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.
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.
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.
A Briton who has written superior six spy novels, Cumming is often mentioned as a spiritual heir to John Le Carre.
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.
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.
An American, George has written 18 complex and well-written novels featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley (plus four other novels).
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.
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.)
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.
Nesbo, a Norwegian, has written 10 complexly plotted mystery novels about the troubled Detective Harry Hole as well as 8 other novels.
All but two of Paretsky’s 17 novels feature private detective V. I. (Victoria) Warshawski, who tackles Chicago’s corrupt establishment without compunction.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.