Robert Parker. Parker has several series running. The longest series (37 books!), and, I think, the best, is the Spenser series. Spenser is strong but sensitive. He’s a private eye, but he’s literate. He hangs out with lowlifes, but his inamorata in a beautiful and brilliant psychologist. And he cooks. The sidekick in this series is Hawk, a really scary Black guy, who (in my view, anyway) allows Parker to talk about all sorts of interesting race issues.
The Jesse Stone series is 7 books long, so far. Jesse is a recovering alcoholic and former big city cop, now living in small town New England.
The Sunny Randall series is 6 books long, so far.
Parker, in general, is fascinated by certain themes – the nature of love, therapy, what makes for a ‘good’ person, and dogs. Love, in particular, is an interest — many of the relationships in his novels deal with love, but often it is a troubled or mysterious kind of love. Why does Sunny Randall’s father love his obnoxious wife? Why can’t Spenser and Silverman live together or get married?
Parker, though, now seems to be coasting. His last few books just aren’t as good as his earlier ones. I still like them, but they are no longer top-rank.
Stuart Kaminsky’s Rostnikov novels. Read these in order. These capture Russia as the Soviet Union disintegrates. Very well done, and he has recently written a new one. I don’t care for his other series.
Robert K. Tannenbaum writes the Karp novels. Butch Karp is a DA. His girlfriend/wife is a private detective who often skirts the law for a good cause. Their daughter Lucy is a language savant. Good stuff. One warning: Hoax (one of the series) is a clunker.
Ian Rankin writes Scottish noir in a series about John Rebus, and he writes it well. The dark underside of Ediburgh and Glasgow.Rebus is a hard-drinking lonely man, who stops at nothing to get to the bottom of the story.
Sujata Massey writes about a Japanese-American (or American-Japanese) art dealer named Rei Shimura. Massey herself is multi-cultural (born in England, mother is German, father is Indian, grew up in the USA, moved to Japan in 1991), and a lot of the charm of the series is the way she plays, knowingly, with the clash of cultures.
Paul Levine has several novels in the Solomon and Lord series – Solomon and Lord are both lawyers. Principally, these are funny. But he also develops characters and fools around with some traditional roles: Solomon is a wise-cracking shyster, who graduated from some ridiculous law school and plays fast and loose with all the rules, and acts like a pig but has a heart of gold. Lord is a prim, proper woman from a down-at-the-heels family that used to have money. The verbal interplay is fun, and Levine also writes well about issues like learning disabilities and the dangers of religious cults
Lee Child has written 12 novels about Jack Reacher – a sort of Lone Ranger in books. Reacher is a preposterously competent person who lives a life without any ties whatever, not even owning any clothes or a suitcase. He gets himself involved in all sorts of nefarious goings on.
Andrew Vachss has written a lot, but I’ve only read his Burke novels. These are very, very dark. All the characters are damaged, nearly all were abused kids, almost none are law-abiding. But Burke, most of all, hates pedophiles. Very violent. Be glad you don’t live in the world he portrays, but be glad to read about it, as well – he also deals a lot with race roles, gender roles and so on – one of his main characters (and one of the nicest) is a male to female transsexual.
Vachss is a man on a mission and a noble one it is: Stopping the abuse of children (and also dogs). He’s a man with strong views, boldly stated.
John Sandford’s Prey novels are classic serial killer vs. brilliant police work novels. Nothing super fancy, but very well done. Lucas Davenport is the brilliant detective, who made millions designing computer games and is married to a brilliant and beautiful surgeon. The Kidd series is also good, and very different.
Carl Hiaasen is just plain hysterical. Writing about Florida, nearly every character is a nut in one way or another. Hiassen also manages to throw in some pro-environment, anti-development material.
S. J. Rozan has the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series. Chin is a Chinese woman living in NYC’s Chinatown. Smith is her lover and co-investigator. Lots of interesting detail of Chinatown, and of the dynamics of the relationship.