The best crime series from the 80's or 90's I HAVEN'T heard of

I'm hoping to reach a little further back in my reading than I've currently been doing--I tend to read mostly from the early 2000s up to present in my spare time, unless I'm going back to the Big Guys like Michael Connelly, Walter Mosley, Ellroy etc.


Any recommendations for me? I'm thinking specifically of someone like Daniel Woodrell (, in search of another author that core genre fans and writers similarly love, but others may have forgotten--or might not have heard about in the first place.

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Hey, Wes! Sjowall & Wahloo. Colin Dexter. R.D. Wingfield. There are others, but that will do.
I agree, definitely RD Wingfield. His Detective Frost series is excellent!
Are you familiar with Stephen Dobyns' "Saratoga" series? If not, here's the quick-and-dirty: Dobyns wrote 10 novels, between 1976 and 1998, set in Saratoga and centered on the adventures of private investigator Charlie Bradshaw and his comical sidekick, Victor Plotz. They're very well-written, and unusual because Bradshaw isn't they typical irresistible-to-women tough-guy private dick. He's a plain, humble, middle-aged guy who mostly has rotten luck with women and seems to be tormented by everybody in his life, from his overbearing mother to his well-meaning Rotary Club cousins to the police chief for whom he once worked. People generally underestimate him and don't take him seriously ... but he sees all, plows through cases with dogged thoroughness and usually catches the culprits in mistakes borne of sneering arrogance. Along the way, you get to know a cast of memorable secondary characters, most notably the city of Saratoga itself. Dobyns writes with quiet power and with nothing to prove. The stories are a refreshing change of pace because the characters age in real time and deal with problems relating to their aging. And it's the rare series that ends on exactly the right note, leaving you wanting nothing. Except, of course, more.

Start with the first, 1976's "Saratoga Longshot."
I agree completely. We recently had a discussion about writers of fiction who were also poets, and I don't know why Dobyns didn't occur to me then.
I've spent some time in Saratoga Springs, and was first introduced to this series by some friends there. It really is well done--all out of print now, most likely, but lots of fun. Dobyns is one of my poet/mystery role models. In fact, one of the Saratoga mysteries has as its villain a prominent (fictional, of course) poetry critic. Hilarious from beginning to end.
Jon, yes! "Saratoga Hexameter" is probably the funniest mystery I've ever read. I loved how Charlie Bradshaw would try to psychologically outwit the professional poetry critic during ping-pong matches by saying things that upset his artistic sensibilities. And how Charlie, masquerading as a poet at an artist's colony, tried desperately and pathetically to come up with Western-themed poems for an open reading. The result, in which he married tales of Western gunfighters with old Rolling Stones lyrics, almost had me rupturing my pancreas with laughter.
I've read Stephen Dobyn's poetry before, actually--and knew he was a novelist, yet somehow never thought to actually look some of his fiction up. I'll definitely check out his Saratoga series.

Have you read any of his standalone novels? My tastes often run to the macabre, so something like THE CHURCH OF DEAD GIRLS might be up my alley as well.
"The Church Of Dead Girls" is excellent, a nice change of pace from genre conventions. This one is broader in scope, as it tries to capture the corrosive effect of murder and suspicion on an entire small city of people. Dobyns juggles some 40 to 50 characters without letting one drop. Everybody fits; everybody is woven into the tapestry of the community in ways that even they cannot see. A remarkable achievement.

Also highly recommended from Dobyns are "Boy In The Water" (murder at a New Hampshire prep school); "A Boat Off The Coast" (drug smuggling in Maine); and "A Man Of Little Evils," a lesser-known 1973 tale of intrigue and paranoia, John Le Carre style, in London.
Thanks, everyone--I'll start checking those out, probably the Detective Frost books first. If any more come to you, let me know!
If you haven't read the Tony Hillerman Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn novels, you should. Throwing Navaho indian mythology/culture into a murder mystery is fascinating.

And I might add Matt Rees' Omar Yussuf novels (Omar is a Palestinian UN teacher forced to be a detective) are equally fascinating as a window looking in on the modern day Palestinian turmoil. Good stuff.

And try Qui Xiaolong's Inspector Chen novels. Set in modern day Communist China, these too are a fascinating peek into an alien environment (although not really quite satisfying as a true 'whodunit.')

And hell, if you want to meet modern noir, try my novel, Muderous Passions. Testosterone for the testosterone lovers.
No, Qui Xiaolong has declined amazingly from his first. Hillerman is very good.
The "Amsterdam Cops" series by dutch novelist and former cop (and former Buddhist monk) Janwillem van de Wetering. Maybe ten or so in the series, all well written, all very funny and entertaining. Probably not what you want if you're looking for hardboiled or big suspense, but if you just want to be entertained by a sharp mind who can also really write, van de Wetering's hard to beat.


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