Tag Archives: Deborah Crombie

My 21 favorite mystery and thriller writers

Over the course of the past three and a half years, I’ve reviewed well over 100 mysteries and thrillers. A great many of these novels were written by well-established authors with long lists of widely read books to their names. In every case of the 21 writers listed below, I’ve read several of their books (some of them before I launched this blog in January 2010). 

If 21 seems a large number of “favorite” writers, consider all the names you won’t find on this list. Those include several — Ross McDonald, Graham Greene, and Eric Ambler, for example — whom I last read years ago. Also excluded are the potboilers and slapdash works by the likes of James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, Patricia Cornwell, Robert Crais, Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Tony Hillerman, Val McDermid, and Robert B. Parker. I read most of these when younger and am happy to leave them behind. 

What follows here is a list of links to my reviews of individual mysteries or thrillers by the 21 prolific authors I most enjoy. The list is in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names.

The Midnight House, by Alex Berenson

Berenson is a former New York Times reporter who writes beautifully researched stories about soldier-spy John Wells, featuring plots centered on contemporary military and foreign policy issues.

The Drop, by Michael Connelly

Most of Connelly’s 30 novels to date center on the life and work of Los Angeles Police Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch and criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller. 

Now May You Weep, by Deborah Crombie

Crombie, a Texan who spends extended periods in Great Britain, has written 15 English detective novels that read as though she was born and bred in England.

The Trinty Six, by Charles Cumming

A Briton who has written superior six spy novels, Cumming is often mentioned as a spiritual heir to John Le Carre.

Buried Secrets, by Joseph Finder

Finder is the American author of 11 beautifully crafted thrillers. So far, just two of his novels feature Nick Heller in what appears to be the beginning of a series.

Mission to Paris, by Alan Furst

Since 1976, Furst has written 16 historical spy novels, most of them set in Europe between 1933 and 1944. Furst’s work recreates the mood and atmosphere of the Continent in that era like few others.

Believing the Lie, by Elizabeth George

An American, George has written 18 complex and well-written novels featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley (plus four other novels).

Long Time Coming, by Robert Goddard

Goddard is an English novelist whose two dozen excellent novels are typically set in rural towns, with the origins of their plots found decades in the past.

The Racketeer, by John Grisham

Most of Grisham’s 26 crime novels are set in the American South and involve lawyers and legal shenanigans. He has also written 7 other books since he began writing full-time in 1989.

John Le Carre

Though I wasn’t impressed with Le Carre’s recent novel, Our Kind of Traitor, I can’t help but include him in this list. I’m now immersed in his latest work, A Delicate Truth, which strikes me as on a par with his earlier, much praised novels. (To be reviewed soon.)

The Man From Beijing, by Henning Mankell

A Swede, Mankell’s 11 Kurt Wallander crime stories are dark, complex, and often politically tinged novels that reflect his experience as a long-time progressive activist. He has also written 25 other books.

The Leopard: A Harry Hole Novel, by Jo Nesbo

Nesbo, a Norwegian, has written 10 complexly plotted mystery novels about the troubled Detective Harry Hole as well as 8 other novels.

Breakdown, by Sara Paretsky

All but two of Paretsky’s 17 novels feature private detective V. I. (Victoria) Warshawski, who tackles Chicago’s corrupt establishment without compunction.

The Cut, by George Pelecanos

Pelecanos, best known for his writing on the HBO series “The Wire,” is the author of 21 novels, most of them gritty detective stories set on the streets of Washington, D.C.

Silken Prey, by John Sandford

Sandford has written 23 crime novels with the word “Prey” in their titles, all featuring Lucas Davenport, an independently wealthy senior investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Sandford has written 13 additional novels, 7 of them featuring Virgil Flowers, a colorful member of Davenport’s team.

Criminal, by Karin Slaughter

Of Slaughter’s 17 books, 14 are haunting crime stories set in Georgia about the lives of a set of interrelated characters in Atlanta and fictional Grant County.

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, by Alexander McCall Smith

Smith’s 14 adult novels (so far) about the #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Gaborone, Botswana, comprise just one of many series in a list of works that’s almost too numerous to count. The man must turn them all out through automatic writing in his sleep!

Three Stations: An Arkady Renko Novel by Martin Cruz Smith

The 8 fascinating novels in Smith’s Arkady Renko series about the Soviet, later Russian crime investigator are among a total of 27 he’s written under several pseudonyms.

Victory Square, by Olen Steinhauer

Steinhauer, an American who has spent extensive periods in Eastern Europe, is the author of a brilliant five-book series about the members of the murder squad in the capital of a fictional country in that region. More recently, the young author has written three thrillers about an American spy and his fictional agency.

Harbor Nocturne, by Joseph Wambaugh

A former Los Angeles police officer, Wambaugh has written 16 novels and 5 nonfiction accounts about crime and crimefighters since 1971. Nearly all his novels are police procedurals set in L.A., bringing the authentic experience on the streets to life.

Get Real, by Donald E. Westlake

Writing under his own name as well as 16 pseudonyms, Westlake produced a total of 111 novels from 1959 until his death in 2008, nearly all of them set in New York City, two of them published posthumously. My favorites are the many humorous caper tales about the sardonic master criminal, John Dortmunder.

In addition to these 21 writers, I’ve read excellent mysteries and thrillers by 12 other authors whose output is more limited either because they’re young and just beginning their careers, they write primarily in other genres, or, in at least the case of Stieg Larsson, they’re dead. 

Among the younger writers here that show special promise are Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Tom Rob Smith.  

Following are links to my reviews of individual novels by these 12 authors. 

Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson

Disciple of the Dog, by R. Scott Bakker

A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Faithful Place, by Tana French

So Much Pretty, by Cara Hoffman

The Silent Oligarch, by Chris Morgan Jones

Shaman Pass: A Nathan Active Mystery, by Stan Jones

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson

The Ghosts of Belfast, by Stuart Neville

Primitive by Mark Nykanen

Agent 6, by Tom Rob Smith

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A mystery writer can have a bad day, can’t she?


1

A review of The Sound of Broken Glass, by Deborah Crombie

@@@ (3 out of 5)

If you’ve ever contemplated writing a thriller, or even just a run-of-the-mill crime novel, you may have stopped in your tracks when you came to the point of coming up with a plot. It ain’t easy (at least for those of us who aren’t named James Patterson). Readers tend to demand stories that keep them puzzled right up to the end, surprise or shock them in the closing pages, and then leave them with a satisfied feeling that everything makes sense after all. All this requires that lots of loose ends need to be tied up tightly, shining a favorable light on the intrepid investigator who solves the case or the heroic action figure who forestalls disaster (usually something tantamount to destroying the planet we live on).

Sometimes coincidence plays a part in making all this work. And sometimes it plays much too big a part.

In her police procedurals set in England, Deborah Crombie has generally done an unusually good job of writing convincing and engaging mystery novels — despite the fact that she’s a native Texan and lives in a Texas town. On most of my previous excursions into the lives of Crombie’s protagonists, Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, I’ve enjoyed myself immensely. (See my reviews of Now May You Weep, And Justice There Is None, and In a Dark House.) However, The Sound of Broken Glass is a disappointment, as was Crombie’s first effort, A Share in Death.

This time, the culprit is coincidence.

In Broken Glass, Kincaid and James are married and raising three children (one of hers, one of his, and one adopted), and in ways that are clearly less than satisfying or convenient for them, their lives now revolve around the kids. Kincaid, a Detective Superintendant, is playing house-husband while James, promoted to Detective Inspector, chases murderers through the streets of London. James’ sidekick, Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot, works closely with her on a case that seems to involve not just vicious murder but sexual perversion as well: a prominent barrister (a lawyer who argues cases in court) has been discovered in a cheap hotel, bound and gagged in bed in a way reminiscent of autoerotic play but strangled to death as well. As the investigation unfolds, much of the story revolves around Talbot, the upper-class daughter of one of London’s press lords. As time goes on, Talbot becomes romantically involved with a key witness in the case — and the slow, painful unraveling of his memory of a tragic childhood incident comes to figure as a central element in the resolution of the mystery. 

All this might have been a lot of fun for the reader — if only Crombie hadn’t built her plot around an excess of coincidences. As it turns out, everybody involved in the case — police officer, victim, murderer, and witness alike — seems to have known just about everyone else at some time in the past. It’s really too much. I hope for better again from Deborah Crombie.

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Now May You Weep, by Deborah Crombie

A review of Now May You Weep, by Deborah Crombie

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Go figure: one of my favorite English mystery writers is  . . . a Texan? Yes, it’s true. The biographical blurbs in the back of Deborah Crombie’s English mystery novels insist that she was born and lives in Texas. As an American myself, I can’t claim to be the final authority on the Englishness of Crombie’s narrative prose and dialogue, but I’ve spent enough time in the UK and with British friends not to be too easily fooled, and I’ll be damned if I can find any cultural or linguistic flaws in her writing. And I appear to be in good company, as Deborah Crombie has twice won the British mystery writers’ top award for her novels.

Now May You Weep is the ninth in a series of 13 novels Crombie has written since 1993 about the Scotland Yard duo of Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. The two are sleuths who live together with his son, her son, two personable dogs, and an indifferent cat in a fashionable London neighborhood.

Like every other novel in its series, I found Now May You Weep to be engrossing and difficult to set aside. The scene is not England this time but Scotland, where Gemma James, recently promoted to Inspector and still recovering from an especially traumatic miscarriage, has gone for a long weekend for a cooking course at a rural bed-and-breakfast with her best bud, Hazel Cavendish. Hazel, long a rock of stability in Gemma’s topsy-turvy life, comes apart at the seams in the course of a weekend of shocking surprises and tragic events.

Crombie’s work is especially strong in painting a picture of the local scene — here, the Scottish highlands in all its stark, windswept glory. A major setting for the novel is an ancient distillery, which serves as the occasion for Crombie to explain in explicit and colorful detail how single-malt Scottish whiskey is made.

Now May You Weep is a stellar crime novel by a writer at the height of her powers. It’s an exceptionally fine read.

ISBN-10: 0060525231

ISBN-13: 978-0060525231

ASIN: B000OI0E4U

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