In a genre dominated by straight, male detectives it’s refreshing when a mystery read goes against the grain to feature characters of other sexualities, genders, and backgrounds. Lesbian and gay authors, in particular, have broadened the scope of the genre, shining a light on people and experiences that so often go unheard. Many of these authors did so at the risk of criticism or, depending on the year of publication, even danger.
The following LGBTQ mystery authors represent some of the best. From a quirky cozy by Rita Mae Brown to Christopher Bram's World War II spy novel, these books break barriers while delivering plenty of twists and turns.
A Country of Old Men
Joseph Hansen published over 40 novels throughout his lifetime, but he is best known for his 12-book mystery series starring David Brandstetter—an insurance investigator who, like Hansen, is openly gay. But David’s sexuality isn’t his defining trait, and he often defies the old stereotypes associated with gay men: He’s really just a normal California guy, albeit one who’s tough-as-nails and good at busting criminals.
In A Country for Old Men, Brandstetter takes on his final assignment after he encounters a distressed child who claims to have witnessed a gruesome murder. Before he can retire, Brandstetter promises to crack the case and prove that, despite his age, he still has what it takes to catch a killer.
In Hold Tight, Navy sailor Hank Fayette is arrested during the police's raid of a gay brothel. He’s given a choice: Go to prison and get dishonorably discharged from the miltary—or work at the brothel as an undercover agent. When Hank opts for the latter, he’s left to determine whether there’s any truth in the rumors about Nazi spies lurking in New York City...Set during World War II, this spy thriller keeps you on the edge of your seat while being “very funny, fast-moving...and emotionally stirring” (Publishers Weekly).
A master of psychological suspense, Christopher Bram features gay protagonists in all nine of his standalone novels. His other notable book Father of Frankenstein was adapted into the 1998 film Gods and Monsters, which starred Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser.
Related: 7 Spy Novels for Fans of Ian Fleming
In Flight Dreams, the first entry in Michael Craft's mystery series, Mark Manning investigates the disappearance of a beautiful airline heiress. While everyone else presumes she’s dead, Manning believes she’s very much alive—and he’s willing to stake his job on it. His biggest lead? The Catholic Church, who will inherit her fortune when she’s officially declared dead. If Manning hopes to solve the case and save his job, he’ll have to mix and mingle with the people who so openly oppose his way of life...
Taking Care of Mrs. Carroll
In Taking Care of Mrs. Carroll, one woman's untimely death jeopardizes her Cape Cod estate. In order to save it per her dying wish, the people she left behind—including an actress, her lover, her houseboy and his ex—must takes turns trying to fool the public that she’s still alive.
In addition to writing novels, Paul Monette was an influential figure in raising AIDS awareness, from which both he and his longtime partner ultimately died. His essays and memoirs recounted his relationships with other men and the heartbreaking experience of losing his partner.
Third You Die
Scott Sherman is the author of the Kevin Connor mystery series, whose namesake protagonist is a male prostitute-turned-amateur detective. The series is relatively lighter than other whodunits, with comedic moments adding some levity to the seriousness of Connor’s investigations. In Third You Die, we find Connor taking a nice, restorative break from the world of sex and crime. Instead, he’s producing his mother’s talk show—though the murder of one of her scheduled guests, a gay porn star, draws him back into the world he's just left.
Affinity is a standalone Victorian thriller from Sarah Waters, the author of lesbian classics like Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith. After a failed suicide attempt, Margaret Prior must complete her rehabilitation by doing charity work at London’s most dangerous prison. She meets many inmates but is particularly enchanted by Selina Dawes, a medium whom Margaret believes has been falsely convicted of murder. As the women’s relationship intensifies—and the supernatural starts to manifest in their lives—Margaret embarks on a risky mission to free Selina once and for all. Prepare yourself for a killer, I-never-saw-it-coming ending.
Rita Mae Brown
Wish You Were Here
Co-authored by her pet cat, Rita Mae Brown's Mrs. Murphy series spans 27 books and is still going strong. Wish You Were here is the first installment featuring her quirky crime-solving duo, a talking cat named Mrs. Murphy and corgi Tee Tucker. Their owner, Mary “Harry” Harristeen, has a penchant for opening other people’s mail—and she distinctly remembers reading a couple of sinister postcards. Now that the intended recipients have wound up dead, it seems that Harry may be in danger herself. Determined to protect her, Murphy and Tee become four-legged detectives so that Harry won't become the killer's next victim...
Strangers on a Train
The inspiration behind the Hitchcock film of the same name, this Highsmith novel explores guilt, obsession, and trust between strangers. When two men meet on a long train ride—psychotic playboy Bruno and the unhappily married Guy—their journey ends with a disturbing agreement. They will both commit murder on each other’s behalf: While Guy takes out Bruno’s unloving father, Bruno will kill Guy’s unfaithful wife. As strangers, neither will be suspected by the police...right?
Cornwell’s debut, Postmortem, earned her an Edgar Award in 1991 and introduced the now-iconic medical examiner, Kay Scarpetta. Heavily focused on forensic science, the 24-book crime series is believed to have inspired shows like CSI and Cold Case Files.
In Postmortem, Scarpetta uses forensic technology to link a series of Virginia stranglings, proving that a single serial killer is behind each one—and is still at large. With almost no evidence to speak of, tracking down the criminal will be no easy task. Especially when Scarpetta becomes the next target...
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Featured photo of Sarah Waters: Alchetron