Are mystery novels a vice? Because if they are, I’m an addict. It doesn’t take much for me to get hooked on a series. Once that first body hits the floor (which sometimes happens on the first page), I can’t put them down. I usually have 3-4 series going on at one time. For me, it's the entertainment equivalent of binge watching CSI.
From my youth to the present, here’s an overview of my favorite mystery series. For the Amazon links, I've listed the first book in the series. Find me on Twitter and let me know if I'm missing any good ones.
Can't Put 'Em Down
These are my go-to books that I'll stay up all night reading.
Connelly is the Stephen King of the modern-day detective novel. Love crossovers? His novels have those, too. Connelly also wrote a 6 books series featuring Mickey Haller, a.k.a. the Lincoln Lawyer, who is Harry Bosch’s half-brother.
The Kenzie-Gennaro books were my first exposure to a truly dark and gritty detective series ... I only wish there were more of them. Lehane also wrote the standalone novels Mystic River and Shutter Island.
Funnier than the movies, with so much 70s goodness bursting out of every page. This was one of the first series that I really got into, and they're probably long overdue for a re-read.
Rehder lives in Austin, and his books take place out in Blanco County. They are laugh out loud funny, with some very Texas-centric themes that hit a little too close to home. His Roy Ballard series is great as well.
All the modern-day bestsellers were heavily influenced by the following authors, and they deserve a category of their own.
There’s not much else to say about Raymond Chandler that hasn’t already been said … he’s the gold standard. The Big Sleep is one my favorite mystery novels (and films).
My grandparents always had a bunch of old Agatha Christie novels laying around their house. She’s the best-selling novelist of all time, and you can never go wrong with Hercule Poirot.
Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes is a fun introduction to the mystery genre. Growing up I had a handful of Sherlock Holmes picture books, which I still have today. The Hound of the Baskervilles scared the mess out of me when I was 10.
Sam Spade is Hammett’s most famous character, immortalized on screen by Humphrey Bogart. But he also wrote the Thin Man novels in the 1930s and the Continental Op was one of the first detective series to appear in old pulp magazines.
I wouldn't recommend these series as much as the ones I've listed so far, but they're still a lot of fun.
The protagonist is a former Detroit cop that retired to a lonely cabin in northern Michigan. He’s the age-old cliche of “trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes.” The plots aren’t anything special, but the character development is top-notch.
I discovered Hillerman while on vacation in Utah after I kept noticing his books in all the local bookstores. He puts an interesting twist on the genre, as the books revolve around the Navajo Tribal Police and Indian folklore.
Yes, this is the same Rick Riordan that wrote the Percy Jackson & The Olympians books. His Tres Navarre series follows a somewhat troubled detective around San Antonio. They’re a little hit or miss for me, but entertaining.
The Red River series is a Texas time capsule. They follow a young man whose grandfather is the sheriff of a North Texas town in the 60s. The best way I could describe them was if there was a serial killer on the loose in “Leave it to Beaver.”
Had To Quit
I almost never give up on a book, so it's saying a lot that I gave up on these.
So Dirk Pitt is essentially an American James Bond. The books are fun and full of adventure, but Pitt’s also a raging sexist. Add that to the fact that the books started to get long and rambling ... I gave up.
Carl Hiassen’s books aren’t really a series, but they all take place within the same universe in Florida. I had several people recommend this series, but I just wasn’t feeling it.
Technically Not a Series
These two quasi-series are worth mentioning, even if they're not 10+ books.
Milton Burton is an under appreciated novelist from East Texas. Before his untimely death he wrote a handful of books that take place in Texas during the late 1940s.
Ellroy is the godfather of modern noir. I’ve read the LA Quartet twice, and two of the books have been made into films (notably L.A. Confidential, which is great in it’s own right).
Jury's Still Out
I'm just getting into these series, so let me know if I should keep going.
James Lee Burke
I’ve got the first Burke novel sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. The series takes place in the seedy underworld of New Orleans, which sounded like a good time.
I’m on the third Longmire book. I wasn’t too excited after the first one, but the second one turned things around. It has a very similar mood to Tony Hillerman, and I’ve enjoyed the character development thus far.
Want to Read
I have a long list of series to start, but these are at the top of my list.
These books combine two of my favorite things: mysteries and national parks. I struck up a conversation with a park ranger in Big Bend about this series, and they came highly recommended.
Crider is a Texas mystery writer that I read about in Texas Monthly. His books follow the adventures of Sheriff Dan Rhodes in a fictional small Texas town.
I’m a little embarrassed that I haven’t gotten into this series yet. Landsdale lives about 20 minutes from where I grew up in East Texas, which is where the series also takes place.
Robert Parker was a big influence on Dennis Lehane, and this series was made into the tv show Spenser: For Hire. I worry that the books are a little dated, but they sound entertaining.