Author League Part 3 – Crime: Private detectives:
Harlan Coben (u): B +
Total books read: 8
Total books written: 22
Harlan Coben could have easily have fit into a number of other categories in fairness. I put him in here as I have recently started reading the Myron Bolitar series. I love Myron’s character but there is only one problem, he is remarkably similar to Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole. They even have the same stoic sidekick: Myron has Win and Elvis has Joe Pike.
The characters are so similar that I have to space out Harlan and Robert’s books to avoid them getting stale. However, looking at the books objectively as I should do, Myron is an excellent creation. Primarily a sports agent but sometimes Private Investigator Myron often finds himself embroiled in situations that seem simple but unravel into complex mysteries. To help him through these cases he often relies on his friend Win - a posh and rather lethal martial arts expert.
I’ve only read two books in the Bolitar series and enjoyed them both. He is an author I will be reading again soon so look out for a review.
The main body of work that I have read of Harlan’s are his standalone novels. These are must buys for me and my wife. Since having kids we are a slightly behind the latest releases but I find that these books never fail to deliver. They usually open with a mystery that really captures the imagination. Maybe a man will wake up one morning and his family will be gone with no explanation, he will then try to investigate what has happened. What follows is a fantastic story that twists and turns and then twists and then turns, has about three false endings and then twists and turns again. In other words they are fantastic. How Harlan keeps track of the plots is beyond me, but they are always well written and can be followed easy enough.
At the time of writing, Harlan is due to release another standalone novel early next year. He has also just released a spin-off series from the Myron Bolitar series and so I can only say the author despite his popularity is on the up.
Robert Crais (-): B-
Total books read: 5
Total books written: 20
Elvis Cole is cool. There is no other way to describe him. Geeky yes, with his propensity for his Mickey Mouse clock but undeniably cool. And the best thing is, Robert Crais has written 19 books and the majority of them are centred around Elvis Cole. Lately, he has expanded the universe slightly and focussed on Elvis’s constant professional partner the enigmatic Joe Pike.
The Elvis Cole series starts with the Monkey’s Raincoat. Immediately you feel at home with Elvis. He is the type of guy that you root for. Set in his ways, cynical about the world but a sucker for a guy/girl in trouble. His inner dialogue is hilarious as is the rare face twitching of his laconic partner Joe Pike to let you know he is amused at something.
Although a continual series, all of the books are practically standalones. This makes it great to dip in and out of the series without having to worry about continuity.
Robert has written a few standalone novels which I haven’t tried yet, but all are well received by fans. He releases his books consistently every year and is perfect if you just want to pick up a good story about a man solving a mystery in a cool way.
Total books read: 5
Total books written: 16
This sub genre of Crime could have easily been labelled “cool guys,” Jack Reacher is another man that fits the bill of men you wish you could be like. Unlike Elvis Cole or Myron Bolitar, Jack Reacher does not own his own agency or go looking for trouble/work. It just seems to find him.
Jack is a fabulous character, not trusting the state he remains off the grid. He doesn’t own a phone, or a computer or even a house. He prefers to remain unknown from the Government and gets by in life by performing non descript jobs such as cleaning pools and working in bars.
His problem is he can’t let a damsel go in distress. At over 6 ft, and as I said ex-military, Jack knows how to handle himself and certainly knows his way around a gun.
Each of the Lee child’s novels are standalone and we are only treated to snippets of Jack’s past. He was born into the army and moved around from base to base.
Each story starts with someone in trouble way over their head and Jack is usually the guy to help them where others won’t.
So far I haven’t read a bad book by Lee Child. One of them annoyed me slightly as I guessed the villain early on and it seemed so obvious I was frustrated when I was proven correct, but this was still a worthy read.
The reason for the lower mark is because the books do get a bit samey. They are once a year reads which means I am struggling to get up to date on them. The character has just been optioned for the big screen so I guess I should say Lee Child is on the up in my eyes. However, since the actor cast is Tom Cruise, someone who could not have been more miscast if they tried, I am happy to say Lee ‘s career is going steady in my eyes.
Mo Hayder (-): B+
Total books read: 7
Total Books written: 8
Mo Hayder’s first book was the Birdman and it blew me away. Set in a location very close to me, it gave me somewhat of a frisson picturing the grisly murders that were occurring in the book.
The Birdman is the first in the Jack Caffrey series. As the title of the series suggests they centre around Jack, a man haunted by the abduction of his brother when he was young. If you are looking for a flawed protagonist then look no further than Mr Caffrey. Jack struggles to go through life whilst also having to live opposite the convicted paedophile he knows stole his brother Ewan. The books are brutal, but great. In Mr. Penderecki Mo has created a truly despicable villain who revels in Jack’s discomfort. They are always well researched and explore the darker side of human nature.
The second book in the series, “the Treatment,” still haunts me to this day. I have read and have enjoyed many books but few have stayed with me as much as this one had.
With the third book Mo took the interesting choice of taking the series in a new direction by relocating Jack from London to Bristol. Two new characters were introduced that have become series regulars: Flea Marley and the Walking man. Both characters are great but the latter of the two is a hobo who appears to be far more than just that, given the series just the faintest hint of the supernatural.
Mo has also released three other books that have been largely applauded. Tokyo has probably been the most well received of all her books and tells a story of a young woman doing some research on the Nanking massacre. She is forced to take a job as a hostess and soon finds herself embroiled in a world of danger. The book is excellent as it visits the site of the massacre and gives a real sense of what went on there. Before becoming an author Mo apparently spent some time as a hostess and her experience really shines through the pages of this harrowing book.
The next standalone is “Pig Island,” and is probably the list favourite by the public. Personally I loved it. A man who spends his life exposing supernatural hoaxes is sent to a remote Scottish island whose residents are deeply religious and practicing Satanism. Inevitably, his beliefs are overturned after meeting the pastor Malachi Dove. This book does have supernatural elements and I loved it for it.
Hanging Hill is Mo’s latest book yet. I haven’t read it yet but will do soon. Mo is not the fastest writer but she is great.
John Connolly (u): A
Total books read: 14
Total Books written: 15
I stumbled across John Connolly in a rather unique way. I had a part-time job whilst at University in a book store. One day a rather frustrated author came in (obviously John Connolly otherwise this anecdote would be a waste of time) complaining that he had been given the prime position on the book shelves under the “book of the week” category and we didn’t have any of his books out for people to purchase. I took the brunt of his frustration (polite frustration I must add) and rectified the situation.
After he left the shop, I picked up the book to see what all the fuss was about. That book was “Every Dead Thing,” the first in the fantastic Charlie Parker series. John writes like no other author I know. He may begin a chapter with two or three pages dedicated to nothing but describing the town the chapter will be set in. This normally would be a massive turn off if any other author did it, but John’s writing is so vivid, so rich, that you are drawn into the beautiful descriptions. You often hear authors writing described as like reading poetry, well with John Connolly it is like viewing a beautiful painting and the best thing is, it is not even the strongest part of his portfolio.
John’s characters are second to none. Charlie Parker is an excellent hero. Haunted by the death of his wife and child and touched with a sort of supernatural power where they visit him in his dreams. Charlie walks the line between right and wrong. He is friendly with the wrong sort of men who all have big hearts. In Angel and Louis, John has invented my two favourite sidekicks - Louis especially. He is like Win and Joe Pike mentioned above in his laconic nature, but he is also far more human and realistic then either of those two.
With each book, John explores a new theme. It makes each book unique, which for a series spanning 10 books so far is a major achievement. There is no formula to the books. One might be heavy on the supernatural elements, one on the history of a place. There is not a bad book in this series and it does not show signs of weakening.
John has also written two stand alone books. The first Bad Man is an excellent book but it is the second, “the book of lost things” that is the stand out for me. Based on the premise of a boy entering a fantasy fairytale world, John mixes humour with empathy. He delights in taking all the traditional fairy stories we grew up with and flipping them on their heads. His treatment of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is fantastic.
In recent years, John has increased his productivity. He now almost produces two books a year. The second book is a young adult book that is largely humorous. Based on a little boy dealing with demons escaped from hell, the books are littered with extremely funny footnotes and John has great fun letting his humour fly.
All of these books, coupled with an excellent short story collection (some of the stories have been optioned for films) make John one of my favourite authors. He is easily the best in the crime genre and I look forward to his books every year/6 months.