Diverse Detective Fiction

 

When I’m super busy or life is extra stressful, I tend to pick up an Agatha Christie rather than one of my many intense fantasy novels. They’re quick, engaging, and don’t generally destroy my emotions (a plus when life itself is busy destroying said emotions). Perfect light reading.

Yet when I look at my piles of detective novels, there’s something very disappointing about them. They’re all set primarily in Europe or America. Every detective is white.

I want my pile of cozy mysteries to include detectives who aren’t almost universally white men. After all, if we can have themed mysteries like Quilting Mysteries and Cat Mysteries and Maple Syrup Mysteries (yes really), then surely we can also have More Representative of The World We Live In Mysteries too?

So on Twitter, I asked if anyone had recommendations for more (specifically: racially) diverse mysteries.

And Twitter delivered. Here’s some of the recommendations I got: many thanks to @Bina_ReadThis, @hemapen especially! If you’ve read any of these, please let me know what you thought!

1. The Case of the Missing Servant (Vish Puri #1) by Tarquin Hall

The portly Vish Puri is India’s most accomplished detective, at least in his own estimation, and is also the hero of an irresistible new mystery series set in hot, dusty Delhi. Puri’s detective skills are old-fashioned in a Sherlock Holmesian way and a little out of sync with the tempo of the modern city, but Puri is clever and his methods work.

The Case of the Missing Servant shows Puri (“Chubby” to his friends) and his wonderfully nicknamed employees (among them, Handbrake, Flush, and Handcream) hired for two investigations. The first is into the background of a man surprisingly willing to wed a woman her father considers unmarriageable, and the second is into the disappearance six months earlier of a servant to a prominent Punjabi lawyer, a young woman known only as Mary.

The Most Private Investigator novels offer a delicious combination of ingenious stories, brilliant writing, sharp wit, and a vivid, unsentimental picture of contemporary India. And from the first to the last page run an affectionate humour and intelligent insights into both the subtleties of Indian culture and the mysteries of human behaviour.

2. The Salaryman’s Wife (Rei Shimura#1) by Sujata Massey

Japanese-American Rei Shimura is a 27-year-old English teacher living in one of Tokyo’s seediest neighborhoods. She doesn’t make much money, but she wouldn’t go back home to California even if she had a free ticket (which, thanks to her parents, she does.) Her independence is threatened however, when a getaway to an ancient castle town is marred by murder.

Rei is the first to find the beautiful wife of a high-powered businessman, dead in the snow. Taking charge, as usual, Rei searches for clues by crashing a funeral, posing as a bar-girl, and somehow ending up pursued by police and paparazzi alike. In the meantime, she manages to piece together a strange, ever-changing puzzle—one that is built on lies and held together by years of sex and deception.

3. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #1) by Alexander McCall Smith

Wayward daughters, missing husbands, philandering partners, curious conmen – If you’ve got a problem, and no one else can help you, then pay a visit to Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s only – and finest – female private detective, and her assistant, Mma Makutsi. Her methods may not be conventional, and her manner not exactly Miss Marple, but she’s got warmth, wit and canny intuition on her side, not to mention Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, the charming proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. And Precious is going to need them all as she sets out on a series of cases that tumbles our heroine into a hotbed of strange situations and more than a little danger…

4. Devil in a Blue Dress (Easy Rawlins #1) by Walter Mosley

In Los Angeles of the late 1940s, Easy Rawlins, a black war veteran, has just been fired from his job at a defense plant. Easy is drinking in a friend’s bar, wondering how he’ll meet his mortgage, when a white man in a linen suit walks in, offering good money if Easy will simply locate Miss Daphne Monet, a blonde beauty known to frequent black jazz clubs.

 5. Blanche on the Lam (Blanche White #1) by Barbara Neely

Blanche White lends a refreshing African-American, female twist to the mystery tradition, as she turns from domestic worker to insightful–if reluctant–sleuth. A middle-aged housekeeper with a strong sense of humor, Blanche becomes an unlikely yet ingenious sleuth when murder disrupts the wealthy household of her employers.

6. Summer of the Big Bachi (Mas Arai #1) by Naomi Hirahara

In the foothills of Pasadena, Mas Arai is just another Japanese-American gardener, his lawnmower blades clean and sharp, his truck carefully tuned. But while Mas keeps lawns neatly trimmed, his own life has gone to seed. His wife is dead. And his livelihood is falling into the hands of the men he once hired by the day. For Mas, a life of sin is catching up to him. And now bachi—the spirit of retribution—is knocking on his door.

It begins when a stranger comes around, asking questions about a nurseryman who once lived in Hiroshima, a man known as Joji Haneda. By the end of the summer, Joji will be dead and Mas’s own life will be in danger. For while Mas was building a life on the edge of the American dream, he has kept powerful secrets: about three friends long ago, about two lives entwined, and about what really happened when the bomb fell on Hiroshima in August 1945.

A spellbinding mystery played out from war-torn Japan to the rich tidewaters of L.A.’s multicultural landscape, this stunning debut novel weaves a powerful tale of family, loyalty, and the price of both survival and forgiveness.

7. Shinju (Sano Ichiro #1) by Laura Joh Rowland

When beautiful, wealthy Yukiko and low-born artist Noriyoshi are found drowned together in a shinju, or ritual double suicide, everyone believes the culprit was forbidden love. Everyone but newly appointed yoriki Sano Ichiro.

Despite the official verdict and warnings from his superiors, the shogun’s Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People suspects the deaths weren’t just a tragedy; they were murder. Risking his family’s good name and his own life, Sano will search for a killer across every level of society determined to find answers to a mystery no one wants solved. No one but Sano…

These recs are just the tip of the iceberg. 

Perhaps in the future I’ll make some more specific lists of detective novels. This list is a big mix of racially diverse books, I’d love to break it down into more categories with more recs of course! Some ideas: detective novels by PoC authors, detective novels set in non-Western countries with local detectives, detective novels set in Western countries with PoC leads, etc. Can you tell I’m super excited?!

And I haven’t even said anything about other axes of diversity than race–we need disabled detectives, LGBTQIA detectives too just to give a few examples!

I found this great list of detective novels with PoC leads:
Diverse Mysteries: Because People of Color Solve Mysteries Too (great title!).

Finally, The Book Smugglers tweeted a link to a Goodreads group focused on the sub-genre of Lesbian Mysteries!

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What are your favorite diverse detective novels?

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6 responses to “Diverse Detective Fiction

  1. The Skull Mantra, by Eliot Pattison, is set in Tibet with a Chinese investigator. It's one of those books where the setting can be considered one of the characters, it's so vivid. (Though Eliot Pattison is a white Briton as far as I'm aware.)

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  2. Yay so glad you posted this list, as you know I pick up cozies especially Christie's for comfort, too 🙂 And you got so many recs I still have to explore. And it gets even more difficult if we try to find ownvoices mysteries! I'm so going to read through all your recs!!
    Oh also found another WoC mystery: Eleanor Taylor Bland's Marti MacAlister series with a Black female police detective. And apparently there's an anthology she edited: Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Authors.

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  3. Yay! 😀 Thanks for the all the recs! I am sooo excited to jump into these. SUPER interested in Shades of Black especially. I'm really gonna have to make a proper inventory of diverse mysteries!

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