I love murder mysteries. My favorites are series with compelling protagonists. There is almost nothing I enjoy more than spending an afternoon with some sleuth as he or she dopes out the clues and tries to figure out who did it.
This obsession goes back forty-five years. I was 12, and a stone-cold bookworm. I would check five or six books out of the county library on Friday and return them on Monday. By then I had read the Hardy Boys series, and some of the Nancy Drew mysteries. But I had outgrown those, and was reading just anything and everything that summer.
I happened across John D. MacDonald’s “A Purple Place for Dying,” wherein I met the legendary Travis McGee. I quickly read everything else in the series. I saw a blurb from Rex Stout on one of the Travis McGee paperbacks, which led to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Then it was Ed McBain and Detective Steve Carella in the 87th Precinct series (actually police procedurals). Then Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, and Robert B. Parker and the Spenser series.
I followed all of them. I also discovered the hypnotic darkness of Andrew Vachss’ off-the-grid anti-hero Burke; the great Lawrence Block’s dogged Matthew Scudder, and the lyrical poetry of James Lee Burke and his protagonist, Dave Robicheaux. I met Tony Hillerman’s cops, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police; Loren Estleman’s hard-bitten Detroit operative Amos Walker; Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, and Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware.
I was thrilled when Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins appeared on the scene in 1990! He was black, and cool as a mofo. He and his sidekick, the inimitable Mouse, and the world they inhabited were all pitch-perfect. Over the next decade or so, I also discovered Michael Connelly’s Hieronymus Bosch; Robert Crais’ super-cool, wise-cracking PI Elvis Cole and his partner, Joe Pike, and John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport. I later added the adventures of George Pelecanos’ team of Derek Strange and Terry Quinn (then went back and read everything else he’d written).
After all these years, John D. MacDonald and Rex Stout are still near the top of my favorites list: Every two years or so, I go back and re-read all twenty-one Travis McGee novels, in order, and all of the Nero Wolfe stories (33 novels and 39 novellas).
I know, of course, how they all turn out. And whodunit.
The amazing thing is, I revisit each of those stories with the same sense of wonder and awe as all those years ago.
Like visiting with old friends.