Sometimes an author creates a character so good, it would be a shame to just let them appear in one book – and thus a series is born. In this list, we have a look at some of our favourite crime investigators. Sometimes an official law officer (and sometimes not!) these men and women keep investigating the bad guys.
The oldest character on our list, and one of the most intriguing, is none other than Sherlock Holmes created by Arthur Conan Doyle. The drug-addicted, violin-playing ex-prize fighter is the only mystery that never gets solved in these original, deliciously engineered and atmospheric detective stories. The subject of numerous novels and two current TV series and audiences still can’t get enough. Which one is your favourite?
It’s hard to believe, but Jack Reacher has been around since 1997. Lee Child’s creation is a tough ex-military cop of no fixed abode: a righter of wrongs, the perfect action hero. He wins all the fights, charms all the women and outsmarts all the rivals. And according to the latest book, a collection of short stories, he has No Middle Name.
Janet Evanovich is particularly good at writing gripping series, but our favourite character of hers has to be Stephanie Plum. We first meet her in One For the Money – in need of money (and fast), she take a job at her sleazy cousin Vinnie’s bail bonding company. And the first bail jumper is a guy she has a history with… funny and entertaining.
One of the most lived-in and mesmerising figures in this genre is the inimitable John Rebus. Set (mostly) in the streets of Edinburgh, Ian Rankin has created the ultimate man who plays by his own rules. He even tried to retire and fans demanded he be brought back! Twenty one books in the series (the latest is Rather Be the Devil), and no signs of stopping yet.
The charmingly named Precious Ramotswe is Botswana’s finest – and only – female private detective. The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith is a delightfully different style of book, with a warm, witty and intuitive detective at the helm.
David Baldacci books are usually guaranteed page turners, and one of his best characters is Amos Decker. Memory Man is the book that introduced him and his remarkable gift (the legacy of a serious brain injury) to millions of readers worldwide.
Also a successful TV show, Dr Temperance Brennan is the star of Kathy Reich’s series, the most recent of which is Speaking in Bones. In this case the author really knows what they are writing about – she is a forensic anthropologist who brought her own dramatic work experience to these mesmerising thrillers.
Not a detective per se, but tattooed computer hacker Lisbeth Salander is an intriguing character. Steig Larsson’s original trilogy started with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, where Lisbeth joined forces with disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Another fascinating author, his creation is one of the world’s bestselling series, and deservedly so.
One of Michael Robotham’s main reoccurring characters is Joseph O’Loughlin, who we first meet in The Suspect. A clinical psychologist, this is a protagonist with a flawed family life and dry sense of humour, who also struggles with Parkinson’s disease. Watch out for Vincent Ruiz, a heavy drinking, tough talking homicide detective, who also appears.
Set in the 1920s, the Honorable Phryne Fisher leaves the tedium of English high society, and decides to try her hand at being a lady detective in Melbourne – as one does. An irresistibly charming main character, a superb sense of period and some of the prettiest covers around – what more could you want? Cocaine Blues is the book where it all begins.
Patricia Cornwell remains one of the bestselling crime authors today, and for good reason. Her main character is Dr Kay Scarpetta, who first appears as Chief Medical Officer in Postmortem. Twenty-four books later, and she shows no signs of stopping. Perfect for fans of realistic crime investigating, with a focus on forensic technology.
All Kate Atkinson’s books are brilliant, and the Jackson Brodie books are no exception. Though they can be read on their own, the first in the series is Case Histories, which Stephen King described as “not just the best novel I read this year but the best mystery of the decade”. Jackson works as a private investigator, is a former soldier and policeman and is unable to resist coming to the rescue. Absolutely recommended.