I like novels where I can get to know the main character and revisit him or her in a series of books. If the author does it right, you get to see a consistent view of the world through the eyes of the main character. I have a hard time enjoying books if I don't agree, at least in large part, with the world-view of either the author, the main character, or both.
It is a heroic sense of life that I want to experience when I read a book. I like characters who do something. And what they do must be admirable, on some level. I do not like books about neurotics who sit around bemoaning their lot in life. I do not like books that glorify bad guys.
To me, fiction is about the way life should be. The author is in complete control of the world presented in the book. Thus, I credit authors with psychologically healthy world-views and avoid those who live in and glorify the "dark side."
One of the greatest joys of a reader is to find a new series, several books old, where one can immerse oneself in a new character and the character's world.
The real purpose of this page is to tell you about some books I like in hopes that you will e mail me back, saying, "Oh, if you like that series, you're going to love this one." And if, in reading my list of favorite books in a series, I lead you to an author and character previously unknown to you, so much the better.
So now to the list, in alphabetical order by author.
If you have yet to read the Kay Scarpetta series by Cornwell you are in for a real treat. There are several books in this series about a medical examiner in Richmond, Virginia. Cornwell is a good writer and the books are well plotted. The scientific information is a bonus and is woven seamlessly into the plots. I advise you to read these books in order so you can follow the life events of Dr. Scarpetta. Start with Post Mortem (1990);Then, Body of Evidence (1991) All That Remains (1992); Cruel and Unusual (1993); Body Farm (1994); From Potter's Field (1995); Cause of Death (1996); Unnatural Exposure (1997); Hornet's Nest (1996); Point of Origin (1998); Black Notice (1999).
Crais features private detective Elvis Cole. Cole, who operates out of L.A., is a former cop. The dialogue in the books is snappy and the plots are well developed. Cole's sense of life and sense of justice makes this series a great read. Cole's partner, Joe Pike, is especially memorable. Crais is not as well known as he should be, but I am sure you will read the whole series if you read the first one. Start with The Monkey's Raincoat (1987). Then, Stalking the Angel (1989); Lullaby Town (1992); Free Fall (1993); Voodoo River (1995); Sunset Express (1996); Indigo Slam (1997); L.A. Requiem (1999);
Diane Mott Davidson
Davidson has created a memorable character in Goldie Bear, a caterer operating out of Aspen Meadow, Colorado. Goldie manages to get in constant trouble while trying to eke out a living with her catering business. The books are well-written and satisfying on many levels. The supporting cast is memorable and the books are great comfort food. Read them in order. Start with Catering for Nobody (1990). Then, Dying for Chocolate (1992); The Cereal Murders (1993); The Last Suppers (1994); Killer Pancake (1995); The Main Corpse (1996); The Grilling Season (1997); Prime Cut (1998); Tough Cookie; Sticks & Scones (2001), Chopping Spree (2002); Double Shot , (2004); Dark Tort, (2006); Sweet Revenge, (2007); and Fatally Flaky (to be released 4/7/09).
Stephanie Plum makes her living getting people who have jumped bail back to the police for her cousin the bail bondsman. She has no training for this job. She is doing this job because she was laid off her other job. Stephanie has more than her share of personal problems, but she is fun to follow because these difficulties are approached as problems to deal with, not as grounds to feel sorry for herself. She may lack finesse (and experience), but she has heart, and gets the job done. The series is populated with a very interesting set of supporting characters. You won't feel sorry for Stephanie. Stephanie doesn't feel sorry for Stephanie. But you will have a great time watching her work. These are fun books. Start with One for the Money . Then, Two for the Dough; Three to Get Deadly; Four to Score; High Five; Hot Six; Seven Up; Hard Eight; To the Nines; Ten Big Ones; Eleven onTop; Twelve Sharp (2006); Lean Mean Thirsteen; and Fearless Fourteen (2008).
Donald Hamilton is the author of the Matt Helm series. Helm works for a secret intelligence agency of the United States, charged mostly with wet work. What makes the novels work for me is the world-view of Helm given the environment within which he works. There is more philosophy of life in these novels than is typically found in this genre. Please don't be deceived by the Dean Martin movies made from some of these books. The movies were less than stellar, and were in no way representative of the writing in the books. Sadly, these books are out of print. However, they are usually available at used book stores. The novels should be read in order. Start with Death of a Citizen (1960). Then, The Wrecking Crew (1960), The Removers (1961), The Silencers (1962), Murderers' Row (1962), The Ambushers (1963), The Shadowers , (1964), The Ravagers (1964), The Devastators (1965), The Betrayers (1966), The Menacers (1968), The Interlopers (1969), The Intriguers (1972), The Intimidators (1974), The Poisoners (1974), The Terminators (1975), The Retaliators (1976), The Terrorizers (1977), The Revengers (1982), The Annihilators (1983), The Vanishers (1986), The Demolishers (1987) The Frighteners (1989).
Hillerman's novels are set in Navajo territory around the Four Corners area. They feature Navajo policemen Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. The contrast in personalities between these two is interesting. They don't work out of the same office, but there are few tribal policemen, and their paths cross frequently. Navajo beliefs and culture play a large part in these books. As does the geography of the area. Leaphorn doesn't believe in skinwalkers (witches) and Chee is studying to be a Singer. Hillerman shows great respect for this culture as he presents their stories. Start with The Blessing Way (1970). Then, Dance Hall of the Dead (1973); Listening Woman (1978); People of Darkness (1980); The Dark Wind (1982); The Ghostway (1984); Skinwalkers (1986); A Thief of Time (1988); Talking God (1989); Coyote Waits (1990); Sacred Clowns (1993); The Fallen Man (1996); The First Eagle (1998); Hunting Badger (1999);
This is a great series. It features Rabbi David Small, and follows his adventures as he establishes his New England congregation. The congregation does not take to Rabbi Small without difficulty and it seems that one of them always gets into trouble that the Rabbi has to deal with. This series offers an interesting glimpse into the religious and political life of a Rabbi and Kemelman tells good tales in between. Don't pass this series up. Start with Friday the Rabbi Slept Late (1964). Then, Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry (1966); Sunday the Rabbi Stayed Home (1969); Monday the Rabbi Took Off (1972); Tuesday the Rabbi Saw Red (1973); Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet (1976); Thursday the Rabbi Walked Out (1978); Someday the Rabbi Will Leave (1985);
The Travis McGee series is excellent. McGee lives on a boat and works when he needs money. The work he does is finding things. He keeps a percentage of what he finds. What he usually finds is money taken from his friends by force or fraud. Along the way to recovery we get to sample his philosophy of life. And an interesting philosophy it is. Give these books a try. They are still good books after all these years. Start with The Deep Blue Good-By (1964). Then, Nightmare in Pink (1964);A Purple Place for Dying (1964); The Quick Red Fox (1964); A Deadly Shade of Gold, (1965); Bright Orange for the Shroud (1965); Darker than Amber (1966); One Fearful Yellow Eye (1966); Pale Gray for Guilt (1968); The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (1968); Dress Her in Indigo (1969); The Long Lavender Look (1970); A Tan and Sandy Silence (1971); The Scarlet Ruse (1973); The Turquoise Lament (1973); The Dreadful Lemon Sky (1974); The Empty Copper Sea (1978); The Green Ripper (1979); Free Fall in Crimson (1981); Cinnamon Skin (1982); The Lonely Silver Rain (1985). The last book in this series about Travis McGee is the little known Reading for Survival . John MacDonald died on December 28, 1986. This is his last work, and it is an "essay" of 47 pages, based on a multi-day conversation between McGee and Meyer about the necessity of reading. Many of you may never have heard of this title. MacDonald wrote it for the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and the Florida Center for the Book. Amazon.com sells it used. It is hard to find, but absolutely worth the effort. A fitting last work by a great author.
Fiddler lives in California's Gold Coast. He is independently wealthy. From wise investments made with a trunk of small unmarked bills left his by his smuggler uncle. And invested by his ex-wife and financial genius with whom he continues to have an "on again/off again" steamy relationship. Maxwell is a great writer in the detective genre. Fiddler is not exactly a detective. Certainly not a licensed one. He sometimes takes on causes. And helps his ex. This synopsis does not do the series justice. I really love this writer, and return to these books frequently. Highly recommended. These books are hard to find. Try used bookstores. In Houston, try Murder by the Book. Start with Just Another Day in Paradise (1985). Then, The Frog and the Scorpion (1986); Gatsby's Vineyard (1987); Just Enough Light to Kill (1988); The Art of Survival (1989); Money Burns (1991); The King of Nothing (1992);
The Easy Rawlins series presents life through the eyes of Easy Rawlins. Easy is a black man who grew up in Houston and now lives in L.A. He is not wealthy. He is not stupid. He is not mean. He is not licensed as a detective. But he has friends. With problems. And those friends turn to him. Mosley is a great writer and it is always a pleasure to follow Easy through his world as he goes about his life. Easy's intelligence lies in applying his brains to the unique worlds in which he travels. Go along for the ride. Start with Devil in a Blue Dress (1990). Then, White Butterfly (1992); Black Betty (1994); A Little Yellow Dog (1996); Gone Fishin' (1997);
Robert B. Parker
Parker is the creator of the Spenser series of novels. Spenser is a Boston detective. With an attitude. And a way with words. The writing is fast paced, terse and erudite. Some of the best dialogue you will come across. Spenser is competent, irrerevent and educated. This is a great series. Start with The Godwulf Manuscript (1973). Then God Save the Child (1974), Mortal Stakes (1975), Promised Land (1976), The Judas Goat (1978), Looking for Rachel Wallace, (1980), Early Autumn (1981), Ceremony (1982), Valediction (1984), A Catskill Eagle (1985), Taming a Sea-Horse (1986), Pale Kings & Princes (1987), Stardust (1990), Pastime (1991), Double Deuce (1992), Paper Doll (1992), Walking Shadow (1994), Thin Air (1995), Chance (1996), Sudden Mischief (1998), Hush Money (1999), Hugger Mugger (2000), Potshot (2001), Widow's Walk (2002), Back Story (2003), Bad Business (2004), Now & Then (2007), The Professional (2009), Sixkill (2011).
This is the Amelia Peabody series. Amelia and Emerson are English persons who have archaelogical adventures in Egypt around the time of WWI. The humor is typically British, in the best sense. Peters can turn a phrase, and her characters are worth knowing.
Start with Crocodile on the Sandbank (1975), The Deeds of the Disturber, (1988), The Ape Who Guards the Balance, (1998),
Rowling is the author of the famous Harry Potter series. Harry is a teenage wizard who attends Hogwarts School for wizards in England. The series begins as he discovers he has "powers." Harry is always getting into trouble and has more than his share of adolescent crises--in between the problems brought on by his magical powers. This is an enchanting series suitable for both children and adults. Harry's universe is not like ours, but it has its own rules Harry must live within. You will be glad you visited. Start with Harry Potter and the Sorcer's Stone (1997). Then, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1999); Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999); Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; (2000); Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003); Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2005); Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)
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