Years ago, two Canadian readers—one a friend, one a blog reader—convinced me to give Louise Penny a try. I was hooked from the start. (Although I will say to new Penny readers: book 1 is leisurely paced. In books 2 and 3 the murders are kind of weird—not graphic, but weird. I think Penny hits her stride with book 4.)
Her first book, Still Life, was published way back in 1990, but I didn’t begin with the series until Penny had been writing for more than a decade. At the time, she had a devoted but smallish fan base; these days her new releases are instant New York Times bestsellers.
When I began reading the books, there were 5 or 6 published already. I so loved burning through the series over the course of a summer, catching up to the then-latest installment, and a half dozen books was the perfect number of titles—satisfying, but not overwhelming. I quickly became enraptured with the Canadian inspector and his town of Three Pines, and the characters I’ve gotten to know (and worry about between installments!)
Since the publication of Kingdom of the Blind last November, there are now fourteen novels in the series, which, I’m sorry to say, you should probably read in order. The mysteries stand alone, but fans love Penny for the way her stories operate on two planes: on one level, well-crafted procedurals; on the other, the absorbing relational dramas of her characters. If you jump in mid-series, you’ll miss out on the significance of the relational plots.
I relished catching up with the series when I first found it, but now I’m in the unenviable position of having to wait a year or more between installments. A small consolation? I’m in good company.
Because I’m not alone in my plight, I’m sharing authors Penny fans may enjoy reading next while waiting for the next installment in the Inspector Gamache series. Their series are readalikes, in the sense that they also offer mysteries that operate on two planes and have a strong sense of place. I’m sharing more about the first book of each series below:
7 series openers to read next after you've burned through all the Louise Penny novels
Like Maisie Dobbs, this series features an atmospheric, post-WWI England setting and a wartime nurse turned investigator; with the Bess Crawford series, the author's explicitly wanted to show readers the women's side of The Great War. In this first installment, Bess is determined to fulfill a promise she made to a dying officer, even though she's been sent away from the front with a broken arm. But when she meets the man's family, something feels off—and she soon realizes she's plunged straight into the middle of a web of long-buried secrets. Written by the mother-son writing duo of Caroline and Charles Todd. More info →
This is the first of French's popular Dublin Murder Squad, although the series need not be read in order. Tana French writes an amazing psychological thriller, and her story here is tight, twisty, and unpredictable. The story has two primary threads: one revolves around a psychopath, the other around a supernatural disturbance, and you'll be sucked right into both. The murder is seriously grizzly, the book unputdownable—although be warned: the ending is highly controversial. More info →
This is the first installment of the instantly beloved British mystery series set between the wars, and the accents on the audiobooks are to die for. At age 13, Maisie became a maid in London, but when her employer notices Maisie keeps sneaking into the library at night to read philosophy, her employer puts her on the path to Cambridge. When WWI begins, she becomes a nurse, and then a private investigator. This first novel is a strong start to a strong series: read them in order. Compared to the other mysteries on this list, the content here is gentler, and recommended reading for high schoolers. More info →
I loved this. In this first-rate murder mystery, British detective Cormoran Strike and his trusty sidekick Robin Ellacott investigate a supermodel's suspicious suicide. I found the plot compellingly twisty, the characters interesting, the rapport between the two investigators my favorite part. For Harry Potter fans, there's good news and bad news: Rowling (under the pseudonym Galbraith) still has the touch, but there is nothing to remind you of Harry in these stories. First-rate murder mysteries; highly recommended for Louise Penny fans. Take note: the murders in books 2 and 3 of the series are grisly; Rowling says that the worst nightmares of her life came while writing book 3. More info →
This might be my most recommended series for Louise Penny fans; I especially love how, as the series progresses, the Scotland Yard police work is only half the content: in addition to their cases, Crombie devotes considerable ink to her detectives' personal dramas and romantic entanglements. (In other words, read these in order.) This first installment reminds me of Dorothy Sayers: detective Duncan Kincaid happens to be vacationing at his posh cousin's time share when a body is found in the resort pool. The local detective rules suicide, but Kincaid is certain there's more to the story. Highly recommended for mystery-loving Anglophiles. Get caught up now so you're ready when the next installment hits shelves in October 2019. More info →
Some critics call the Commissario Brunetti mysteries "the next best thing to being in Venice." In this first installment, a renowned opera conductor is found dead in his dressing room, a victim of cyanide poisoning. It's significant that this is a particularly painful way to die. As the investigation unfolds, it's clear the man had a dark past and many enemies, and that the perpetrator wanted to make his victim suffer. But why? Death at La Fenice is an excellent place to begin, but no need to read this series in order. More info →
You all keep telling me I'll love Elizabeth George, but I'm intimidated by the TWENTY existing titles—to be read in order. This award-winning series features Scotland Yard members Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers. These mysteries feature well-developed characters, intricate plots, psychological depth, and a strong sense of place, with much of the action unfolding in the gorgeous English countryside. More info →
Are you a Louise Penny fan? What series would YOU recommend to readers who are all out of Inspector Gamache novels? Do you, like me, want to visit Three Pines one day? Tell us all about it in comments.