook (2007)
The Brass Verdict (2008)
Nine Dragons (2009)
The Reversal (2010)
The Fifth Witness (2011) (one page brief appearance)
The Drop (2011)
The Black Box (2012)
The Gods of Guilt (2013) (one page brief appearance)
The Burning Room (November 2014)
The Crossing (2015)
The Wrong Side of Goodbye (2016)

MICHEY HALLER SERIES: Mickey Haller: Legal procedural. Also from Michael Connelly’s site. “Mickey Haller Background: Born in 1965 in Los Angeles to a B-list movie actress from Mexico and the famous criminal defense attorney, J. Michael Haller. He was named after his father, who died when Mickey was five. After law school, he worked in the Public Defenders’ Office for about 3 years. He left and went into private practice as a criminal defense attorney, opening up Michael Haller and Associates:”

The Lincoln Lawyer (2005)
The Brass Verdict (2008)
Nine Dragons (2009) (small part)
The Reversal (2010)
The Fifth Witness (2011)
The Gods of Guilt (2013)
Other Main Characters
Rachel Walling Appearances:
The Poet (1996)
The Narrows (2004)
Echo Park (2006)
The Overlook (2007)
The Scarecrow (2009)
The Reversal (2010) (small part)
The Black Box (2012) (small part)
Jack McEvoy Appearances:
The Poet (1996)
A Darkness More Than Night (2001) (small part)
The Brass Verdict (2008) (small part)
The Scarecrow (2009)
Terry McCaleb Books and Appearances:
Blood Work (1998)
A Darkness More Than Night (2001)
The Narrows (2004) appearance
Cassie Black Appearances:
Void Moon (2000)
The Narrows (2004) (small part, using an alias)


Crais’s main characters, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are a team. Elvis, the self proclaimed ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ has a quirky sense of humor, and Joe is his serious, mysterious friend and the muscle, often called in to solve physical problems. However in a few of the more recent books, beginning with The Watchman, Joe is the lead person and Elvis is the one called in to solve problems. For the Suspect fan club, the loyal dog Maggie has much in common with Joe Pike, in the best way. A third recurring character is Carol Starkey, who appears as a minor character in Elvis and Pike books after the one off in which she is the main character—Demolition Angel. And then there is the mysterious mercenary Jon Stone. He doesn’t have his own books yet, but he seems to be figuring in recent stories, so perhaps one of these days…. If one doesn’t want to start at the beginning with Crais I think the series could be picked up with the Joe Pike books (The Watchman is the first), but I have been reading this author since 1987, when The Monkey’s Raincoat came out, so that is just a ‘for what it’s worth’ opinion. I don’t have a top ten list, but I definitely have a ‘buy on publication day’ list, and Robert Crais is on it.

The Monkey’s Raincoat 1987
Stalking the Angel 1989
Lullaby Town 1992
Free Fall 1993
Voodoo River 1995
Sunset Express 1996
Indigo Slam 1997
L. A. Requiem 1999
The Last Detective 2003
The Forgotten Man 2005
The Watchman 2007 (Joe Pike)
Chasing Darkness 2008
The First Rule 2010 (Joe Pike)
The Sentry 2011 (Joe Pike)
Taken 2012
The Promise (2015)

Demolition Angel 2000 (Carol Starkey, bomb demolition expert-knows Elvis Cole)
Hostage 2001
The Two Minute Rule 2006
Suspect 2013


POLICE PROCEDURAL. Set mostly in contemporary London. Is it a spoiler to say we watch the hero, Duncan Kincaid, and heroine, Gemma James, meet, work together, start/blend a family, and marry. Those events take place over many books. I don’t love them all equally, but I look forward to each new book with the impatience of a true addict. Sometimes in these reviews I suggest starting at the first book in a series, but for this one I think a reader happily begin with Where Memories Lie followed by Necessary as Blood, and No Mark Upon Her (my personal favorite and one I’ve read twice). To Dwell in Darkness, the most recent, is a compelling read, and includes some background history of St. Pancras train station that will leave you wanting more, but it probably is not the best place to start. The family and work relationships have complicated histories, layers accrue that make the people rich and believable. This adds depth and complexity to the several plots that are unfolding and the books are better for being read in order. I’m guessing the author might also see these books as one long work and not a series of self contained novels because a few important matters are left unresolved at the end of Darkness. Crombie’s upcoming book is Garden of Lamentations and I’m told the publication date is February 17.

NOTE: there are people who find the domestic complications of the two working police detectives with children to be crowding out the mystery. Doesn’t bother me.

The Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James
A Share in Death
All Shall be Well
Leave the Grave Green
Mourn Not Your Dead
Dreaming of Bones
Kissed a Sad Goodbye
A Finer End
And Justice There Is None
Now May You Weep
In a Dark House
Water Like a Stone
Where Memories Lie
Necessary as Blood
No Mark Upon Her
The Sound of Broken Glass
To Dwell in Darkness
Nocturne (short story)


HISTORICAL. Franklin was a writer of historical fiction who created the fascinating12th-century character Adelia Aguilar, a medical prodigy from the University of Salerno in Italy who has been trained as a ‘mistress of the art of death’ i.e. an early medical examiner. She is dispatched to England where Henry II has need of her services. Children are being killed, and the local people are muttering about secret Jewish rituals. Henry II doesn’t believe that, and, more pragmatically, needs his Jewish subjects because they are his bankers. It is up to Adelia (who is part Jewish) to find the real culprit/s. There are four amazing, wonderful books in the series, discursive and chewy. These are among the books I recommend to people who tell me they aren’t sure they like mysteries. Unfortunately the author has died and there will be no more books. jHer fans are sad.

Mistress of the Art of Death
The Serpent’s Tail
Grave Goods
A Murderous Procession


CONTEMPORARY BRITISH PRIVATE EYE (Cormoran Strike). In a recent interview J. K. Rowling said that she finds writing under the name Galbraith to be very freeing – even though by now everybody in the mystery reading world knows that Harry Potter’s creator has started writing adult books. Great storytelling. And by the way, the books are getting better and better.

The Cuckoo’s Calling
The Silkworm
Career Of Evil


HISTORICAL. Goodwin is a British historian who writes a mystery series about a eunuch, Inspector Yashim, who investigates various crimes in Istanbul starting in1836, and going forward from that date. That description sounds dry, but the books are not. When we first meet the detective, a murder has taken place in the Sultan’s harem, and at the same time the dead body of an elite member of the army’s New Guard has been discovered curled up at the bottom of a giant cauldron – with his face missing. Who else but Detective Yashim can move freely in all the forbidden places of the city and solve these heinous crimes? There is romance, though I’ll leave it to the reader to discover the details of eunuch love. (Probably not what you are thinking, whatever that is.)This is an exotic setting, and an area of history with which I am unfamiliar, both of which are part of the allure.

The Janissary Tree
The Snake Stone
The Bellini Card
An Evil Eye
The Baklava Club


BRITISH AMATEUR SLEUTH. Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series keeps getting better. The first book was good until the last chapter. But don’t skip it – there’s some important info in there. After that disappointing ending I loved the books. Ruth is Dr. Ruth Galloway, a teacher in the graduate program of the University of North Norfolk (England).She is a forensic archeologist, which, in the context of the books, means that when the police find a body and wonder if the person died last month or two thousand years ago, they call on Ruth. The person who calls on her most is DI Nelson. If you are drawn to paragraphs that begin with sentences like “Marshland is very important in pre-history…” you will like Ruth. If not you may prefer DI Nelson who inwardly rolls his eyes at the threat of ‘intellectual’ conversation and uses the British colloquialism “who is he when he’s at home” far too often.

I find the main characters endearing – along with the local Druid, Cathbard, the Australian Aboriginal poet Bob Woonunga who sometimes lives next door to Ruth, her friend and fellow teacher Max, etc. She describes herself (and is described by others) as fat, but that doesn’t stop a certain level of male interest, drawn perhaps by her air of self-possession.The area of Norfolk where she lives is rich in Roman and British bronze- and iron-age sites and these are Ruth’s passions. When I first read the books I considered them ‘women’s mysteries’ but I gave one to my brother and heard him laughing out loud while he read it, so I guess not. These are not big mysteries, but not quite cozy either. I wish there were many more of them.

NOTE: Several of the books have child victims – sometimes iron-age or Victorian, but also contemporary children in danger. The books step away from dreadful details, I haven’t found them harrowing, but if you are sensitive on the subject, be aware. Quercus in the UK, Houghton Mifflin/Harcourt in the US.

The Crossing Places
The Janus Stone
The House at Sea’s End
A Room Full of Bones
A Dying Fall
The Outcast Dead
The Ghost Fields
Ruth’s First Christmas Tree-short story
Woman in Blue


LEGAL THRILLER. SEAN DRUMMOND NOVELS. Sean is a JAG lawyer (that’s Judge Advocate General, the legal branch of the US Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and Navy for you civilians who’ve never seen the tv show) who is good at his work, a fascinating (to me) political analyst and an idiot and patsy for most of the women he works with. He is manipulated professionally more often than romantically, though that comes into the story occasionally. Just ignore it. The political discussions of places like Bosnia, South Korea, etc., are completely compelling.The author was regular army and the son of Secretary of State Alexander Haig and his views on the army and international affairs as they concern the army manage to leave me thinking, for a moment, that I actually understand things that are way above my pay grade. In his most recent book, The Night Crew, Haig takes on the messy problem of Abu Ghraib, as Sean is dragged onto the defense team for a hapless soldier, referred to, by those who have seen the photographs, as ‘the girl who pissed in the man’s mouth.’ Drummond’s insight into the situation is cynical and informative about the war and the army, though the mystery is not very mysterious. By the way, without giving the plot away, in this book Sean is able to man up and keep moving. Perhaps there is hope for our hero after all. It’s rewarding to start this series with the Secret Sanction, but there’s no plot reason why you can’t begin with The Night Crew if that’s your preference. Sean Drummond wears well. I hope there will be more.

Secret Sanction (2001)
Mortal Allies
The King Maker
Private Sector
The President’s Assassin
Man in the Middle
The Night Crew(2015)


TWO VAMPIRE AND WEREWOLF FREE AMATEUR DETECTIVE MYSTERY SERIES from the author of the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood books. Harper Connelly does have a psychic gift. Every since she was struck by lightning she can find dead people and they talk to her—in a limited way. To make a living, she and her step brother Tolliver Lang, who acts as her manager, accept jobs that make use of her talent. They spend most of their time driving across the south, staying in cheap motels, solving crimes for a varied cliental. Wondering how Grandpa really died? Missing a child and fearing he or she is dead? Look up Harper’s website and get in touch with her. She can help you. edrg
But you might not like her answers. ..

Grave Sight 2005
Grave Surprise 2006
An Ice Cold Grave 2007
Grave Secret 2009

Lily Bard lives in Shakespeare, a small town in Arkansas, and works as a house cleaner. A traumatic event in her life left college educated Lily choosing this humble occupation as her best option, but she doesn’t feel sorry for herself (at least not most of the time). She knows first hand that the world is a dark place and so she takes self defense lessons, keeps a wry sense of humor, and lives an orderly life tidying up other people’s messes—including murder. I like the character, tough minded and full of grit. The books are not cozy, what happened to Lily in the past is too nightmarish for that, but they have quotidian feel of small town life, full of the strange characters and ordinary occurrences of cozies.
Note: For those who read and love the author’s best known series about Sookie Stackhouse, Lily solves these crimes not only without the help of vampires but also no fairies, werewolves, or psychic talents.

Shakespeare’s Landlord 1996
Shakespeare’s Champion 1997
Shakespeare’s Christmas 1998
Shakespeare’s Trollop 2000
Shakespeare’s Counselor 2001

A new series by Charlaine Harris set in Midnight, Texas brings together several of the minor characters from both of these series. There might be a vampire or two around town. After all, it’s Texas.


HISTORICAL. SEBASTIAN ST. CYR NOVELS. (The author also writes thrillers under the name C. S. Graham and historical novels and nonfiction under the name Candice Proctor.) The hero is the unexpected heir to a peerage after his two older brothers, the heir and the spare, died. Angry, driven, with unusual yellow eyes that can see well in the dark, a useful asset for a solver of crimes, Sebastian is not one to lounge around ballrooms ogling debutants when a mysterious death is so much more intriguing. There is an ongoing plot thread about his mysterious missing mother who may not be dead. Compelling, romantic historical mysteries set in the early 19th Century London and the surrounding countryside. The author has a Ph.d. in European history and while the research does not overwhelm the book, her author’s notes always are worth reading—everything from the homosexual underground of London to the French Court in their English exile during the Napoleonic era.

What Angels Fear
When Gods Die
Why Mermaids Sing
Where Serpents Sleep
What Remains of Heaven
Where Shadows Dance
When Maiden’s Mourn
What Darkness Brings
Why Kings Confess
Who Buries the Dead
When Falcons Fall


THRILLERS SET IN THE US. Bob Lee Swagger is a US Marine sniper, Master Sergeant, and veteran of Vietnam, who was born and raised in Blue Eye, Arkansas. Also known as Bob the Nailer for his uncanny accuracy with a rifle, post-Vietnam Swagger had some difficulties with alcohol and is now sober and a man of action.There is a lot of technical information about guns and shooting in these books. A lot! Do I like them because Bob Lee is now over 70 and still kicks serious butt? Maybe. Anyway, an off -beat choice.

Point of Impact
Black Night
Time to Hunt
The 47th Samurai
Night of Thunder
I, Sniper
Dead Zero
The Third Bullet
Sniper’s Honor


POLICE PROCEDURAL AND PI ADVENTURE STORY. Krueger writes a kind of guy-thriller series set in Minnesota. Cork O’Connor, the main character, is a hard-headed, soft-centered, small-town police chief who eventually morphs into private investigator. One might be surprised at how much work there is for a private investigator in rural Minnesota. He has a one fourth Native American heritage (Anishinabe aka Ojibwa), and though the Anishinabe who live on a nearby reservation don’t count him as one of them, it does affect his point of view. This writer and John Sandford share a state, but they aren’t alike. Cork is tough and determined, but he’s not a cynical and funny hard guy like Lucas Davenport. These are strong books, sometimes dark, but satisfying. Often there is an outdoorsy and slightly mystical ‘Indian’ component to the plot. I like that.

Mr. Kreuger wrote a standalone Ordinary Grace that won many awards including the Edgar in 2013;

Iron Lake(1999)
Boundary Waters(1999)
Purgatory Ridge (2001)
Blood Hollow (2004)
Mercy Falls (2005)
Copper River (2006)
Thunder Bay (2007)
Red Knife (2008
Heaven’s Keep (2009)
Vermilion Drift (2010)
Northwest Angle (2011)
Trickster’s Point
Ordinary Grace (not Cork)
Tamarack Island
Windigo Island (2014)
Manitou Canyon (2016)

Ordinary Grace (a stand alone that won the Edgar in 2013)


TRADITIONAL MYSTERIES SET IN VENICE. Everybody loves Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti. And what’s not to like? Delicious Italian food lovingly described. Glorious Venice, ditto. And the very sympathetic, reflective Inspector Brunetti. Brunetti has strong opinions both moral and political, and solves interesting puzzles, mostly suspicious deaths. Among those aiding him in his navigation of Venice’s tangle of bureaucracy and personalities is Signora Elettra Zorzi, who officially works for Brunetti’s smarmy superior but puts her mysterious computer skills at the Inspector’s service. It would be unusual in the course of a book to find Brunetti tied up with the tide rising or at the point of a violent villain’s sword. He’s more likely to be at home having gnocchi for lunch with his wife and their two children or walking through some forgotten district of his beloved Venice. I guess the word I’m looking for is civilized. Very. If ever I am arrested I hope it’s by someone like Brunetti.

NOTE: A friend who is one of DL’s most avid fans says she didn’t like Death at La Fenice and didn’t bother to finish it. For whatever reason, she later went back to the series and now wouldn’t miss one. Sometimes you have to be in the right mood to be receptive to a writer.

Death at La Fenice
Death in a Strange Country
Dressed for Death
Death and Judgment
Acqua Alta
The Death of Faith
A Noble Radiance
Fatal Remedies
Friends in High Places
A Sea of Troubles
Wilful Behaviour
Uniform Justice
Doctored Evidence
Blood from a Stone
Through a Glass, Darkly
Suffer the Little Children
The Girl of His Dreams
About Face
A Question of Belief
Drawing Conclusions
Beastly Things
The Golden Egg
By Its Cover
Falling in Love
The Waters of Eternal Youth (Commissario Guido Brunetti)


In March, Mysterious Books (with Open Road) announced they were publishing the Mr. and Mrs. North series of 26 books written by Frances and Richard Lockridge. The books were wildly popular – written from 1941 until 1963 when Frances Lockridge died and Richard ended the series (though he continued to write other books). There was a radio show with more than twenty million listeners that ran in various forms from 1941 until 1954, a TV show for two seasons from 1952 to 1954, at least one Broadway play and a movie. The books are light-hearted and if you are in the mood for a nostalgic summer read there’s plenty here to entertain.

The Norths Meet Murder (1940)
Murder Out of Turn
A Pinch of Poison
Death on the Aisle
Death Takes a Bow
Hanged for a Sheep
Killing the Goose
Murder Within Murder
Untidy Murder
Payoff for the Banker
Murder Is Served
Death of a Tall Man
The Dishonest Murder
Murder in Hurry
Murder Comes First
Dead as a Dinosaur
Death Has a Small Voice
Curtain for a Jester
A Key to Death
Death of an Angel
Voyage Into Violence
The Long Skeleton
Murder Is Suggested
The Judge Is Reversed
Murder Has It’s Points
Murder by the Book (1963)


TRADITIONAL AMATEUR SLEUTH. I’ve been a fan of Maron’s Deborah Knott ever since finding Bootlegger’s Daughter in a Cape Cod second-hand bookstore In that first book, she is leaving her law office to run for judge, and is a modern southern woman with a big streak of stubborn and an off-hand sense of humor. Deborah is the twelfth child and only daughter of Colleton County (supposedly retired) bootlegger Kezzie Knott with his second wife Susan (who birthed the last four of widower Kezzie’s twelve children and mothered all of them).Deborah’s older brothers have married and multiplied all over the county, and, if you tend to feel swamped by a large number of characters, you might want to go to the Margaret Maron home page and print out the family tree.

Deborah is neither a femme fatale nor a morose loner – she is a generous size-twelve-struggling-not-to-be-a-size-fourteen professional woman with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances and an interesting mental balance between the preacher and the cynic who share space in her brain. As is usual with a long-running series, some stories are better than others, but even in the less than gripping reads I enjoy visiting Colleton County and the surrounding areas of North Carolina where most of the books are set. One of the satisfying features of the books is Deborah’s rulings from the bench. Better than Judge Judy. Every fall I check to see what is forthcoming.

There is another series about a New York cop Sigrid Harald (available in eBooks) that Margaret Maron wrote before the Deborah Knott books. She introduces the two heroines to each other in Three Day Town and Sigrid turns up again in The Buzzard’s Table. The cynic in me thinks Margaret Maron is trying to promote the reissue of the Sigrid series, and, while my preacher tolerates that aim – a writer has to make a living – still, I vote meh.

The Deborah Knott Series:
Bootlegger’s Daughter (1992)
Southern Discomfort (1993)
Shooting at Loons(1994)
Up Jumps the Devil(1996)
Killer Market(1997)
Home Fires(1998)
Storm Track(2000)
Uncommon Clay(2001)
Slow Dollar(2002)
High Country Fall(2004)
Rituals of the Season(2005)
Winter’s Child(2006)
Hard Row(2007)
Death’s Half-Acre(2008)
Sand Sharks (2009)
Christmas Mourning(2010)
The Buzzard Table(2012)
Designated Daughters (2014)
Long Upon the Land(2015)


SAN FRANCISCO P.I. Back in the day Marcia Muller was one of the first women writers to have her mystery solving heroine put down her tea cup and pick\up a gun. Sharon McCone originally was a detective working in a legal cooperative in San Francisco. She’s still a detective in San Francisco but as in all the best series her character has developed and moved forward with her life. Changing offices, working circumstances, relationships, houses—there’s always something to keep the series fresh. Occasionally Ms. Muller writes a book with her husband, writer Bill Pronzini.

Edwin of the Iron Shoes (Sharon McCone) – 1977
Ask the Cards a Question (Sharon McCone) – 1982
The Cheshire Cat’s Eye (Sharon McCone) – 1983
The Tree of Death (Elena Oliverez) – 1983
Games to Keep the Dark Away (Sharon McCone) – 1984
Leave a Message for Willie (Sharon McCone) – 1984
Double (with Bill Pronzini–Sharon McCone and Pronzini’s “Nameless Detective”) – 1984
The Legend of the Slain Soldiers (Elena Oliverez) – 1985
There’s Nothing to Be Afraid Of (Sharon McCone) – 1985
The Cavalier in White (Joanna Stark) – 1986
Beyond the Grave (with Bill Pronzini–Elena Oliverez and Pronzini’s John Quincannon) – 1986
The Lighthouse (with Bill Pronzini–nonseries) – 1987
Eye of the Storm (Sharon McCone) – 1988
There Hangs the Knife (Joanna Stark) – 1988
Dark Star (Joanna Stark) – 1989
There’s Something in a Sunday (Sharon McCone) – 1989
The Shape of Dread (Sharon McCone) – 1989
Trophies and Dead Things (Sharon McCone) – 1990
Where Echoes Live (Sharon McCone) – 1991
Pennies on a Dead Woman’s Eyes (Sharon McCone) – 1992
Wolf in the Shadows (Sharon McCone) – 1993
Till the Butchers Cut Him Down (Sharon McCone) – 1994
A Wild and Lonely Place (Sharon McCone) – 1995
The Broken Promise Land (Sharon McCone) – 1996
Both Ends of the Night (Sharon McCone) – 1997
While Other People Sleep (Sharon McCone) – 1998
A Walk Through the Fire (Sharon McCone) – 1999
Listen to the Silence (Sharon McCone) – 2000
Point Deception (Soledad County) – 2001
Dead Midnight (Sharon McCone) – 2002
Cyanide Wells (Soledad County) – 2003
The Dangerous Hour (Sharon McCone) – 2004
Cape Perdido (Sharon McCone) – 2005
Vanishing Point (Sharon McCone) – 2006
The Ever-Running Man (Sharon McCone) – 2007
Burn Out (Sharon McCone) – 2008
Locked In
Coming Back
City of Whispers
Looking for Yesterday
The Night Searchers 2014
Someone Always Knows 2016

Short Story Collections
Deceptions -1991
The McCone Files -1995
Duo (with Bill Pronzini) -1998
McCone and Friends -2000
Time of the Wolves — Western Stories -2003
Somewhere in the City – 2007
Crucifixion River with Bill Pronzini – 2007


THRILLERS SET IN TIBET. From Mr. Pattison’s website: Inspector Shan Series:“In an earlier time, Shan Tao Yun was an Inspector stationed in Beijing. But he lost his position, his family and his freedom when he ran afoul of a powerful figure high in the Chinese government. Released unofficially from the work camp to which he’d been sentenced, Shan has been living in remote mountains of Tibet with a group of outlawed Buddhist monks.”

FROM SJ: Even non mystery readers respond to Eliot Pattison’s well written Inspector Shan books, with their unusual plots, fascinating locale and serious, political underpinnings. This is another of the series I recommend to people who aren’t sure they like mysteries and thrillers. These books not only entertain, they also leave you feeling smarter and more enlightened.

The Skull Mantra
Water Touching Stone
Bone Mountain
Beautiful Ghosts
Prayer of the Dragon
The Lord of Death
Mandarin Gate
Soul of the Fire


SUSPENSE THRILLERS.Thomas Perry has two series that I especially like and admire: the three novels that began with The Butcher’s Boy is the first; the other is the Jane Whitfield series that has spanned about fifteen years. The Butcher’s Boy was a sensation when it was published and is the first novel I can remember reading in which the hero, a professional assassin and not what anyone would call a good person, is a sympathetic character we root for. Jane Whitfield began in1995 as a fairly nonviolent, half-Seneca guide of last resort (her father was a high iron worker in Manhattan though she lives in upstate New York), who leads her bewildered and terrified clients to a safe new life. She’s a little like an entrepreneurial one woman witness-protection program. More recently, as technology and Homeland Security have made seeking a new identity – hiding in plain sight – in the US almost impossible, Jane has become more violent and started picking off her enemies instead of merely eluding them. They are all people who ‘need killing’ but I marginally prefer the earlier books.

Here are quotes from two writers who share my admiration of Perry: “The fact is, there are probably only half a dozen suspense writers now alive who can be depended on to deliver high voltage shocks, vivid, sympathetic characters and compelling narratives each time they publish. Thomas Perry is one of them” Stephen King (and wouldn’t I like to know the rest of his list).Also, “Thomas Perry is, quite simply, brilliant. And as each book comes out he becomes more so.” Robert Parker. There, now you don’t have to take my word for it – he’s really really good.

The Butcher’s Boy
Sleeping Dogs
The Informant

Vanishing Act(1995)
Dance for the Dead
Shadow Woman
The Face Changers
Blood Money
Poison Flower
A String of Beads (2015


THRILLER/POLICE PROCEDURAL. Judging by these books, Minnesota is the leading serial killer location in the US. Not for the faint of heart. If you read mysteries you probably know Sandford’s long running series hero Lucas Davenport. If you begin at the beginning you will see Lucas go from single player to married man, with various stops and starts along the way. There are ups and downs a in all long running series. I’d single out Silken Prey, as my recent favorite. The plot revolves around an election for United States Senator, a missing political operative, and the discovery of damning evidence on the conservative candidate’s computer that may cost him the election, until the very liberal governor decides it’s a set-up and the resulting muck is likely to stick to both parties. There’s a lower body count than some of Sandford’s, but plenty of gore and twisty political tricks within tricks. Several recent books have featured Lucas’s adopted daughter Letty. She shares Lucas’s intensity but not his leavening wit and off beat sense of humor. If you’re new to the series Gathering Prey is not the place to start reading.

There are over twenty of the Davenport books, and, if that’s not enough, Sandford has started a breakout series starring one of the characters from the Davenport series – Virgil Flowers, aka Virgil Fuckin’ Flowers. The Flowers’ books are less bloody than the Lucas Davenports, and, perhaps because Sandford claimed to write each of the early ones with a different friend, most of them outdoors enthusiasts, they come across as a little lighter. Both series are on the list of books I buy the day they are published. I might have a kind of Ohio girl crush on Virgil. I probably should mention somewhere that I often laugh out loud when reading the Virgil books.

Sandford also has an earlier series about Kidd, an artist and computer expert, and his girlfriend, thief extraordinaire LuEllen. The Kidd and Lucas Davenport characters know each other and occasionally overlap, most notably in Silken Prey.

Dark of the Moon
Heat Lightning
Rough Country
Bad Blood
Shock Wave
Mad River
Storm Front
Escape Clause

Rules of Prey(1989)
Shadow Prey
Eyes of Prey
Silent Prey
Winter Prey
Night Prey
Mind Prey
Sudden Prey
Secret Prey
Certain Prey
Easy Prey
Chosen Prey
Mortal Prey
Naked Prey
Hidden Prey
Broken Prey
Invisible Prey
Phantom Prey
Wicked Prey
Storm Prey
Buried Prey
Stolen Prey
Silken Prey
Field of Prey
Gathering Prey
Extreme Prey

The Fool’s Run
The Empress File
The Devil’s Code
The Hanged Man’s Song


HISTORICAL. The series is set in England, beginning in1537when Henry VIII decided to get a divorce. The protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, is a lawyer who is attached to Cromwell’s household. In the first in the series, Dissolution, Shardlake is sent to Sussex to solve a murder of one of Cromwell’s commissioners. English common law is evolving and power lies with the King, who is capricious. Shardlake is hunchbacked, from a poor background, a far from romantic figure, which doesn’t make him any less engaging as a central character. This is an excellent, solid series, intellectually as well as emotionally satisfying.

Dark Fire
Lamentation (2015)


FINANCIAL THRILLER. (Jason Stafford) When we first meet Jason Stafford in Black Fridays his father is picking him up from federal prison. A former Wall Street BSD caught and convicted for fudging the numbers to make himself look good, he’s been released on parole after serving two years of a five-year sentence. His conviction means most jobs on Wall Street are not open to him, but soon it occurs to one of his old acquaintances (who doesn’t like him much) that the idea of setting a thief to catch a thief has stood the test of time for a very good reason. Jason finds a career opportunity as a freelance fraud investigator.
After working as an actor for eight years, Michael Sears returned to school to get his MBA, then spent more than 20 years working on Wall Street as a bond and currency trader and then as the Managing Director of two different firms. He uses his knowledge deftly and tells a good, fast-paced story that left even me briefly feeling I understand more about the financial markets than I do. The ruthless ingenuity of white-collar criminals makes a compelling thriller, but it’s the presence of Jason’s autistic son, called the Kid, and their evolving relationship, that humanizes the stories and sets them apart from other financial thrillers.

NOTE: Black Fridays was nominated for an Edgar and won the Shamus Award among other honors.

Black Fridays
Mortal Bonds
Long Way Down
Saving Jason


SUSPENSE THRILLERS. Gabriel Allon, talented art restorer and equally talented Israel assassin, is the central character in these international thrillers. There is much that could be said about this melancholy, introspective and deadly hero, but with writing this good let the author do it. Read the sample pages of The Confessor, Death in Vienna or The Rembrandt Affair and if you aren’t well and truly hooked, pass on by. I don’t think it’s necessary to start at the beginning of this series, though if you like them as much as I do you’ll want to circle back and catch up. Dense, suspenseful, and compelling. If I had to limit myself to a top ten list, Silva would be on it.

The Kill Artist
The English Assassin
The Confessor
A Death in Vienna
Prince of Fire
The Messenger
The Secret Servant
Moscow Rules
The Defector
The Rembrandt Affair
Portrait of a Spy
The Fallen Angel
The English Girl
The Heist
The English Spy

Other, earlier books by Silva not about Gabriel Allon:
The Unlikely Spy
The Mark of the Assassin
The Marching Season


HISTORICAL. The Gaslight Mysteries begin in 1895–Murder on Astor Place – when we meet Sarah Brandt (nee Decker), the young widow of a doctor. She is estranged from her socially prominent Knickerbocker family, and lives in Greenwich Village where she works as a midwife. Sarah’s quest for the truth about a young girl’s death draws her into helping NYPD Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy solve the murder, in spite of how much she dislikes his rough Irish manner. After that initial case the two continue to be pulled into investigations together by a shared passion for the often complex search for justice in turn of the century New York. I would not describe the books as dark, but the era is not glamorized. When the characters in Gaslight Mysteries cross the street they usually are dodging piles of horse manure. What really sells the series for me (and a number of my mystery reading friends) is the New York City historical background against which the stories unfold. I don’t think you have to read them in order, but it does help to start with the first two.

The titles tell it all.

Murder on Astor Place
Murder on St. Mark’s Place
Murder on Gramercy Park
Murder on Washington Square
Murder on Mulberry Bend
Murder on Marble Row
Murder on Lenox Hill
Murder in Little Italy
Murder in China Town
Murder on Bank Street
Murder on Waverly Place
Murder on Lexington Avenue
Murder on Sisters’ Row
Murder on Fifth Avenue
Murder in Chelsea
Murder in Murray Hill
Murder on Amsterdam Avenue
Murder in Morningside Heights


HISTORICAL PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR. The author writes mysteries set in England just after WWI. . I really like these books, and on some deep level find them soothing. Maisie Dobbs, Winspear’s main character was a nurse in WW I before returning to England and starting a detective agency. Her mentor was what was then called an ‘alienist’ (we would call him a psychologist perhaps although it doesn’t quite cover the area of knowledge.) The books are aware of class—Maisie began as working class, a maid. until the sponsoring of her social ‘betters’ started her on her way up the educational, then the social and economic ladder. She doesn’t have an attitude or a chip on her shoulder, and navigates her way through that aspect of her life without much drama, but social class is almost a character in the books. Generally you can enter the series at any point, but without getting into spoilers A Dangerous Place is a big shift in all the characters lives and you’ll probably want some background from the other books for this one.

Maisie Dobbs
Birds of a Feather
Pardonable Lies
Messenger of Truth
An Incomplete Revenge
Among the Mad
A Mapping of Love and Death
A Lesson in Secrets
Elegy for Eddie
Leaving Everything Most Loved
A Dangerous Place