The best police procedurals with a flawed protagonist

Why am I passionate about this?

For almost thirty years, I worked as a cop in the back alleys, poorly lit laneways, and forgotten neighbourhoods in Toronto, the city where I grew up. Murder, mayhem, and sexual violations intended to demean, shame, and haunt the victims were all in a day’s work. Whether as a beat cop or a plainclothes detective, I dealt with good people who did bad things and bad people who followed their instincts. And now that I’m retired, I can take some of those experiences and turn them into crime fiction novels.

I wrote...

10-33 Assist PC

By Desmond P. Ryan,

Book cover of 10-33 Assist PC

What is my book about?

10-33 Assist PC tells the story of an ambitious young cop with a knack for following hunches on the verge of cracking an international prostitution ring. With only days left before their pimps shuttle the underaged girls out of the country, D/C Mike O’Shea pushes his team into overdrive. Hours later, with too little information, sleep, or luck, the unthinkable happens. And now, the chase is personal.

Written by retired Toronto Police Detective Desmond P. Ryan, 10-33 Assist PC, the first in The Mike O’Shea Series, draws us into the dirty world of human trafficking through the eyes of the cops who put their lives on the line every day to shut it down.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Choirboys

Desmond P. Ryan Why did I love this book?

I first read Wambaugh long before I was a police detective and, truth to be told, linking policing to crime writing left my mind for many years.

What drew me to Wambaugh and to this book in particular is the way in which the characters are gritty and flawed. Unlike the Larger-Than-Life characters that were the norm back in the day, Spermwhale Wallen, Calvin Potts, and the rest of the night watch platoon are damaged souls.

The Choirboys is an excellent (fictionalized) account of how the daily trauma of police work can impact a person. 

By Joseph Wambaugh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The classic novel of the LA Police

They are the Choirboys - the patrol squad of the LA Police attempting to stay sane in an insane world.

The Choirboys are five sets of partners on the night-watch, all men of varying temperaments and backgrounds, but they are joined together by the job, and they have elected to spend their pre-dawn hours in MacArthur Park in relaxing drink and sex sessions they call "choir practice". This is the story of men endangered ultimately not by the violence of their jobs but by their choice of off-duty entertainment.

Simultaneously darkly funny and…

Book cover of The Falls

Desmond P. Ryan Why did I love this book?

Having personally investigated numerous missing persons cases (not all of which ended well), I was drawn to this book and identified with DI Rebus’ frustrations with the police bureaucracy. The inner demons that are the cornerstone of the Rebus character make for a wonderfully flawed protagonist and one exceptionally good read.

By Ian Rankin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The twelfth Inspector Rebus bestseller - a powerfully gripping novel where past and present collide...
From the No.1 bestselling author of A SONG FOR THE DARK TIMES

'This is, quite simply, crime writing of the highest order' DAILY EXPRESS

'The unopposed champion of the British police procedural' GUARDIAN

A student has gone missing in Edinburgh. She's not just any student, though, but the daughter of well-to-do and influential bankers. There's almost nothing to go on until DI John Rebus gets an unmistakable gut feeling that there's more to this than just another runaway spaced out on unaccustomed freedom.

Two leads…

Book cover of Death of an Expert Witness

Desmond P. Ryan Why did I love this book?

P.D. James’ Adam Dalgleish is a wonderful, complex character that lifted the stereotypical police investigator up from insensitive knuckle-dragger to poetic hero, in my opinion.

In this particular book (there are fourteen in total), Dalgleish is presented with way too many motives but no actual physical evidence, which is always fun as a reader (not so much fun for the detective). 

By P. D. James,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Death of an Expert Witness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major Channel 5 series

'The Queen of Crime.' New York Times

When a young girl is found murdered in a field, the scientific examination of the exhibits is just a routine job for the staff of Hoggatt's forensic science laboratory. But nothing could have prepared them for the brutal death of one of their own. When the senior biologist is found dead in his laboratory Commander Dalgliesh is called to the bleak fens of East Anglia, where the murderer is lying in wait to strike again . . .

'One of the most spine-chilling writers around.' Observer


Book cover of Cop Hater

Desmond P. Ryan Why did I love this book?

I really enjoyed the entire 87th Precinct series, wherein Ed McBain creates the American police procedural genre.

Cop Hater, the first in the series, is hard-hitting, fast-paced, filled with complex characters, and captures the essence of a cop’s soul while giving the reader a wonderful glimpse into the world of criminal investigations.

By Ed McBain,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The murder of three detectives in quick succession in the 87th Precinct leads Detective Steve Carella on a search through the city's underside and ultimately into the murderer's sights

Book cover of Broken Harbor

Desmond P. Ryan Why did I love this book?

I really enjoyed this book because it rang true for me.

The new partnership between Det. Scorcher Kennedy and Richie Curran is one that I’m quite familiar with. French balances the challenges of Scorcher’s personal life with the complexities of the investigation at hand very well.

In many ways, this book reminds me a lot of the BBC series Happy Valley (which absolutely nails the policing culture). And that it’s set in Ireland doesn’t hurt!

By Tana French,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From Tana French, author of the forthcoming novel The Searcher, a New York Times bestselling novel that "proves anew that [Tana French] is one of the most talented crime writers alive" (The Washington Post).

"Required reading for anyone who appreciates tough, unflinching intelligence and ingenious plotting." -The New York Times

Mick "Scorcher Kennedy is the star of the Dublin Murder Squad. He plays by the books and plays hard, and that's how the biggest case of the year ends up in his hands.

On one of the half-abandoned "luxury developments that litter Ireland, Patrick Spain and his two young children…

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The Midnight Man

By Julie Anderson,

Book cover of The Midnight Man

Julie Anderson Author Of The Midnight Man

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I write historical crime fiction, and my latest novel is set in a hospital, a real place, now closed. The South London Hospital for Women and Children (1912–1985) was set up by pioneering suffragists and women surgeons Maud Chadburn and Eleanor Davies-Colley (the first woman admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons) and I recreate the now almost-forgotten hospital in my book. Events take place in 1946 when wartime trauma still impacts upon a society exhausted by conflict, and my book choices also reflect this.

Julie's book list on evocative stories set in a hospital

What is my book about?

A historical thriller set in south London just after World War II, as Britain returns to civilian life and the men return home from the fight, causing the women to leave their wartime roles. The South London Hospital for Women and Children is a hospital, (based on a real place) run by women for women and must make adjustments of its own. As austerity bites, the coldest Winter then on record makes life grim. Then a young nurse goes missing.

Days later, her body is found behind a locked door, and two women from the hospital, unimpressed by the police response, decide to investigate. Highly atmospheric and evocative of a distinct period and place.

The Midnight Man

By Julie Anderson,

What is this book about?


Winter 1946

One cold dark night, as a devastated London shivers through the transition to post-war life, a young nurse goes missing from the South London Hospital for Women & Children. Her body is discovered hours later behind a locked door.

Two women from the hospital join forces to investigate the case. Determined not to return to the futures laid out for them before the war, the unlikely sleuths must face their own demons and dilemmas as they pursue - The Midnight Man.

‘A mystery that evokes the period – and a recovering London – in…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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