My Top 5 . . . Mystery series

November 10, 2009 at 5:00 am 11 comments

I’ve had this post in the works for weeks, and with my accident, it (along with a few other posts) has languished in my drafts pile. Luckily, I did most of the formatting a couple of weeks ago, so at least most of the heavy lifting was already taken care of.

I’ve been a big mystery reader for years—I actually worked my way through Agatha Christie’s enormous backlist when I was in junior high and high school— and while I don’t read as much as I used to, there are still some great series that I really enjoy.


Death of a Pirate King by Josh LanyonAdrien English Mysteries by Josh Lanyon

This series is an excellent example of why I love reading series books. The characters, especially Adrien and Jake are revealed slowly over the course of the series. Learning about them is like peeling back the layers of an onion. At the end of each book, I feel differently about the characters (especially Jake!) based on what I have learned about them.

And, of course, this series wouldn’t be on my favorite mysteries lists if the mysteries themselves weren’t compelling. I’m a really harsh judge of books set in my backyard, and this series takes place about as close to my backyard as one can get. Josh Lanyon really captures the feel of contemporary LA, yet still casts a noir feel. Also, the mysteries themselves keep me guessing. On the couple where I guessed “whodunit” the “how” and the “why” kept me turning pages.

Read more about the Adrien English Mysteries in my posts: Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English Mysteries post, Best Reads of 2008 (part 2-M/M and Spec Fiction edition) and November 2008 Best Reads.

  • Josh Lanyon’s site


In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-FlemingRev Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne series by Julia Spencer-Fleming

I’m always a sucker for a free book, and last year St Martin’s press very wisely gave away the first two books in this series. I actually wound up listening to most of this series, but I would never have checked it out in the first place without the “freebie” incentive.

Like the Adrien English series, this one has equally compelling characters and plot. Again, the characters —and their relationship—are developed slowly over many books. Our assumptions based on their roles (Clare’s as Episcopal priest and Russ’ as police chief) are challenged as we get to know the humans inside the priest’s collar and uniform.

Location, too, is as important as any character in this series. I love how JS-F evokes rural upstate New York, sometimes with it’s seasons or terrain playing a vital role in the mystery.

Read more about the Rev. Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne series in these posts: Best Reads of 2008 (part 1-Mystery and YA edition)

  • Julia Spencer-Fleming’s site.


G is for GumshoeAlphabet series (Kinsey Millhone Mysteries) by Sue Grafton

This is a series I have read for years, and yes, I’ve read A is for Alibi through T is for Trespass. Kinsey is one of those characters that over the years has become very real to me. Also, I love how Sue Grafton continues to try new things with the series, thus avoiding stagnation. It’s pretty ambitious to take on a 26 book series, which is expected when the books are named for the alphabet.

In fact, the last book released, T is for Trespass really broke new ground, with the book’s story structure (divided pov between Kinsey and a sociopathic serial killer) as well as it’s much darker than usual tone. (Necessary because of the villian’s pov.)

I can’t wait for U is for Undertow, which will be released in December 2009.

Read more about the Alphabet series in my post: Underground by Kat Richardson

  • Sue Grafton’s site.


Lord John & the Hand of DevilsLord John series by Diana Gabaldon

DISCLAIMER: Lord John currently resides in my hut over at DIK, so I am a little biased when it comes to this gentleman sleuth.😉

This series is a little different for me, since I felt I already knew Lord John quite well through Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series before I read the Lord John series.

However, not only do we get to find out more about what happens to Lord John between his appearances in the Outlander books, but these mysteries include the same incredible historical detail that I’ve come to enjoy in DG’s books.

Additionally, there is no shying away from the dangerous reality on what it meant to live as a gay man in the military in 18th century Europe. The author’s research is apparent, but it is also blended seamlessly with an absorbing mystery, and wonderful character development. I’ve really been looking forward to Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner, which is the upcoming installment, but I haven’t been able to find a publication date.

Read more about the Lord John series in my post: Best Reads of 2008 (part 1-Mystery and YA edition)

  • Diana Gabaldon’s site.
  • Very cool podcast by Diana Gabaldon about Lord John is available on her podcasts page.


Silent in the Grave by Deanna RaybournLady Julia Gray series by Deanna Raybourn

Another historical mystery, blending two of my favorite genres!

I actually had a bumpy start with this series, which I first listened to on audiobook. Fortunately, once I realized that my issue was with the narrator, my enjoyment of Deanna Raybourn’s writing increased dramatically.

Lady Julia is a great study in contrasts. She intelligent, witty, and an independent thinker. Yet, especially at the beginning of the series, a woman who still has a lot to discover about herself. I love that while she unravels the mysteries in each book, she is also learning about herself.

And, of course, there’s Brisbane. Mysterious, moody, and maddening, his chemistry with Lady Julia always sizzles beneath the surface.


I don’t read much by way of stand alone mysteries. It’s all about the series for me. I love really getting to know a character over many books, and with mysteries there is always the bits and pieces revealed about the protagonist that I love discovering.

Mysteries also appeal to my love of structure. There is an architecture in mystery writing, necessary so that the event/crime, clues, and reveal can evolve in a believable way.

It was really hard for me to leave a few books off this list, so I’m going to fudge a little, but including a couple of honorable mentions:

I also just listened to The Wine of Angels (Merrily Watkins series, book 1) by Phil Rickman, an excellent psychological mystery that was very dark, had paranormal/horror overtones, and features a female Anglican priest. (Not exactly the typical cozy mystery one would expect, given the protagonist.) I highly recommend it.

Check out my other Top 5s in the sidebar on the right.

What are your top 5 mysteries?

Entry filed under: GLBT Fiction, Historical Mystery, M/M Mystery, Mystery, Mystery M/M, Top 5. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

Comfort listens Just finished reading . . . Cover Me & His Convenient Husband

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Carolyn Crane (CJ)  |  November 10, 2009 at 5:59 am

    Oh, I’m so glad you have Silent up there – you know how I love it. (and thanks for the linky, too!) And Adrien English. Which makes me think I should dip my toe into some of these others!

    So interesting, that added dimension of LA for you in Lanyon’s work. I would be critical, too, if it was in Minneapolis. Great to know he’s pulling it off, because setting is one of the things I enjoy in a book, and especially that series.

    I just started Suzanne Enoch’s Samantha Jellicoe catburgler series and I’m enjoying my way through book one. (But I’m buying Indiscreet today!)

  • 2. Hilcia  |  November 10, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Great post Renee. I love Mysteries! I’m so glad you cheated because you mentioned some of my favorites. Both series by Agatha Christie and of course, PD James.

    As far as new Mysteries are concerned, last year I read Dissolution by C.J. Samson and loved it. So now I have the 2nd book in the Matthew Shardlake Mystery series in my TBR pile… this are 16th Century mysteries set in England, featuring Cromwell… kind of historical fiction/mysteries. I loved the 1st book!

    I also just started Rick Riordan’s Tres Navarre mystery series (Big Red Tequila – 1st book) and am enjoying it so far — we’ll see.🙂

    I read my first Josh Layon book recently and loved it! I’ve also had the English mysteries on my TBB list for a loooong time. I must get it. Great to see it on your list, as well as the Julia Gray, which I have on my list as well.🙂

  • 3. Renee  |  November 10, 2009 at 9:38 am

    CC/CJ: You know, I’ve always been interested in your thoughts about the early UF Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks, which takes place in 1980’s Minneapolis, for that very reason!
    I’ll have to check that series out. I’ve got one of her historical romances on my shelf from when some of us SoCal Bloggers went to her signing.
    Looking forward to your thoughts on Indiscreet.🙂

    HIlcia: Thanks!🙂 I think the Christie and James are now more sentimental favorites, since, while I still read the new AD books as they come out, they now feel a bit dated to me.
    Thanks for the recs! I’ll be definitely be looking them up. Is that the same RR that wrote the Percy Jackson series?
    Since you can, I recommend reading the AE books consecutively, since they are not super long, and you can get the most from the relationship development that way. Can’t wait to see what you think!

  • 4. Hilcia  |  November 10, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you Renee, I’ll make sure to remember to read the AE books consecutively.🙂

    Yes, it’s the same Rick Riordan.🙂 He’s actually quite well known for this adult mystery series. After reading his YA Percy series and hearing great things about the mysteries, I decided to give it a try.

  • 5. orannia  |  November 10, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    I completely agree with you about Julia Spencer-Fleming and Deanna Raybourn! Fantastic authors. I can’t wait for the next books in each series!

    I haven’t read the Josh Lanyon’s Adrian English books, but I have them…I’m just waiting to buy an iTouch – reading on my computer sucks the joy out of reading, and I want to appreciate these books.

    I have an author for you – CS Harris. Her Sebastian St Cyr books are briliant IMO. The first is called What Angels Fear. Yes, the books are set in Regency London, but the ton is not the centre🙂

    Oh, and if you like contemporaries, can I suggest PJ Tracy’s Want To Play? Very good, and amusing!

  • 6. Christine  |  November 10, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Hi Renee,
    I have Deanna Raybourn’s series on my Library Loot list. I’ve heard such great things about the series from all of you lovely and smart bloggers, so I know I’m going to enjoy them.

    As far as other mysteries, it’s a fairly new genre to me and most of my reads have been on the more light hearted spectrum. I started the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich and in fact, just started book 2 this afternoon.

    Another light hearted mystery series that I’m reading is The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz. I read the first two books and have the third already borrowed. Fun stuff. I’m doing a buddy review of the first one with nath, and will let y’all know when it’s posted.

  • 7. Rosie  |  November 10, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    I remember when I used to read mysteries… *whispers* I have a couple of Lanyon’s books but haven’t read them yet. Don’t tell Lisabea, okay?

  • 8. Renee  |  November 10, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    H: Very cool! Will have to check his series out.🙂

    orannia: I agree with you about the joylessness of reading ebooks on a computer!
    I started What Angels Fear, but it became one of those “not now” books, and I had to return it to the library. I will get back to it at some point, tho’.
    ::scribbling::PJ Tracy. got it.🙂

    Christine: Oh, you’ll love Lady Juila and Brisbane!
    SP is a favorite of mine, and I always forget that it’s in the “mystery” section.
    I’ll look forward to the buddy review!

    Rosie: ::whispers:: Your secret is safe with me! But, go. read. You’ll love Adrien, and recognize the setting, too!😉

  • 9. AmyC  |  November 11, 2009 at 4:50 am

    Hi Renee,
    I haven’t read many mysteries, none that were actually labeled mysteries, except the first two Adrian English Mysteries. I have the next two that I’d like to read soon. I enjoyed the first two.

  • 10. Christine  |  November 11, 2009 at 7:07 am

    SP is a favorite of mine, and I always forget that it’s in the “mystery” section.

    Yeah, figures I’d pick the two least serious mystery series in the genre.😉

  • 11. Renee  |  November 11, 2009 at 10:07 am

    AmyC: The series just keeps getting better!🙂

    Christine: lol. I just picked up One for the Money for my sister last week, and was surprised to see it there, but I guess, where else would it be?😛


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