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Top five: America’s best fictional detectives

As far as fictional detectives go there are so many to choose from. The iconic Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Inspector Morse and Commissaire Maigret have kept crime at bay in Europe. But what about America’s fictional villains? Who tracks them down? Tonight we’re going to bring you five of the very best US detective characters, all created by American authors. They’re in no particular order, because they’re all superb…

Harry Bosch – Michael Connelly
The 19th book featuring Harry Bosch, Black Box, will be out next month, and one of my favorite detectives, now sliding firmly into middle age, shows no sign of slowing down. He’s been given three years until he must retire from the LAPD and he’s still determined to do what he does best: get the bad guys. Sometimes when a series goes this long, things inevitably start to lose their shine, but Harry is still going strong, and I’ve never been underwhelmed with any of these books. If you like your cops tough and complex, and your police procedurals unflinching, you’ll love this series by former crime reporter Connelly.
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Dr Robert ‘Mongo’ Frederickson – George C Chesbro
George C Chesbro was the author of 15 books starring Dr Robert Frederickson, professor of criminology, dwarf, karate expert, PI, and – as Mongo the Magnificent – a former circus performer. The first book in the series, Shadow of a Broken Man, was published in 1977 and still holds up more than 30 years later. Mongo is brilliant, compassionate, and his huge heart belies his short stature. With Mongo, Chesbro created a deeply conflicted, humane PI that everyone can relate to in some way, especially those who consider themselves just a little bit different. It’s these differences, and the grace and humility with which he carries them, that make Mongo one of the most fascinating and heartbreaking characters in crime fiction. Unfortunately, Mr Chesbro passed away in 2008, but not before giving us 14 more Mongo mysteries. A good number of the books were originally published by Simon and Schuster, and were out of print for a while, but you can snag most of them secondhand, as well as some that are available again under Chesbro’s own imprint. Also, this is the first series that I can remember to include fantastical and police procedural elements together, to wonderful effect. This is a series that is absolutely not to be missed.
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Will Trent – Karin Slaughter
Karin Slaughter’s latest, Criminal, features Special Agent Will Trent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and it’s the seventh book he’s appeared in, starting with Triptych in 2006. Raised in a children’s home after surviving horrific circumstances, Will is brilliant, intrinsically decent, deeply wounded and has more issues than you can shake a stick at. It’s for this reason that you will unfailingly root for him as he navigates his career and a personal life that’s in a shambles more often than not. You’ll want him to find happiness and your heart will break for him time and time again. Ms Slaughter is one of the best out there, and Will Trent is one of her most fascinating creations.
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Hank Palace – Ben H Winters
In The Last Policeman (out in July of this year), an asteroid is due to hit the Earth, possibly destroying over half the population. Hank Palace is a policeman in Concord, New Hampshire, and while lives fall apart around him in anticipation of Earth’s demise, Hank is determined to get to the bottom of a man who supposedly hung himself in a McDonald’s bathroom. Looks like suicide, but something just doesn’t sit right with Hank, and he’s resolved to find out what it is that makes this look like more than a simple suicide – of which there have been plenty of in light of the recent news. All Hank ever wanted to be is a policeman, and while The Last Policeman is a well-crafted procedural set in a pre-apocalyptic world, it’s also an examination of a man who, through quiet determination, gets the job done with an off kilter grace that readers will find irresistible.
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Lt Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Daniels – JA Konrath
Lieutenant Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Daniels burst onto the scene in 2005 in JA Konrath’s Whiskey Sour, and I was instantly hooked. Jack is not a wilting flower, and she’s also a more mature character, age wise, than what you usually see at the beginning of a series. As tough as she is, she’s also got continuous boyfriend problems (her cases tend to intrude on her love life in disastrous ways). Konrath has a talent for taking ridiculous situations and not only making them believable, but also making you laugh (or guffaw) in the middle of some pretty scary situations. For quite some time I thought JA Konrath was a woman because he writes Jack so well, but he’s not! I personally can’t get enough of Jack, and eight books in this remains one of my favourite series, hands down.
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Discussion

6 Responses to “Top five: America’s best fictional detectives”

  1. I’ve always enjoyed The Harry Bosch Novels. My all time favourite is “The Last Coyote. A wry commentary on our world and vivid characters.

    Travis McGee is another one of my favourite fictional dectectives.

    Posted by Angelabsurdist | October 15, 2012, 9:39 am
  2. If we can include Canada, my favourite is Armand Gamache, created by the inimitable Louise Penny.

    Posted by Rosemary kaye | October 15, 2012, 10:10 am
  3. What is the name of the detective that has a load of kids and a young housekeeper who we all hope will fall for each other.He lives by the beach

    Posted by Bill Wilson | May 29, 2013, 9:23 am
  4. Please include Walter Mosley. He is one of the best. I love his character “Easy Rawlins”

    Posted by Iris | July 10, 2014, 12:47 am

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