While I was deciding if I wanted to read more of Leonardo Padura’s mystery novels starring Lieutenant Mario Conde (the answer? Probably not, given Conde’s misogyny), I was thinking about what factors made me like a mystery series in general. A non-misogynistic detective, obviously, but what else? A dark, atmospheric tone? Witty repartee among the characters? A completely unexpected villain at the end?
As it turns out, I enjoy a variety of those factors and more, it just depends on the writer and the books. One series might be set in modern times and be dark in tone. Another might be a gritty historical read with a cast of snarky characters. I don’t read many mysteries and when I do it’s usually because of a bout of bookish moodiness. Ergo, my taste in mysteries is a little sporadic.
So in no particular order, here are my favorite mystery series:
- The Barker & Llewellyn novels by Will Thomas. Set in England in the 1880s, these books follow the adventures of Private Enquiry Agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewellyn. Because the murders often involve members of the lower classes and minorities, the books present a grittier–but still humorous– view of London than other Victorian mysteries I’ve read, as well as showing London for the incredibly diverse city it has always been. While Llewellyn (the narrator) has a period-appropriate point of view, Barker’s perspective of the world and its people is quite modern, though fitting given his background and experience. Thanks to a diverse cast of dimensional characters, I look forward to every new book (and purchase it the day it comes out!).
The first book, Some Danger Involved, introduces us to this version of London and has Barker and a newly-hired Llewellyn being hired to investigate the murder of a young Jewish scholar. So far, there are nine books in the series, with the tenth due out this fall.
- The Veronica Speedwell Mysteries by Deanna Raybourn. This series is also set in Victorian London, but it has a cheerier tone and stars an intelligent, free-spirited young woman who investigates murders among the upper classes that she moves among. While it doesn’t have as diverse a cast as the Barker and Llewellyn series, it has a more feminist tone to to it. It’s also witty and features a will-they-won’t-they semi-romantic relationship between Veronica and another character. Amazingly, I don’t mind this tension between the two.
The series opens with A Curious Beginning. There are three books so far, with a fourth due out in January 2019.
- The Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French. Set in twenty-first century Ireland, these books deal with recent Irish history, the personal histories of the detectives in the Murder Squad (French’s fictional creation, not a real unit), and the psychologies of the victims and the people whose lives have been affected by the deaths. These books tend to be grim, melancholy, and incredibly intelligent. They’re not a series that I could binge read thanks to their density, but they are compelling and hard to put down once you’ve started reading.
I’ve only read two of the books so far– In the Woods and The Likeness– but I plan to read book three soon. They’re not the easiest reads, and I have to build up to reading another one, but they are fantastic. The series begins with In the Woods, and there are six books.
- Peter Grant mysteries by Ben Aaronovitch. I’ve also seen this series called The Rivers of London, though it didn’t come up that way in Goodreads. These books star a young, bi-racial police constable, Peter Grant. He is aiding a murder investigation when he happens to interview a ghost. Suddenly, he is swept into a world of magic he never knew existed and is assigned to study under England’s last magical investigator, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. As he learns this new craft, he discovers secrets about the world he never expected– including secrets about himself.
Sure, it’s not a typical mystery series, but they are fun to read and provide a diverse and perfectly believable magical world whose history reflects the way the world works a little more closely than the average Londoner might expect. This is another series I haven’t finished, but I plan to one of these days. It opens with Rivers of London, and there are seven books in the series.
- Shetland, based on the Shetland Island series by Anne Cleeves. Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat. I’ve only read the first book of this series, Raven Black, but I loved the TV show. I dearly love Scotland and I have a friend who grew up on the Shetland Islands, so there’s a double connection for me. Right now, I prefer the BBC television series to the books, but again, I’ve only read the first one. I do plan to read the second one, at the very least.
The television show is structured more like a set of miniseries, where the mysteries run across 3-6 ninety-minute episodes. They feature many well-known British actors, as well as some you’ve never heard of before. The writing is excellent and the characters are so dimensional, though given how far north the Shetlands are compared to the rest of the British Isles, you’ll probably want to turn on closed captioning, as their accents are very different from anything in England, and quite thick as compared to most of mainland Scotland. Bleak as they can be, the Shetlands are incredibly beautiful, and the cinematography reflects this. So far, there are three seasons (they’re streaming on Netflix), with a fourth in the works.
As far as the books go, the first one is titled Raven Black, and there are eight books in the series.
Hmm. I had not noticed until I sat down and wrote all of this down, but these are all set in the United Kingdom or Ireland. I’m sure that says something about me…