Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Earlier in the month I posted about the Six Detective Series to Savour selected by Johanna McGeary of Time magazine, and asked 'What other Detective Series Do You Enjoy?'
I was grateful to receive a stimulating and varied list of detectives, although unfortunately blogger was misbehaving and ate some replies.

HarryBosch/Mickey Haller: Michael Connelly
V.I.Warshawski: Sara Paretsky
Kinsey Milhone: Sue Grafton
Sharon McCone: Marcia Muller [the only author on this list I have not read]
Eduard Martinez and Borja 'Pep' Masdeu: Teresa Solana
Inspector Adamsberg: Fred Vargas
Salvo Montalbano: Andrea Camilleri
Harry Hole: Jo Nesbo*
Erlendur: Arnaldur Indridason
Thora Gudmundsdottir: Yrsa Sigurdardottir
and of course Martin Beck: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

I would add a few of my own choices:

Morse: Colin Dexter
Rebus: Ian Rankin
Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe: Reginald Hill
Reg Wexford: Ruth Rendell
Annika Bengtzon: Liza Marklund
Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind: Martin Edwards
Inspector Sejer: Karin Fossum

Some of these series are in their dotage, or retirement, and some are still only in nappies. But I would suggest they should all exhibit features common to good crime fiction: great characters, good plots, compelling atmosphere, believable situations, a simple style, and with some exceptions* a degree of violence and gore acceptable to most readers.

The classic Martin Beck books are particularly brilliant in that they encapsulate almost every factor that has gone on to make the modern crime fiction novel so popular.

a] Social commentary
b] Cynicism
c] Team work, and the difficulty of working in a team.
d] Humour, light or dark.
e] A distrust of superiors.
f] A feeling of loneliness and despair expressed by various characters.
g] Superbly drawn characters.
h] A brooding atmosphere.

No human being, particularly a young attractive woman, is so alone that there is no one to miss her when she disappears.
[Roseanna: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo 1965]

I am looking forward to starting my Martin Beck re-read project later in the year.

Update: Even More Detective Fever. Did I really forget the following?

Chief Inspector Van Veeteren: Hakan Nesser
Kurt Wallander: Henning Mankell
Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn: Tony Hillerman


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman - Excellent summary of what makes for an excellent crime series, and why readers are fiercely loyal to the series they love. You've made some find suggestions for good reads, too!

9:59 AM  
Blogger Rob Kitchin said...

Halfway through The Man Who Went Up in Smoke. Thoroughly enjoying it, despite the fact that practically nothing has happened and Beck is thoroughly ambivalent about the case. Not often you can say that about a novel.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Great post Norman. The abominable man was one of the books I bought yesterday. I'm also reading Martin Beck series in order.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Margot, Rob and Jose Ignacio.
I read four of the Martin Beck books, unfortunately out of order in the past few years: since I started Crime Scraps in 2006.
So I think I will read the others which I read over a period of twenty years and have forgotten a lot of the details during my re-read.
Rob it is surprising how sometimes a simple investigation can be more gripping than an author's attempt to use pyrotechnics with multiple flashbacks and different perspectives.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Excellent list of series. And thorough list of traits found in the excellent Martin Beck series by the role models in crime fiction writing -- Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, very well-said.

I have five more Becks to read, and I bemoan that there are only five left, but I can reread them later on, it's true.

What a superb book is Roseanna, which I just read for the first time. It was sad to finish it--only because it was over, although it showed that a complete story can be told within 212 pages, tightly written. And the reader feels satisfaction at turning over the last page. (And not feel battered by brutal torture and murder)

Wish that many writers could learn the lessons taught by Sjowall and Wahloo, that violent, long descriptions of torture, rape and murder are not needed (nor pyrotechnics, high-tech weapons or car chases, etc.), that a book need not be 600 pages long, that it need not go all over the world, that it doesn't need 50 characters, etc. What excellent teachers they are of the tight, meaningful, well-written police procedural with a human touch and compelling characters.

I would say that a few written by Arnaldur Indridason, especially Hypothermia, come close -- without torture, car chases, pyrotechnics, and with good character development, introspection and good writing.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Kathy- I agree at the moment I am reading Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar and so far [I am 3/4 the way through] it is an enjoyable straightforward investigation of a murder. A nice change.

3:52 AM  

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