I started out thinking I’d write about my favorite Nordic crime authors, but as prolific as they are, I’m afraid my Nordic love affair is dimming. In fact, I’m loath to say it, since I am someone who loves the darkest shades of noir, but reading them has not been as satisfying as it once was. They’ve started to feel far too dreary, dark and cold. Even for me.
Then again, perhaps it’ll take a change of scene for me to appreciate them again… which is why I’ve decided to broaden the subject to six “non-American” authors instead.
Many US readers have always had a soft spot in their hearts for UK authors, and I’m no exception. So here are some of my favorite Brits as well as a sprinkling of authors from elsewhere in the world. I’ve already mentioned the marvelous Mo Hayder and Val McDermid before. So let’s start with…
Peter Robinson’s and Inspector Banks
Robinson is Canadian but sets his books in Britain. He hooked me with In a Dry Season, which introduced me to the stolid, never-wavering, rock music loving Inspector Banks. Annie Cabot provided vibrancy, color and heat. It’s too bad their relationship is so problematic. His latest, Before the Poison, is a stand-alone, or maybe the start of a new series, and it just won the Dilys award, so I know it’s going to be a great read. All of his novels are. But I’ve purposely not looked up the TV adaptations. I hear the actor who plays Banks invested him with character traits that Alan really doesn’t have.
Ann Cleeves’ compelling Scottish mysteries
I can’t resist Anne Cleeves’ books set on the Shetland Islands. I’ve read Raven Black and Dead Water and love Jimmy Perez. Cleves writes compulsively readable prose and creates finely-drawn characters in a fairly isolated setting. Normally a “small town” environment is too small for me, but I think the magnificence—and the danger—inherent on the Shetland Islands mitigates that claustrophobic feeling I sometimes get with British village mysteries. Sit down, pick up Ann Cleeves and you won’t surface until the end. I understand her novels been adapted for TV by the BBC. I hope they’re on Netflix.
Kate Morton, Australian magic from ‘down under’
Kate Morton isn’t primarily a crime author but she does write compelling mysteries. In fact, The Forgotten Garden changed my pre-conceptions about UK, or should I say, English-speaking writers. Her writing is normally everything I tend to disparage: a looong book, flowery (pun intended) language, and a slow pace. For some reason, though, she swept me up in her generational saga and I honestly couldn’t put it down, which was a shame, because I was in Italy for the first time while reading it! Her second, The Distant Hours, is on my bucket list. And I know I’m behind.
Philip Kerr’s remarkable Bernie Gunther novels
Oh, where to begin? I adore Kerr’s Bernie Guthrie novels on so many levels. They’re beautifully written, always exciting and tap into one of my favorite periods of history, pre-war Nazi Germany. Gunther is apolitical—kinda sorta— but you know he’s a decent fellow in an indecent environment. And Bernie’s interactions with actual historical figures like Heydrich are fascinating. Prague Fatale was wonderful. So was If The Dead Rise Not. And A Berlin Requiem. Give him a try and let me know what you think.
William Boyd’s seriously good British espionage
I loved the excellent Restless, another gripping WW2 (and aftermath) espionage novel, and I recommend it highly to anyone with a love of that period. I was impressed with how well he developed his female characters, too. I also enjoyed Any Human Heart, not so much a mystery as a full-blown saga. As you might know, Boyd was selected to write a new James Bond novel, and he just revealed the title: Solo. I’ll be waiting to see what he comes up with.
Jo Nesbo and the Snowman
Although I’m feeling less attached to Nordic mysteries, I can’t not mention Jo Nesbo. I started Redbreast but it must have been the wrong time because I couldn’t get into it. A few months later, though, I picked up The Snowman and couldn’t put it down. Harry Hole reminds me a bit of Connelly’s Harry Bosch, and I loved the juxtaposition of snow and the hellish evil he created. He’s one reason I’ll probably come back to the Nordic gang after a respite.
Who is your favorite non-US mystery author?
Let’s start a conversation – whose crime novels do you love? What makes them so good?