Mysteries are like water to the living organism of my reading life. I read about three mysteries to every one book in any other genre. And I'm kind of picky about them, which makes it difficult to keep the shelves properly stocked. Generally, I prefer something in the classic puzzle vein to police procedurals, but once in a while I find a police procedural series with a great sense of place and good solid satisfying characters (and that doesn't make me too queasy - I have a weak stomach for lurid forensic detail, however perfectly written. Serial killers and torture are out.).
I went about reading Ian Rankin all backwards. He's been on my list to check out for a while, and when I was shopping for vacation books before Christmas, I picked up Exit Music. It's the last book in his Inspector John Rebus series. I knew that when I bought it, and I'm not sure why I chose this particular title, but I did and I read it last week.
A good sense of place can make or break a mystery. Even if the setting has nothing to do with the details of the plot, it sets you up to be invested in your detective for the long term. The Rebus novels are set in Edinburgh, and the scene is perfectly judged. Heavy-handed description isn't Rankin's thing, but he draws the city beautifully and shades it in with a dose of politics that I found fascinating.
John Rebus and his partner are also nicely crafted - complex and difficult, but again brought to life with a minimum of word fuss. There's plenty of backstory to the series - it didn't seem necessary to have read the earlier books to be invested in this one, but Rankin alludes to past events often enough to make me want to go back and read the rest of the series. Lean, subtle and satisfying.