Mother Knows Best: Mom’s Favorite Crime Fiction

Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark, both plunged into the world of mystery—and one of them was a favorite for the moms!
Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark, both plunged into the world of mystery—and one of them was a favorite for the moms!
“Listen to your mother.”  Excellent words of advice, so today on the occasion of Mother’s Day, we are going to give some of our mothers the opportunity to make crime fiction book and TV recommendations.  Of course, it just wouldn’t be right unless I started with my own lovely and talented mother whose favorite authors consistently deliver . . .

Great Characters and Gripping Suspense

My mom’s absolute top three authors are Mary Higgins Clark, Tess Gerritsen and Harlan Coben.

“All three of them need to write faster,” she says. “I read much faster than they write.”

She feels that the best books refuse to be put down. You don’t want to stop reading them—for anything. And if you must do something else, the characters don’t let you get away easily.

“You can’t help but think about those characters and what’s happening to them. Really great characters won’t let you forget about them even when the book is done.”

You Can’t Read Just One

Author Terri Thayer’s mother likes to read an author’s entire body of work. She’s done that with Robert B. Parker, Walter Mosley, Dennis Lehane, Nevada Barr,

We can see why Terri Thayer’s mom loves The Mentalist so much!
We can see why Terri Thayer’s mom loves The Mentalist so much!
Michael Connelly, S.J. Rozan and Sue Grafton.

Her favorite, Scottish writer Denise Mina, writes with gritty authenticity. Her protagonist, Alex Morrow, has secrets that she’d rather keep from her fellow policemen. Watching her navigate the fine line between the police and criminals is one of the reasons to read Mina.

While Terri’s mom likes her fiction edgy and dark, her favorite TV shows include lighter fare like Castle, NCIS and The Mentalist. Of course, her new favorite novel is her daughter’s seventh mystery, Monkey Wrench, which came out this week.

Series Books are the Best

My friend Susie’s mom (soon to be a grandmother) doesn’t have an absolute favorite mystery, but she had this to say: “I still like a good puzzle, but am almost never surprised by the solution, so I look for other things in the books I read. I tend to gravitate toward series books where I can get to know the detective character and his/her associates and life. I try to read them in order, and after a while, begin to feel these are real people I know.”

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael ConnellyHere are her favorite series, in no particular order:

Gregor Demarkian series by Jane Haddam (Haddam’s latest book is reviewed here on CE)

• Thomas Lynley series by Elizabeth George

• Richard Jury series by Martha Grimes

• Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly

She generally likes anything by P.D. James or David Baldacci. Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer was so good she re-read it years later just so she could experience it again.

It’s About the Investigation, Not the Crime

Elyse Dinh-McCrillis’s mother loves to watch crime shows, but not for the crime.

“I hate crime, and the most interesting thing for me is learning a lot about the way law enforcement officers investigate a crime, observe the situation, never ignoring details, obvious or not.”

Some of her favorite shows through the years have been Murder, She Wrote, Matlock, Perry Mason, Cold Case, and Law & Order: SVU. While Elyse was growing up they watched Hawaii 5-0, Barnaby Jones, and Hart to Hart together. Elyse is a self-proclaimed Pop Culture Nerd who agrees with her mother that watching deductive powers at work is the most fun.

Favorites on Both Sides of the Pond

Mother-daughter writing duo, P.J. Tracy were a favorite of Catriona McPherson’s dad, but we’ll let them stay!
Mother-daughter writing duo, P.J. Tracy were a favorite of Catriona McPherson’s dad, but we’ll let them stay!
Catriona McPherson pens the Dandy Gilver series and her “mum” recently discovered Mary Higgins Clark and now is working her way through the author’s 43-book body of work in a massive MHC-fest. 

Her mum’s other two favorites are best selling British thriller writer, Peter James and best selling Scottish mystery writer, Quintin Jardine. She runs out and buys the hardbacks on the day of publication. Not to be outdone, her father is a fan of P.J. Tracy and would like you to have his recommendation as well.

Happy Mother’s Day! A big thank you to all the mothers that provided input for this article and took the trouble to raise us. Now that we’ve gotten these excellent recommendations, tell us what your mother recommends.


Deborah Lacy is an avid mystery reader and aspiring novelist.  You can follow her on Twitter @quippy.

Read all posts by Deborah Lacy on Criminal Element.


  1. Paula Smail

    Gotta love a Mom who loves a good read!

  2. Kerry

    What a fun post, there were SOOOO many authors, series, and shows that I also enjoy. It made me smile to realize that I’m not alone, and to remember some of the oldies I haven’t thought of in awhile (Hart to Hart).

  3. Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

    Thanks for giving me the chance to reminisce with my mom about watching those shows together, Deb!

    Mary Higgins Clark was the first author who motivated me to attend a signing. I waited outside a Crown Books in D.C. on a snowy day in January just to see her and she couldn’t have been more gracious.

  4. Deborah Lacy

    @Kerry – I loved Hart to Hart when it was on the air too!

    @PopCultureNerd – It was great to hear from you and your mom.

    I have heard that Mary Higgins Clark is gracious in person. I haven’t ever seen her in person but she is one of the guests of honor at the mystery fan convention, Bouchercon, in Cleveland this October so I will see her then. I’m really looking forward to it.

  5. Terrie Farley Moran

    Love your mom’s top three. What a great list of authors all around! I met Mary Higgins Clark at an event in NYC. She is every bit as gracious and charming as she is rumored to be. I can’t wait to see her @ Bouchercon–Cleveland Rocks.

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