Tag Archives: Sara Paretsky

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


Filed under Commentaries, FAQs & Commentaries

Sara Paretsky’s latest detective story hits home

A review of Breakdown, by Sara Paretsky

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

You can depend on three things when you pick up one of Sara Paretsky’s novels about private detective V. I. Warshawski: you’ll encounter a reformer’s perspective on Chicago’s power elite; you’ll find yourself relentlessly tugged along as Warshawski doggedly pursues the ugly truths that inevitably lurk beneath the surface of the mysteries she sets out to solve; and you’ll feel the heat or the cold, the grit and bustle of Chicago’s streets. And when you can find all this between the covers of a single book, what’s not to like?

Breakdown, Paretsky’s 14th V. I. Warshawski novel, begins with seeming innocence with a gaggle of tweener girls dancing under the moonlight in an abandoned cemetery. Soon enough, however, we find ourselves enmeshed in the myteries of some of Chicago’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens as well as a roomful of others: a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant who has become a billionaire through options trading; a vicious Right-Wing talk show host disturbingly reminiscent of Glenn Beck who holds forth on a network little different in appearance of politics from Fox; a blackmailing private eye; two candidates for the U.S. Senate, one the liberal President of the University of Illinois, the other a Right-Wing drugstore heiress; the lawyers at a white-shoe Chicago firm; the staff and management of a state facility for the criminally insane; and, of course, those tweener girls, who are not exactly as innocent as they might seem.

The story that brings together all these disparate elements is, like so many of Paretsky’s novels, complex. This is no straightforward whodunit where any reasonably intelligent reader is likely to know whodunit midway through the book. Paretsky kept me guessing until the end. Breakdown is a very satisfying read.

Sara Paretsky has been writing since 1982, when the first of her now 15 V. I. Warshawski novels was published. (She has also written or edited eight other books.) Paretsky brings to her work not just a deep understanding of what makes humans tick but also a broad store of knowledge: she possesses a Ph.D. in History and an MBA from the University of Chicago and is married to a professor of physics there.


Filed under Detective Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers

Body Work, by Sara Paretsky

A review of Body Work, by Sara Paretsky

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Have you ever wondered why the heroes in detective stories never seem to get any older? You might know perfectly well that the author is, say, 87 and going strong, but his alter ego hasn’t aged a day since he first saw the light of day in print half a century ago.

Not so, V. I. Warshawski. In years past, V.I., or Vic to her friends, was a rough and ready 30, diving into danger with fists extended. She’s now a more cautious and slightly slower 50. Truth to tell, Ms. Paretsky is, well, let’s just say, at least ten years older, but to her credit she’s let her alter ego age. For this she deserves some sort of prize.

At whatever age, Vic finds herself caught up in complex and intertwined stories that always manage to burrow down into the depths of Chicago’s corruption. Not the old-fashioned kind, usually — payoffs for sewer contracts and jobs for the precinct captain’s nephews and such — but real, honest-to-goodness corruption of the mature, contemporary, corporate variety.

So it is in Body Work, Paretsky’s 14th chapter in the life and times of V. I. Warshawski. This time around, Vic finds herself cradling a dying woman in her arms and becomes embroiled in an effort to establish the innocence of the Iraq War vet the police have arrested for her murder. Body Work features all the puzzling twists and turns you might expect from Sara Paretsky, all the tension and suspense, and all the colorful characters that accompany Vic from one novel to the next: her current lover, her wacky young cousin, her aging neighbor and would-be protector, the always exasperated and less than brilliant Chicago police officers, and, of course, her dogs, Peppy and Mitch. (Waitaminnit! I wonder how old those dogs are now?)

ISBN-10: 0399156747

ISBN-13: 978-0399156748


1 Comment

Filed under Detective Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers