Sunday, January 09, 2011

Twenty Mysteries You Must Read Before You Die

As promised, here is the list of TWENTY MYSTERIES YOU MUST READ BEFORE YOU DIE, as Declan Hughes and I decided to call it when we first set about compiling it.  This isn't quite the same list, as Declan and I inevitably disagreed on certain books, so when we present the list together publicly it tends to be a compromise arrangement with each of us sacrificing a couple of titles.  Nevertheless, there is no disagreement between us about the first ten books, while the second ten is more personal to me, with a couple of exceptions.  With luck, this list will form the basis of book club discussions on my forum, Twitter, Facebook, etc.  We'll keep you notified.  At the very least, it will provide you with some fine reading, and some enjoyable nights in your favorite chair . . .

1.THE GLASS KEY-DASHIELL HAMMETT (1931). Also RED HARVEST (1929), where the western becomes the PI novel, and THE MALTESE FALCON (1931) 

2.THE LONG GOODBYE-Raymond Chandler (1953), the most nuanced of his books, closely followed by FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1940) and THE BIG SLEEP (1939) 

3.THE CHILL-Ross Macdonald(1964). Often regarded, unfairly, as being in Chandler's shadow, this novel has one of the greatest twists in mystery fiction. Also THE DOOMSTERS(1958), THE UNDERGROUND MAN (1971), SLEEPING BEAUTY (1973),  THE GOODBYE LOOK (1969), and THE GALTON CASE (1959)

4.DEEP WATER-Patricia Highsmith (1957). She has a grim view of the human condition, and this is quite, quite chilling. Also THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY(1955) 

5.THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE-George V.Higgins (1972). Greatest dialogue ever in a crime novel. See also Robert B.Parker and Dennis Lehane. For those interested in the art of writing, Higgins's book ON WRITING (1990) is worth hunting down.

6.THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN-James Lee Burke (2007). The greatest living mystery writer tackles post-Katrina New Orleans. Genius. Any of the Robicheaux books are worth reading, although the first in the series, THE NEON RAIN (1987) is actually untypical of what follows, and one could argue that Burke really finds his feet with the second book, HEAVEN'S PRISONERS (1988).  Also BLACK CHERRY BLUES (1989), DIXIE CITY JAM (1994) and THE GLASS RAINBOW (2010)

7.THE LECTER TRILOGY-Thomas Harris. RED DRAGON (1981),SILENCE OF THE LAMBS(1988), HANNIBAL(1999). Ignore HANNIBAL RISING. It's awful, and is basically a novelization of a film script.  While HANNIBAL received some terrible reviews, and its ending was particularly lambasted, there is an internal logic to the first three novels that makes the ending of HANNIBAL inevitable.  I'm quite happy to discuss this in a bar, as long as someone buys me drinks first.

8.STRANGER IN MY GRAVE-Margaret Millar (1960). Wife of Ross Macdonald, and unfairly neglected. Brilliant on women, and the class divide.  Also BEAST IN VIEW (1966).

9.LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE DEAF MAN-Ed McBain (1972). The father of the modern police procedural, with half a century of 87th Precinct Books.  Without him, there would have been no HILL STREET BLUES, and arguably no HOMICIDE or THE WIRE.  The mid-period novels (1960-1980) are probably the best, including FUZZ (1968), BLOOD RELATIVES (1975). 

10.THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD-Agatha Christie (1926). Another great 'twist' novel, and one that raises fascinating questions about the relationship between detective and criminal, a question that finds its ultimate answer in the Poirot book intended for posthumous publication, CURTAIN (1975)

11. THE NAME OF THE ROSE 1980) by Umberto Eco. Arguably his only readable novel, and certainly his most enjoyable, and that includes the pseuds' fave, FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM

12. MORALITY PLAY ( 1995) by Barry Unsworth. A group of travelling players investigate a murder, and inadvertently invent the modern theatre. 

13. THE BLACK ECHO (1992) by Michael Connelly. Still one of the greatest mystery debuts of all time, and the first glimpse of Detective Harry Bosch. Also THE CONCRETE BLONDE (1994) and THE LAST COYOTE (1995)

14. THE CRYING OF LOT 49 (1966) by Thomas Pynchon. The Californian crime novel's postmodern re-imagining as absurdist conspiracy thriller. 

15. THE BIG BLOWDOWN (1999) by George Pelecanos. The first of the DC Quartet from a modern master, set in post-WWII Washington. Also KING SUCKERMAN (1997), THE SWEET FOREVER (1998) and SHAME THE DEVIL (2000).

16. WHAT THE DEAD KNOW (2007) by Laura Lippman. Her finest novel; one of a pair of missing girls reappears after 30 years.

17. HAWKSMOOR (1985)  by Peter Ackroyd. Twin narratives link 20th century child-killings with a Satanic 17th century architect. Quite chilling, and you'll never quite view the city of London in the same way again.

18. FAST ONE (1932) by Paul Cain. Landmark hard-boiled novel by an almost forgotten master of the genre.

19. MIAMI BLUES (1984) by Charles Willeford. If Beckett had written a hard-boiled novel about a cop trying to find his missing gun...

20. THE LAST GOOD KISS (1978) by James Crumley. The first great post-Vietnam mystery novel by the late Crumley, a writer held in much esteem and affection by his fellow mystery writers.


Unknown said...

What a list! I would put your books on the list. Can't wait to wait for your newest novels.

poetowen said...

Really enjoyed your talk at Bouchercon, and this is a great list. Somehow I've missed reading Eddie Coyle--it's my next up. Thanks for the reminder...

Michael Berry said...

Great list, and I've read only about half of the selections.

Can't say enough good things about THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE. It contains one of my favorite lines of dialog ever: "This life is hard, but it's harder if you're stupid." A motto to live by.