My Favorite Authors
I’m often asked what books inspire me—and what I'm reading now. So, here goes.
First, I want to share a eureka I recently had. (I don’t know what took me so long!). Writing and storytelling are two different skills. I’ve read many books filled with beautiful words, but their authors obviously skipped Storytelling 101. Others, as I mention below, are master storytellers, but their words just get the job done. Nothing to swoon over. I suppose if I had to pick one approach or the other, I’d choose good storytelling, but as authors and writers, I like to think we can achieve both.
I credit Graham Greene with awakening my love of both. Many years ago, I was wandering through the book section of a department store (back when they had them!). As I browsed aimlessly during a lunch break from a boring pay-the-bills job right after college, a book seemed to jump into my hands: a remaindered copy of The End of the Affair. As I read, I was spellbound by Greene's words and thoughts, angst and passion. I don’t often reread books, but I’ve read that one at least five times.
Now fast forward several decades. A greeting card in a bookstore display catches my eye. An impish youngster peeks out from an open door above the caption: “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” Graham Greene wrote that. Needless to say, I bought the card.
I went on to read everything he wrote. But I confess: I don’t read books like that much anymore. A bit too heavy for me now. That said, I bet Mr. Greene also enjoyed the mystery books by P. D. James. Adam Dalgliesh, her ever-rising-in-rank detective and poet, shares thoughtful musings that rank up there with those of Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles (from The End of the Affair). James’ work had quite an impact on me, especially her British style of “off stage” violence. The story is more about finding culprits than inflicting brute force on my characters—and readers.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, I enjoyed mysteries starring Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone (at least through H). Not so much today, though I still credit these books with stirring my imagination.
Today, I anticipate the latest books from a handful of writers. Adrian McKinty is at the top of my list, though I’ve learned that I only like his books featuring Sean Duffy (his other books are too violent for me). With Duffy, though, McKinty has created a likeable, loveable even, character who catches bad guys during the IRA troubles in Northern Ireland. (Plenty of bad guys to go around during those times.)
I also wait for the latest releases by Michael Connelly and Jonathan Kellerman. I’ve read all of Connelly’s Hieronymus Bosch series, which started in 1992 with The Black Echo, and I'm halfway through rereading them. I simply can't find books as engaging as these. And I have a crush on Kellerman’s Alex Delaware, who offers thoughtful observations drawn from the profession he shares with the author—psychotherapy—and who lives an interesting life beyond the crime scene.
Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallender series is as good as it gets. His sorrowful detective draws readers into his life and work (mostly one and the same). Mankell died a few years ago; since I’ve read everything he wrote, it might be time to start rereading.
Finally, I love Celeste Ng’s work. She’s not a mystery writer, per se, but her books are filled with suspense. I am in awe of her talent. Just thinking of her second book, Little Fires Everywhere, gives me goosebumps. It’s set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, right next door to Cleveland Heights, where I grew up. Lots of familiar settings for me, even all these years later.
I wish I had a longer list to share with you. There are others—like Robert Crais and David Baldacci—but too often I find the violence they depict over the top. I just skip that part, though, because their storytelling skills are worth it.
I'd love it if you'd let me know your favorite mystery authors. I’m always looking for new ones—so I don’t have to keep rereading books!