It’s Mystery Series Week (October 4th – 10th) which happens to be my favorite genre to read and write. In honor of all the mystery series writers, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite series.
As a child, like most girls my age, I devoured the Nancy Drew series, although to this date cannot attest to the plot of any of them; that’s how long ago it’s been. However, this was my first introduction to the mystery genre and, more specifically, the mystery series. I eventually veered away from mysteries and into gothics, followed by horror and science fiction, and didn’t come full circle back to mysteries until I was a young adult.
The first mystery I remember reading as an adult, which sealed my love for the genre, was The First Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders, the first outing in his Deadly Sins series featuring New York City Police Captain Edward X. Delaney. (You may have seen the movie starring Frank Sinatra.) With these books, Sanders focused on characterization almost as equally as plot and I found it fascinating taking a peek inside the mind of a demented killer. The first time I read the term “serial killer” was in The First Deadly Sin and I’ve been interested in this ever since. Sanders subsequently wrote another series, McNally’s Files, which is very popular, but I favor his first series.
Next came Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct mystery series with Detective Steve Carella and the gang from the homicide department in a fictional city greatly resembling New York City. (As an aside, one of the books in this series was made into a movie but it didn’t do the book justice simply because they could not capture McBain’s witty narrative.) McBain’s sense of humor, adept characterization, and realistic dialogue were part of what made these books outstanding. In each one, there was always the quintessential “joke”. I would recommend writers read Fat Ollie’s Book in which McBain pokes fun at writers of detective novels via Ollie Weeks, a bigoted cop who thinks he has written the next bestseller although his manuscript is only 36 pages long. I loved Ollie’s mental debates over was vs. were.
Once I heard about John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGhee series, I devoured every one. I believe this series, along with Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, helped get the ball rolling for mystery writers by drawing in a large fan base for the mystery genre.
Along came Sue Grafton with her Alphabet series (she’s almost reached the end of the alphabet!) starring private investigator Kinsey Milhone and Linda Barnes with her Boston PI Carlotta Carlyle series. Both series offer smart writing with appealing protagonists.
Janet Evanovich raised the comedic bar with the Plum series, featuring New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. These books are filled with laugh-out-loud scenes and dialogue and this is easily one of the top bestselling series today
Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series is another favorite. Reacher is one of the most confident guys out there, to the point of arrogance, but it works for him and is something I really like about him. He travels around the country with the clothes on his back and a toothbrush in his pocket. He has no real agenda and is a loner who always seems to land in the middle of mystery and trouble.
Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme series. Rhyme is a quadriplegic forensic scientist teamed up with NYC police officer Amelia Sachs, who does the footwork for him when investigating. The forensics in this series is excellent and I appreciate the fact that I learn something with each book. The movie The Bone Collector starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie is based on the book by the same name.
Tess Gerritsen’s Jane Rizzoli series features Boston medical examiner Maura Isles and homicide detective Jane Rizzoli. Both are strong women characters and Gerritsen manages to keep them fresh and interesting. This is another series that involves forensics, which Gerritsen delivers with finesse.
The futuristic In Death series by J.D. Robb, with NY homicide detective Eve Dallas, a woman with a traumatic past and a sharp tongue married to one of the richest men in the world. I don’t know the exact number of books in this series, but there are many, and Robb excels at keeping the series fresh and alive.
Closer to home, there’s the Body Farm series by Jefferson Bass (Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass), which takes place in my hometown, Knoxville, TN. Dr. Bass is a renowned forensic anthropologist and the person behind the real Body Farm. His books are filled with forensics and are always interesting. An added bonus to me is knowing the areas he describes in the books.
The Prey series by John Sandford. Lucas Davenport is a millionaire but that doesn’t stop him from working for the State of Minnesota as an investigator. As the series has matured, he’s mellowed somewhat, which I personally find disconcerting. I liked Lucas with an edge and miss his cynicism.
And now to toot some horns:
Our own Dame Maggie Bishop writes an outstanding series, the Appalachian Adventure Mystery series, with Detective Tucker and Jemma Chase. Set against the gorgeous backdrop of the mountains of North Carolina, these books are compelling whodunits. Each book Maggie writes (including her romance) offers a look at a different venue, such as running a dude ranch, being a member of a ski patrol, hiking the Appalachian Mountains, cabinet making and photography.
And last of all, my own Bodyguard series. My bodyguard: Natasha Chamberlain, a young Southern woman with a chip on her shoulder who is a bit overzealous in guarding her clients. She’s a fun character to write and I enjoy placing her in wacky situations with zany characters orbiting around her. The clients I can place her with are endless and I enjoy introducing new characters with each book.
I think the draw for readers to mystery series lies with the characters. They become almost like family members and, with each book, the reader learns something new about them and gets to spend time with them while trying to solve the puzzle of the mystery.
But these series go beyond the mystery, as well. It’s a given there is going to be suspense and action and even adventure, but romance and family dynamics often play an integral part. Some primary characters are married, some in relationships, some, like Jack Reacher and Kinsey Milhone, still searching. Family and friends are identifiable with our own family and friends. Don’t we all have a relative somewhere who is a bit like Stephanie Plum’s Grandma Mazur? We root for the good guys and boo the bad ones. We hold our breath during suspenseful moments, laugh at the humorous ones, and cry over sad ones. We wonder which guy Stephanie Plum is going to pick and will Lincoln Rhyme walk one day. We become adept at filtering out the red herrings and honing in on the suspect. We follow along as our favorite characters mature and go through changes in life much like we ourselves do. We lose ourselves in their lives and their investigation and enjoy spending time with them.
So, now, it’s your turn. What’s your favorite mystery series?