Which books are (or were) automatic buys for you?

A post at Kittling:Books made me think about books that one buys automatically, without knowing anything about them other than the author’s name. Bernadette’s subsequent post at Reactions to Reading took the concept a little further, in asking which authors were once auto-buys but are no longer.

Auto-buys for me include J. K. Rowling and Ian McEwan, but I’ll limit myself here to crime fiction. Authors whose books I buy as soon as one is published include:

Michael Connelly
Karin Altvegen
Liza Marklund
Arnaldur Indridason
Adrian Hyland*
Asa Larsson
C J Box
Helene Tursten
Andrea Camilleri
Catherine O’Flynn*
Stef Penney*
Peter Temple
Johan Theorin
Deon Meyer

*Even though these authors have each only written two novels, they’re on my list.

These authors have one thing in common, they don’t simply reprise the structure of their last book. Each novel they write can be guaranteed to have some different perspective, or if it is a series, to vary the structure and content in some way to produce an original book.

Authors who were in that category, but who have become disappointments and so I read no longer, include:

J. D. Robb (Eve Dallas series – good idea, rapidly became predictably formulaic)
Lindsey Davies (Falco series – original concept, not developed so became boring)
Elizabeth George (Lynley/Havers series – became far too long and content-free)
James Patterson (yes, I admit to enjoying his first half-dozen books, pre-franchise anathema!)
Richard North Patterson (I loved his early legal/political thrillers but he’s become too ponderous)
Karin Slaughter (quite gruesome, OK for the early books but the later ones focus on gruesomeness and are very slow)
Thomas Harris (Red Dragon is one of my favourite crime novels. Silence of the Lambs was OK-ish. Hannibal was thrown across the room, what a load of rubbish).
Patricia Cornwell (once a true original following on from Harris’s concepts in Red Dragon, now utterly tedious)
Jonathan Kellerman (I was addicted to the first half-dozen Alex Delaware books but then they lurched into monotony)
Janet Evanovitch (the first two books were funny and fresh, but rapidly became a stale re-working each time)
Lee Child (excellent first few books, now suffering from superman syndrome as well as flatness)
Denise Mina (I still read her but judiciously, but she has not matched her auto-buy days of the Garnethill trilogy or Sanctum)

One thing that strikes me about many of these ex-auto buy authors is that they have achieved “best-sellerdom” after I discovered them. And it is perhaps the pressures of “best-sellerdom” that requires someone simply to reprise a formula each time, than to risk something different, hence becoming non-reads for me. It is sad that this is what “mass market” readers seem to like. Not all the authors are like this: Elizabeth George varies her structure and subjects, but the problem with her books now is that they need editing to half the length (i.e. the same length as her first few).

From the “still auto-buying” list, Michael Connelly is a perfect example of an author who sells in shedloads, but who remains true to his readers – he simply does not take the lazy way out. That is, he has talent and, in his case, that’s what sells. Other authors on my auto-buy list are similarly varied in creating their compelling novels, but probably don’t sell in the same size of shedloads as Connelly ๐Ÿ˜‰

There are many other favourite authors whose books I am very likely to read, but I would check out their latest title before automatically buying it. There are also some recent good candidates who may well go on my auto-buy list, for example Gail Bowen, Y. A. Erskine and Julia Spencer-Fleming, but the jury is still out. There are also a few who have been auto-buys but who are currently wobbling in the light of their most recent titles. Some authors I enjoyed in years gone by, but for unknown reasons have become bored with their books – eg P D James, Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, Frances Fyfield.

Let me know what you think: do you like any of the authors on my lists? Who are your auto-buy (or ex-auto-buy) authors?

Search my book review archive by author name for reviews of books by authors in my auto-buy list.

50 thoughts on “Which books are (or were) automatic buys for you?

  1. Camilleri, Peter Temple, and Arnaldur would be on my list, too. I found out only today that a second of Harri Nykanenโ€™s Raid novels was available in English, and I bought it. So Nykanen is a probationary member of the list.
    Detectives Beyond Borders

    • I’ve enjoyed the two Nykanens I’ve read, but for me he’s not quite on the auto-buy list, more on the “will check out each title and probably buy” list.

  2. Yes to Adrian Hyland and maybe to Peter Temple and Deon Meyer! Sara Paretsky and Tana French are must-buys for me (and Reginald Hill always fell into that category, as did Dick Francis, one of my guilty pleasures!)

    I will usually look for new books by Peter James, Michael Robotham and Mark Billingham.

    I agree with a lot on your past glories list. Kellerman’s first few books were tremendous and the thought of the ending of The Butcher’s Theatre still scares me. But once he’d put Alex on a pedestal and the books started getting madder and madder …! With Mina, I am desperate for her to finish the Paddy Meehan series, which was much trumpeted, but seems to have been quietly forgotten. I’d also add Peter Robinson – the last few have been rather run-of-the-mill.

    • Sarah P falls into my second category, now, Sharon, she’s become too pedagogical. I did like Peter James but have gone off him now. Tana French a bit uneven but her most recent, Broken Harbour, is superb and her best yet I think. Michael Robotham & Mark Billingham, we’ll have to agree to disagree ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • I can’t quite put my finger on what appeals to me about Robotham – the present tense writing is tiresome, and you have to suspend disbelief with some of the characters. But he tells a good tale! Billingham’s become patchier of late, but I liked the earlier Thorne books a lot. James is pretty much telling the same story, but he does it well – I think it has now become my traditional June escapism!

        • I read the first few Robothams, they were OK but not great for me. I parted company with him in the one where someone was kidnapping young girls and telling their mothers he’d rape/torture them unless they committed suicide (which they did) – that is beyond the pale for me on at least 3 counts, however “good” the author is as a writer! James was fine for the first few but then he changed everyone’s characters & got into constant brand-name checking. I parted company finally with the one in which women were portrayed as desperate to buy designer shoes costing hundreds of pounds that you can’t walk in….er, not!

      • Argh, can’t believe I missed Ken Bruen off my first category! John Morgan Wilson used to be there – the earlier Benjamin Justice books are stunning – but the series tailed off somewhat, and I didn’t much go for the historical standalone he co-wrote with someone.

    • I do read her but she’s not auto-buy. However, some of my friends would definitely include her on their auto-buy lists!

  3. Most of your authors are also on my list Maxine. Indridason, Connolly, Camilleri, Theorin, Meyer. I will also add Nesbรธ, Carofiglio, and Ernesto Mallo.

    • Mallo, yes, Jose Ignacio, I agree. I have thoroughly enjoyed his first two (translated) books. I did love Carofiglio (have read all his translated books) but I did not enjoy the most recent one very much. I am always in two minds about Nesbo! I always end up reading them, & enjoy most of each book, but there are always some parts I hate, too…..

  4. Don’t have a must buy list, rather pick authors from such lists as these Maxiine.
    “Hannibal was thrown across the room, what a load of rubbish” – love the in-depth review ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Fred Vargas is a must buy for me and now so is Thomas Enger. A lot of your list are on mine. I still buy Jonathan Kellerman but dropped Lee Child recently. Sara Paretsky’s books are too long now.

  6. Maxine, I read very few new books as all my reading time is spent, well, reading old books including classics. From your list, I have read Patterson, Kellerman and Harris while Connelly and Lee Child are on my TBR list. Automatic buys for me would be Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse (though I think I have nearly all their titles); Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Irving, Ray Bradbury, Tom Sharpe, Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, and Martin Cruz Smith; A.J. Cronin, Erle Stanley Gardener, Harry Patterson (aka Jack Higgins) and Mack Bolan (all for old time’s sake); and most war and western novels, particularly Oliver Strange (whose limited Sudden, the Texas outlaw series, has become something of a cult. Strange was an Englishman who wrote about the fast gun without once crossing the Atlantic). And yes, comic-books too.

    • Hi Prashant, yes, I read all of P G Wodehouse and a huge amount of Agatha Christie and E R Burroughs when I was young. I’ve read books by all the other authors you mention except Bolan and the westerns (loved Jack London) .

      • I have always read voraciously. I can’t believe how many books I raced through as a kid, but life was very boring in those days and my parents refused to have a TV or let us listen to the radio or pop music (classical was allowed).

  7. Are you sure we were not separated at birth? Apart from Lee Child every one of your ‘used to be auto buy’ authors was also once on my list but is no longer – I used to devour those Kellerman and Richard North Patterson books but then grew to despise both (Child never made it there in the first place as I only read one of his later books and thought it utter drivel). And aside from Michael Connelly all your must buy authors are on my list too – or very nearly (as in I argue with myself for a few weeks before buying them anyway).

    Which all goes to say that I really should give Connelly another go as we agree on just about everything else (I have only read 3 of his the first 2 Mickey Haller books which did not do a lot for me and one of the later Bosh books which I liked but did not love but it was the one he wrote first as a weekly newspaper/magazine story so may not have been terribly representative). I did notice that audible have released all his early Bosh novels in audio format so I may just have to give them a go.

    A friend of mine remarked that my lack of a long list of auto-buy authors was probably linked to the same character trait that makes me a swinging voter – I generally like to make up my mind based on the prevailing evidence rather than blindly do what I’ve always done. I decided I liked her analysis of me better than me thinking I’m just fickle ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Love your last point, Bernadette! And yes, I agree, our tastes and reading behaviours are (usually) uncannily similar. I predict you’ll enjoy The Black Echo on audio, let’s see if I am right ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Maxine – What an excellent discussion here of why those authors are (or are not) on your auto-buy list! And I agree with you about quite a number of them too (especially Connelly, Hyland and O’Flynn). I notice something else we have in common too: the list of auto-buy authors has been pruned in recent years. I think that’s actually a good thing. First, no-one has time to read everything out there. Second, it would be nice if authors who’ve achieved “best seller” status got the message that “best-seller” does not equal “sit back, relax and just go on “auto-pilot.”‘ When readers are thoughtful, as you are, about whose work they purchase automatically, authors may get that message.

  9. Those on my must buy list include R.J. Ellory, Linda Castillo, Matt Hilton, Lisa Gardner and Linwood Barclay. I moved away from Patricia Cornwell, John Connolly, Karin Slaughter and Kathy Reichs but have made a promise to myself that I will try to catch up with these once favorite authors this year. In my tbr list are Lee Child and Michael Connolly.

    • Thanks, Teresa. Of your “must catch ups” I have read Linwood Barclay’s most recent (UK publication), The Accident, and enjoyed it.

  10. Hi Maxine. Let’s see, I keep a list of auto-buy writers on my blog and will quote those here: Dennis Lehane, Asa Larsson (same as you on the rest Indridason, Johan Theorin), Tana French (love her voice even if her stories can be plodding), Ken Bruen (think he’s a brilliant writer all around and haven’t been disappointed yet) and of course Jo Nesbo. No longer auto-buying – Colin Cotterill, he completed his Dr. Siri series and I don’t have an interest in following his new protagonist who is a journalist if I’m not mistaken. I’m iffy on Julia Spencer-Fleming because of some stuff I’ve heard happen in her last book, One Was A Soldier, adding even more complicated drama for Clare and Russ and I’ve yet to read it. Karin Slaughter, I am surrounded by her fans online and off so I am conflicted. I find her an excellent writer but the gruesome violence in her books are really off-putting. I’ll see how she does with Criminal. I’m a fickle reader. I used to read JD Robb too and stopped after six books because of the predictability of them. I agree with everything you said about Michael Connelly. He’s a solid writer but I don’t always jump to buy his books but eventually I do later because I am so behind in the series. Sorry to babble on.

    • Not babbling at all, Keishon, thanks for the comment. I think we agree, pretty much! I have only read 2 Julia S-Fs but will see what happens with her books….

  11. The two that top my list are Sue Grafton and Laura Lippman. I think I’d call my list auto-read instead of auto-buy because it’s so rare for me to be caught up in a series and need to buy the latest as it comes out. I used to love Cornwell, but I gave her up ages ago. I will also admit that I liked Richard North Patterson only when I was studying abroad in college and hadn’t read a book in English in 4 months.

    • I like Sue Grafton, too. I have read all her alphabet books, but I think they went through a dip in quality a few years ago. I enjoyed the last one, though. Have similar views to you on Cornwall and RN Patterson.

  12. After Lisa Marklund for me in no particular order my “must buy” authors are Andrea Camilleri, Asa Larsson, Karin Fossum, Fred Vargas, S. J. Bolton, Jon Nesbo, Laura Wilson and Philip Kerr’s “Bernie Gunther” series. Any others I buy if I read a good review, especially yours Maxine. There are so many books I have bought and especially new authors I have checked out after your reviews at Eurocrime, before I recently checked out and started to follow your Petrona blog. For example I have just bought Karin Alvetegen’s “Missing” followiing your review of it and can’t wait to get started.

    • How kind, Philip, thank you so much for that lovely comment. I hope you enjoy Missing as much as I did.

  13. I always enjoy these posts also, many that used to be but are no longer auto buys I understand. It seems ‘all’ of us were Cornwell fans, I hear her last 2 are good, I have one to give her another try.

    Mary Higgins Clark was mine, she was why I started to love suspense but since blogging I realise I prefer more of the edge gritty suspense thrillers. Any recommendations.

    There are just to many authors, I have a personal goal to read more books of authors I have only read 1 book buy but I loved, now that list is far to long.

    Some of those would be James Houston Turner, Douglas Preston, Greg Iles, Marcus Sakey and Thomas Harris.

  14. It’s like you’ve read my mind for both lists! To the must-buys, I would add Laura Lippman, Sue Grafton, and Fred Vargas.

    • I find Lippman rather uneven, have enjoyed some but one recently was a DNF. Vargas seems to divide readers into love or hate – I don’t hate her but I don’t really take to her, though I do like her academic’s approach to the genre, her plots (and characters) are too unreal. Like you, I like Sue Grafton & have read all her alphabet, but for me she’s more of a “wait for the library copy” than an “auto-buy the minute it is published”.

  15. Don’t know how I forgot, but one of my must-buy authors is Chelsea Caine. Her Archie Sheridan books are strangely addictive for me. They can be quite gruesome, but I love her characters.

    • Must beg to disagree! I started one of hers but it was a DNF for me. Takes all sorts to make a world, though ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Maxine, i’m not surprised as a lot of my book friends do not like her books. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much I love them myself, but they are my guilty pleasure. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. I must buy new Indridason and Camilleri books, those by Fred Vargas and Tana French, if the library doesn’t have her newest yet. (A friend just ordered French’s, we’ll share). Sometimes I order Elly Griffiths. U.S. writers like Michael Connelly, Nevada Barr, show up here quickly in the library as Stef Penney’s, O’Flynn’s, Asa Larsson’s books and now, suddenly, Liza Marklund’s, but we’ll see how that goes.
    Now I’m ordering used copies of some Australian writers and Canadian writers Gail Bowen and William Deverell, as Abe Books seem fully stocked.
    I agree on your “used to read/don’t read list”; many I have not read at all: J.P., for instance and others near the top of your list. Slaughter lived up to her name and I got fed up. Child got too gratuitously violent in a character relishing killing two women; Cornwall and Reichs got boring.
    Evanovich I’ll read if I really need a laugh and Salvo Montalbano isn’t around nor Nero Wolfe. Denise Mina has done me no wrong (except a DNF Deception) and never will after writing the brilliant Garnethill trilogy — not to mention the Paddy Meehan trio and the new, second Alex Morrow which won an award yesterday. There are more I’ve given up on, but don’t want to hurt any more feelings than I have, so I’ll keep quiet here about U.S. series I’ve dropped while embracing global ones.

    • Thanks, Kathy, I’ve really enjoyed discovering all these global (translated) series, since the days when the only series I knew of/read along those lines was Mankell’s Wallander books (all of which I’ve read but I am not so keen on his other books & he’s finished Wallander now. I hope he carries on with the characters introduced in The Man From Beijing, but I haven’t heard anything about that.)

  17. Hi Maxine, thanks for mentioning Karin Alvtegen, and here’s hoping she decides to get back to her psychological thrillers after her untranslated foray into mainstream lit. I’m ready!

    • Glad to hear it, Steve, she’s a great psychological suspense author. I wonder if that novel will ever get translated?

  18. I buy Stuart MacBride’s Logan McRae books as soon as they come out,love his female boss Steel.Although not crime fiction i buy anything that Bernard Cornwell writes.

  19. I don’t know what happened there,i must have pressed the wrong button before i couldput my name on

    • You’re here now, Lee, thanks for the comment. Prof Petrona is very keen on Bernard Cornwell, too.

  20. Another name to add to the list of authors who long ago become utterly boring and formulaic: Carolyn Hart (the cozy-ish Death on Demand series). I still like Sue Grafton, although in recent books she’s gone off on strange didactic tangents (poor editing?)

  21. Maxine – Two things struck me about your lists:
    1) The relatively few Scandinavian authors on your “must read” list, and
    2) That I was much more in sync with your “no thanks” list than the “must read”

    As to the first point, I noted the same in my own list of favorite authors beginning about two years ago. That I was reading/had read a lot of excellent books by Scandinavian writers but for one reason or another they didn’t have staying power for me, and too often I was particularly disappointed in a clunker of a follow-on book. While I have about 20 “must read” authors at this point, I am particularly passionate about the missing Billingham, Nesbo, and French.

    Some of the notables on my “no thanks” list are Benjamin Black (I thought Christine Falls was a great start then followed by 3 or 4 which became more and more boring), Ken Bruen (great for an occasional book or two but too much of the same for a series), Sophie Hannah (the relationships became less and less interesting as the characters became more involved with each other), and Ian Rankin (a great lesson in “don’t end a series if you don’t have to”, his subsequent stuff has been two star)

    Ken (Just back from two weeks in India – Thank God for Kindle)

    • Thanks, Ken. I was a bit disappointed in Christine Falls so it seems as if it is just as well I didn’t read more. Agreed on Sophie Hannah, they are certainly convoluted, in relationship/emotional terms. I’ve only read one Bruen but I know he has many fanatical readers!
      Yes, one or two of the Scandinavians haven’t kept up their good starts – or there are some who have only had one book translated so far (Horst, Teganfelk) so it is hard to tell how they will develop.

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