A link came round on Twitter recently to the writer John Connelly’s website, where he and Declan Hughes have posted a joint list of ’20 mysteries you must read before you die’.
This is it:
1. THE GLASS KEY-DASHIELL HAMMETT (1931)
2. THE LONG GOODBYE-Raymond Chandler (1953)
3. THE CHILL-Ross Macdonald (1964)
4. DEEP WATER-Patricia Highsmith (1957)
5.THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE-George V.Higgins (1972)
6. THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN-James Lee Burke (2007)
7. THE LECTER TRILOGY-Thomas Harris.
8. STRANGER IN MY GRAVE-Margaret Millar (1960)
9. LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE DEAF MAN-Ed McBain (1972)
10. THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD-Agatha Christie (1926)
11. THE NAME OF THE ROSE 1980) by Umberto Eco
12. MORALITY PLAY ( 1995) by Barry Unsworth
13. THE BLACK ECHO (1992) by Michael Connelly
14. THE CRYING OF LOT 49 (1966) by Thomas Pynchon
15. THE BIG BLOWDOWN (1999) by George Pelecanos
16. WHAT THE DEAD KNOW (2007) by Laura Lippman
17. HAWKSMOOR (1985) by Peter Ackroyd
18. FAST ONE (1932) by Paul Cain
19. MIAMI BLUES (1984) by Charles Willeford
20. THE LAST GOOD KISS (1978) by James Crumley
A few observations:
- Of the above, I’ve read a grand total of … five. And I consider myself to be a complete crime afficionado, with shelves groaning under the weight of hundreds of crime novels.
- Does this mean that I’m horribly ignorant? Yes and no. Some of the books on the list I know I should have read (Patricia Highsmith, for example). On the other hand, there are some I’m sure I’ll never want to read, such as the Hannibal Lector trilogy. Cannibalism’s just not my thing. Which is another way of saying that crime fiction is so broad, with so many subgenres, that top 20 lists are bound to vary significantly. For example, I’m not spotting any ‘cat detective’ novels here, which will almost certainly feature on someone’s list.
- I’d agree with the nomination of the five I’ve read for a top 20 (2, 10, 11, 14, 15). I’m pleased to see Agatha Christie included, as she seems to have fallen out of fashion recently. I still remember the first time I read Roger Ackroyd as a teenager – the twist was a complete and hugely enjoyable surprise. Eco’s The Name of the Rose – absolutely. Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 – a little gem and very underrated. Pelecanos’ The Big Blowdown…blew me away.
- But – I’d have had more foreign-language fiction. And only four women? Surely there must be more out there that merit inclusion?
So there’s only one thing for it, obviously – I’ll need to draw up a top 20 of my own. Already mulling on it and will report back in due course. Thanks to John and Declan for getting me thinking. Their list is here, and is well worth a look: each text has a little explanation of why it was chosen, and there are also some useful recommendations for further reading.
By the way, this one will definitely be on Mrs. Peabody’s list: