The best police procedural books

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

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Right to Kill

By John Barlow,

Book cover of Right to Kill: A gripping Yorkshire murder mystery for 2022 (DS Joe Romano crime thriller series book 1)

When a local drug dealer goes missing in the small town of Wortley, West Leeds, no one cares. No one except Detective Sergeant Joe Romano, back on home turf in ‘God’s Own County’ of Yorkshire. And even when the drug dealer turns up dead some believe it poetic justice. Romano believes every life counts though, and with the killer about to strike again he puts everything on the line, including his career, to prove that no one has the right to kill. This is a very modern take on the classic police procedural novel, a world-weary cop fighting against the world-weary system in order to do the right thing. 


Who am I?

There’s a saying in England: It’s grim up north! Largely used pejoratively (by the south), it’s true to say it is generally colder and wetter, the landscape more unforgiving, the people – friendlier in my opinion – are more outspoken and candid. The cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, with their declining industries and rising unemployment, provide fertile ground for crime writers. So when I started my own series following the investigations of DS Adam Tyler and his cold case team it didn’t take long to settle on my adopted home of Sheffield as the setting. Be warned: we’re a long way from the sleepy villages of Agatha Christie here.


I wrote...

Nighthawking

By Russ Thomas,

Book cover of Nighthawking

What is my book about?

No secret can stay buried forever. Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens is an oasis of peace – until one morning the body of a young woman is found there, buried in a quiet corner. Police determine that she’s been there for months and would have gone undiscovered for years – except someone returned in the dead of night to dig her up. DS Adam Tyler and his team have many questions to answer – who is the victim? Who killed her and hid her body? And who dug her up?

Tyler’s investigation draws him into the secretive world of nighthawkers: treasure-hunters who operate under cover of darkness, seeking the lost and valuable...and willing to kill to keep what they find.

Ghosts

By Ed McBain,

Book cover of Ghosts

Ghosts was the first book of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series that I read, primarily because I was interested in the paranormal aspect—I’ve always been a sucker for ghost stories. This was the first true police procedural I’d read, and I was most impressed with McBain’s mastery of writing dialogue. I was hooked and I’ve read most of the series since. As I wrote my own debut novel I referred to McBain’s novels many times to see how he handled dialogue tags and beats throughout his books. His dialogue is almost seamless. I’d recommend the 87th Precinct series to any writer serious about writing police procedurals.


Who am I?

I’ve been a writer of nonfiction and fiction and full-time editor since my college years, and a publisher (Smart Rhino Publications). I’ve read horror and suspense fiction all my life, but it’s only been in the past decade or so that my reading has turned more and more toward police procedurals, noir, and crime fiction. It was only natural that I’d turn to writing a police procedural series, starting with Harvester of Sorrow. I hope you’ll read all the wonderful books I’ve recommended!


I wrote...

Harvester of Sorrow

By Weldon Burge,

Book cover of Harvester of Sorrow

What is my book about?

"Assured, gritty, expertly paced, and sleek as a bullet, Burge's eerie and intense tale of grizzled detectives frantically searching for a ritual killer who may be far more than he seems is not to be missed. I could not put it down!" - Greg F. Gifune, Bestselling Author of The Bleeding Season

Detective Ezekiel Marrs and his fellow police officers face two of the most vicious adversaries they've ever encountered. Lives hang in the balance as they battle to survive a deadly, inevitable confrontation with unimaginable evil. This is the first in the Ezekiel Marrs Harvester series.

Dead Girls Dancing

By Graham Masterton,

Book cover of Dead Girls Dancing: Volume 8

Graham Masterton grew to fame with his horror novels, including the best-selling novel The Manitou. It was only decades later that he began his Katie Maguire series of police procedurals, which have been equally successful. Having read Masterton over the years, I was fascinated by his shift from horror to crime fiction, often incorporating horror elements into his work. I started primarily as a horror writer, but have now shifted toward crime fiction. Masterton’s novels have been great “guides” in this respect.


Who am I?

I’ve been a writer of nonfiction and fiction and full-time editor since my college years, and a publisher (Smart Rhino Publications). I’ve read horror and suspense fiction all my life, but it’s only been in the past decade or so that my reading has turned more and more toward police procedurals, noir, and crime fiction. It was only natural that I’d turn to writing a police procedural series, starting with Harvester of Sorrow. I hope you’ll read all the wonderful books I’ve recommended!


I wrote...

Harvester of Sorrow

By Weldon Burge,

Book cover of Harvester of Sorrow

What is my book about?

"Assured, gritty, expertly paced, and sleek as a bullet, Burge's eerie and intense tale of grizzled detectives frantically searching for a ritual killer who may be far more than he seems is not to be missed. I could not put it down!" - Greg F. Gifune, Bestselling Author of The Bleeding Season

Detective Ezekiel Marrs and his fellow police officers face two of the most vicious adversaries they've ever encountered. Lives hang in the balance as they battle to survive a deadly, inevitable confrontation with unimaginable evil. This is the first in the Ezekiel Marrs Harvester series.

A Clubbable Woman

By Reginald Hill,

Book cover of A Clubbable Woman

I seem to be addicted to long-running series with British detectives, though not all written by British authors, and A Clubbable Woman is the first book in this twenty-one-book series by Reginald Hill.

When I began to write fiction and worked on creating Corelli and Parker, Hill was one of the authors I looked to for inspiration. Although his Yorkshire detectives, the abrupt and rude Detective Superintendent Andrew "Andy" Dalziel and the educated, calm, and well-mannered Detective Sergeant Peter Pascoe, did not fit my vision for my own characters, I enjoyed their antics and read the entire series. The books are fun and challenging and this is a great beginning.


Who am I?

I write the NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli Mystery series featuring Corelli and her partner Detective P.J. Parker. Most mysteries have a single main character so I’m passionate about finding other authors who write mysteries with two professional investigators as main characters. It’s fascinating to see how authors writing the same type of characters handle them and what they do about character growth over the course of the series. To me, watching two characters react to each other, seeing their relationship change over the course of a book or a series is much more interesting than reading about a single detective.


I wrote...

A Matter of Blood

By Catherine Maiorisi,

Book cover of A Matter of Blood

What is my book about?

Just back from her second tour in Afghanistan, NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli goes undercover to expose a ring of dirty cops. Ordered to kill to prove her loyalty, she aborts the operation. Now, she’s the one exposed. And being ostracized. Can she trust Detective P.J. Parker to watch her back?

Parker, the daughter of a vehement critic of the NYPD, wants to work homicides. And learn from the best. Unfortunately, Chiara Corelli is the best…and the most hated detective in the department. Without Parker, Corelli will be condemned to desk duty. Without Corelli, Parker loses her entre to homicide. Can they put aside their fears and join forces to solve a brutal murder and stop the dirty cops from threatening Corelli’s family?

The Devil's Detective

By Simon Kurt Unsworth,

Book cover of The Devil's Detective

I bought this book in Hatchard’s bookshop because I liked the cover, and because I like stories about Hell. A great choice on my part—this wonderful crime/fantasy novel features a detective called Thomas Fool in the most lawless land there can be. Thomas has to investigate a series of grisly murders which threaten the Devil’s domain; and to make his police procedural story work Unsworth has to invent a whole new mythology of Hell in which murder is even possible. The writing is stunningly evocative and the logic of the world building is remarkable even if it is,  ultimately, bonkers. This book and its sequel, The Devil’s Evidence, are the noirest of noirs and are completely unputdownable. 


Who am I?

I am a science fiction and fantasy novelist and also a screenwriter and prolific writer of audio dramas for BBC Radio. I began my career many eons ago writing for the crime drama series The Bill and during that period I spent a lot of time mixing with coppers & villains and attending crime scenes. I have a great passion for detective and crime writing as well as all forms of speculative fiction, and I’m a sucker for crime/fantasy mash-ups.


I wrote...

Version 43

By Philip Palmer,

Book cover of Version 43

What is my book about?

Version 43 is a high-concept detective thriller set on an alien planet. Version 43 is a cyborg detective given the job of solving a crime on a planet run by desperados and criminals, who keeps getting murdered by his enemies. And every time this happens, a new version of the cyborg cop picks up the case—but without his most recent memories... This book was inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s classic noir thriller Red HarvestI added cyborgs, quantum teleportation,  and aliens.

The Medical Detectives

By Berton Roueché,

Book cover of The Medical Detectives: The Classic Collection of Award-Winning Medical Investigative Reporting

Ever since my seventh-grade science teacher used my flyaway hair to demonstrate static electricity, I have loved science, and I also like mystery stories. This classic collection of short pieces is a favorite in both arenas. It is like a true crime series in which the villains are microorganisms and molecules. Unraveling puzzles involving all manner of medical issues, from rabies to toxic chemicals, these case-study stories kept me riveted from beginning to end. Mostly written from the 1940s to the 1960s, they also touch on some shocking medical practices that one hopes are now outdated.


Who am I?

As a novelist, I am endlessly curious about people and like hearing their stories. As an erstwhile computer programmer and farmer, I also have a lifelong interest in science and natural history. When I find those two divergent interests have cross-pollinated in a single gracefully-written book, I am a very happy reader. I love books that weave together an intriguing scientific question with the human story of the scientists pursuing an answer to that question.


I wrote...

Tracking a Shadow: My Lived Experiment with MS

By Edith Forbes,

Book cover of Tracking a Shadow: My Lived Experiment with MS

What is my book about?

When I experienced my first episode of multiple sclerosis in 1993, no treatments existed. The doctors said there was nothing to be done. I was raised by a mother whose early widowhood had left her with seven young children, a ranch in Wyoming, and an ambition to change the world.  She did not like the phrase “nothing to be done” and neither did I.

I immersed myself in the medical literature, and thanks to my background in agriculture, I noticed a possible dietary factor in MS that was not being talked about. That observation launched me on a self-designed experiment that continues to this day. Tracking a Shadow tells the story of that experiment and the mother who taught me to ask questions.  

A Matter of Blood

By Catherine Maiorisi,

Book cover of A Matter of Blood

Being a New Yorker, I’m a sucker for any true New York books, and this one is as authentic as they come. I also really appreciated how believable Chiara Corelli is. She has all the right mix of ethical and tough, but she is also a fully realized person with both external and internal goals and needs. Really good police procedural with a healthy dose of humanity. 


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

After Atlas

By Emma Newman,

Book cover of After Atlas

The second book in the Planetfall series. Emma Newman writes reflective and profound science fiction with characters trying to find their way in a complex future Earth society. 

After Atlas deals with events on Earth some years after the first colony mission has departed. There is a feeling of hope, and a fusion of science and religion that drives it, but really, the lives of people are as unequal as they are today. The main character, Carlos Moreno is a corporate slave, forced to work as an investigator. He is assigned to a case in a hotel in Dartmoor, England, where Alejandro Casales, leader of the Circle, a religious cult from Texas has been murdered.

Newman’s work echoes Asimov. Her detective is constrained by powerful overseeing forces, but this is a far superior take, with real danger and consequence.

I grew up with Asimov’s Elijah Bailey stories. To read this…


Who am I?

I’m a science fiction writer and academic who is interested in the big themes that challenge us as individuals and as a civilisation. My recent writing explores the representation of disability in science fiction. I want to create characters who readers can identify with and who provide different perspectives on the fictional future I am writing about. These characters are not trying to overcome any limitations, they live and accept who and what they are as we all do. The writers and stories I have chosen in this list do the same, showing us something about the human condition that we may not have thought about before.


I wrote...

Resilient

By Allen Stroud,

Book cover of Resilient

What is my book about?

AD 2118. Humanity has colonised the Moon, Mars, Ceres, and Europa. The partnership of corporations and governments has energized the space program for one hundred years. That partnership is shattered when a terrorist attack destroys the world’s biggest solar array in Atacama, Chile, altering the global economic balance.

Resilient is a masterpiece of hard sci-fi, a worthy follow-up from events of his successful and highly-praised Flame Tree Press debut, Fearless.

The Flimflam Affair

By Bill Pronzini,

Book cover of The Flimflam Affair

I’ve always enjoyed Bill Pronzini’s work (including his work with wife Marcia Muller). The Flimflam Affair is the first book I read from his Carpenter and Quincannon series. This is a perfect example of how to embed historical fact into crime fiction. Although this is not a police procedural novel (the lead characters are private detectives), procedural elements are certainly included throughout. I’m envious of Pronzini’s ability to use the beginning of the 20th century as a backdrop for this fine series.


Who am I?

I’ve been a writer of nonfiction and fiction and full-time editor since my college years, and a publisher (Smart Rhino Publications). I’ve read horror and suspense fiction all my life, but it’s only been in the past decade or so that my reading has turned more and more toward police procedurals, noir, and crime fiction. It was only natural that I’d turn to writing a police procedural series, starting with Harvester of Sorrow. I hope you’ll read all the wonderful books I’ve recommended!


I wrote...

Harvester of Sorrow

By Weldon Burge,

Book cover of Harvester of Sorrow

What is my book about?

"Assured, gritty, expertly paced, and sleek as a bullet, Burge's eerie and intense tale of grizzled detectives frantically searching for a ritual killer who may be far more than he seems is not to be missed. I could not put it down!" - Greg F. Gifune, Bestselling Author of The Bleeding Season

Detective Ezekiel Marrs and his fellow police officers face two of the most vicious adversaries they've ever encountered. Lives hang in the balance as they battle to survive a deadly, inevitable confrontation with unimaginable evil. This is the first in the Ezekiel Marrs Harvester series.

The Crocodile Bird

By Ruth Rendell,

Book cover of The Crocodile Bird

I pick Rendel’s books because she knows how to get inside the complex workings of the human mind. I have always been a keen enthusiast of Rendel’s crime fiction thrillers. What amazes me is her depth of understanding of human psychology. On the one hand, I just couldn’t put the book down, and yet due to the interest, it evoked I never wanted to finish it. The story revolves around a teenager Liza who is kept away from the outside world in an isolated rural mansion and is completely dominated by her mother. Secrets, murders, and love affairs interlock, twist and turn and evolve into a thrilling page-turner. 


Who am I?

History is my passion. I’m a graduate of medieval history from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and post-graduate of London University. Former high school history teacher, and previously held the post of assistant researcher at the Museum of the Diaspora, Tel Aviv. I was commissioned by the Council of Zambian Jewry to research and write the history of Northern Rhodesian/Zambian Jewry. I have lectured frequently on my subjects and have contributed diverse historical articles in newspapers and journals. I have published six books, fiction, and non-fiction.  


I wrote...

The Conspiracy against Mary Magdalene

By Frank Shapiro,

Book cover of The Conspiracy against Mary Magdalene

What is my book about?

This is a case demonstrating the bending of truth in history. Read how Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ closest companion, was metaphorically crucified! In one dramatic act of interpretation and condemnation the role model of Mary Magdalene was severed from the axis of Christianity. The Apostle of the Apostle was suddenly considered undesirable and dangerous. Yet, at the crucifixion while all Jesus’ disciples scattered in fear, Mary stayed by his side. Later, she was the driving spirit encouraging the followers to return to build the movement. It was Mary Magdalene who saved Christianity from becoming just another marginal sect. Mary Magdalene was certainly most fitting to be the first bishop of Rome. Yet as we know, no female pope waves at us from the Vatican window in St. Peter’s Square.

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