The best mysteries that make characters of cities

Gary Earl Ross Author Of Nickel City Blues: A Mystery
By Gary Earl Ross

Who am I?

Our home was full of books. My mother routinely passed books to her firstborn, me. While she read widely, she loved mysteries, so I grew up devouring both classics and lesser-known whodunnits. Many of those novels had strong enough descriptions of their cities that I felt like a visitor. But most were set in places like New York and Los Angeles, never my home town, Buffalo, and never with an African-American hero. After my 2013 retirement from an English professorship, I began writing the Nickel City mysteries to add a new hero to the PI pantheon and showcase my birthplace, nicknamed for the buffalo head nickel.


I wrote...

Nickel City Blues: A Mystery

By Gary Earl Ross,

Book cover of Nickel City Blues: A Mystery

What is my book about?

In my series’ 2017 opener, Iraq War vet turned PI Gideon Rimes bodyguards a blues singer stalked by her cop ex-boyfriend. When the cop is murdered, Rimes is the chief suspect. The effort to clear his name takes him through various parts of the vibrant Nickel City, from the Anchor Bar (home of Buffalo wings) and other landmarks to storied neighborhoods (Elmwood Village, Allentown, and the East Side). His discovery of a conspiracy to gain control of a half billion in federal funds leads to a deadly confrontation amid the perfect place to hide a body, the disused grain silos near the historic waterfront.

The books I picked & why

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The Maltese Falcon

By Dashiell Hammett,

Book cover of The Maltese Falcon

Why this book?

As the father of the hard-boiled PI novel, Dashiell Hammett takes the reader through San Francisco, using full advantage of the fog, the streets and intersections, the drug stores and eateries, and the horn on Alcatraz Island to create an indelible sense of the city circa 1930. Many sites still stand, including John’s Grill on Ellis Street, a steakhouse where detective Sam Spade eats a meal near the end of the novel. Several years ago I visited John’s Grill. After I showed my Mystery Writers of America membership card and said how thrilled I was to be there, the server gave a Home of the Maltese Falcon glass to each member of our party.

The Maltese Falcon

By Dashiell Hammett,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Maltese Falcon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the greatest crime novels of the 20th century.

'His name remains one of the most important and recognisable in the crime fiction genre. Hammett set the standard for much of the work that would follow' Independent

Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderley to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby. But Miss Wonderley is in fact the beautiful and treacherous Brigid O'Shaughnessy, and when Spade's partner Miles Archer is shot while on Thursby's trail, Spade finds himself both hunter and hunted: can he track down the jewel-encrusted bird, a…


Looking for Rachel Wallace

By Robert B. Parker,

Book cover of Looking for Rachel Wallace

Why this book?

Street names, the Charles River, bridges, the Back Bay, the Public Gardens, actual hotels and restaurants—Robert B. Parker’s forty Spenser novels make Boston so much a character that Parker wrote Spenser’s Boston. The sixth novel in the series, published in 1980, has Spenser searching for a missing lesbian activist who’s been kidnapped by an anti-gay group. Like Buffalo, Boston sometimes gets a lot of snow. Unlike Buffalo, which is not the snowiest city in New York but is depicted as such, Boston is not known as a snow capital. That Spenser must search during a blizzard is a welcome dose of realism.

Looking for Rachel Wallace

By Robert B. Parker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Looking for Rachel Wallace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Crackling dialogue, plenty of action, and expert writing.”—The New York Times

Rachel Wallace is a tough young woman with a lot of enemies. 

Spenser is a tough guy with a macho code of honor, hired to protect a woman who thinks that kind of code is obsolete. Privately, they will never see eye to eye.

But when Rachel vanishes. Spenser is ready to lay his life on the line—to find Rachel Wallace.

“A rare kind of book.”—Chicago Sun-Times


Deadlock: A V. I. Warshawski Novel

By Sara Paretsky,

Book cover of Deadlock: A V. I. Warshawski Novel

Why this book?

With V.I. Warshawski, Sara Paretsky gives the world a hard-boiled woman detective as tough and driven as any male PI. In the series’ second novel (1984), Warshawki’s Chicago is as detailed and engaging as Spenser’s Boston. A feminist of note, Paretsky is unafraid to depict the Windy City’s love of hockey, its politics, its neighborhoods, its quirks, and the particulars of Great Lakes shipping. Like Buffalo, Chicago is a Rust Belt city with character to add to its characters. Paretsky showcases them all deftly and lovingly.

Deadlock: A V. I. Warshawski Novel

By Sara Paretsky,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Deadlock as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Who're you working for then, Warshawski?' 'My cousin.' 'Boom Boom? He's dead.' 'I know. That's why I'm working for him.'

Boom Boom's body was found floating near the docks, chewed up and spat out by a ship's propeller. More like brother and sister than cousins, Vic and Boom Boom looked out for each other. Boom Boom grew up to be an ice hockey hero, and Vic a private eye. And now V.I. Warshawski would like to know how, exactly, her cousin died . . .


The Long Fall

By Walter Mosley,

Book cover of The Long Fall

Why this book?

In 2009, after years of writing Easy Rawlins novels set in a past Los Angeles, Walter Mosley began a new series set in contemporary New York. African-American Leonid McGill is a hard PI, with a complex seamy past who aspires to become a better person, despite the pressures of being a husband and family man caught in a near-loveless marriage. The New York in which McGill lives and struggles is the upscale but still gritty descendant of earlier versions of the city in the Mike Hammer novels of Mickey Spillane and the Matthew Scudder novels of Buffalo-born Lawrence Block. It is a land of wealth and culture but danger and deceit.

The Long Fall

By Walter Mosley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The widely praised New York Times bestseller, and Mosley's first new series since his acclaimed Easy Rawlins novels...

Leonid McGill is an ex-boxer and a hard drinker looking to clean up his act. He's an old-school P.I. working a New York City that's gotten a little too fancy all around him. But it's still full of dirty secrets, and as McGill unearths them, his commitment to the straight and narrow is going to be tested to the limit...


Hollywood Homicide : The First Detective by Day Humorous Mystery

By Kellye Garrett,

Book cover of Hollywood Homicide : The First Detective by Day Humorous Mystery

Why this book?

Unlike the Los Angeles of, say, Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch novels, the city in Kellye Garrett’s 2017 Detective by Day debut is a superficial, brighter place full of influencers, social media excesses, fashion, a home burglary crew, and Hollywood aspirations that, for many, refuse to die. At the center of this delightfully humorous mystery about death from a hit-and-run is an accidental detective, Dayna Anderson, a once successful African-American star of TV commercials. Dayna has fallen on hard times and is scraping by in a city that doesn’t tolerate scraping, at least not without a smirk. But she has the instincts of a natural sleuth and won’t let go until she finds the killer.

Hollywood Homicide : The First Detective by Day Humorous Mystery

By Kellye Garrett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Dayna Anderson doesn t set out to solve a murder. All the semi-famous, mega-broke black actress wants is to help her parents keep their house. After witnessing a deadly hit-and-run, she figures pursuing the fifteen-grand reward isn t the craziest thing a Hollywood actress has done for some cash. But what starts as simply trying to remember a speeding car soon blossoms into a full-on investigation. As Dayna digs deeper into the victim s life, she wants more than just reward money. She s determined to find the poor woman's killer too. When she connects the accident to a notorious…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in private investigators, Boston, and Chicago?

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

Private Investigators Explore 196 books about private investigators
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Devil in the White City, Boss, and Get Shorty if you like this list.