Speaking of forensic crime novels, here are some I think are worth reading, if you’re into this kind of thing.
FORENSIC CRIME NOVELS
Beverly Connor’s Diane Fallon series and her Lindsay Chamberlain series, both set in Georgia, both feature strong women forensic anthropologists (they identify bodies based on skeletal evidence and can speak about this in a legal setting). Fallon is also a museum director and a former human rights abuses investigator; Chamberlain is also an archaeologist. Both series involve some caving. If you like Nevada Barr’s national parks series with Anna Pigeon, you may very well like the Lindsay Chamberlain series — both series are set largely in the great outdoors. The books in the Diane Fallon series are: One Grave Too Many (2003) and Dead Guilty (2004; graphic detail about hangings). Dead Secret is due in November. The Lindsay Chamberlain books, which tend to focus on Native American beliefs and stories, are: A Rumor of Bones (1996), Questionable Remains (1997), Dressed To Die (1998), Skeleton Crew (1999), and Airtight Case (2002). Kill Site is in progress.
Kathy Reichs’ Tempe Brennan series, set in Montreal and in North Carolina, is always being compared with Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series. Brennan is a forensic anthropologist — someone who identifies bones, often older bones sans flesh — and Scarpetta is a medical examiner — someone who does complete autopsies on a regular basis. What they have in common is that they are both single women (both currently with boyfriends) who tend to get themselves into a heap of danger. The books are: Deja Dead (1997), Death Du Jour (1999), Deadly Decisions (2000), Fatal Voyage (2001), Grave Secrets (2002, largely set in Guatemala), Bare Bones (2003), Monday Mourning (2004, set entirely in Quebec), and Cross Bones (2005), which is partially set in Israel and could be a Da Vinci Code readalike. (The new Fox series called “Bones,” beginning Sept. 13 at 8 p.m., is inspired by the Tempe Brennan series and features the Brennan character as well as similar characters — though with different names — from Reichs’ novels.
Aaron Elkins’ novels starring forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver are less compelling and feel less serious to me than the three series mentioned already, but they are pleasant and often interesting reading, with historical information woven into the plot. Gideon’s character is a good guy, in love with his wife Julie and able to maintain strong male friendships, too. The novels, which are set all over the world, are: Fellowship of Fear (1982, involves KGB and set in NATO cities of Heidelberg, Sicily and Madrid), The Dark Place (1983, set in the rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula), Murder in the Queen’s Armes (1985, set in Dorcester, England), Old Bones (1987, set in France, with WWII repercussions), Curses! (1989, set in the Yucatan), Icy Clutches (1990, set in Alaska’s Glacier Bay), Make No Bones (1991, set at a professional conference at a lodge in Oregon), Dead Men’s Hearts (1994, set in the Valley of the Nile, near Luxor Egypt), Twenty Blue Devils (1997, set in Tahiti), Skeleton Dance (2000, set in a French village), Good Blood (2004, set in Stresa, Italy), and Where There’s A Will (2005, set in the uplands of Hawaii).
I like Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series. Lots of people used to like them, when she started the series, but don’t anymore. Not me. Her books in this series are always nail-biters for me. (I don’t like her Andy Brazil/Judy Hammer series, though, and don’t recommend it.) Scarpetta is a medical examiner in Richmond, Virginia, through most of the series. She’s involved in an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with FBI profiler Benton Wesley, a long-term working relationship with cop Pete Marino, and a relationship of affection and respect with her super-smart niece Lucy. Most of the books require a strong stomach. The books in the series are: Postmortem (1990), 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), Point of Origin (1998), Black Notice (1999), Last Precinct (2000), Blow Fly (2003), and Trace (2004). Predator is due out in October.
P.D. James’s Death of An Expert Witness, one in her strong police procedural series featuring Adam Dalgliesh, is about the murder of a forensic biologist named Edwin Lorrimer at his lab in rural England. Details of forensic work are part of the storyline. Reviewed well here.
OTHER CRIME NOVELS
Aside from these forensic series and books, I also recommend the following series and stand-alones:
Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kinkaid/Gemma James British police procedural series, for the intricacy of the plots, the developing characterization, and the historical information embedded. Kinkaid and James are involved romantically in most of the books. The books are A Share in Death (1993, won Agatha and Macavity nominations for Best First Novel), All Shall be Well (1994), Leave the Grave Green (1995), Mourn Not Your Dead (1996), Dreaming of the Bones (1997, nominated for an Edgar award), Kissed a Sad Goodbye (1998, set in the Docklands of London and partially during WWII), A Finer End (2001, set in Glastonbury, England), And Justice There is None (2002), Now May You Weep (2003, set in Scotland, mostly featuring Gemma), and In a Dark House (2004). Next in series Water Like a Stone is due in Feb. 2006.
Linda Fairstein’s Alexandra Cooper series, set in New York City. Fairstein is a sex crimes prosecutor who has run the sex crimes unit in the DA’s office in Manhattan for more than 20 years. Her character Alex Cooper is also a sex crimes prosecutor. These books, well-crafted and with continually developing relationships among the central characters (including two male cops), are not for the squeamish. The books are Final Jeopardy (1994, set in NYC and Martha’s Vineyard), Likely to Die (1997; set in NYC and at a conference in England), Cold Hit (1999), The Deadhouse (2001), The Bone Vault (2003), The Kills (2004), and Entombed (2005).
Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel/Peter Pascoe British police procedural series, set in mid-Yorkshire. Dalziel is a complex yet crude Gargantuan, and Pascoe is the perfect foil, a refined and sensitive man with an activist/feminist wife, Ellie. The books are literary, often linguistically focused (especially the most recent ones), and extremely complex. I think Hill is probably one of the smartest writers around, and his books just get better. (He also has a series featuring private eye Joe Sixsmith, which I don’t think are as good.) Books are A Clubbable Woman (1970), An Advancement of Learning (1971), Ruling Passion (1973), An April Shroud (1975), A Pinch of Snuff (1978), A Killing Kindness (1980), Deadheads (1983), Exit Lines (1984), Child’s Play (1987), Under World (1988), Bones and Silence (1990), One Small Step (1990), Recalled to Life (1992), Asking For The Moon (1994; four stories), Pictures of Perfection (1994), The Wood Beyond (1995), On Beulah Height (1998), Arms and the Women (1999), Death’s Jest Book (2001), Dialogue’s Of The Dead (2001, filled with wordplay), Good Morning, Midnight (2004), For Love Nor Money (2005), Secrets of the Dead (2005).
Peter Robinson’s Alan Banks British police procedural series are set in Eastvale in the Yorkshire Dales. Banks, a single man (who has serious romantic relationships) and father of two adult children, is a music-lover with varied tastes; his cassette and CD choices are part of his characterisation. Banks is another sensitive type finely attuned to moral ambiguity and ethical complexity . The mysteries are intriguing and hold my attention. Books are: Gallows View (1987); A Dedicated Man (1988); A Necessary End (1989); The Hanging Valley (1989); Past Reason Hated (1990); Dry Bones That Dream (1995; aka Final Account); Wednesday’s Child (1994); Innocent Graves (1996); Dead Right (1997; aka Blood at the Root); In a Dry Season (1999; much of it set during WWII; excellent); Cold Is the Grave (2000); Aftermath (2001; exceptionally good plotting and not very violent); The Summer That Never Was (2003; aka Close to Home; not as good as his usual, IMO); Playing with Fire (2004; also not as strong as his usual); and Strange Affair (2005). A reviewer notes that “In a Dry Season bears close reading in conjuction with Hill’s On Beulah Height, both of which involve moorland villages drowned in reservoirs, with much digging into the past; both are excellent in contrasting ways.”
Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury British police procedural series. Jury and sidekick Melrose Plant — a witty and placid nobleman with glittering green eyes who has relinquished his titles and who lives under the shadow of an imposing Aunt Agatha — investigate usually in England, but also in Baltimore, MD and Sante Fe, New Mexico. Neither Jury nor Plant is often romantically entangled, though both are susceptible to women’s charms, and to children’s curious little minds and frank questions. Books, all named for pubs, are: The Man With A Load Of Mischief (1981); The Old Fox Deceiv’d (1982); The Anodyne Necklace (1983); The Dirty Duck (1984); Jerusalem Inn (1984; one of my least favourites); Deer Leap (1985); Help the Poor Struggler (1985); I Am The Only Running Footman (1986); The Five Bells and Bladebone (1987); The Old Silent (1989); The Old Contemptibles (1991); The Case Has Altered (1993); The Horse You Came In On (1986); Rainbow’s End (1995); The Stargazey (1998); The Lamorna Wink (1999); The Blue Last (2001; WWII flashbacks; powerful); The Grave Maurice (2002; focuses on Melrose Plant and on horse-breeding and horse-racing); The Winds of Change (2004; excellent)
Julia Wallis Martin’s British standalones: A Likeness in Stone (1997, thriller nominated for an Edgar award; reminded me of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History), The Bird Yard (1998; set in Manchester, England), The Long Close Call (2000), Dancing with the Uninvited Guest (2002, set in Northumbria), and to be published in 2006, Dark Winter. IMO, her books are a hybrid of police procedurals and psychological thrillers. In any case, as one reviewer said, Martin explores “the darker side of the human psyche.”
Barry Maitland’s David Brock and Kathy Kolla British police procedural series. Readers who like to learn something about an arcane or specialised subject will enjoy these. Books: The Marx Sisters (1994; Karl Marx); The Malcontenta (1995; a naturopathic spa); All My Enemies (1996; published only in the Australia and UK?); The Chalon Heads (1999; stamp collecting; one of my favourites); Silvermeadow (2000; the shopping mall!); Babel (2002; set in the London Docklands, explores violence among Islamists and others); The Verge Practice (2004; architecture); and No Trace (2004 in Australia; eccentric artists’ community).
Charles Todd’s Inspector Ian Rutledge series, set in rural England. (Charles Todd is a pseudonym for a mother-son writing team.) Rutledge is a man quite literally haunted by his actions during World War I. The books are atmospheric, riddled with loss, grief, the past, emotional scars; the plots are fairly complex, the characters a strong point. Books are: A Test of Wills (1996; Edgar-nominated); Wings of Fire (1998; set in Cornwall); Search the Dark (1999; set in Dorset); Legacy of the Dead (2000; set in Durham); Watchers of Time (2001; set in Norfolk); A Fearsome Doubt (2002); and A Cold Treachery (2005; set in the remote and snowy Lake District town of Urskdale). A Long Shadow is to be published in March 2006.
And anything in the Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie; the Lord Peter series by Dorothy Sayers; the CID Chief Inspector Reg Wexford British police procedural series by Ruth Rendell (set in mid-Sussex); and the Adam Dalgliesh series by P.D. James (next in series, The Lighthouse, is coming out in November).