No matter which side you are on in the immigration issue—and this essay will, in no way, be political—America is a country of immigrants.
And mystery fiction has often explored the issue of immigrants through stories about newly arrived foreigners, anxious to make the United States their home, to those who are undocumented. America isn’t the only country that also has immigration issues.
Here are some mysteries that include immigrants in their plots.
The Darkness, by Ragnar Jonasson. Days from retirement, Reykjavík Det. Insp. Hulda Hermannsdóttir investigates the death of a young Russian woman who was seeking asylum in Iceland.
The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane. The first in Lehane’s sprawling epic trilogy about the Coughlin family also is about the American experience. Cops and gangsters as well as white and black families fuel the three novels that begin in Boston, move to Tampa and, finally Cuba.
Hunters in the Dark, by Lawrence Osborn. A young Englishman loses himself in Cambodia and Thailand to escape his life as a small-town teacher.
The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. The anonymous narrator was a North Vietnamese mole in the South Vietnamese army who embeds himself in the exiled South Vietnamese community in the United States. Won the 2016 Edgar Award for best first novel.
Bad Country, by C.B. McKenzie. Arizona bounty hunter and private detective Rodeo Grace Garnet is hired by an elderly Indian woman whose grandson was murdered. The evocative setting is filled with a rough landscape where undocumented immigrants are crossing the Sonoran Desert. Nominated in 2015 for an Edgar Award for best first novel.
Broken Windows, by Paul D. Marks. A sequel to the Shamus-winning White Heat, Broken Windows is set in 1994 during California's Proposition 187, which was an anti-illegal alien initiative. Marks shows how the immigration issue hasn’t changed.
The Foreigner, by Francie Lin. A Taiwanese American financial analyst travels from San Francisco to Taipei to scatter his mother's ashes and re-establish contact with his brother, who inherited the family hotel and is involved with the Taiwanese criminal underworld. Won the 2009 Edgar Award for best first novel.
Asylum City, by Liad Shoham. A look at the immigration policies in Tel Aviv, a destination for asylum seekers from Africa.
The Jasmine Trade by Denise Hamilton. L.A. reporter Eve Diamond follows a story about the “jasmine trade" in which girls are smuggled from Chinese provinces and forced into prostitution.
The Ghost of Christmas Past, by Rhys Bowen. The latest in Bowen’s series about Mary Murphy who leaves Ireland to settle in America.
Several years ago, I wrote a feature about gay sleuths for the Sun Sentinel, the newspaper for which I worked for 29 years.
And this being Pride Month, it’s the perfect time to read these novels.
The following list is culled from my previous story and a list that author Greg Herren has been posting on Facebook page and on his blog. At the end of June, Herren plans to post his entire list.
George Baxt—Baxt apparently had the first openly gay male detective to be published by a major publisher, a character named Pharoah Love, who appeared in A Queer Kind of Death in 1966. After a string of novels, Love disappeared until he was brought back in 1994's A Queer Kind of Love after a 26-year hiatus. The Love series never really caught on. Baxt found more success writing historical mysteries involving celebrities or movie stars of the ’30s to ’50s.
John Copenhaver—his novel Dodging and Burning was one of the top debuts during 2018. A riveting look at life for gay men and lesbians during America’s post-WWII era, set in a small Virginia town and in the military. It is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a coming-out tale. Dodging and Burning has been nominated for four best first novel awards: the Anthony, the Strand Critics Award, the Lambda, and the Barry Award.
Robert W. Fieseler—chronicles a fire in a New Orleans gay bar that killed 32 people and its impact on the gay community in Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation, which won the 2019 Edgar Award for best fact crime and Lambda Literary's Judith A. Markowitz Award for Emerging LGBTQ Writers. It also was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and Shelf Awareness.
Katherine V. Forrest—has written about homicide detective Kate Delafield since 1984.
Joseph Hansen—remains a touchstone in gay mysteries. His series about Dave Brandstetter debuted with Fadeout in 1970. A low-key insurance investigator, Brandstetter was a likable character who approached his work in a professional manner and had relationships with men. Before his last appearance in 1991's A Country of Old Men, Brandstetter had attracted a large cross-section of readers.
Ellen Hart—her traditional mysteries about lesbian restaurateur Jane Lawless and her smart-mouth best friend, Cordelia Thorn began in 1989. Her 30 years of involving stories has earned her myriad awards. She was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 2017.She will receive the Lifetime Achievement award from Malice Domestic during the 2020 convention.
Greg Herren—the prolific Herren has written multiple series, including the Scotty Bradley and the Chanse MacLeod novels set in his hometown of New Orleans and was the editor of the award-winning short story anthology Florida Happens: Tales of Mystery, Mayhem, and Suspense from the Sunshine State.
Val McDermid—launched her career with novels about journalist and Socialist Lindsay Gordon.
Michael Nava—his novels about attorney Henry Rios took on social issues while delivering solid plots and three-dimensional characters. Nava adapted the first Rios novel, Lay Your Sleeping Head, into an 18-episode podcast. Carved in Bone, the first new Rios novel is 20 years, will be published during the fall 2019.
Abigail Padgett—her series about social psychologist Blue McCarron began with Blue.
Neil Plakcy—writes two series: Golden Retriever Mysteries about a man whose lifeline is his dog, and the The Mahu Investigations about a gay police detective who lives in Hawaii.
J. M. Redmann—is a multiple Lambda winner, whose hard-drinking, hard-luck heroine Micky Knight set the standard for the hardboiled lesbian private eye.
Christopher Rice—his suspenseful thrillers have included insightful looks at gay soldiers, coming of age issues and terrorism.
John Morgan Wilson—became the first openly gay author writing about an openly gay detective to win an Edgar Award for best first novel in 1996 with Simple Justice. His character Benjamin Justice was a burned-out, disgraced former reporter turned private detective.
R.D. Zimmerman—began his career writing two non-gay series and creating mystery jigsaw puzzles until he created a new series with a gay private detective. Zimmerman, a Lambda Literary Award winner and two-time Edgar nominee, began that series with 1995's Closet, an award-winning paperback original about TV news reporter Todd Mills.
And here is a list of some novels, most of them courtesy Greg Herren:
Cobalt by Nathan Aldyne
Adrenaline by James Robert Baker
A Queer Kind of Death by George Baxt
Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite
Dodging and Burning by John Copenhaver
Eye Contact by Michael Craft
Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler (nonfiction)
Cottonmouths by Kelly Ford
Murder at the Nightwood Bar by Katherine V. Forrest
Fadeout by Joseph Hanson
Wicked Games by Ellen Hart
The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse by Keith Hartman
Garden District Gothic by Greg Herren
The Talented Mr. Ripley/Carol/Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Faked to Death by Dean James
The President's Son by Krandall Kraus
Brotherly Love by Randye Lordon
Blood Link by Claire McNab
A Body to Dye For by Grant Michaels
The Gold Diggers by Paul Monette
Lay Your Sleeping Head by Michael Nava
The Lure by Felice Picano
Mahu by Neil Plakcy
Intersection of Law and Desire by J. M. Redmann
A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice
I'll Be Leaving You Always by Sandra Scoppettone
Murder in the Collective by Barbara Wilson
Simple Justice by John Morgan Wilson
She Came by the Book by Mary Wings
Closet by R.D. Zimmerman
A Simple Suburban Murder by Mark Richard Zubro