George Smiley created by John Lecarre
Set in the Cold War, LeCarre's George Smiley trilogy were his best books - IMHO. Smiley was mild-mannered, middle-aged, easy to underestimate - but a spy's spy. His arch nemesis in the Kremlin defeats him at every turn through highly placed moles based on Britain's WWII and Cold War traitors like Philby. Smiley, honorable to a fault, can only defeat his cruel counterpart by brutally exploiting Karla's one sliver of "human affection". Lecarre paints the gray shades of political morality deftly.
Gabriel Allon created by Daniel Silva
Gabriel Allon is an Israeli assassin. He was plucked from a promising career as an artist to hunt down all involved in the Munich Massacre of Jewish athletes. He did so ruthlessly at great personal cost. Allon only wants to be left alone in his altered career as an art restorer of Italian Renaissance works - but there is always a tap on his shoulder by Shamron, the man he loves and hates, who pulls him back into the violent underworld of war and survival set within international intrigue.
John Rebus created by Ian Rankin
Of all my favorite series characters the one I hate to love is Inspecter John Rebus. Rude, arrogant, churlish - his brilliance in solving Edinburgh murder mysteries is matched by his self destructive love for booze and sometimes something a little less legal. I'm a bit like those few who are close to him - loyal and able to see past his coarse exterior - but always wondering what he will do next to get in trouble with the bosses - and drag me along with him! Exit Music was Rebus's swan song but Rankin has resurrected him so there's more of him to hate to love.
Philip Marlowe created by Raymond Chandler
Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett are the patron saints of hardboiled crime noir and their lead characters are iconic: Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. I like both - but I think Marlowe is at his best in The Long Goodbye. He befriends Terry Lennox - wealthy but haunted by his demons from the war and by his nymphomaniac wife. No good deed goes unpunished and soon both the cops and the gangsters are after Marlowe when he begins to investigate the death of Lennox's wife. Rereading Chandler is a reminder that California has always had problems!
John Rain created by Barry Eisler
Former CIA operative Barry Eisler created an international hit man, John Rain, who feels absolutely isolated from the world - half Japanese and half American he never felt he belonged in either culture - and who wants to keep it that way. Great descriptions of his martial arts workouts. Rain's speciality is making his hits look like death by natural causes. His problems always tie to the tug of human affections - friendship and even love sneak up on him unexpectedly. Good political intrigue.
Jack Reacher created by Lee Child
I think Lee Child has the most unique male character in commercial fiction today. Army brat, West Point grad, and decorated military veteran, Reacher never lived in one place more than a year. When he leaves the Army as a matter of honor, he begins a new life as a drifter - traveling with the clothes on his back, a toothbrush, and an ATM card. He always finds trouble - and he is always ready to fight for the underdog. Reacher hit the big screen with Tom Cruise in lead role.
Richard Jury created by Margaret Grimes
Chief Inspector Richard Jury is surrounded by colorful characters - from the idle rich Melrose Plant who assists him on cases, to his assistant Sergeant Alfred Wiggins (a hypochondriac of the highest order), to the copper-haired fortune teller Carole Anne who lives two floors above him. Drury is handsome and attractive but his melancholy sabotages love at every turn. Humorous and dark plots - that occasionally get a bit too charmingly convoluted.
Keller created by Lawrence Block
When noting book series by legendary mystery writer Lawrence Block most would look at Matthew Scudder, the P.I. that attends AA, or Bernie Rhodenbar, the burglar and used bookstore owner that is in and out of trouble as much as he is locked doors. Both are great. But I like Keller even more - hitman, self-reflective sociopath, and stamp collector. He and Dot make a great team. There are only four books in the "Hit" Series, though Block did write a novella that's available as an e-book.
Bernard Samson by Len Deighton
Deighton wrote 3 trilogies featuring Bernard Samson - plus a prequel (Winter) that is perhaps the best description of everyday life in Nazi Germany in fiction. Deighton did something very inventive - he wrote 8 of the 9 novels in first person but inserted 1 in third person omniscient so we could understand how Bernard, though often right, did get some things wrong. A great British spy who was more at home in Berlin than in London. Deighton's works are hard to find - but worth the effort!
Spenser by Robert Parker
Robert B. Parker introduced Spencer sometime in the 70s - I'm not going to look it up - so let's just say that for around 40 years as a P.I. Spenser has solved crimes too tough for the Boston police and usually saved a damsel in distress. He and Susan still aren't married. There is a second "Pearl" wonder dog. He and Hawk still scarf donuts by the dozen but have washboard abs and bulging muscles. What's not to love about this hero and series?! P.S. We still don't know his first name.