One of the joys of being an Oregonian is how many writers the state can lay claim to. From Raymond Carver to Beverley Cleary, without forgetting Ken Kesey, Brian Doyle and Ursula Le Guin, we are almost spoiled for literary wealth.
For crime novel fans, here are some of the Oregon classics you should check out:
by Ken Kesey Sometimes a great idea is often eclipsed by Flight over a cuckoo’s nest, but crime-loving readers should check out the book for its creepy, heavy vibe. The novel introduces the Stamper family, indentured loggers with a motto “never give an inch”. The story explores the dynamics of the Stamper family in relation to each other and the town, and is set during a union strike against the local logging company. The Stampers step in as scabs; tragedy ensues.
Fun fact: the film adaptation of Sometimes a great idea was the first film to air on HBO. Paul Newman directed and starred in it, and the cast includes Henry Fonda, Michael Sarrazin and Lee Remick. Additionally, Richard Jaeckel received an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in the film. To quote Quentin Tarantino, the film is “justly famous for one of the greatest scenes in early ’70s cinema.” The film was shot in Lincoln County, Oregon. You can even stay in the family home on the Siletz River since it’s available on the short-term rental market.
MK Wren’s Conan Flagg series, beginning with Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, features a former secret agent and licensed PI who buys a bookstore on the Oregon Coast. The novel feels like an Oregon time capsule. The sixth volume in the series, Wake up, darling Corey, is part of a context of development of hitherto virgin natural spaces. This echoes the same environmental arguments that Oregon has faced for decades. The series tackles Cold War politics and spies, regional politics and coastal life.
Wren based his fictional bookstore on Robert’s real bookstore in Lincoln City, Oregon. This family shop specializes in rare books, and it is still going strong. They now have a second new and used bookstore offering trade fiction. When I was young, around ten, I met Wren at a book signing. I still have my signed copy of Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, with the memory of having told Wren that I too was going to become a writer. (She was encouraging!)
In addition to her detective and thriller novels, Kate Wilhelm was known for her science fiction work, including her Hugo Award Where the sweet birds sang late. She is also known for creating the Clarion Workshop alongside her husband, Damon Knight, and Robin Scott Wilson. Fans of mystery novels will be most interested in her Barbara Holloway mysteries, featuring a defense attorney who solves crimes alongside her retired lawyer father in Eugene, Oregon. Or his Constance Leidl and Charlie Meiklejohn mysteries about a former arson detective turned private eye who solves cases alongside his psychologist wife.
For non-fiction fans, Wicked Portland: The Wild and Vigorous Underworld of a Frontier Port Town by Finn JD John, creator of the Offbeat Oregon podcast featuring the original Oregon story, is worth checking out. It tackles Portland’s seedy past with a side of humor. If you want something more serious, Discover Dark Rose: Organized Crime and Corruption in Portland by Robert C. Donnelly. The book explores the union and police corruption that led the McClellan Committee (aka the US Senate Select Committee on Labor or Management Improper Activity) to investigate the Oregon mob. Which led to evidence proving the embezzlement of union funds by Teamsters President Dave Beck. It also shed light on Jimmy Hoffa’s mob connection.
If you’re looking for contemporary Oregon mystery writers, you’re in luck. We have continued our tradition of producing mystery novels that run the gamut from hipster to dark and atmospheric, from funny to heartfelt.
If you’re a fan of graphic novels, Greg Rucka Stumptown features female IP, and the art of the series has a very dark feel to it. You can dive into Portland and even catch a Timbers game in the four-volume series.
Phillip Margolin’s latest legal thriller, The darkest placewas released in March 2022. Margolin is a former Portland defense attorney as well as a best-selling author.
Elle Marr’s Strangers we know comes out on May 1, 2022 and features a young woman adopted as a baby. When she takes a DNA test as an adult, she discovers that she is the PNW Full Moon Slayer. Things get really interesting when she connects with a biological cousin and some of her new biological family.
Sisters Lisa Jackson and Nancy Bush both write romantic thrillers from their home in the Portland metro area, and they sometimes co-write! If you want to read one of their collaborations, start with nasty game, the first in their Bad series. Jessie Brentwood disappeared from St. Elizabeth High School twenty years ago. When his body is found on the grounds of their old high school, his friends meet to discuss what happened. . . and start dying.
If you’re looking for a touch of magic in your books, check out Angela M. Sander’s cozy Witch Way Librarian series, starting with Bait and Witch.
Dana Haynes may be reporting the news in Portland, Oregon, but he travels the world in his “high voltage” thrillers. Its new The Rescue and Destruction of Saint Nicholas The series features a company of largely illegal bounty hunters who hunt down some of the world’s worst criminals.
If you buy detective novels for teens, you probably already know the name April Henry, as she has written over 26 novels for teens and adults. Her next book for teens, Two truths and a lie releases in May 2022.
Writing novels is Warren Easley’s second career. So he should write about a former attorney who moves to Oregon’s wine country after a traumatic event and now handles impossible cases for clients who have no one else to turn to. The series begins with the years 2013 question of doubt and continues to the eighth book in the series, 2021 No witness.
You can visit Ashland, Oregon, and perhaps stop by the Shakespeare Festival in Ellie Alexander’s Bakeshop Mystery series. The fifteenth book in the series, Donut Disturb, releases in June 2022.
Renee Denfeld’s novels about Naomi, a private detective known as “the child finder”, meet at the corner of literature and mystery. The Childfinder and The Butterfly Girl are great choices for readers looking for atmospheric character-driven tales.
Mary Keliikoa’s Kelly Pruitt series featuring a Portland private detective begins with derailed.
You can visit Portland in Bill Cameron’s Skin Kadish series or eastern Oregon in Crossroads (written as WH Cameron).
And, of course, you can visit a food cart in Portland, Oregon and solve a murder in the Ground Rules Mystery series, written by me (Emmeline Duncan). In Fresh Brewed Murder, Sage Caplin opens a new coffee cart in Portland. Shortly after launching her business, she finds one of her clients dead, killed with his cutter. Will she be able to find the killer before the investigation, and maybe her life will end?