The best crime novels that bring Boston to life

Who am I?

The roots of my debut novel Charlesgate Confidential are in the time I spent in Boston, most notably the three years I lived in the Charlesgate building when it was an Emerson College dormitory. I always wanted to find a way to write about that time, but it wasn’t until I immersed myself in the world of Boston crime—not only the novels of Higgins, Lehane, and company but nonfiction works like Black Mass and movies like The Departed and The Town—that I hit on the way to tell my story. I’ll always be excited for new Boston-based crime fiction, and I’m happy to share these recommendations with you.


I wrote...

Charlesgate Confidential

By Scott Von Doviak,

Book cover of Charlesgate Confidential

What is my book about?

In 1946, a group of criminals pulls off the heist of the century, stealing a dozen priceless works of art from a Boston museum. Some of the thieves are captured, some are killed—but the loot is never found. Forty years later, a college student finds himself on the trail of the missing art—and the multi-million-dollar reward. But three decades after that, the art is still missing, and as his classmates return to Boston’s notorious Charlesgate Hotel for their big 25th reunion, dead bodies keep turning up. Will the stolen masterpieces be discovered at last?

Charlesgate Confidential is a twist-filled narrative steeped in Boston lore, navigating three timelines to solve a fictionalized version of the biggest art heist in history.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

By George V. Higgins,

Book cover of The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Why this book?

This is the one that started it all, although it was actually Higgins’ fifteenth attempt at getting a novel published. When we think of Boston, most of us hear the distinctive voice of the city first. (Just think of all the Hollywood actors who have tried to master the “pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd” accent.) Coyle spins most of its yarn about a low-level gangster selling stolen guns through its razor-sharp dialogue, a lesson I took to heart when writing my book. But don’t take it from me; no less an authority than Elmore Leonard called it the best crime novel ever written.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

By George V. Higgins,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Friends of Eddie Coyle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eddie Coyle is a small-time punk with a big-time problem - who to sell out to avoid being sent up again. Eddie works for Jimmy Scalisi, supplying him with guns for a couple of bank jobs. But a cop named Foley is onto Eddie, and he's leaning on him to finger Scalisi, a gang leader with a lot to hide. These and others make up the bunch of hoods, gunmen, thieves, and executioners who are wheeling, dealing, chasing, and stealing in the underworld of Eddie Coyle.


Ceremony

By Robert B. Parker,

Book cover of Ceremony

Why this book?

As great as it was, Eddie Coyle didn’t leave much of a cultural footprint, at least not until the movie adaptation starring Robert Mitchum was rediscovered decades after its initial release. Robert B. Parker’s Spenser is another matter entirely, having spawned nearly 40 novels by Parker, another 10 by Ace Atkins, a popular ‘80s TV series, and a Netflix movie starring Mark Walhberg. Picking just one of the durable shamus’s adventures is a daunting task, but I’ll give the nod to Ceremony for its evocation of the seedy seventies Combat Zone (Boston’s long-gone red light district) and the murky morality of Spenser’s dealings with a teen runaway turned sex worker.

Ceremony

By Robert B. Parker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The house looked right. And the neighborhood was perfect. And everything else was wrong. So Spenser took the parents' money and went after a runaway girl. Unfortunately, April Kyle had already traveled two lifetimes from her suburban home. Now she was caught up in a web of pinps, criminals, and exploiters—the kinf of people who won't listen to anything but money, or a gun. . . . 

Praise for Ceremony

“Sizzling.”—The Pittsburgh Press

“Pick of the crop, this one. Genuinely involving.”—The Cleveland Plain Dealer


Mystic River

By Dennis Lehane,

Book cover of Mystic River

Why this book?

After Robert B. Parker, Lehane is the most successful and skilled descendant of Eddie Coyle (a debt he acknowledges in his introduction to a reissue of the Higgins book). While you can’t go wrong with any of the entries in his Kenzie/Gennaro detective series (or his later historically-based trilogy), this stand-alone novel about three childhood friends brought back together by a crime one of them may have committed is his most powerful work, as well as the novel that first spurred my interest in trying my hand at Boston-based crime fiction.

Mystic River

By Dennis Lehane,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This New York Times bestseller from Dennis Lehane is a gripping, unnerving psychological thriller about the effects of a savage killing on three former friends in a tightly knit, blue-collar Boston neighborhood.

When they were children, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. But then a strange car pulled up to their street. One boy got into the car, two did not, and something terrible happened—something that ended their friendship and changed all three boys forever.

Twenty-five years later, Sean is a homicide detective. Jimmy is an ex-con who owns a corner store. And Dave is trying to…


A Trouble of Fools

By Linda Barnes,

Book cover of A Trouble of Fools

Why this book?

Here’s another PI series set in Boston, and while Carlotta Carlyle is nowhere near as well-known as Spenser, Linda Barnes is every bit as readable as Robert Parker. In her first outing (an Edgar Award nominee for Best Novel), ex-cabbie and ex-cop Carlyle takes on a missing person case that has her tangling with IRA gunrunners. A Trouble of Fools is my pick because it brings the ‘80s Boston I remember to life, and because of the light, humorous voice Barnes lends the proceedings.

A Trouble of Fools

By Linda Barnes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Trouble of Fools as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This award-winning debut mystery introduces a Boston PI who’s “one of the most sparkling, most irresistible heroines ever to grace the pages of a whodunit” (Chicago Sun-Times).
 
Six-foot-tall, redheaded ex-cop and Boston-based private eye Carlotta Carlyle is “the genuine article: a straightforward, funny, thoroughly American mystery heroine” (New York Post).

Let go from the Beantown police force for insubordination, Carlotta Carlyle is ready for business. Her first client is the genteel and elderly Margaret Devens, whose brother, Eugene, one of the last in a handful of Boston’s aging Irish cabbies, has suddenly vanished.
 
The case should be a cinch. Carlotta…


Little Comfort

By Edwin Hill,

Book cover of Little Comfort

Why this book?

The newest book on this list is the first in the Hester Thursby series about a diminutive Harvard librarian turned sleuth. Those expecting a cozy mystery based on that character description should brace themselves because Hill’s debut has more in common with Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels than the typical “librarian investigates” yarn. I feel a personal connection to this one because it was published at the same time as my book and I did my first event for that book with Hill, but rest assured, Little Comfort and the rest of the Thursby series are tremendous reads.

Little Comfort

By Edwin Hill,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In a brilliantly twisted debut set among Boston’s elite, Edwin Hill introduces unforgettable sleuth Hester Thursby—and a missing persons case that uncovers a trail of vicious murder . . .
 
Harvard librarian Hester Thursby knows that even in the digital age, people still need help finding things. Using her research skills, Hester runs a side business tracking down the lost. Usually, she’s hired to find long-ago prom dates or to reunite adopted children and birth parents. Her new case is finding the handsome and charismatic Sam Blaine.
 
Sam has no desire to be found. As a teenager, he fled his…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Boston, Massachusetts, and librarians?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Boston, Massachusetts, and librarians.

Boston Explore 131 books about Boston
Massachusetts Explore 104 books about Massachusetts
Librarians Explore 38 books about librarians

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Where the Crawdads Sing, Station Eleven, and A Canticle for Leibowitz if you like this list.