Unless you’re a devoted fan of the genre, you may be unaware of the sheer number of mystery and thriller series. I stumble across a new one about every month or two. Over the past ten years, I’ve read (or at least started reading) nearly 100 such series. More than four dozen of them belong in any list of engaging, well-written stories of crime and intrigue.
This post was updated on April 6, 2021.
The best mystery and thriller series
This list just scratches the surface of what’s available, but I’m confident that at least some of the very best mystery and thriller series can be found below. All these series have one or both of two things in common: the protagonist is the same from one book to the next, or (in just two cases) the series are rooted in a particular time and place, though the cast of characters varies. There are just two exceptions to this rule: the work of Ross Thomas and John Grisham. I’ve included both authors because many of their characters appear in each of several novels—and because they’re so good I can’t bring myself to ignore them.
Top 10 mystery and thriller series
Here I’ve listed what I consider to be the top ten, with the rest below. They’re in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names. In all cases, I’ve read at least two novels in the series, usually many more. Each entry is linked to my review of one particular novel. Each begins with the city or country where the action is centered, followed by the name of the author, the title of one of the books in the series that I’ve reviewed, and the identifying series name, with the number of its order in the series.
You’ll find readily recognizable authors on this list, such as Michael Connelly, Elizabeth George, and Alan Furst, as well as others who are less well known. But all of my top ten are accomplished, bestselling authors. So are many of those in the second tier of four dozen and even among the 16 not-so-great series at the bottom; it’s just that I either grew tired of their series or found more than one or two disappointing entries.
My top 10 mystery and thriller series
Department Q is a small band of misfits relegated to the basement of the Copenhagen Police headquarters. Their mission is to solve cold cases, and somehow they manage to do so despite all odds.
John Wells is a former American special forces operative who now takes on challenging assignments for the CIA, directly under orders from the agency’s most senior officials.
Corruption and violence are no strangers to rural Louisiana, and deputy sheriff Dave Robicheaux’s investigations often expose him and his family to the worst of it.
Detective Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch is one of the LAPD’s most resourceful detectives, but he often runs afoul of his superiors as he takes on some of the most difficult cases.
The Night Soldiers are espionage agents, usually amateurs and often drawn into work as spies unexpectedly and reluctantly. They work in Europe the troubled era before and during World War II.
An aristocrat—an earl, no less—Inspector Thomas Lynley of New Scotland Yard and his sidekick, Sergeant Barbara Havers, tackle the most challenging assignments and are often dispatched far from London to work with baffled local police.
Fjällbacka is a resort town on the Swedish coast where detective Patrik Hedström and writer Erica Falck investigate violent crimes.
Kurt Wallander is no beacon of joy, but he proves his gifts as an investigator. The cases he pursue often involve drugs, immigrants, and other signs of change in Swedish society in the closing days of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first.
Harry Hole is an alcoholic who is even dysfunctional from time to time. But he is such a talented and effective detective for the Norwegian police that he is often drawn into the highest-profile cases in the country.
Eastern Europe—Olen Steinhauer, Victory Square (Yalta Boulevard Cycle #5)
In a “cycle” of five compelling novels, Olen Steinhauer portrays the evolution of Eastern European society under Communism, with each book in succession set in one decade from the 1940s through the 1980s.
Within each of the two lists below, I’ve arranged titles alphabetically by the location where they’re set. Within each location, if there are two or more authors named there, I’ve arranged them in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names.
Four dozen other great mystery and thriller series
16 not-so-great mystery and thriller series
The following 16 titles represent series that I liked at first but later discovered I was much less impressed with others. In some cases, I liked the first several but thought that the quality of the writing deteriorated over time.
What’s missing from this survey
What’s missing from this survey are the works of a number of older bestselling authors of mystery and thriller series. Simply because I haven’t recently read anything by them recently enough, you won’t find here the names Robert B. Parker (Spenser), Ross MacDonald (Lew Archer), Ed McBain (87th Precinct), or John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee).
As you’ll see, these 71 series of novels cover a lot of territory. A LOT of it. But what am I missing?
For more reading
For a very different take on this subject, see my much later post, Mystery and thriller series starters can be misleading.
You might also enjoy my posts:
- 20 excellent standalone mysteries and thrillers;
- 20 outstanding detective series from around the world; and
- Top 20 suspenseful detective novels (plus 200 more).
If you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.