In this final installment in a series of posts dedicated to great mystery series, we have arrived at the dark end of the mystery spectrum. Here you'll find more violence, blood, gore, and disturbing characters and situations that may have you losing sleep, so beware!
You were promised vampires... and with Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series, you'll get vampires galore and many more supernatural creatures. If you like to read the whole of a series without interruption, now is the perfect time for this one! The last book has recently been released, and it's also just been announced that the upcoming season of True Blood (the popular HBO show based on the books) will be the final one. Before you get hooked (on either the books or the show), be warned: as the series progresses, the gore factor increases.
Harris's immensely popular Sookie Stackhouse series has a Southern flavour that seems to go down smoothly with its dark mix of vampires, murder, romance, and small-town gossip. Start at the beginning with Dead Until Dark. The main character, Sookie Stackhouse, has been dealing with the curse (in her opinion) of being able to read people's minds her whole life. This makes living in a small town very nearly unbearable, and many of the locals aren't too keen on having her in their midst, either. Then one day, she meets her first-ever vampire. And is fascinated that instead of the constant flow of noise from hearing people's inner thoughts while trying to ignore them, this vampire sounds like... silence. Having been labelled a freak herself, she is inclined to find out for herself what she thinks of vampires, who have recently revealed their existence to the world, rather than being hasty to judge. And so it begins.
Crime & Detectives:
The world of crime and crime-fighters has always been the mainstay of the mystery tradition, from police procedurals to hardboiled detectives and ruthless criminals. These authors present a dark vision of this world.
Here's another Canadian mystery author who is also an award winner. (Of three posts on mystery series, each one has featured an award-winning Canadian author!) Blunt has just won the Crime Writers of Canada 2013 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel for Until the Night, which is the latest installment in his series featuring John Cardinal. This author comes highly recommended, and is next on my "must-read" list. Here's a little more detail from Novelist:
The novels of Canadian writer Giles Blunt are known for their potent combination of eloquent language, piercing psychology, and strong sense of place. This is well-evidenced in both his literary novels and the books for which he is best known, the John Cardinal series of police procedurals. Set in rural Ontario, these meditative novels capture a small, hardscrabble town's foreboding atmosphere and follow the hero's troubled personal life and investigations of gruesome homicides. Blunt balances effectively and informatively-written police work with deeper contemplations of the human condition and the nature of evil. Start with: Forty Words for Sorrow.
I've just finished one of Jo Nesbø's standalone crime thrillers, Headhunters, which was compelling, fast-paced, and well-written (also a good translation by Don Bartlett). It was an absorbing novel with satisfyingly twisted plots and characters--the only thing stopping me from picking up his mystery series, featuring detective Harry Hole, is that the level of violence and the gritty tone are a bit beyond my reading preference at the moment. If you've enjoyed Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy (which kept me riveted, despite the gruesome and violent aspects of the plot) and are not put off by its disturbing content, you should try Jo Nesbø. If you're looking for a series to read, start with The Bat. The English translations are by the same translator who did Headhunters, so these should be excellent, and it looks like the second volume in the series, The Cockroaches, will soon be available, completing the series for English-speaking world! Read a little more:
Norwegian author Jo Nesbo is best known for his intricately plotted, gritty, and thrilling mystery fiction. His twist-filled, fast-paced crime stories frequently feature the personally troubled and substance-abusing Detective Harry Hole as he wades through the seedy underbelly of Oslo to solve brutal murders. While Nesbo's haunting stories contain explicit depictions of disturbing violence, his gripping page-turners also demonstrate a keen and sensitive understanding of the social realities of poverty, drug addiction, and organized crime in urban environments. (Novelist)
Because I generally avoid anything that gets too violent or disturbing, I've only read a few of Kathy Reichs's novels featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. The gruesome details of crime scenes and autopsies combined with the threat of imminent violence in the plots proved to be a bit too much for me, but the novels are complex, very readable, and introduce a fascinating cast of characters. If gory details do not put you off, you'll likely enjoy this series, which is the inspiration for the popular show Bones, although not really similar in tone or plot. (Both feature a forensic anthropologist named Temperance Brennan, although on the show she's much younger and writes a hit series of thrillers featuring a fictional character named, of course, Kathy Reichs.) The first novel in the series is Déjà Dead. Read more from the catalogue summary:
A born storyteller, Dr. Kathy Reichs walks in the steps of her heroine, Dr. Temperance Brennan. She spends her days in the autopsy suite, the courtroom, the crime lab, with cops, and at exhumation sites. Often her long days turn into harrowing nights. It's June in Montreal, and Tempe, who has left a shaky marriage back home in North Carolina to take on the challenging assignment of director of forensic anthropology for the province of Quebec, looks forward to a relaxing weekend. First, though, she must stop at a newly uncovered burial site in the heart of the city. One look at the decomposed and decapitated corpse, stored neatly in plastic bags, tells her she'll spend the weekend in the crime lab. This is homicide of the worst kind. To begin to find some answers, Tempe must first identify the victim. Who is this person with the reddish hair and a small bone structure?
Fans of dark and disturbing mysteries: what are your favourites? Leave a suggestion in the comments!