Monday, November 5, 2018

Mystery Novels set in California

Though I’m partial to mystery series set in England, I also follow several set in the US. It’s hard to beat my long-time favorite, Robert Parker’s Spenser and Jesse Stone mysteries set in the Boston area, but two LA series also rank high on my list.  Published in 1992, Michael Connelly’s “The Black Echo” introduces Hieronymous Bosch, an LAPD cop, named for a Renaissance painter by that name.  Who does that to a child? Fortunately, he goes by Harry. Bosch is Connelly’s protagonist in twenty novels with the 21st coming in October this year.

In the first book, we learn Bosch was a tunnel rat in the Vietnam war. Both the war and the early death of his mother were defining experiences for Harry.  In twenty novels, Connelly explores Harry’s complex personality and what drives him. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book and have binge-watched each season of the Amazon original series “Bosch” starring Titus Welliver. Fair warning, both the books and the Amazon series are dark. If Harry ever smiles, it’s a fleeting expression.

Connelly also wrote five novels with defense attorney Mickey Haller as the lead character. “The Lincoln Lawyer” was the first and was made into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey. Bosch is a darker character than Mickey, but both series are enjoyable.

Robert Crais’s series, also set in LA, starts out a bit quirkier, a bit more humorous than Connelly’s.  That’s more a product of his main character Elvis Cole’s quick wit than it is of the plots. Elvis is closer in personality to Parker’s Spenser, witty but with a code of honor that drives him to do the right thing, no matter the personal cost.  In the first book, readers discover that Elvis has a Felix the Cat clock in his office, the one with the tail that wags.  I see that clock as emblematic of his personality.

Spenser has Hawk, and Elvis has Joe Pike. Starting in 1987 with “The Monkey’s Raincoat,” Crais has published seventeen Elvis Cole/Joe Pike mysteries, and we learn more about the personalities and histories of the two as the series progresses.  From time to time, Joe Pike takes the lead, and Elvis has his back instead of vice-versa. 

When I have the opportunity, I like to start with the first book in a series. In doing so, I’ve been able to notice the Elvis Cole stories grow in complexity and seriousness. That makes this recommendation from Robert Crais intriguing:

“I always suggest [readers] begin with “L.A. Requiem, or even one of the standalones like “Demolition Angel” or “The Two Minute Rule.” It isn’t that I feel the earlier books aren’t as ‘good’ as my more recent efforts—I am intensely proud of those early novels—but my newer books are richer, broader in scope, and way more complex in their structure, so I believe them to be more representative of the work I am doing today.”

If I were reading this today without having read any of the Crais novels, I know I’d still follow my rule of thumb and start at the beginning.  I often discover an author new to me by picking up a book at a library sale and starting in the midst of a series.  When I enjoy the book, though, I set out to find the early ones and read them in order. Whatever your preference, if you enjoy crime novels and serious mysteries, Connelly and Crais are good authors to try.

PS. Don't miss out on the e book sale of Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch through November 15, 2018.

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