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Music is everywhere in crime fiction, sometimes at the center of the story but most often providing the soundtrack for sleuths whose playlists help keep them sane amid the blood splatter. Here’s a list of music-loving sleuths organized by their preferred sounds.
Alexia Gordon’s Gethsemane Brown: In Death in D Minor, the first in this charming cozy series, Black classical musician Gethsemane Brown moves to Ireland and secures lodging in a cottage formerly owned by her favorite composer. There’s a hitch: the composer’s ghost is in residence and needs Gethsemane’s help to clear him of a decades-old murder. Great fun for paranormal fans who enjoy the classics.
Barbara Paul’s Enrico Caruso: Only two of the titles in Paul’s three-book Opera Mystery series star the great tenor Caruso, but we’ll happily give him top-of-the-marquee credit. Caruso makes a fine sleuth, particularly in A Cadenza for Caruso, in which the tenor must save Puccini from a marital spat and possibly murder.
Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti: I’m stretching the premise a bit here—music isn’t a big part of Guido’s life (he relaxes with food)—but three of the best novels in the series, Death at La Fenice, Acqua Alta, and Falling in Love, feature diva Flavia Petrellia. She’s one of Leon’s most fascinating characters, and the author’s extensive knowledge of opera informs every page.
Kinky Friedman’s Kinky Friedman: Yes, Kinky Friedman, author and lead singer of Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, writes mysteries about a country singer named Kinky Friedman. Hard to say who’s wackier, real-world Kinky or fictional Kinky, but does it really matter? Grab a title—maybe Elvis, Jesus & Coca Cola—and start humming along with the Kinkster.
Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne: London DI Thorne is a hard-bitten, hard-drinking cop, but there’s something different about him—he’s a country fan, and he finds in his favorite twangy tunes plenty of parallels to his work. Thorne describes Johnny Cash’s dark baritone as like “the long slow tumble toward Hell,” and who wouldn’t hear noir in Hank Williams’ “I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive”?
Bill Moody’s Evan Horne: Jazz pianist and occasional sleuth Horne is the go-to-guy for crimes connected to jazz history, and the six novels in this series concern mysteries involving the careers and sometimes deaths of such jazz luminaries as Wardell Gray, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Chet Baker. The music is the draw, and for fans, that’s more than enough.
Charlotte Carter’s Nanette Hayes: Amateur sleuth Hayes, a street musician and Grace Jones–look-alike who plays sax in the Paris Metro in the first two novels in Carter’s series (Rhode Island Red and Coq au Vin), is a complete delight. When she plays “Lover Man” at the Odeon Metro stop, it’s one of the best jazz moments in crime fiction. Don’t miss it.
John Harvey’s Charlie Resnick: Nottingham, England, copper Resnick, who fights a losing battle against societal chaos throughout Harvey’s landmark series, combats his chronic melancholia with all variety of classic jazz, but it’s Thelonious Monk who’s both his inspiration and solace. Just as Monk worked at a phrase from multiple directions, so Charlie pokes at the detritus of wasted lives, finding not just despair but also the still-smoldering sparks of human feeling.
Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch: Through more than 20 novels in Connelly’s acclaimed series, L.A. detective Harry Bosch, like Charlie Resnick, relies on jazz—usually heard on vinyl while sitting on his deck in the Hollywood Hills—to provide brief respite from the never-ending trauma of his investigations. Harry’s a sax guy, and his favorites include John Coltrane (his dog is named Trane), but also Art Pepper and, especially, Frank Morgan.
Ian Rankin’s John Rebus: The curmudgeonly Edinburgh detective loves his classic rock (and loves to argue about it with his colleague Siobhan, who favors younger groups). For Rebus, it’s the Stones, of course, along with The Who, The Animals, and Cream. When the world is too much with him, Rebus likes to play Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.
Timothy Hallinan’s Junior Bender: There’s always a backbeat somewhere in this toe-tappingly entertaining comic mystery series starring the forever-put-upon Junior, high-end burglar and low-end investigator for L.A.’s criminal class, but in two of the entries, Little Elvises and Rock of Ages, rock music drives the action.
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