Run out of mystery series to read?

The Best Mystery Series to Read While Stuck at Home

From Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache novels to Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books, WSJ readers share their favorites.


April 24, 2020 2:05 pm ET

A great mystery series usually needs a great protagonist. But it also needs to take the reader to a particular place—and many readers seem eager to embark on such a journey just now.

Among subscribers to the Journal’s Books newsletter, one of the most popular authors by far proved to be Louise Penny, whose books follow Armand Gamache, “a very high-principled inspector in the Sûreté du Québec,” as Monica Spaulding puts it, who patrols the small town of Three Pines, near Vermont. “The community is small,” Ms. Spaulding notes, “and has everything one needs: a bookstore, a fine restaurant, a resident poet, several artists, a coffee shop and bakery and such wonderful characters, both in the village and in the police unit.”

“In this time of fear and uncertainty,” Jozie Emmerich writes, Ms. Penny’s “hero and the other residents of the fictional Three Pines envelop us with warmth, courage and humanity.” Debi Morton calls Three Pines a place “that you will want so badly to be real so you can visit it.”

Another popular destination for readers—likely because it seems to be teeming with fictional detectives—is Los Angeles. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch received nearly as many accolades as Armand Gamache, while other readers looked back to Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer (“My introduction to the outcast-cop-as-private-eye genre,” as Michael Kaliher put it)—or all the way back to Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. A few readers wandered up the California coast to the Bay area and recommended Dashiell Hammett, Sam Spade and “The Maltese Falcon.”

“Like Conan Doyle a half-century before him,” Sean Benson writes, “Hammett pioneered many of the conventions we now associate with the genre (femme fatale, the corruption of the police and detective), including the terse muscular prose.”

This list is long but hardly exhaustive—it seems that there is always a good mystery series to discover, whose author has created a compelling ”place” to explore.

WSJ readers’ favorite mystery series (alphabetical by author)

 Rennie Airth, the John Madden series of novels —Russell and Jeannie Stein

 Mark Billingham, the Tom Thorne series —Steve Watson

 Lawrence Block, the Matthew Scudder and the John Keller series —Seth Hirschfeld, William Johnson

 C.J. Box, the Joe Pickett series —Frank Platis

 James Lee Burke, the Dave Robicheaux series —Steven Garfinkle, Ira Greenspoon, Rick Kahen, Rikki Klieman, Bonnie Knox

 Raymond Chandler, the Philip Marlowe novels —Dave Bausch (“Farewell, My Lovely”), Alan Emdin (“The Big Sleep”)

 G.K. Chesterton, the Father Brown series —Mary Caulfield

 Lee Child, the Jack Reacher series —Kevin Bernzott, Wilbert Dennis, Bill Dikis, David Hall (particularly “Killing Floor”), John Jay Schwartz

 Ann Cleeves, the Vera Stanhope series —Mary Caulfield

 Michael Connelly, the Harry Bosch series —Dave Bausch (particularly “Angels Flight”), John Buttermore, Wilbert Dennis, Bill Dikis, Kathy Dumas, Ian Gregory, Bonnie Knox, Jean Orr, Babs Scroggs

 Robert Crais, the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series —Bill Dikis, Larry Hester

 Colin Dexter, the Inspector Morse series —Mary Caulfield, Steve Watson

 James Ellroy—Bob Fletcher (“The Black Dahlia”), John Hayes (“L.A. Confidential”)

 Charles Finch, the Charles Lenox series —Richard Turner

 Christopher Fowler, the Bryant and May series —Susan Read (particularly “The Water Room”)

 Elizabeth George, the Inspector Lynley series —Mary Caulfield

 Sue Grafton, the Alphabet/Kinsey Millhone series —Kathy Dumas, Seth Hirschfeld, Laurie Young

 Elly Griffiths, the Ruth Galloway series —Beatrice Iceman

 Dashiell Hammett, “The Maltese Falcon” (Sam Spade) —Dave Bausch, Sean Benson, James Corcoran

 C.S. Harris, the Sebastian St. Cyr series —Richard Turner

 Reginald Hill, the Dalziel and Pascoe series —Steve Watson

 Tony Hillerman, the Leaphorn and Chee series —David Schneider

 P.D. James, the Adam Dalgliesh series —David Mudd (“The tension between Dalgliesh’s elitism and his obsession with murder investigations makes for great literature”), Carol Ann Theuer, Rebecca Waycott

 M.M. Kaye, the “Death in…” series —David Schneider

 Jim Kelly, the Philip Dryden series and the Peter Shaw series —Steve Watson

 Philip Kerr, the Bernie Gunther series —Ira Greenspoon

 William Kent Krueger, the Cork O’Connor series —Linda Loper

 Volker Kutscher, the “Babylon Berlin” series —J. Nicols

 Donna Leon, the Guido Brunetti series —Kathy Dumas, Ira Grenspoon, Seth Hirschfeld, Babs Scroggs

 Peter Lovesey, the Peter Diamond series —Steve Watson

 Ed McBain, the 87th Precinct series —Dave Bausch

 Alexander McCall Smith, the No. 1 Ladies’ Detectives Agency series —Stephanie Owings

 Val McDermid, the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series —Laurie Young

 John D. MacDonald, the Travis McGee series —Alex Della-Valle, David Hall, Tony Medley

 Ross Macdonald, the Lew Archer series —Michael Kaliher, Dick Posey, Suzanne Storar (particularly “The Chill” and “The Underground Man”)

 Henning Mankell, the Kurt Wallander series —Kathy Dumas

 Walter Mosley, the Easy Rawlins series —Wilbert Dennis

 Jo Nesbø, the Harry Hole series —Dave Bausch, Ira Greenspoon, Robert Huggard, Anne McKinney (particularly “The Snowman”), Sandeep Mehta

 Sara Paretsky, the V.I. Warshawski series —Kathy Dumas

 Robert B. Parker, the Spenser series —George Brenckle, James Corcoran, Bill Dikis, James F. Sefkic

 Louise Penny, the Armand Gamache series —Mary Caulfield, Jozie Emmerich, Ira Greenspoon, Linda Loper, Debi Morton, Mary Ellen O’Connell, Babs Scroggs, Monica Spaulding, Chip Stapleton, Kathy Steele

 Ellis Peters, the Brother Cadfael series —David Schneider

 Ian Rankin, the Inspector Rebus series —Robert Rankin, Laurie Young

 Peter Robinson, the Inspector Banks series —Steve Watson

 Robert Rotenberg, the Ari Greene series —Ira Greenspoon

 Lawrence Sanders, the Archy McNally series —Seth Hirschfeld, Russell and Jeannie Stein

 John Sandford, the Lucas Davenport “Prey” series —Vincent DeMaggio (“I have read the series, in order, twice”), Bill Dikis, Steve Watson, Laurie Young

 John Sandford, the Virgil Flowers series —Bill Dikis, Steve Watson, Laurie Young (“well written stories of believable characters in realistic and often hilarious settings”)

 Dorothy Sayers, the Lord Peter Wimsey series —Caroline Hemmings (particularly “Whose Body?” and “Strong Poison”), Rebecca Waycott

 Martin Cruz Smith, the Arkady Renko series —Paul Gilmore (particularly “Polar Star”)

 Rex Stout, the Nero Wolfe series —Sharon Brown, James Corcoran, Ned Harris, Jon Lellenberg, Brian R. Merrick (Wolfe is “a brilliant, erudite, overweight, 1/7 of a ton, according to his wisecracking assistant and narrator, Archie Goodwin”), Hector and Selden Morales, Margaret Northen, Russell and Jeannie Stein, Peter Stickles

 Will Thomas, the Barker and Llewelyn series —Richard Turner

 Charles Todd, the Ian Rutledge series and Bess Crawford series —Jane Kuntz (“This is mother/son authorship—I’m not sure how it works but it does!”)

 Martin Walker, the Bruno, Chief of Police series —Ira Greenspoon

 Jacqueline Winspear, the Maisie Dobbs series —Kathy Dumas, Mary Ellen O’Connell

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