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 November 21, 2020.
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.
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
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 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?