I grew up devouring every science fiction, fantasy, and even-remotely-weird book I could get my hands on, so it’s not a complete surprise that I would end up writing science fiction, myself. What may be surprising is that I don’t read that much of it anymore. Not even the wonderful, mind-bending stuff that can be had at a touch of a button these days (not all of it, anyway— I loved 14, by Peter Clines; 11/22/63 by Stephen King; and Spoonbenders, by Daryl Gregory; The Border, by Robert McCammon).
I used to feel like a real jerk for not reading extensively in my own field. What the heck happened? But it didn’t take too much soul-searching to figure out the problem. I work in the SF field. When I read fiction, I want to goof off. And the best way to do that is to read a different genre. Mystery fits the bill perfectly—it’s still nicely weird, and it uses its own form of the scientific method to solve problems. The characters are heroes or anti-heroes (or some interesting point on that spectrum) engaged in an age-old battle to maintain the balance. Shazam! Sign me up for Audible (my favorite format)!
I couldn’t give you the numbers, but my impression is that at least as many mystery novels are written every year as science fiction/fantasy novels, so I usually have a wide range of talented writers to choose from when I’m using my monthly credit for a new audio book. But I do have my favorite characters, and I’ll buy a book about them without a second thought.
Kay Scarpetta (Patricia Cornwell)
Kay is a smart gal, obsessed with detail and consumed by the particulars of any puzzle that’s put before her, and those are interesting qualities in medical examiner. But what I like about her is that she’s a bit of a sore-nosed bear. She’s got good reasons to feel that way: a lifelong struggle to prove her worth in a field dominated by men; some vicious and implacable enemies she’s earned along the way (on both sides of the law); a collection of screwed-up family members and friends about whom she’s constantly worrying; and a large pile of sorrows that grows bigger with every year she continues to Fight the Good Fight. Kay practices restraint so diligently, when she finally does lose her temper about something, she doesn’t kid around. Afterward, she vacillates between feeling bad about losing her temper and being pissed off that she’s got a reputation for being difficult. I love that about Kay Scarpetta.
Dr. Alex Delaware (Jonathan Kellerman)
Dr. Delaware’s stories are a slow burn, because he’s not the sort of guy to jump to conclusions. Abnormal (criminal) psychology isn’t even his specialty – his field is pediatric psychology, and when he’s not treating young patients, he’s testifying in custody hearings. But Alex’s good friend is Milo Sturgis, a homicide detective, and Dr. Delaware has a talent for helping to puzzle out motives and leads in the most peculiar cases that pop up in a landscape famous for odd people: Los Angelis. Alex’s sensitive approach to witnesses and suspects, and his knack for asking the right questions, make him a fascinating guy to follow through the labyrinth of a case. But it’s no lark for him—he’s suffered personal consequences for his involvement, and he sometimes walks a knife edge between professional curiosity and obsession.
Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly)
Harry Bosch is a knight in tarnished armor, a brave and honorable detective who has stepped over a lot of lines in his time. But you can definitely see how and why that happens, and Harry is the sort of guy you’d want fighting in your corner. He’s had a tough life, not the least of which was his time fighting in the tunnels under Viet Nam. Harry has had as many conflicts with the chain of command at the police stations where he’s worked as he’s had with suspects. His personal life is a bit of a mess, too. But his willingness to work through all of that and keep his eyes on the target keeps me fascinated with his stories.
Mickey Haller (also Michael Connelly)
Mickey Haller had me at The Lincoln Lawyer, and I wish there were more books about him. He’s Harry Bosch’s half-brother, but the only thing they have in common is dedication. Mickey has no problem defending people who are guilty—in fact, he never asks them if they did the deed. What’s important to him is the Rule of Law in court, and standing up for people who wouldn’t otherwise get a vigorous defense. These ideals don’t always mesh well with the real world, so Mickey has painted himself into a corner with a few clients who have proven to be as dangerous to him as they were to the people they killed. How he fights those clients while still maintaining his role as their lawyer is engrossing.
Matthew Shardlake (C.J. Sansom)
In Matthew Shardlake’s stories, killers and bad players aren’t the only threat to him and his loved ones. The very society in which they live is a danger. Matthew is practicing law in the courts of King Henry VIII, and often finds himself embroiled in the intrigues of the powerful and the ruthless, during a time when the Church is sundering and being on the wrong side of that argument can get you burned at the stake. Add to that the fact that Matthew is a hunchback in a time when people assumed a physical problem was a sign of bad character, and Master Shardlake has quite a lot to contend with. Sometimes it’s courage that gets him through, sometimes it’s sheer desperation. But it’s always engrossing.
Emily Devenport’s short stories have appeared in Asimov’s SF, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Clarkesworld, Uncanny, and the Mammoth Book of Kaiju. Her day job is at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. She is an aspiring geologist, an avid hiker and gardener, and a volunteer at the Desert Botanical Garden. Her novel Medusa Uploaded is now available from Tor Books.