Elizabeth George, Reginald Hill, Val McDermid

A Murderous Lot

Some of the top fiction books you can read are British crime thrillers. Elizabeth George, Reginald Hill and Val McDermid are among many talented mystery authors that grace the ‘Sceptred Isle’ bringing us pages stained with blood, murder, mayhem and tortured souls seeking justice of a kind.

Straight forward “whodunits” from Agatha Christie and Miss Marple to the psycho thrillers of Val McDermid and Lynda La Plante to gutsy, down to earth Jack Frost from R D Wingfield and Reginald Hill’s Dalziel.

Here are some I have read, and believe are worth your while for reading for relaxation and fun.

Elizabeth George - American writer of British mysteries

Although a New York resident – her books are very English – her hero Inspector Thomas Lynley is also a belted peer of the realm.

Much of her appeal is due to her unconventionally complex main characters – the introspective, insecure Lynley, the frumpy and dowdy, working class Barbara Havers.

Her books, apart from being good character studies, are thought provoking and generally compelling page-turners. Having said that her “With No One as Witness” takes a bit of getting into – but has a real twist at the end – and all a part of the Lynley series – though not apparent for a long while.

Elizabeth George always manages to avoid formulaic writing – her characters and their life situations grow and evolve while offering up juicy murders and intricate plotting.

Unless you knew otherwise, this author seems so British because she catches the nuances of what is essentially English and imbues her novels with it. Much like James Lee Burke's books evoke the Louisiana bayous.

Reginald Hill

I was introduced to his books through the excellent TV series “Dalziel and Pascoe”. I wanted more, and so found the books – a well worth exercise.

The books centre on the blunt but intuitively brilliant Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel and the more reserved Chief Inspector Peter Pascoe, along with a entertaining subsidiary cast of fully-imagined characters which expands satisfactorily with each new case and whose foibles allow full rein to the more wicked side of Hill’s wit.

Hill’s series really belong on your top list of fiction books as they provide a complex and multi-layered read we all love, and the personal relationships of the central protagonists assume an increasingly tangled connection to the unravelling of the cases involved.

Sometimes described as grotesque or flamboyant, Dalziel (pronounced Dee-ell) is both a fully realized character and likeable at the same time, despite his crude behaviour and loud mouth. The dialogue is often laugh-out-loud and offensive, one of the many things readers have come to love in Hill’s books.

Peter Pascoe is quieter, more reflective – almost bland when next to Dalziel, but a real character nevertheless. His relationship with Dalziel is one of the aspects that keep you interested in the books – as is the presence of the ugly faced and gay Sergeant Wield.

An always humorous writer, his Yorkshire Detective displays a formidable intelligence, quick humour and unexpected compassion as he and Pascoe resolve the crime mysteries confronting them – putting him at the top level of crime thrillers in the UK.

Best summed up by fellow writer Val McDermid (Sunday Express) `The fertility of Hill’s imagination, the range of his power, the sheer quality of his literary style never cease to delight’

R D Wingfield – A Touch of Frost

Equalling Reginald Hill’s creation of Dalziel, Wingfield has penned an immortal and unique detective in Inspector Jack Frost. Like Dalziel and Pascoe, I was introduced to Frost by the TV series starring the inimitable David Jason – who forever will be my image of Frost – despite the author’s reservations about the casting.

The 6 Frost books are a must read on anyone’s list of the best books to read when scouring the book stores for above par British crime thrillers and mystery books.

Even if you have seen the TV series, these are books that still can be on a must read list - as they are recreational readin at its best.

Frost at Christmas, A Touch of Frost, Night Frost, Hard Frost, Winter Frost, a Killing Frost

Val McDermid

Her books mainly fall into three series: Lindsay Gordon, Kate Brannigan and the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series McDermid considers her work to be ‘tartan noir’ and considering “Wire in the Blood” a fairly apt description.

I have read a couple of the Kate Brannigan series and the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series – but a while ago – but remembering they were enjoyable and realistic fiction.

I do find the latter series a bit dour – too much pessimistic introspection for my liking – not helped by the TV series “Wire in the Blood” – where the lead is a bit gormless.

HOWEVER, many will find her enjoyable as she is a very capable writer – creative plotting and imaginative mysteries.

Mo Hayder

Fairly new on the scene, her books featuring D.I. Jack Caffrey will not disappoint anyone wanting a good murder yarn with well realized characters, high on atmosphere, imaginative plotting, convincing and skillful writing. Realistic fiction her Caffrey mystery books are:

  • The Birdman
  • The Treatment
  • Ritual

Ruth Rendell

Needs no introduction by me really……. For her Inspector Wexford Mysteries.

She has won many awards, including the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for 1976’s best crime novel with A Demon in My View; a second Edgar in 1984 from the Mystery Writers of America for the best short story, The New Girl Friend; a Gold Dagger award for Live Flesh in 1986. She was also the winner of the 1990 Sunday Times Literary award, as well as the Crime Writers’ Association Cartier Diamond Dagger. In 1996 she was awarded the CBE and in 1997 became a Life Peer.

Her psychological crime novels. Aside from her police procedurals starring her most enduring creation, Chief Inspector Wexford, Rendell has written psychological crime novels wherein she explores themes such as sexual obsession, the effects of misperceived communication, the impact of chance and coincidence and the humanity of the criminals involved. For those who relish psycho thrillers these are a must.

Lynda La Plante

I was introduced to her through her TV series “Prime Suspect”, starring Helen Mirren; and then the “Trial and Retribution” series. As these were written by her, I think it’s a fair inclusion here – as it leads on to reading her printed word. BTW, another excellent result of her scripting is “The Commander” which has returned.

She has 9 novels in publication – there is a grittiness and edge to her writing which imbue her characters and storylines with realistic conflictual tension –threaded into the plotting and the subsequent interactions as the cases unfold.

There are more great detective novels to be added as time goes by …. But don’t wait for me ……. Add your two bobs worth too if you like ..... go to the "Have Your Say" page on the nav bar.

  • PD James
  • Patricia Cornwell
  • Ian Rankin
  • Carolyn Graham (Midsomer Murders)
  • Mark Billingham (Detective Tom Thorne series)
  • Michael Dobbs (Francis Urquhart series and Thomas Goodfellowe series) Dobbs was called ‘Westminster’s baby-faced hit man,’ by The Guardian
  • Michael Ridpath (Alex Calder financial thrillers)
Medieval crime novels – lots of these – including SK Penman, Lindsey Davis et al

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