Here you’ll find my (admittedly incomplete) guide to the most outstanding detective series set in countries all across the world. It’s a work in progress. Expect to see more added here from time to time.
Updated September 15, 2020.
As I followed private investigator Vish Puri and his team through the streets of Jaipur in Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Missing Servant (reviewed at Vish Puri is either India’s #1 private investigator or #2), it suddenly occurred to me that a fair amount of what I’ve learned about life and culture in other countries has come from my reading of detective fiction. And, given the depth of research conducted by so many of my favorite crime writers, I suspect this isn’t such a bad way to learn about the world around me.
The Vish Puri series, for example, opens a window on contemporary Indian society in all its glorious diversity and confusion. Below I’ve listed two dozen outstanding detective series set outside the United States. They’re arranged in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names.
From Denmark comes Jussi Adler-Olsen’s off-beat series featuring the misfits of Department Q, the cold case unit that somehow always seems to solve Copenhagen’s most pressing current cases. In the seven novels published to date, Detective Carl Mørck and his motley crew of sidekicks take on some of the most convoluted cases in the genre. For a taste of the series, check out my review of The Marco Effect. Find it at Child soldiers, bank fraud, and eccentric police in a Danish thriller. For capsule reviews of all seven novels in the series, see Jussi-Adler Olsen’s captivating Department Q thrillers.
Late in life the schoolteacher Omar Yussef in a UN refugee camp styles himself as a detective when a former star pupil is murdered by an Israeli sniper with the help of a Palestinian informer. This four-book Palestine Mystery series is the work of former journalist Matt Rees, who spent years in the Middle East and knows the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict intimately. Omar Yussef proves to be a fast learner in The Collaborator of Bethlehem, the first book in the series. I’ve reviewed it at A murder in Palestine exposes the fault lines in the refugee community.
The newest hero-detective to join the fray is Joona Linna, the creation of Lars Kepler (Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril). Linna is Finnish but has worked in Sweden’s National Homicide Unit for many years and is recognized as “the best detective in Sweden.” In the seven novels published so far, Linna demonstrates his uncanny ability to bring an intuitive grasp of human nature with the lightning-fast application of cold logic. Check him out at the third book in the series, The Fire Witness (Nordic Noir at its best).
Private eye Aimée Leduc and her partner, René Friant, a dwarf who is a wizard with computers, always seem to find themselves mixed up in murder investigations that take them away from their company’s work in online corporate security. Author Cara Black has set each succeeding entry in the series in a different arrondissement of Paris. There are 18 novels to date. For an example, check out my review of Murder in Montmartre: Enduring mysteries in Aimee Leduc’s Paris.
Man Booker Prize winner John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black, has written seven novels set in Dublin in the 1950s. His protagonist is Quirke, the coroner, who acts as a detective, sometimes in concert with his friend in the Garda, Inspector Hackett. For capsule reviews of the whole series, go to The Quirke series of Dublin crime novels from Benjamin Black.
Royal Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, the creation of John Burdett, guides us through the rotten underbelly of Bangkok, with its ever-present sex for sale and police officers moonlighting as drug kingpins. I’ve read most of the six novels published to date in the series, which began with Bangkok 8 long before I began reviewing books here. You’ll find my review of #4, The Godfather of Kathmandu, here: A Buddhist homicide detective in an over-the-top murder mystery.
Deborah Crombie has written 17 novels so far in an intriguing series featuring Scotland Yard’s Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid. I’m in awe of a woman who lives in a small North Texas town who manages to write—apparently with ease—English police procedurals, some of which even win literary prizes in England! My review of one of the books, In a Dark House, can be found at Why read mystery stories? Author Deborah Crombie offers good reasons.
Tana French writes tightly plotted murder mysteries heavy on the atmospherics featuring the Dublin Murder Squad. (French is American but lives in Dublin.) This device allows her to place new detectives at the center of her stories while relegating the stars of previous novels to the background. I found Faithful Place, the third of her seven novels to date, especially satisfying. It’s reviewed at From Tana French, a brilliant and satisfying novel of suspense. You’ll find capsule reviews of the whole series at Reviewing the Dublin Murder Squad novels by Tana French.
The Perveen Mistry series of mystery novels by Sujata Massey features a woman lawyer who practices in Mumbai in the fraught years following World War I. The books highlight life under the British Raj in all its conflicts and contradictions. (Massey also writes a modern mystery series set in Japan.) Born in England to parents from India and Germany, Sujata was raised primarily in St. Paul, Minnesota, although her home for almost thirty years has been Baltimore, Maryland. In The Satapur Moonstone (A murder mystery set in colonial India highlights the princely states), the second novel in the series, Mistry travels to one of the more than 500 princely states scattered about the subcontinent.
Elizabeth George’s long-running series of novels about Inspector Thomas Lynley provides a window on English society, both in London, where Lynley is based at New Scotland Yard, and in the countryside, where he and his investigative team are called so often to tackle the country’s toughest murder cases. (Like Deborah Crombie, George is American.) The 20th entry in the series is was published in 2018. I’ve read all the others so far. I reviewed #19, A Banquet of Consequences, at Elizabeth George’s latest is much more than a whodunit. And the Lynley novels are clearly one of the most outstanding detective series now in print.
The Danish writing duo of Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis have produced a series of four outstanding mystery novels featuring Red Cross nurse Nina Borg and her partner, an inspector in the Danish Security and Intelligence Service with the unfortunate name of Søren Kierkegard. Every one of the four novels involves events that unfold in other countries (including Ukraine, The Philippines, and Hungary). The first of the four novels is The Boy in the Suitcase. My review is at Something’s rotten in Denmark.
The late Philip Kerr wrote a masterful series of fourteen novels featuring Bernie Gunther. He was first an anti-Nazi homicide inspector for the Berlin Police, then a private eye working for the famous Adlon Hotel, later a soldier in the Wehrmacht in World War II, and finally a fugitive in Argentina, Cuba, and France. Check out Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels for reviews of all the books in this outstanding detective series.
Captain Sam Wyndham and Surendranath (“Surrender-Not”) Banerjee confront the tense reality of Calcutta in the years following World War I in Abir Mukherjee‘s evocative series of detective novels. Three have been published to date, beginning with A Rising Man (A brilliant historical detective novel set in India following World War I). I’ve also reviewed the second and third novels in the Wyndham and Banerjee series: A Necessary Evil (A royal murder in colonial India with hundreds of suspects) and Smoke and Ashes (A brilliantly constructed murder mystery set in colonial Calcutta).
Camilla Läckberg sets her tales in her home town, Fjällbacka, a small community on Sweden’s west coast, due west of Stockholm. She writes deeply engaging novels—a total of ten, as of 2018—about Detective Patrik Hedström and true-crime author Ericka Falck, whose collaboration brings them together in marriage. The first of the series is The Ice Princess, which I reviewed at Murder on ice in a small Swedish town. And I’ve reviewed all the novels at The Fjällbacka series of Swedish thrillers from Camilla Läckberg.
Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti delves into the corruption and mulish bureaucracy of Venetian society, giving a sense from the inside looking out on the impact of unending waves of tourists who invade his beautiful city. (She has never allowed the books to be translated into Italian—for reasons that will be obvious to any reader.) I loved a few of the early novels, especially the second one, Death in a Strange Country (Donna Leon’s best detective novel in the Commissario Brunetti series). The most recent of her 27 novels didn’t work well for me.
Henning Mankell’s alter ego, small-town police detective Kurt Wallender, probed the dark recesses of Swedish society, exploring the widespread racism, alcoholism, and depression, in a series of 13 superb novels. (Mankell died in 2015). I reviewed the 13th and final Wallender novel, The Troubled Man, here: Farewell Kurt Wallender, we’re sad to see you go.
Scottish-Indian author Abir Mukherjee brings Calcutta in the 1920s back to life with his series of mysteries featuring Captain Sam Wyndham and Surendranath (“Surrender-Not”) Banerjee. The series is based on solid historical research into the complexity of Indian society in the wake of World War I. The second entry in the series, A Necessary Evil, illustrates this beautifully. My review is at A royal murder in colonial India with hundreds of suspects.
Among the two dozen novels written by Scottish author Peter May is a fascinating trilogy set in the Outer Hebrides Islands, off the far north coast of Scotland. The books center around the life and investigations of Detective Inspector Finlay (Fin) Macleod, a native who has returned to the islands from Edinburgh to investigate a murder. The trilogy’s opener is The Blackhouse, reviewed at A moody Scottish detective novel set in the Outer Hebrides.
Alexander McCall Smith immerses the reader in the laid-back civility of Botswana through the continuing exploits of Mma Precious Ramotswe in the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series, providing a fascinating vantage-point on the only former colony in sub-Saharan Africa to have avoided military coups or civil war. I’ve reviewed a great many of these fine little novels. The most recent was #18, The House of Unexpected Sisters. My review is at The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is on the case.
Jo Nesbø has achieved worldwide acclaim for his gripping series of detective novels featuring Oslo Police Detective Harry Hole. This series belongs on anyone’s list of outstanding detective series. Harry is a troubled man, an alcoholic and sometime drug addict and a loose cannon who is despised by most of his colleagues despite his great investigative skill. As of 2018, there were 11 novels in the series. Number 3 was The Redbreast, which I reviewed at Nazis in Norway, a mysterious assassin, and an insubordinate detective. And you’ll find the whole series reviewed at The outstanding Harry Hole thrillers from Jo Nesbo.
In the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, Ellis Peters (the pseudonym of Edith Pargeter) conjured up the world of 12th-century England. The Benedictine monk who is her protagonist was a soldier in the Crusades but retired to a quieter life as an herbalist in a monastery near the Welsh border. His powers of observation and his experience of life equip him to function as a detective when crime occurs. I reviewed A Morbid Taste for Bones, at The first book in the delightful Brother Cadfael series.
In the Inspector Rebus novels of Ian Rankin, set in Edinburgh, we view the workings of politics in Scotland’s capital and the interplay of the criminal underworld with the city’s establishment. What emerges in the process is the realization of just how different is Scottish society from English, not to mention American. I loved a couple of the later novels in the series, so I began reading from its debut: Knots and Crosses (The first in a series of great detective novels).
J. K. Rowling is, of course, the world-famous author of the Harry Potter series. More recently, she ventured into detective fiction, writing under the name Robert Galbraith. Cormoran Strike is a down-and-out private detective with one leg and a colorful past. The first of the four novels published in the series to date was The Cuckoo’s Calling. Its review is at J. K. Rowling scores with her debut in detective fiction. Check out J. K. Rowling’s thrilling Cormoran Strike detective series for reviews of the whole series.
Martin Beck and his teammates on the Swedish National Police pursue their investigations with dogged persistence and skill in the 10 novels of the series by husband-and-wife writing duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. These engrossing police procedurals launched the field of Nordic Noir in 1965 with the publication of Roseanna (Martin Beck #1). My review is at Today’s Scandinavian detective fiction started here.
John Madden fought in World War I, then returned to service at Scotland Yard following the war. Rennie Airth‘s mysteries featuring Madden span the years between the two wars and beyond. As of 2020, he has published six novels in the series, the last of which takes place in 1951. The sixth is The Decent Inn of Death, reviewed at Retired Scotland Yard detectives face off with a suspected war criminal.
Racing through the streets of Moscow, Senior Investigator Arkady Renko explores crime-ridden post-Soviet Russia in Martin Cruz Smith’s excellent novels that faithfully conjure up Russia today. I reviewed the seventh novel in the series, Three Stations, at In an Arkady Renko novel, a look inside Russia under Putin.
Most of Olen Steinhauer’s novels are about espionage (and they’re very good). However, he has also written five remarkable novels in the so-called Yalta Boulevard Cycle. The books follow a small group of police officers in the capital city of an unnamed Eastern European country through more than 40 years under Communism. Each is set largely in a single decade, from the 1940s through the 80s. I reviewed all five novels at Olen Steinhauer’s brilliant Yalta Boulevard cycle set in Eastern Europe.
Jacqueline Winspear‘s engrossing series of detective novels features Maisie Dobbs. Formerly a nurse on the Western Front in World War I, Maisie later opens her own agency. With the assistance of two loyal staff members, she takes on cases that either baffle the police or fall through the cracks at Scotland Yard. At this writing, there are fifteen books in the series. You can find capsule reviews of the whole series at The Maisie Dobbs novels from Jacqueline Winspear.
Every one of these outstanding detective series is well worth reading for sheer enjoyment, even though one or several of them in each series may not measure up to the quality of the others. Yet they all help illuminate the world we live in.
For further reading
For a book about the mysteries and thrillers of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, check out Scandinavian Noir: In Pursuit of a Mystery by Wendy Lesser (Down the rabbit hole of Nordic noir).
There are many other outstanding detective series set in historical times, which I’ve addressed separately at Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).
There are also many other series of detective novels set in sometimes distant countries that I am less eager to recommend. Among those are the works of Arnaldur Indridason and Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland), Colin Cotterill (Laos), Anne Holt and Hans Olav Lahlum (Norway), James Church (North Korea), Sara Blaedel (Denmark), Elly Griffiths (England), Barry Lancet (Japan), Louise Penny (Canada), Andrea Camilleri (Italy), and Pierre Lemaitre (France). In some of these series, I’ve enjoyed one or even several of the books; a few are even outstanding. But the series as a whole doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
For a more comprehensive list of other outstanding detective series, go to Top 10 mystery and thriller series. You might also enjoy the standalone novels listed at Top 20 suspenseful detective novels (plus 200 more).
To check out all 100 of the reading lists posted here, go to Your handy guide to the grouped reviews on this site.
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.