Great thread, msolga! I haven't been patient enough to plod through all of it (yet), just the first three pages or so, so I might say something that's repetitious. If that happens, please forgive me.
First, I completely agree with everything that Roberta and Setanta recommended at the start of this thread. My faves as well. Ditto re: Raymon Chandler. Chandler and Dashiell Hammet (The Thin Man; The Maltese Falcon
, a few others) virtually invented the American hard-boiled detective story. They were also very fine writers and would have been recognized as such no matter what genre they chose to practice.
I have only recently discovered an American writer of extreme talent named Scott Turow. I can't recommend his Presumed Innocent
or Reversible Errors
or Ordinary Heroes
too highly. Outstanding. I like Turow for much the same reasons that I admire the British author P.D. James. In both cases, these are writers who create real and totally believable characters, complete with back-stories, moral failings and psychological flaws that make these fictional characters absolutely real. Furthermore, they apply this excellent tecchnique even to relatively minor characters so that the bartender (who has no connection to the crime under investigation) becomes as real and interesting as the protagonist and the suspects.
Turow is a lawyer. Much of his crime fiction is courtroom drama. But he sets an excellent example of how courtroom drama can be done realistically, believably and interestingly, unlike the pitiful plodding of a hack like John Grisham. Eschew Grisham. The man cannot write. Damn it! Why is he a best-seller? If he were a student in any composition course I taught, he might get a very low passing mark, perhaps not even that. I certainly would not consider his pedestrian style publishable. In a word, his prose sucks.
More, if you wish, later.