Top 10 mystery and thriller series

mystery and thriller series: The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

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

Images of 5 books in my top 10 mystery and thriller series
DenmarkJussi Adler-Olsen, Conspiracy of Faith (Department Q #3)

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Images of 5 more books in my top 10 mystery and thriller series
England—Elizabeth George, Believing the Lie (Thomas Lynley #17)

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.

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

Fjällbacka is a resort town on the Swedish coast where detective Patrik Hedström and writer Erica Falck investigate violent crimes.

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

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.

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

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

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

American South—John Grisham, The Racketeer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

England—Ellis Peters, A Morbid Taste for Bones (Cadfael Chronicles #1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India—Abir Mukherjee, A Necessary Evil (Wyndham and Banerjee #2)

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

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

Los Angeles—Ron Goulart, Elementary, My Dear Groucho (Groucho Marx Mysteries #3)

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

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

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

Los Angeles—Faye Kellerman, The Ritual Bath (Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus #1)

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

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

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

Mississippi—John Grisham, A Time for Mercy (Jake Brigance #3)

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

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

Palestine—The Collaborator of Bethlehem (Omar Yussef #1) by Matt Rees

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

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

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

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

San Francisco—Lisa Lutz, The Spellman Files: Document #1

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

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

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

Sweden—Lars Kepler, The Fire Witness (Joona Linna #3)

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

USSR—Stuart Kaminsky, Black Knight in Red Square (Porfiry Rostnikov #2)

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

Worldwide—Thunder Point (Sean Dillon #2) by Jack Higgins

Worldwide—Ross Thomas, Briarpatch

WorldwideJason Matthews, The Kremlin’s Candidate (Red Sparrow Trilogy #3)

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trenton, New Jersey—Janet Evanovich, Notorious Nineteen (Stephanie Plum #19)

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

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

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:

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.

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Mari Chapman - 4 years ago

Thriller series’ are my most favorite and you have covered a great many that I need to read! I get caught up reading books that should become series’ as well, I wish I could contact the authors and tell them to keep going! Right now I am reading Deborah Coonts’ After Me, it’s incredible, loving every page. She has a great thing going in this book.

    Mal Warwick - 4 years ago

    Thanks for getting in touch. Happy reading!

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