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Robert B. Parker's Spenser Returns

The great book detective, revived in best-seller 'Lullaby,' is just one of 5 crime solvers we love

Tough guy detective looking through steel bars

Keep up with popular crime solvers. — Photo by Gabe Palmer/Getty Images

In the world of detective novels, there's big news this summer — Spenser is back.

See also: A winning Victorian sleuth goes to sea

Though fans lamented the death in 2010 of Spenser's creator, Robert B. Parker, they have given rousing support to Ace Atkins, handpicked by Parker's estate to continue the character. The new Spenser book Lullaby ($26.95; ebook $12.99) is a gritty, tightly plotted puzzler that hit the New York Times best-seller list the first week it was out.

But don't stop with Spenser. If you are a fan of the genre — whether it be the literary thriller or the hardboiled procedural — here are four more great detectives you should get to know.

Detective: Kinsey Millhone
Author: Sue Grafton

The California private eye has been solving crimes over the course of 22 novels now, beginning with A Is for Alibi in 1982 and continuing through most of the alphabet. In the latest, V Is for Vengeance ($27.95; ebook $14.99), Millhone gets roped into a case while shopping for underwear bargains at Nordstrom. This type of development happens often to Millhone: Her everyday life will intersect with a crime in some way, and then she's off and running. Millhone's charm comes from her unaffected ordinariness: She's a bit of a loner, but she's devoted to her friends; she's smart, but she knows how to learn from experience; and she eats peanut-butter-and-pickle sandwiches. Jump into any of these "alphabet books" and you'll quickly fall under her spell.

Detective: Sir Thomas Lynley
Author: Elizabeth George

George's detective inspector is actually Lord Asherton, a highly educated man of privilege, who is partnered with Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, a disheveled mess of a woman from a working-class background. George, an Ohio-born American, has given her Scotland Yard officers a respectful if occasionally rocky professional partnership and very separate lives (though Lynley's is the more interesting). George's first Lynley novel, A Great Deliverance, won her acclaim when it was published in 1988, and after 17 books she's no less on her game with her latest, Believing the Lie ($28.95; ebook $14.99). The world that Lynley inhabits is complicated, yes, but George supplies enough background in each book to let us jump into the series anywhere. The intricate plots always take center stage anyway.

Next page: Botswana's Precious and a troubled ex-New York cop. »

Detective: Precious Ramotswe
Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Precious is the first female detective in Botswana and owner of the aptly titled No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in its capital, Gaborone. The rural South African setting and the interactions of the characters who live there are as important to these novels as the cases themselves, which often put the talents of the wise and kindly Precious to a stern test. In the 13th and latest, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection ($24.95; ebook $12.99), strange doings at the local orphanage threaten the livelihood of its formidable matron. As Precious looks into the matter, she receives some unexpected help from the author of The Principles of Private Detection, a book Precious regards as the bible of her beloved agency. The books are designed to follow one another, but you'll get right up to speed on the evildoers (and their undoing) no matter where you start.

Detective: Matt Scudder
Author: Lawrence Block

Scudder is an ex-New York cop turned unlicensed private investigator, struggling to pull his life together after years of hard drinking that cost him his job and family. Haunted by an incident from his days on the force — the accidental fatal shooting of a little girl — Scudder lives in a rent-controlled hotel room in Hell's Kitchen and cobbles together a living "doing favors for friends." Each of the 17 books in the series is a first-rate crime thriller; taken together, they present an unflinching portrait of an alcoholic's journey to redemption. Though you can start anywhere, Scudder's latest outing — A Drop of the Hard Stuff ($25.99; ebook $9.99) — has him looking back on a long-buried episode from his early days, which makes it an ideal place to begin.

Two-time Edgar award winner Daniel Stashower is completing a biography of Allan Pinkerton.

You may also like: Full review of A Drop of the Hard Stuff.

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