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Originally published Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 7:00 PM

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Readers' favorite international mysteries, Part II — all around the globe

In our second installment of reader nominations of their favorite international mysteries, we reach beyond Europe to China, Botswana, India and points beyond.

Seattle Times book editor

Literary detectives have left a trail everywhere — even one that begins in seventh century China. That's what I discovered recently when I solicited readers' nominations for best international mysteries, written by a non-American, set in international locales.

Who was that Chinese sleuth? Judge Dee. He's the hero of a set of mysteries by Robert van Gulik, set in the Tang dynasty. That is one antique provenance for a sleuth!

Van Gulik's work was one of more than 70 nominations I received from readers around the world. Last week I featured detective novels from Europe; this week covers everywhere else. In two cases (Korea and Tibet) I am including American writers who base their mysteries in those countries, because they were the only nominations of writers who set their mysteries in those locales.

There's a great PBS website that features several of these authors; go to blog that often features international mysteries is "Detectives Beyond Borders" at's the list:


Peter Temple: Australian author Temple's hard-boiled "The Broken Shore" is one of the best crime novels I've read; its meticulously plotted story examines Australia's legacy of prejudice toward its aboriginal people. Murder, rape and police brutality figure in the plot, but Temple's writing is gorgeous. Temple also has written a series featuring Jack Irish, an ex-lawyer and "sometime debt collector, cabinetmaker and barfly" (Publishers Weekly). Titles: "Bad Debts," "Black Tide" and others.

Other authors: Garry Disher (the Wyatt novels). Adrian Hyland's Emily Tempest mysteries.


Scotsman Alexander McCall Smith's wonderful "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series featuring the delightfully common-sensical Precious Ramotswe needs no introduction to mystery readers, and has single-handedly revived the tourism industry in that country. It was made into a delightful HBO series starring Jill Scott, available on Netflix, etc.


Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza: This Brazilian author's series featuring Inspector Espinosa, a policeman in Rio, is "atmospheric, filled with local color and characters," says reader David Buckner. "Inspector Espinoza is as Latin as the Tango, and his observations and ways of seeing things, so different in many aspects from our Anglo perspective, add a depth to the writing that intrigues the reader." Titles include "Pursuit," "The Silence Of The Rain," "Southwesterly Wind" and others.

Other writers: Leighton Gage's Inspector Mario Silva mysteries.



Gail Bowen: Reader Carol Lake gives the nod to Bowen, a retired professor of English who now lives in Regina, capital of Saskatchewan. "Her heroine Joanne Kilbourn is a widow, a political analyst, and a university professor, and many of the plots include references to local art or politics in Regina." Books in the series include "The Glass Coffin," "Verdict in Blood," "A Killing Spring" and "The Brutal Heart."

Other authors: Louise Penny. A former journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Penny writes about Quebec City Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Book five in the Gamache series, "The Brutal Telling," recently won the Anthony Award for best crime novel published in 2010. Also, Giles Blunt's John Cardinal series. Peter Robinson is a Canadian who writes about a Yorkshire detective, Inspector Alan Banks.


Robert van Gulik: Gulik was a Dutch diplomat stationed in Japan with a wide interest in Chinese literature and esoterica, says reader Corine Fligner. He lived for a time in China, and eventually translated an 18th century Chinese novel that he titled "Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee," based on a real character, a seventh century Chinese magistrate. Then van Gulik wrote his own Judge Dee mysteries. "The original stories and van Gulik's later stories reveal much about Chinese law, justice, and life," said Fligner. Titles: "The Chinese Bell Murders," "The Chinese Maze Murders" and others.

Other writers: St. Louis resident and Chinese expat Qiu Xiaolong is the author of the Inspector Chen mysteries, set in modern-day Shanghai.


Leonardo Padura: Padura's Havana Quartet — "Havana Red," "Havana Black," "Havana Blue," "Havana Gold" — is set in four seasons in Havana in the year 1980. His books have been described as "morality tales for the post-Soviet era." Padura is an investigative journalist, essayist, novelist and baseball nut.


Tarquin Hall: Hall, a British author, has created Vish Puri, a Punjabi "most private investigator" who lives and works in New Delhi. "The Case of the Missing Servant"(2009) is about Puri's investigation of the disappearance of a missing servant girl whose employer is suspected of murdering her. "Vish Puri is a chubby, colorful character who loves fried food ... Tarquin Hall has captured the culture well," said Bharti Kirchner. This book was followed by 2010's "The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing."

Other authors: Vikram Chandra ("Sacred Games").


Batya Gur: Gur, who died in 2005, created a series featuring cerebral, introspective police detective Michael Ohayon, superintendent of criminal investigations in Jerusalem. Gur was "almost single-handedly responsible for making the detective novel a flourishing genre in Israeli letters," said her New York Times obituary. Series titles translated into English include "Murder in Jerusalem" and "Bethlehem Road Murder."


Edogawa Rampo: The pseudonym of Hirai Taro (1894-1965) called by some the grand master of Japanese crime fiction and creator of the "Japanese gothic mystery." His pen name is a pun on the name Edgar Allan Poe. "Classic Christie-like mysteries," says Seattle Times crime fiction reviewer Adam Woog. The one-volume "Edogawa Rampo Reader" is an introduction to his short fiction and nonfiction.

Other writers: Natsuo Kirino ("Grotesque").


I'm breaking the no-American-writers rule to mention these two:

Martin Limón: This Lynnwood author has written a series of mysteries set in South Korea featuring U.S. military cops George Sueño and Ernie Bascom. Titles include "G.I. Bones," "Jade Lady Burning" and "The Wandering Ghost."

James Church: This is a pseudonym for a former U.S. Intelligence officer. His Inspector O novels are set in North Korea and have received raves for their realistic portrayal of North Korean life. The latest is this year's "The Man with the Baltic Stare." The others are "A Corpse in the Koryo," "Hidden Moon" and "Blood and Bamboo."


Colin Cotterill: Born in London, Cotterill, an educator, has been active in combating child exploitation in Laos. His Siri Paboun mysteries feature a Laotian coroner who investigates mysterious deaths with some help from the spirit world. Titles: "The Coroner's Lunch," "Thirty-Three Teeth," "Disco for the Departed," "The Merry Mysogynist," "Love Songs from a Shallow Grave" and others.

South Africa

Deon Meyer: This South African thriller writer has produced "Heart of the Hunter," "Devil's Peak," "Dead at Daybreak," "Dead Before Dying" and "Blood Safari," among other titles. " 'Heart of the Hunter' is a fast-paced, breakneck chase through the African veldt with an outstanding protagonist, Thobela Mpayipheli," a former mercenary soldier, said reader David Buckner. "Blood Safari" has just been reissued in paperback by Grove/Atlantic, along with "Thirteen Hours," about a veteran Cape Town homicide detective who investigates the death of a teenaged American girl.

Other South African writers: Roger Smith, whose book "Mixed Blood" features Zulu cop Disaster Zondi, who investigates crime in some of Cape Town's most hellish quarters. It's set to be made into a movie starring the American actor Samuel Jackson. Smith's latest book is "Wake Up Dead."

Other writers: James McClure's Kramer and Zondi series.


Eliot Pattison: Pattison, an international lawyer, is author of the Inspector Shan mysteries, about a compassionate Chinese ex-cop on the trail of wrongdoing in modern-day Tibet. The first in the series is "The Skull Mantra"; the latest is "The Lord of Death."


Barbara Nadel: British author Nadel has written a series featuring Inspector Cetin Ikmen of the Istanbul police, an "intelligent, humane, moral and honest" public servant who investigates crime and fights against the inanities of political bureaucracy, said reader Mark Jaffe. The debut in the series was "Belshazzar's Daughter."

Other authors: In her volume "Book Lust to Go," Nancy Pearl likes Jason Goodwin's mystery series set in 1830s Turkey (the Ottoman Empire), featuring Yashim Togalu, detective and eunuch. Titles: "The Janissary Tree," "The Snake Stone" and "The Bellini Card."

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or

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