Growing up in Buffalo, New York, I know a little something about getting snowed in…for days at a time. When the sun goes down at five o’clock, the nights seem endless. When my muscles are aching from shoveling the walk and the tip of my nose is frozen from trudging from my car to the front door, there’s nothing like curling up in my favorite chair with a steamy mug of hot chocolate and a book so good I’ll want to read the next one…and the next one and the next one.
Here’s a list of six of my favorite mystery authors and their series to help get you through the season. I’ve mixed classics in with some of my new favorites, that way everyone can find something to warm up to during these long, cold, blustery evenings.
Agatha Christie, traditional mystery
With the enormous success of the newest movie version of Murder on the Orient Express it’s no wonder her books are on the top of this list. Meticulous and entertaining, Christie’s whodunits have withstood the test of time. Her number-one achievement has to be the creation of the fussy Belgian detective with the epic mustache and amazing little gray cells, Hercule Poirot. Appearing in over thirty novels and numerous short stories, the remarkable sleuth solves murders in some of the most exotic places in the world, with nothing more than his powers of observation. Her Miss Marple series set the tone for cozy mysteries everywhere, so she has you covered there as well. Married until her death in 1976 to an archaeologist, Christie once quipped: “An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have. The older she gets, the more he is interested in her.” Thankfully, Agatha’s body of work never gets old.
Ed McBain, police procedural
Arguably the master of the modern police procedural, Ed McBain was the prolific author of the 87th Precinct series. The first book in the series, Cop Hater, written in 1954, rings true even today. Detective Steve Carella worked in the unnamed city he referred to as Isola until McBain’s last installment, Fiddlers, in 2005—a respectable fifty-one years. With memorable characters like Meyer Meyer and Fat Ollie Weeks, and in a city that never saw a downturn in crime, McBain helped define a genre. (Here’s a little trivia to impress your friends: Ed McBain wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece The Birds.)
Reed Farrel Coleman, private eye
I fell hard for Coleman’s Moe Prager series, which is certainly top notch, but I am absolutely in love with his new protagonist, Gus Murphy. In Where It Hurts, the first book in his series set on Long Island, we watch Gus, a retired cop, shuffle around in a daze, mindlessly picking up and dropping off passengers in a hotel curtesy van. When a petty criminal comes to him to help find out who murdered his son, it sets off a chain of events that transforms Gus. Into what exactly, we’ll have to read the rest of the series to find out. There’s a reason this book either won or was nominated for every major mystery award last year. Do not pass this one up.
Thomas Harris, serial killer
While serial killer may or may not be considered a sub-genre of mystery, in 1981’s Thomas Harris introduced us to one of the greatest literary villains of all time: Hannibal Lector. The educated, cultured, cannibalistic genius captured our hearts and minds in the 1991 Oscar-winning movie adaptation of Silence of The Lambs. The writing is intense and graphic; Harris leaves nothing to the imagination. If you think watching the movies were terrifying, try reading Hannibal alone with a nice bottle of Chianti.
Jess Lourey, thriller
In a genre usually crowded with men and male protagonists, it was wonderful to discover Jess Lourey’s Salem’s Cypher, the first in her Witch Hunt series. Part Di Vinci Code, part National Treasure, Lowery puts her puzzle solving cryptanalyst, Salem Wiley, and female police officer Bel Odegaard up against deadly assassins, ancient secret orders, and a cross country race against time to gather clues. Clever and fast paced, this one will keep you turning pages late into the night.
Barbara Early, contemporary cozy
Set in real-life, idyllic East Aurora, New York, Barbara Early’s Vintage Toyshop mystery series makes you nostalgic not only for small town America, but for the toys you grew up playing with (And still would, if you could get your hands on them again.) Cozy and smart, Early’s books are an escapist’s delight. Early’s spunky heroine, Liz McCall, manages her father’s vintage toy shop and helps solve local crimes. The second book in her series, Murder on the Toy Town Express, is the perfect follow up to last year’s Death of a Toy Soldier. Early also penned the Bridal Bouquet Shop cozy mystery series under the name Beverly Allen. If you want your fill of mystery with a softer edge, I would definitely toy around with one of hers.
I know, I know, I know. The Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is not included on my list. But it doesn’t take a detective to figure out if you’re a fan of mysteries, he’s already on top of yours!
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