The best police books

15 authors have picked their favorite books about police and why they recommend each book.

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Beat Cop to Top Cop

By John F. Timoney,

Book cover of Beat Cop to Top Cop: A Tale of Three Cities

As chief of the Philadelphia Police Department, Timoney ended the notorious practice of “juking” crime statistics to soothe politicians. For example, if you want to lower the murder rate, just book the killers on “manslaughter! This book is by the third of brilliant cops who reformed the NYPD. Compare what they did in 1990 to the current misrule and chaos in the Big Apple and I can truly say to you, “Read it and weep!”


Who am I?

I write books and newspaper columns on criminal justice and criminal defense. As an investigator for criminal defense attorneys, I spent years in the jails and prisons of Florida and Georgia interviewing felony defendants—murderers, child molesters, con men, robbers, drug dealers, whores, wife beaters, and shooters for hire. Some were insane; most weren’t. My interest is personal as well as professional. I live in Police Zone 1, the most dangerous area of my city. It’s a place where kids and church ladies can distinguish a Chinese AK from a Glock nine by sound alone. It’s a place where I carry an extra-large can of pepper spray and a combat knife, just to walk the dog!


My newsletter is...

Crime City

I run Crime City, a newsletter on Substack that is a series of columns about crime, cops, and criminal justice. And, what is going on in the mean streets of America. Crime City is about criminal justice, or the lack thereof, as it actually happens, not as it appears in the polemics of pundits and politicians or as enumerated by the mad quants of the Department of Justice Bureau of Criminal Statistics in their West Virginia fortress.

Dead Lagoon

By Michael Dibdin,

Book cover of Dead Lagoon: An Aurelio Zen Mystery

Tangled canals. Crooked alleyways. Slumping palazzi 500-hundred years old. Venice is Italy’s most atmospheric city, right? Maybe. Genoa runs a close second. Both are misunderstood and misrepresented in literature. Outsiders don’t dip below the theme-park surface. Except for the late, great Michael Dibden. Dead Lagoon features Commissario Aurelio Zen, a flawlessly drawn Italian detective. What makes me so sure? Genetics, experience, passion. My mother’s family is Venetian (via Rome). I’ve spent decades diving deep into the Lagoon City. I even did a year of college there. When I follow Zen into those crumbling palaces to unnail their intrigues, or watch him dart down bleak alleys stinking of fish and corruption, I know the writing rings true. Dibden “gets” Italy, unlike other, better-known novelists using Venice as a soft-boiled backdrop.


Who am I?

I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s watching Alfred Hitchcock movies and reading Dashiell Hammett—I’m from San Francisco. Then opera got hold of me. So, I dropped out of my PhD program, left Dante’s Inferno behind, and moved to Paris to live a modern-day La Bohème. Because I’m half-Italian, I decided I had to divide my life between Paris and Italy. Mystery, murder, romance, longing, and betrayal were what fueled my passions and still do. To earn a living, I became a travel, food, and arts reporter. These interests and the locales of my life come together in my own crime and mystery novels.


I wrote...

Red Riviera: A Daria Vinci Investigation

By David Downie,

Book cover of Red Riviera: A Daria Vinci Investigation

What is my book about?

Red Riviera is a gripping detective novel set on the Italian Riviera, featuring female sleuth Daria Vinci. 

Its jaws open wide, a firefighting seaplane skims the Gulf of Portofino on Italy’s jagged Ligurian coast, scooping up lone swimmer Joe Gary. The super-rich Italian-American has mob connections and a dirty political past. Is it an accident or murder? It is a wild ride from the tangled trails of the Cinque Terre to glamorous Portofino and roistering Genoa. It’s a Riviera made red by riotous bougainvillea and spilled blood. Half-American, Daria Vinci is an outsider, the rising star of Genoa’s secretive Special Operations Directorate DIGOS. To solve her case, Daria must face down a Fascist police chief, the CIA’s local mastermind, a former World War Two Spitfire fighter pilot, and a plucky hundred-year-old marquise whose memory is as long as it is vengeful.

The End of Policing

By Alex S. Vitale,

Book cover of The End of Policing

Vitale is not calling for the abolition of police departments. He details the dramatic growth of these departments and notes police in America use their weapons more than any other police force of developed democracies. Blacks are disproportionately the victims of police killings. Policies like racial profiling and a “warrior mentality” on the part of cops are major reasons why police assault on black people is so widespread.

Police must take on a number of tasks in which they are not qualified to do, such as dealing with the mentally ill and homeless population. In addition, Vitale writes about a number of failed policies, including managing sex workers, the war on drugs, and suppressive measures towards gangs.


Who am I?

I am Professor Emeritus of History at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  I grew up in Brooklyn, New York during the turbulent decades of the 1950s and 1960s where there were numerous social protest movements against the War in Vietnam, school segregation, and police brutality.  My books explore the men and women who battled institutional racism.


I wrote...

Fight the Power: African Americans and the Long History of Police Brutality in New York City

By Clarence Taylor,

Book cover of Fight the Power: African Americans and the Long History of Police Brutality in New York City

What is my book about?

I maintain that those in power have not taken the initiative to stop police brutality. Instead, the victims of police brutality have embarked on a crusade to stop police domination of black people. Groups that have not received enough attention have led the campaign to end police abuse.

Fight the Power looks at the efforts of the black press, especially the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.’s the People’s Voice, in the struggle to end police brutality. I argue that at the heart of police brutality is the amount of power police have over citizens, thus, reform measures, such as racial sensitivity training, diversity training, body cameras, and community policing will not work. A sure way of eliminating police brutality is to reduce the power of the police and to find ways to allow citizens to determine how police operate in their communities

Policing Los Angeles

By Max Felker-Kantor,

Book cover of Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD

Between 1960 and the 1990s, the budget, size, and power of LAPD dramatically grew in spite of attempts to use regulatory powers of the government to control the police. “Racial targeting was central to the LAPD’s expansion despite twenty years of liberal leadership of the city. The problem in LA, similar to most urban centers, was a reliance on the police to manage social problems that were “rooted in Los Angeles’ history of segregation, inequality, and poverty.” But such an approach “led to disciplinary practices of surveillance, harassment, and arrest that criminalized and excluded black and Latino/a residents.”

Black Los Angeles citizens were seen by the police as threats to public safety and not deemed worthy of the protection of the law. In its battle against crime, social movements, and drug gangs, the Los Angeles Police Department was able to legitimate their authority to use coercive power to control the…


Who am I?

I am Professor Emeritus of History at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  I grew up in Brooklyn, New York during the turbulent decades of the 1950s and 1960s where there were numerous social protest movements against the War in Vietnam, school segregation, and police brutality.  My books explore the men and women who battled institutional racism.


I wrote...

Fight the Power: African Americans and the Long History of Police Brutality in New York City

By Clarence Taylor,

Book cover of Fight the Power: African Americans and the Long History of Police Brutality in New York City

What is my book about?

I maintain that those in power have not taken the initiative to stop police brutality. Instead, the victims of police brutality have embarked on a crusade to stop police domination of black people. Groups that have not received enough attention have led the campaign to end police abuse.

Fight the Power looks at the efforts of the black press, especially the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.’s the People’s Voice, in the struggle to end police brutality. I argue that at the heart of police brutality is the amount of power police have over citizens, thus, reform measures, such as racial sensitivity training, diversity training, body cameras, and community policing will not work. A sure way of eliminating police brutality is to reduce the power of the police and to find ways to allow citizens to determine how police operate in their communities

The Black Echo

By Michael Connelly,

Book cover of The Black Echo

Connelly hits the ground running with his MC, Harry Bosch, the rogue LAPD detective who barely stays in the good graces of his superiors while using his unique skills and insight to solve crimes that other cops won't or can't solve. Bosch has just enough flaws to make him real and believable while at the same time imbuing him with qualities that lift him above the average detective. Connelly's plotting is superb as he ties Bosch to a former Army buddy in Viet Nam who is found dead and no one but Bosch suspects he was murdered. As the players move like pieces in a master chess game, Bosch deciphers the truth by synthesizing a collection of random facts and observations into coherent motives for conspiracy, burglary, and murder.


Who am I?

Since becoming a mystery-thriller writer, I’ve searched out great debut novels from other authors in the genre so I can learn from them and compare my skill level and storytelling ability to there’s at approximately the same stage in our respective careers. I’ve read dozens of debut novels, both mystery-thrillers and other genres, and believe that as a writer, I have an extra level of passion and interest and inside knowledge of what makes a great mystery or thriller.


I wrote...

Straight River

By Chris Norbury,

Book cover of Straight River

What is my book about?

Two mysterious deaths—one of which is his father’s—compel Matt Lanier, a professional musician by trade, into a search for the killer. With no superhero skills other than his brilliant musical mind and razor-sharp hearing, Lanier quickly uncovers a land-grab conspiracy that could mean financial ruin or death for thousands of farmers... and for himself. If you're a fan of unique characters who defy all odds and stand up against powerful, ruthless foes, then you'll love this story of a musician/hero who marches to the beat of a different drummer.

Ten Plus One

By Ed McBain,

Book cover of Ten Plus One

The late, great Ed McBain inspired a whole generation of crime fiction authors (including me) and influenced television too. Hill Street Blues was based on his character-driven novels and changed cop shows forever.

Ten Plus One is just one of the many in the 87th Precinct series, and as close to the perfect crime fiction novel that a mere mortal can get.


Who am I?

I’m a South African crime fiction author. My books are published in 27 languages in more than 40 countries worldwide. Two of my books were turned into international TV series. Accolades for my books include Le Grand Prix de Littérature Policière from France, the Deutsche Krimi Preis, the Swedish Martin Beck Award, and the Barry Award for Best Thriller in the USA.


I wrote...

The Dark Flood: A Benny Griessel Novel

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

Book cover of The Dark Flood: A Benny Griessel Novel

What is my book about?

One last chance. Almost fired for insubordination, detectives Benny Griessel and Vaughn Cupido find themselves demoted, exiled from the elite Hawks unit and dispatched to the leafy streets of Stellenbosch. Working a missing persons report on student Callie de Bruin is not the level of work they are used to, but it’s all they get. And soon, it takes a dangerous, deeply disturbing turn.

Stellenbosch is beautiful, but its economy has been ruined by one man. Jasper Boonstra and his gigantic corporate fraud have crashed the local property market, just when estate agent Sandra Steenberg desperately needs a big sale. Bringing up twins and supporting her academic husband, she is facing disaster. Then she gets a call from Jasper Boonstra, fraudster, sexual predator and owner of a superb property worth millions.

How the Light Gets in

By Louise Penny,

Book cover of How the Light Gets in

Louise Penny’s entire Inspector Armand Gamache series is a treat. I’ve yet to read an entry that hasn’t touched me. Once you visit the fictional hamlet of Three Pines, you won’t want to leave. But this ninth book in particular highlights the way Penny’s broken characters strive to let the light in. In this book, the ever-insightful Chief Inspector Gamache maintains his integrity, kindness, and conviction while investigating a baffling murder and dealing with personal and professional betrayals that seem to grow ever larger. His unflagging courage is an inspiration.


Who am I?

I’m a mystery, thriller, and suspense author who’s written dozens of books across five series. In addition to writing crime fiction, I’ve always loved reading in the genre. I’ll take a fast-paced thriller any day. I’ve noticed, over time, that my reading tastes have changed. I gravitate toward crime fiction that features flawed but ethical protagonists who believe, as I do, that light drives out darkness, love is a demonstration of courage, and kindness is a weapon. These five books share this theme in common—all against the backdrop of gripping, high-stakes plots with twists and turns aplenty. These are books that will get your heart racing and give you hope for humanity.


I wrote...

Chosen Path

By Melissa F. Miller,

Book cover of Chosen Path

What is my book about?

Forensic pathologist Bodhi King has an international reputation as the expert to consult when there’s an unexplained death cluster. So he’s not surprised when the call comes in about a troubling spate of deaths in a remote town on the U.S.—Canadian border.

He is surprised when he arrives in the tiny community tucked away in the mountains and every door slams shut in his face. The people there don’t want his help, even as the body count rises. It would be the easiest thing in the world to walk away, but that’s not the path Bodhi’s chosen to walk. So he digs into the town’s dark crevices in search of the truth. But what he finds will force him to confront his own beliefs about courage, compassion, and the sanctity of life and of death.

The Black Dahlia

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of The Black Dahlia

I was, and still am, obsessed by the story of the Black Dahlia. Is it any wonder that I fell completely under the spell of this novel? Ellroy writes a tight, violent vision of what a horrific case can do, psychologically, to detectives. Cops are no less human than the rest of society, and the constant exposure to the worst, darkest, most terrible aspects of humanity erodes them. The Black Dahlia demonstrates this erosion brilliantly. 


Who am I?

At heart, I just love a juicy story. For about three years of my life, I read nothing but non-fiction and textbooks on psychology, psychotherapy, and analyses of the human condition—everything from case studies to scientific papers. Cross that with an NYPD detective for a husband, and my obsession with the criminal mind, the detective mind, and everything in between was born. I am especially drawn to stories that show how working with the underbelly of society affects a police officer’s psyche. Nobody is unscathed. It is this vision of humanity on the razor’s edge between law and crime that I find most compelling to write and read.


I wrote...

Hide in Place

By Emilya Naymark,

Book cover of Hide in Place

What is my book about?

She left the NYPD in the firestorm of a high-profile case gone horribly wrong. Three years later, the ghosts of her past roar back to terrifying life. When NYPD undercover cop Laney Bird's cover is blown in a racketeering case against the Russian mob, she flees the city with her troubled son, Alfie. Now, three years later, she's found the perfect haven in Sylvan, a charming town in upstate New York. But then the unthinkable happens: her boy vanishes. Hide in Place is a Silver Falchion Award Finalist.

“An original, satisfying roller-coaster ride for domestic suspense fans.” Publishers Weekly

The 20th Victim

By James Patterson, Maxine Paetro,

Book cover of The 20th Victim

This book grabs you from the first page and doesn't let go until the very end. I loved the pacing of this murder mystery novel. The book starts out with three murders that have happened at the exact time, one in Chicago, one in L.A., and the third in San Francisco. The main character, SFPD sergeant Lindsey Boxer attempts to solve them with the help of the Women’s Murder Club. The interaction between the women as they go about their investigation is the best I’ve ever read. 


Who am I?

I’m a mystery writer and I’ve had 16 award-winning novels published. I also love to read mystery and thriller novels, and I read them voraciously. I’m best known for my highly-acclaimed J.T. Ryan mysteries and I was a Finalist for the Author Academy Award. Also, many of my books were Featured Novels of the International Thriller Writers Association. I’m also a multi-year nominee for the Georgia Author of the Year Award. 


I wrote...

The Media Murders

By Lee Gimenez,

Book cover of The Media Murders

What is my book about?

Before breaking an explosive story, a famous New York Times reporter dies under suspicious circumstances. Then a well-known TV reporter commits suicide. Suspecting foul play, the FBI’s John Ryan and Erin Welch investigate. As they probe the mysterious deaths, they uncover a shocking truth: Reporters are being murdered to suppress the news. More shocking is who they suspect is responsible for the killings. Can John Ryan and Erin Welch survive as they try to expose the conspiracy? Or will they be murdered by the assassins sent to keep them from revealing the truth?

A Philosophical Investigation

By Philip Kerr,

Book cover of A Philosophical Investigation

THEME: Technically, this is not really a work of science fiction per se, even though it takes place in London 2013, twenty-one years before the book's publication. So it explores aspects of the future through a journey into the head of a serial killer and to the heart of murder itself. In the book, London at that time was a city where serial murder has reached epidemic proportions. To combat this raft of murders, the government has created a test to screen people for a predisposition to commit violent crimes. Tested at random, a man is shocked to hear that he fits the model. Yet when he breaks into the computer to erase his name, he discovers a list of his "brothers" a logical idea springs into his mind: What if to protect society he becomes a killer of serial murderers?

The inspector charged with tracking down this sociopath, code-named…


Who am I?

I've spent the last half-century researching complex systems and mathematical modeling, both at research centers including The RAND Corporation, the Santa Fe Institute, and the Int'l Center for Applied Systems Analysis (Vienna), as well with professorships at New York University, Princeton and the Technical U. of Vienna. I have also had a lifelong interest in the connection between science fiction and science fact, and have explored the relationship in several of my books including X-EVENTS, The Cambridge Quintet, and Paradigms Lost. I also served as editor for the volume Mission to Abisko, which gives an account of a week-long meeting between sci-fi writers and scientists held north of the Arctic Circle in Abisko, Sweden some years back.


I wrote...

Prey for Me: A Psychological Thriller

By John L. Casti,

Book cover of Prey for Me: A Psychological Thriller

What is my book about?

Who wins and who loses when you're playing with other people's money... and their emotions? World-renowned scientist Victor Safir can't resist his inexplicable attraction to Alex Lynne, a brilliant, beautiful financier-but his addiction to her may drive him over the edge. Thrust together as unlikely partners in the high-stakes world of London finance, their game of seduction might prove riskier than any business deal.

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