53 excellent mystery and thriller series

mystery and thriller series: The Neon Rain by James Lee BurkeUnless 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 eight years, I’ve read (or at least started reading) more than eighty such series. Fifty-three of them belong in any list of engaging, well-written stories of crime and intrigue. After all, getting published by a mainstream publisher is no easy feat these days.

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.

Here I’ve listed what I consider to be the top ten, with the rest below. They’re all in random order. 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 entry 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 42 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.

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 68 series of novels cover a lot of territory. A LOT of it. But what am I missing?

My top 10 mystery and thriller series

Worldwide—Alex Berenson, The Night Ranger (John Wells #7)

Sweden—Camilla Läckberg, The Hidden Child (Fjallbacka #5) 

England—Elizabeth George, Believing the Lie (Thomas Lynley #17)

Sweden—Henning Mankell, The Troubled Man (Kurt Wallander #10)

New Orleans—James Lee Burke, The Neon Rain (Dave Robicheaux #1)

Eastern Europe—Olen Steinhauer, Victory Square (Yalta Boulevard Cycle #1)

Europe—Alan Furst, Mission to Paris (Night Soldiers #12)

Norway—Jo Nesbø, The Leopard (Harry Hole #8)

Los Angeles—Michael Connelly, The Burning Room (Harry Bosch #17)

DenmarkJussi Adler-Olsen, Conspiracy of Faith (Department Q #3)

42 other great mystery and thriller series

Scotland—Ian Rankin, The Black Book (Inspector Rebus #5)

England—Mick Herron, Spook Street (Slough House #5)

Sweden—Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Roseanna (Martin Beck #1)

Worldwide—Ross Thomas, Briarpatch

Denmark—Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, Death of a Nightingale (Nina Borg #3)

American South—John Grisham, The Racketeer

England—Robert Goddard, The Ways of the World (James Maxted Series #1)

Los Angeles—Jonathan Kellerman, Silent Partner (Alex Delaware #4)

England—Edward Wilson, A Very British Ending (William Catesby #5)

Germany—Philip Kerr, A Man Without Breath (Bernie Gunther #9)

England—Jacqueline Winspear, Among the Mad (Maisie Dobbs #6)

Los Angeles—Timothy Hallinan, The Fame Thief (Junior Bender #3)

Russia—William Ryan, The Twelfth Department (Captain Alexei Korolev #3)

EnglandPeter Lovesey, Upon a Dark Night (Peter Diamond #5)

Russia—Martin Cruz Smith, Wolves Eat Dogs (Arkady Renko #5)

England—Rennie Airth, The Reckoning (John Madden #4) 

Botswana—Alexander McCall Smith, The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe (The #1 Ladies Detective #15)

Minnesota—John Sandford, Field of Prey (Lucas Davenport #24)

Minnesota—John Sandford, Escape Clause (Virgil Flowers #9)

San Francisco—John Lescroart, The Ophelia Cut (Dismas Hardy #14)

England—Charles Cumming, A Colder War (Thomas Kell #2)

Chicago—Sara Paretsky, Critical Mass (V. I. Warshawski #16) 

Ireland—Benjamin Black, Christine Falls (Quirke #1)

England—J. K. Rowling, The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike #1)

Atlanta—Karin Slaughter, Criminal (Will Trent #7) 

Thailand—John Burdett, Vulture Peak (Sonchai Jitpleecheep #5) 

Los Angeles—Joseph Wambaugh, Harbor Nocturne (Hollywood Station #5) 

England— Stella Rimington, Secret Asset (Liz Carlyle #2)

Boston—Joseph Finder, Buried Secrets (Nick Heller #2) 

Russia—Tom Rob Smith, Agent 6 (Leo Demidov #3) 

Sweden—Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (Martin Beck #2)

Alaska—Stan Jones, Shaman Pass (Nathan Active #2) 

New York—Donald E. Westlake, Get Real (John Dortmunder #14)

Germany—Rebecca Cantrell, A Trace of Smoke (Hannah Vogel #1) 

England—Deborah Crombie, Now May You Weep (Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James #9) 

Sweden—Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Lisbeth Salander #3)

India—Tarquin Hall, The Case of the Missing Servant (Vish Puri #1)

Scotland—Ian Rankin, Saints of the Shadow Bible (John Rebus #19)

Outer Hebrides Islands—Peter May, The Blackhouse (Lewis Trilogy #1)

Ireland—Tana French, Broken Harbor (Dublin Murder Squad #4)

Washington DC—George Pelecanos, The Double (Spero Lucas #1)

Los Angeles—Joe Ide, Righteous (IQ #2)

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.

Worldwide—Aaron Elkins, Curses! (Gideon Oliver #5)

Quebec—Louise Penny, Still Life (Armand Gamache #1)

France—Cara Black, Murder in the Marais (Aimee Leduc #1)

England—Kate Atkinson, Case Histories (Jackson Brodie #1)

North Korea—James Church, A Drop of Chinese Blood (Inspector O #5)

Laos—Colin Cotterill, The Coroner’s Lunch (Dr. Siri #1)

Japan—Barry Lancet, Japantown (Jim Brodie #1)

Los Angeles— Walter Mosley, Charcoal Joe (Easy Rawlins #14)

Canada—John Farrow, Seven Days Dead (Storm Murders Trilogy #2)

England—Charles Todd, Search the Dark (Inspector Ian Rutledge #3)

China—Robert van Gulik, The Chinese Maze Murders (Judge Dee #1)

Venice—Donna Leon, Quietly in Their Sleep (Commissario Brunetti #6)

England—Charles Finch, The Laws of Murder (Charles Lenox #8)

Iceland—Arnaldur Indridason, Hypothermia (Detective Erlendur #8)

England—Kate Atkinson, Started Early, Took My Dog (Jackson Brodie #4)

Las Vegas—Deborah Coonts, So Damn Lucky (Lucky O’Toole #3)

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