First of the Best: British Police Detective Series

shelved under Fiction and Mystery

Each of these is the first novel in one of the great British police detective series. They are not necessarily the best of their respective series, but they are all very good. Start with these, and you'll be hooked.

(And if you know of any Flashlight Worthy series that would work well on this list, let Flashlight Worthy know and they'll let me know.)


Cover Her Face (1962)
The "Commander Dalgleish" series (14 books)

by P.D. James

Scotland Yard's Dalgleish is intense, cerebral, and private. He's a published poet and a widower with a tragic past. P.D. James' nuanced literary style and well-plotted stories have earned her all of the top mystery awards, and a life peerage.


From Doon with Death (1964)
The "Inspector Wexford" series (21 books)

by Ruth Rendell

Unusual by detective genre standards, Wexford's a stable family man. He heads up murder investigations in the fictional city of Kingsmarkham. Like James, Rendell is a major literary talent who's won every mystery award and a peerage as well.


Last Bus to Woodstock (1975)
The "Inspector Morse" series (13 books)

by Colin Dexter

Morse's territory is Oxford. He's a loner, classical music aficionado, serious drinker. And brilliant. His Number 2, Sergeant Lewis, the family man who hates working overtime, seems plodding by comparison, but the two balance one another.


The Man With a Load of Mischief (1981)
The "Inspector Jury" series (21 books)

by Martha Grimes

The titles of all the books in this series come from actual pub names in Britain. Jury works at Scotland Yard, but his cases take him all over the UK, and even to the U.S. He's got no family, but has a tight-knit circle of quirky friends and neighbors who follow him through thick and thin, often trying to "help".


Knots and Crosses (1987)
The "Inspector Rebus" series (17 books)

by Ian Rankin

Rebus works in Edinburgh. He's a former military with an anti-authoritarian streak that gets him into regular trouble with the higher-ups. He's divorced, a classic rock fan, and another serious drinker. Gritty is the word for this series.


A Great Deliverance (1988)
The "Inspector Lynley" series (15 books)

by Elizabeth George

Lynley is the blue-blood, an Earl who's also a policeman. At Scotland Yard, he works closely with Sergeant Havers, a woman of the working class with quite a chip on her shoulder. Excellent characters both, and the sparks fly between them.


A Share in Death (1993)
The "Superintendent Kincaid/Inspector James" series (12 books)

by Deborah E. Crombie

A series with two protagonists, a male superintendent with a female sergeant at Scotland Yard. Both likable characters with complicated family lives. As the series develops, so does the relationship between them.


A Test of Wills (1996)
The "Inspector Rutledge" series (11 books)

by Charles Todd

This series takes a historical setting, the immediate aftermath of World War I. Rutledge is a Scotland Yard detective who served at the front and came back psychologically damaged. Instead of a sergeant sidekick, Rutledge has Hamish, a dead Scottish soldier who served with him in France who nevertheless haunts Rutledge night and day. It's a "voice-in-the-head as major character" and it works. Rutledge is out of favor with his superior, and is constantly being sent on cases all over the UK.