The best crime novels featuring flawed detectives

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always read and loved crime fiction – so much so I did a doctorate in it. I believe good crime fiction has the capacity to explore particular societies, places, and times in interesting and enjoyable ways. I also like crime fiction’s focus on character, and particularly in crime series which show a character evolving over time. That’s why I chose the theme of ‘flawed detective’ and that’s what I’m trying to do in my Schalk Lourens series, of which Present Tense is the first. I hope you enjoy it, and also the other books I’ve recommended here.


I wrote...

Present Tense: A Schalk Lourens Mystery

By Natalie Conyer,

Book cover of Present Tense: A Schalk Lourens Mystery

What is my book about?

Present Tense is a police procedural set in present-day South Africa, in Cape Town. Schalk Lourens, a cop with a past he’s ashamed of, must investigate the murder of his ex-boss, an execution that recalls the bad old days of apartheid. His investigation is made more difficult by the tensions of post-apartheid society. Schalk must tread a line between the new regime and the old, between personal and professional, between justice and revenge.

Present Tense won the 2020 Ned Kelly Award for a debut novel and was shortlisted for the Davitt Awards. The Sydney Morning Herald called it "superbly structured" and with a "cast of engaging characters."

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Christine Falls

Natalie Conyer Why did I love this book?

Christine Falls is the first in a series of crime novels by Booker-winning author John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black. The novels are set in Ireland in the 1950s and they feature Quirke, a misanthropic, hard-drinking, depressive pathologist. All the novels in the series are master classes in how to manage setting, character, and language. All of them are great reads. I’ve chosen Christine Falls because it’s the first in the series. It starts with a presumed suicide and widens to feature corruption and betrayal by family, church, and state.

By Benjamin Black,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Christine Falls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the debut crime novel from the Booker-winning author, a Dublin pathologist follows the corpse of a mysterious woman into the heart of
a conspiracy among the city's high Catholic society

It's not the dead that seem strange to Quirke. It's the living. One night, after a few drinks at an office party, Quirke shuffles down into the morgue where he works and finds his brother-in-law, Malachy, altering a file he has no business even reading. Odd enough in itself to find Malachy there, but the next morning, when the haze has lifted, it looks an awful lot like his…


Book cover of Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly

Natalie Conyer Why did I love this book?

Ireland again, this time in the 80s, and right in the middle of the Troubles. Adrian McKinty’s cop, Sean Duffy, is an outsider, a Catholic in a Protestant police force. He’s irreverent, sarcastic, bitter, and a more than occasional drug user. In Police at the Station (6th in the series) Duffy investigates the murder of a small-time heroin dealer, who’s been shot by a crossbow. Meanwhile his posh girlfriend wants to move…the Sean Duffy novels are tough, funny, exciting, and extremely well done. Enjoy!

By Adrian McKinty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times Bestselling author

Another thrilling mystery featuring Detective Sean Duffy and his most dangerous investigation yet

Belfast, 1988. A man is found dead, killed with a bolt from a crossbow in front of his house. This is no hunting accident. But uncovering who is responsible for the murder will take Detective Sean Duffy down his most dangerous road yet, a road that leads to a lonely clearing on a high bog where three masked gunmen will force Duffy to dig his own grave.

Hunted by forces unknown, threatened by Internal Affairs, and with his relationship on the rocks,…


Book cover of Thirteen Hours

Natalie Conyer Why did I love this book?

Deon Meyer is one of South Africa’s best crime writers, and this novel is the second in a series featuring policeman Benny Griessel. Benny is a good cop and an ordinary guy. He’s also an alcoholic and his drinking has destroyed his family. Thirteen Hours is set in Cape Town and the action, as the title suggests, spans thirteen hours. A backpacker goes missing and the cops must find her before the bad guys do. It’s an edge-of-the-seat ride and I promise you’ll be cheering Benny on.

By Deon Meyer, K.L. Seegers (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Thirteen Hours as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Sunday Times '100 best crime novels and thrillers since 1945' pick!

Shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger Award 2010

They killed her best friend. Now they are chasing Rachel Anderson through the streets of Cape Town. The young tourist doesn't dare trust anyone - except her father, back home in America. When he puts pressure on the politicians, they know that to protect their country's image, they must find Rachel's hiding place before the killers.

So Benny Griessel - detective, maverick and father of teenagers himself - has just 13 hours to crack open a conspiracy which threatens the…


Book cover of Bad Debts

Natalie Conyer Why did I love this book?

Peter Temple wasn’t just a good crime writer; he was a master storyteller. He’s my crime writing hero and I strongly recommend all his books, but as a ‘flawed detective’ it’s hard to go past his series starring Jack Irish and set in Melbourne, Australia. A former attorney, Irish went to pieces after the murder of his wife and now makes a living doing odd jobs like recovering debts. 

In Bad Debts, the first in the series, one of Irish’s clients calls him for help and by the time he answers, the client’s been murdered. Irish is emotionally damaged, an outsider. It’s hard-boiled crime, full of black humour, and featuring a wonderful array of Australian characters.

By Peter Temple,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bad Debts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE AWARD-WINNING DEBUT NOVEL, AND FIRST JACK IRISH THRILLER, FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE BROKEN SHORE AND TRUTH.

'Put simply, Temple is a master' John Harvey

'Great locations, hard-nosed dialogue and a twisting plot . . . super entertainment' Evening Standard

Jack Irish doesn't spook too easy. He's had guns pointed at him too many times - more often since he started hiring himself out as a debt collector - and he saves his nerves for the racetrack. So when he receives a phone message from an ex-client begging for help, he's inclined to ignore it. It's not an acquaintance…


Book cover of Gaudy Night

Natalie Conyer Why did I love this book?

Finally, a female flawed detective! Gaudy Night was published in 1935. It’s the tenth in the series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and the third featuring the woman he loves, Harriet Vane. It’s set in a women’s college at Oxford University. The dons have called Harriet in to help find out who’s sending poison pen letters and vandalizing the college. Harriet, who was charged and acquitted of her lover’s murder (Strong Poison) feels unable to return Wimsey’s love. Nevertheless she seeks his help and together they solve the case. 

Yes, the society depicted here is outdated, and Sayers’ reverence for Wimsey overdone; but this feminist story is a must-read for any crime fiction fan. It’s very, very good.  

By Dorothy L. Sayers,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Gaudy Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The twelfth book in Dorothy L Sayers' classic Lord Peter Wimsey series, introduced by actress Dame Harriet Mary Walter, DBE - a must-read for fans of Agatha Christie's Poirot and Margery Allingham's Campion Mysteries.

'D. L. Sayers is one of the best detective story writers' Daily Telegraph

Harriet Vane has never dared to return to her old Oxford college. Now, despite her scandalous life, she has been summoned back . . .

At first she thinks her worst fears have been fulfilled, as she encounters obscene graffiti, poison pen letters and a disgusting effigy when she arrives at sedate Shrewsbury…


You might also like...

Evil Alice and the Borzoi

By DK Coutant,

Book cover of Evil Alice and the Borzoi

DK Coutant Author Of Evil Alice and the Borzoi

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Professor Cross Cultural Psychologist Dog Lover Traveler Reader

DK's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Cleo Cooper, a cross-cultural psychology professor, is living the dream on the Big Island of Hawaii. With ocean-dipping weekends, she enjoys her dog, her job, and her boyfriend Ben - until the day she’s on a research vessel and a dead body is caught in the dragline.

The police determine it is murder and set their sights on a gentle former student, Kai. It doesn’t take much urging from Kai’s auntie for Cleo to investigate. But Ben grows distant, and Cleo’s dog grows ill. A couple of accidental deaths later, and someone makes an attempt on her life.

What happened to Cleo’s life in paradise? Can she discover the true killer? Can she stop the killer before the killer stops her?

Evil Alice and the Borzoi

By DK Coutant,

What is this book about?

Paradise is shaken when the body of a young woman is dragged onto a university research vessel during a class outing in Hilo Bay. Cleo Cooper is shaken when she finds her favorite student is on the hook for the murder. Danger lurks on land and sea as Cleo and her friends are enticed to search for the true killer. In between paddling, swimming, and arguing with her boyfriend, Cleo discovers all is not what it seems on the Big Island of Hawaii. But will she figure out the truth before she becomes the next victim?


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in private investigators, Belfast, and murder?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about private investigators, Belfast, and murder.

Private Investigators Explore 284 books about private investigators
Belfast Explore 15 books about Belfast
Murder Explore 915 books about murder