Sunday, January 11, 2009

25 Detective Novels!

(Dame Agatha Christie)

Some months ago, I wrote a post about H.R.F. Keating's wonderful book about his 100 favorite detective novels. Keating was not just an avid reader and reviewer in the genre but a detective-novelist himself, and the book has a fine essay on each choice. A link to the post, which is remarkable chiefly for the great photo of Keating:

Of course, when anyone, even experts, sets out to produce such lists, he or she knows the extent s/he's engaged in folly, especially with regard to a genre so abundant and multifaceted as detective fiction.

I decided to go for a list of 25 and not really to try to represent the genre as well as Keating does. These are simply favorite detective novels of mine, although many of them qualify generally as classics.

Actually, I already lied. There are only 24 novels here. I decided to cheat and include Conan Doyle's complete Sherlock Holmes. At least it's in one volume. And although I begin with Holmes, that is to say, Doyle, the books are really in no order in particular. And while I'm at it, let me highly recommend Leslie S. Klinger's magnificent 3-volume The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. It is to die for, so to speak. It doesn't replace Baring-Gould's two volume work of the same kind, but it adds to it splendidly--if, that is, you're an aficionado of Holmes, Watson, and Doyle.

I confess my less is awfully predictable. Staid. Preemptive apologies if you don't see some of your "faves", or is it "favs"? I must also confess that I've published a detective novel, which does not appear on this list (apparently I do have some shame), and I'm working on another (wish me luck; oy, it's a hard genre.)

And I simply MUST expand my knowledge of the genre and find out more about Canadian detective fiction, more French detective fiction (besides Simenon, and in translation), Spanish and Latin American detective fiction, and detective fiction from nations in Africa, Arabia, Persia, and so on. Recommendations gladly accepted.

1. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes. I have the venerable Doubleday one, with the introduction by Christopher Morley. My favorite tale? I'll go with "A Scandal in Bohemia."

2. Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade.

Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man. Nick Charles. I'm tempted to add Hammett's Continental Op stories. Hammett did almost the impossible by creating three highly appealing detectives. Amazing.

4. Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep. Philip Marlowe, wise-ass.

Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely.

Dorothy Sayers, Strong Poison. Keating prefers The Nine Tailors. Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. (Harriet is not in The Nine Tailors.)

Agatha Christie, Taken at the Flood. Other novels by her are much better known, but this one, as well as The Clocks, has always impressed me. Poirot.

8. Agatha Christie, The Body in the Library. Miss Marple. Perhaps the classic "village cozy" detective novel.

9. Rudolph Fisher, The Conjure-Man Dies: A Mystery Novel of Dark Harlem.

Georges Simenon, Maigret's Revolver. There's just nothing quite like a Maigret book.

Georges Simenon, Maigret's Rival.

Henning Mankell, Sidetracked. Warning: very creepy.

Akimitsu Takagi, The Tattoo Murder Case. Warning: very creepy.

14. R. Austin Freeman, Mr. Pottermack's Overshight. (Great droll British title. Warning: unconventional).

15. Edmund Crispin (pen name of Bruce Montgomery, who also wrote music for films), The Moving Toy Shop. Warning: British eccentricity taken almost to the limit. Extremely witty, however.

16. Barbara Neely, Blanche Among the Talented Tenth. A most refreshing amateur-detective novel.

17. Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance. One of the great debut novels in American crime fiction. Many moons ago, the owner (then) of the Seattle Mystery Book Shop told me this was his favorite mystery novel.

18. Rex Stout, The Golden Spiders.

Tony Hillerman, The Skin-Walkers. Jim Chee, Navajo.

21. Joseph Hansen, Early Deaths. Dave Brandstetter is the detective, and his, among other things, gay.

22. P.D. James, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. I think P.D. James was made a peer of the realm, so I should refer to her as Dame James--is that right? We Americans are so bad about this stuff--and so much else. Anyway, I got to interview her once--about her book, The Children of Men, on which the recent film was based. Adam Dalgleish is her detective. I just purchased her latest Dalgleish, The Lighthouse. It looks good.

23. Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress.

John D. MacDonald, The Deep Blue Goodbye. This is a nostalgic choice because I was really "into" MacDonald novels in my teens, and I thought Travis McGee, was pretty cool. The novels are a tad dated, but MacDonald's a real pro.

25. Aaron Elkins, Old Bones.

I feel terribly about leaving off books by Grafton, Paretsky, Ross MacDonald, James Elmore, Elmore Leonard, J.A. Jance--and dozens & dozens of others. But these 25 I really like.

Happy detective-novel reading to you, and remember: recommendations welcome.
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