1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
When Flavia de Luce is eleven years old, a series of inexplicable events occur at Buckshaw, the dilapidated English country mansion where she lives with her widowed father and two older sisters. A dead bird is found on the doorstep with a postage stamp pinned to its beak, then Flavia finds a dying man lying in the cucumber patch. A mystery begins to unfold and Flavia is determined to solve it. The Sweetness in the Bottom of the Pie is the first book in the series starring the precocious young chemist, Flavia de Luce. She is a charming young heroine, and its such a refreshing change to see a young female character with a passion for science. The mystery is engaging, and the author makes post-war England come to life through the characters and descriptions.
2. Stiff by Shane Maloney
Murry Wheelan is a mid-level political advisor for the Victorian State Government. By rights his life should be mildly dull, but safe, so he is surprised and bewildered to be pulled into the mystery surrounding the death of a Turkish meat worker at the local meat works. Meanwhile, his now lesbian ex-wife is moving away leaving Murry to care for their 8-year-old son, Red, and a stray cattle dog.
Stiff is the first of the Murray Wheelan mysteries and has been adapted into an excellent film starring David Wenham and directed by John Clarke. It's a very Australian and a lot of fun, written with a dry wit and snappy dialogue.
3. Pagan Babies by Elmore Leonard
Father Terry is a Catholic priest living in Rwanda a few years after the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus. He isn't exactly a good priest, living in sin with his girlfriend, Chantelle, but he is trying to be a good person. When one of his parishioners taunts him by confessing to having murdered his Tutsi congregation, believing that the sanctity of confession will keep the crime from coming to light, Terry decides to do something about it.
Like all of Elmore Leonard's novels, Pagan Babies is action-packed, gritty, and hard to put down.
4. Death by the Riverside by J.M. Redmann
Detective Michele Knight takes on what should have been a simple job, proving a husband is cheating on his spouse, but instead she finds herself involved with a drug ring and a family blackmailing each other for a hefty inheritance. Then to further complicate matters the case dredges up some events from her past that she'd rather forget.
There is more action in just the first chapter of this book than in the average Hollywood Blockbuster. It's quite a ride, full of twists, betrayals, sex, blackmail and murder. There are lesbians, alligators and snakes on a #&*#ing plane years before the Samuel L. Jackson movie. Death by the Riverside is the first book in the Micky Knight series, and if you like it you should definitely read them all.
5. A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton
Ex-cop Kinsey Millhone has set up her own agency in California and works as a private investigator, mainly doing insurance work. Nikki Fife has just been released after spending eight years in prison for killing her husband, and now claims she is innocent and wants Kinsey to find the real killer.
A is for Alibi is the first in the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet series. There's an elegance to the writing that you don't get in, say, Janet Evanovich. Grafton's characters are fully fleshed out and her detective is an intereresting, flawed individual. If you enjoy this one you're in luck, because the series is up to Y is for Yesterday.