The best book I’ve never read by a male, American crime writer is…

A recent post by Patti Abbott entitled “What crime fiction writer do you keep meaning to read?” has reminded me that I have an enormous gap in my crime reading. With the odd exception, I don’t read books written by American blokes.

I know It’s not a gender thing because since I’ve been keeping track of such things the breakdown of my reading by gender author averages out to about fifty/fifty. And I do read plenty of books from the US. But few of them are by male writers and there’s only one American male author whose books I buy the moment they’re published (Chris Grabenstein if you’re wondering).

I think my problem stems from the fact that I don’t like the ‘classic’ American male authors like Dashiel Hammett, Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler. Or at least I didn’t when I was in my late teens and early 20’s (the last time I can recall reading any of these was when I swapped a half-read Spillane for a Dick Francis in a youth hostel in Europe back in the day). They seemed to me then to be books full of men doing manly things and women being dead (or pathetically simpering which was probably worse in younger me’s mind).

Of course I know, logically, that there are plenty of American males who write different kinds of crime fiction than this but I think I am still influenced by this early perception, even if on an unconscious level. When I peruse recommendations or browse for potential new authors to try I just tend to gloss over the American male writers and instead try something…anything…else.

I have tried to like Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane and James Lee Burke (and in all cases have come away feeling like I’ve missed the point) though have read and really enjoyed at least one book by a few American men including George Pelecanos, Sean Doolittle, Tom Franklin, Charlie Huston and Wiley Cash so it’s not a completely lost cause. But among the big names who you’d think anyone who claims to be a crime fiction fan would have a working knowledge of that I’ve never tried are Robert B. Parker, Craig Johnson (though I’ve twice bought his books home from the library and returned them unread), Ed McBain, Ross Macdonald, Lawrence Block, Robert Crais, Walter Mosely, John D MacDonald, James M Cain (or if I have I can’t remember a thing about it), Elmore Leonard and Donald E. Westlake.

In fact now that I’ve been prompted to interrogate my database I find a mere 53 crime novels I’ve read in the past five and a half years have been by American male writers (and 11 of those were by the aforementioned Chris Grabenstein). I’ve read a total of 690 crime novels in that period. Which means that American men who aren’t Chris Grabenstein account of a mere 6.2% of my crime fiction reading. In a chart it looks like this (though I included Mr Grabenstein below to bump up the slice of pie just a little)

Books Read By American Males

So…over to you. Accepting that the hard-boiled, private eye is not for me…

  1. What book (or books) by an American male writer do you think I ought to read?
  2. Is there something (or someone) you think would be particularly good for helping me to re-set my internal mental block?
  3. And do you have any mental blocks when it comes to your reading habits?
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28 Responses to The best book I’ve never read by a male, American crime writer is…

  1. Bill Selnes says:

    Bernadette: Let me list a few American male authors I like:

    1.) Jeffery Deaver – I like the cleverness of Lincoln Rhyme and, as you know, just enjoyed the most recent book in the series;
    2.) John Grisham – He writes stand alone legal mysteries that flow swiftly and have some of the most interesting lawyers in fiction. I like best the books set in the American South where he was raised and practised law;
    3.) Stan Jones – The Nathan Active books set on the northwest coast of Alaska feature the interaction of white and Inuit cultures starting with Active whose Inuit mother gave him up for adoption to a white couple;
    4.) Thomas Perry – I loved the early Jane Whitefield novels as she helped people to disappear; and,
    5.) Scott Turow – He writes sophisticated readable legal mysteries. I cannot decide between Presumed Innocent and Innocent on which I like more.

    I will leave reading bias for another day.

    Good reading!

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    • Thanks Bill, I have already earmarked the latest Deaver novel after your excellent review and I did enjoy the one Stan Jones book I read so really should be happy to read another. Thanks for the other recommendations too, I shall add them to my list – I think I’ll create a personal challenge 🙂

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  2. Keen Reader says:

    I read quite a lot of crime fiction and I can’t think of a single American male author that you “need” to read. For example, I read Hammett’s ‘Maltese Falcon’ a little while ago and found it horribly dated and quite trivial. I kept assuming that it must get better (it’s an American classic, right?) but it never did. I’d have been far better off with a Fred Vargas or a Deon Meyer. I advise just continuing along with your perfectly normal and acceptable preferences and enjoying your reading.

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    • You do make a good point Keen Reader. I don’t feel bad about the choices that I do make (most of the books I read are great) but I don’t like the idea that I may be missing out on some good stuff simply because of an out of date or unconscious bias on my part. But I certainly don’t have any interest in re-visiting those so-called classics (like you I think Maltese Falcon is overrated).

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  3. My recommendations are: Joe Lansdale (try the Hap and Leonard series, my favourite double act in crime fiction), Daniel Woodrell, James Sallis (Turner series), Charlie Huston, Stan Jones, Dave Zeltserman, Duane Swierczynski. Reviews of all on the blog.

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  4. Mrs P. says:

    Now you’ve got me thinking, Bernadette. Male American writers are definitely under-represented in my reading, although I have reviewed a sprinkling on the blog (e.g. Tom Franklin). But I’m not really too bothered by this – life is simply too short to get to everything, and for those of us trying to read a good selection of international crime fiction, it’s almost inevitable that we won’t be able to keep up with all that those ‘American blokes’ produce, as they are such a large group 🙂

    If I were to recommend three, they would be Michael Chabon (The Yiddish Policeman’s Union), Sam Hawken (The Dead Women of Juarez) and Derek B. Miller (Norwegian by Night). None of these novels is totally mainstream, but that’s one of the reasons that I like them.

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    • Thanks Mrs P – I know you have recommended that Miller book before and I do have it on my queue at the library. I tried the Michael Chabon once for book club and never finished it.

      You’re right that life is to short to worry too much about this, I’m not losing any sleep though 🙂

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  5. Fascinating post, Bernadette. I’m going to have to have a look at my own reading and work out some percentages. I don’t think there are many US males in my favourites list, now you come to mention it, but I am a big fan of Joseph Kanon, and of CJ Box’s Joe Pickett books. And I can manage a Jack Reacher novel now and again (but is Lee Child actually British originally?). And I would endorse Mrs P – Michael Chabon is a wonderful writer. I also like Thomas Mallon – not a crime writer, but his Cold War DC novel, Fellow Travellers, has the feel of the very best spy novels. But, like you, I’m surprised by how few US male writers I actively follow. Excellent, thought-provoking stuff!

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    • I’ve not heard of Joseph Kanon thanks Moira, I did read a couple of CJ Box’s books and liked them, especially the standalone novel I read. I am a little weary of long series that I’ve got no hope of keeping on top of.

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  6. Beth2 says:

    Hi Bernadette – I’m with Keen Reader. It’s taken me 50 years of careful reading to realise that there are more than enough well-written crime fiction books in the world to keep me occupied for the rest of my life. Why waste valuable reading time when what you are reading is meaningless or repugnant to you? And, as there is a magnificent streak of translated (eg) Nordic, Italian, South American crime fiction, don’t you think it’s ok NOT to read a country’s crime fiction when you don’t enjoy it? I, too, don’t read crime novels written by male American authors (apart from Chris Grabenstein), and while I would hate to have missed his books, I think good blogs will save us! Let’s know what we like, and keep an open mind!

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    • Thanks for the comment Beth. I guess I just wonder if the “I know what I like” side of my brain is winning the war against the “try and keep an open mind” side. But your point is well made – even if it is it doesn’t matter too much as I am drowning in mostly great books and recommendations already.

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  7. Bernadette – I think we all have those mental blocks in our reading. For whatever reason, there are authors/sub-genres/, etc. that we just don’t read. And there’s so much good stuff out there that it’s impossible to read everything. It really is. Personally I give you credit for reflecting on this about yourself.

    About American male authors…have you tried Carl Hiassen? I love the humour in his work and some of the screwball situations his characters get into are memorable. I can recommend it.

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    • I do like Carl Hiassen Margot but his style is not something I would read a lot of – I have to be in a certain mood for the comic caper type of thing. But I’ve enjoyed those I’ve read

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  8. greenspace01 says:

    if one of the reasons you unconsciously avoid male USian crime fiction writers is a dislike for manly men doing manly things while women simper or die, I’d avoid Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books. admittedly I’ve only read one (and that was because Nancy Pearl likes them) but it was so macho I decided that was more than enough.
    I don’t read much crime fic by US men either, but I’ve read quite a few by Jonathan Kellerman – some I think are great, some not, but, while there are female corpses aplenty, there are also live-and-kicking female characters, and sensitive males, plus interesting psychology.
    Jesse Kellerman has written some thriller/mystery hybrids, my favourite of which is The Genius/The Brutal Art (US/UK titles), which mixes crime/mystery, family saga, and post-modern angst. (Faye Kellerman writes great crime fic too)

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    • I did read one of the Lee Child books and loathed it so no I won’t be going there again. I read the early Jonathan Kellerman books but got a bit bored – I think when I day dreamed about drowning Alex Delaware in his koi pond I knew it was time to move on. I haven’t tried his son though, thanks

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  9. Patti Abbott says:

    I am going to post the question tomorrow, Bernadette. We have to come up with someone. I will admit I read mostly female US writers and male ones from the rest of the world. I think you might like Tom Franklin’s most recent book.
    CALIFORNIA GIRL by T. Jefferson Parker is very good and I like James Sallis’ Cripple Creek books. His most recent ones DRIVE and DRIVEN are not for me though. Cnarles Willeford’s Hoke Mosley series is very amusing.

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    • Thanks Patti…I loved Tom Franklin’s CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER so will definitely look out for his latest (not out here yet it seems). The other names you mention are all familiar to me but exactly the sort I have glossed over a million times at the library/book store. I shall do something about that 🙂

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  10. juliehgordon says:

    Timothy Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series. I just read The Fear Artist and thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing is polished, the characters are likeable and real, and the Bangkok setting is so alive.

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  11. Kathy D. says:

    Wow, I really have to think and draw on those memory cells from decades ago. I have not read too many mysteries by U.S. male authors either. When I was a teenager starting out on serious reading, mysteries and other books, I read Nero Wolfe and Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason books. I hated the Mickey Spillane books and never read them. I’d just see a cover of a woman who’d been killed or otherwise brutalized and I was turned off. I haven’t read Raymond Chandler or Ross MacDonald or many of the other authors you have tried. I, too, have brought home some books from the library and not been able to read them — especially if there is a lot of action, no character development, and victimization or objectification or other disrespect of women.
    I also loved Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Keeping in mind that Tom Franklin got the John and Renee Grisham chair at University of Mississippi, I would say that Grisham’s best books are good: A Time to Kill, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Client and a few others. Scott Turow’s legal thrillers mentioned by Bill Selnes are good, too.
    On Lawrence Block, what I’ve liked are the burglar/bookseller Bernie Rhodenbarr series. They are hilarious. Hence the line I covet: “Whenever I get the urge to jog, I lie down and let it pass.”
    (I use that for exercising and house cleaning.)
    I do like some books by Michael Connelly, some better than others. I do not like Lee Child’s books, not since I read one where Jack Reacher seems to enjoy killing two women as part of some warfare thing. That was the end for me.
    I liked Dennis LeHane’s Mystic River, a stand-alone. I was going to mention Linwood Barclay, who sets his books in the U.S>, but I remembered he’s Canadian.
    I realize that since I’ve begun reading global crime fiction that I do read books by Nordic, Italian and other European male writers, as well as a few by Australians like Peter Temple.
    I have read a few legal mysteries by David Ellis by Paul Goldstein.
    If I can think of more, I’ll comment.

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  12. Sarah says:

    I know he’s already been mentioned but Tony Hillerman *is* wonderful and one of my favourite writers. My mental block was around writing duos, for some reason I could never get excited over their books. But this is gradually changing.

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  13. Patti Abbott says:

    Giles Blunt is a Canadian writer you might like also. CROOKED LETTER is the latest Franklin btw. That title always escapes me for some reason.

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  14. Patti Abbott says:

    THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN by James Lee Burke. Gives an amazing picture of NOLA after Katrina.

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  15. Rebecca says:

    I tried digging through my books-read list to come up with interesting ideas, but nothing is jumping out at me in the brief amount of time I had. I am more devoted to American women crime writers than men, so I had to do quite a bit of digging. I’ll keep thinking about this question, Bernadette.

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  17. JoV says:

    It just goes to show I haven’t missed anything then, if you read so few of the American male crime writers it says something about it, doesn’t it? Somehow I can’t see you reading any of them. I see you reading more Scandinavian and European especially British crime novels. Applies to me mostly too.

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