Round the world of series, for the holidays

A holiday break is a good chance to catch up on one's reading, of course, but it is also a good time to start on a series. As many of us will soon be taking some well-deserved time off work and other duties for the Christmas and/or end-of-year celebrations, I thought I might do a round-the-world whistle-stop tour of some series that I like, at a time when there is more of an opportunity than usual to devour a run of connected novels.

Starting with Australia, who better than (South African born) Peter Temple, and what better series than his Jack Irish novels? Readers in the author's own country can probably read all four titles, but those elsewhere can at least enjoy the first three novels about ex-lawyer turned kind-of private-eye Jack, cabinet maker and horse-race fixer. These novels are not as dark as the other series by this author, Broken Shore and the upcoming Truth; they are more lyrical and poetic as Jack stumbles around in a modern land of cynical opportunism, grieving for a lost past and his own emotional failures. Don't get the wrong impression, though, there is plenty that is funny and upbeat about these wonderful books.

Running up through Laos, we have the marvellous Coroner series by the deeply funny Colin Cotterill, whose word play is beyond compare and whose tiny band of ragged philanthropists bear the weight of this terrible 1970s social experiment with stoicism, good and in some cases slightly wicked humour, and not a little touch of mysticism. Although funny, these books aptly convey the horrors of living in a ghastly regime where an entire country was impoverished and ruined, and the very basis of what makes people individual humans was attempted to be removed en masse by the state. Start with the first, The Coroner's Lunch, and make your way through this effervescent set of tragi-comedies. Author bibliography and reviews at Euro Crime. The author's website is currently down but you can sample his wonderful blogging at International Crime Authors Reality Check.

Moving on to South Africa, a find for me this year has been Deon Meyer, whose Blood Safari (my review to come) is an excellent standalone novel in the tradition of Raymond Chandler, a comparison often made but well earned on this occasion. I haven't read any other novels by this author, who writes in Afrikaans, but based on this one and on reviews I've read of his others, I'm eagerly anticipating reading his first novel, Dead Before Dying, and the rest of his output, which apparently make up a "loose" series in the sense that some of the same characters appear in some of the books. Deon Meyer website.

Travelling north to Europe, I am planning to continue with not one but two series by Ann Cleeves, and if you haven't tried this author before, now is a very good time to do so. First, her Shetland Quartet series is nearing completion, with the imminent publication of the fourth component, Blue Lightning. Until that comes out, you can read Raven Black, White Nights and Red Bones, and get acquainted with Jimmy Perez and the island communities far north of Scotland. Another series by Ann Cleeves is set in north-east England and features police detective Vera Stanhope, who first appeared in a standalone called The Crow Trap, which I enjoyed very much earlier this year. Vera was too full of life to leave to one book, however, so she has since appeared in Telling Tales and Hidden Depths, both of which I look forward to reading, ideally before the UK TV series of the novels begins next year.  

There's so much to choose from in the USA, and indeed everywhere else I haven't mentioned, but I wanted to highlight here Peter Spiegelman, who has (to my knowledge) written three excellent novels: Black Maps, No Way Home (US title Death's Little Helpers) and Red Cat, about a rich Manhattanite, John March, who works as a private investigator to the consternation of most of his wealthy, banking family. The first novel, in particular, is a very strong book about grief and its after-effects, one of the very best I've read on this topic against the background of a strong mystery plot.

Maybe you would like to recommend a or some series to read over the holiday season?