Monday, August 28, 2017
Really, you should read this as all the Sherlock Holmes stories, but choices have to be made. This one is a classic among classics because it manages to be both a great story and a particularly interesting take on Holmes and Watson’s dynamic, wherein the former disappears and the latter deduces. Holmes is better at deducing. Library catalog link.
Again, read everything Sayers has ever written. Ahem, please excuse those hysterical italics. Her Lord Peter Wimsey novels, of which Gaudy Night is one, are particularly wonderful, not least for Harriet Vane, everyone’s favorite ass-kicking mystery novelist, nor for its double duty as a philosophical novel. “How fleeting are all human passions compared to the massive continuity of ducks.” Library catalog link.
A classic mystery with a postmodern twist: a protagonist who is also a mystery novelist, the result being that this 1939 novel is as much a comment on the genre (and even the genre to come) as it is a particularly delightful example of it. Plus: James Bond has been spotted reading it. Can’t get a better endorsement for a spy novel than that. Library catalog link.
This novel, which was shortlisted for the Booker in 2005, is a delightful retelling of a real-life mystery (the “Great Wyrley Outrages”) that Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle actually solved at the turn of the 20th century! And a luminous book (what else would you expect from Barnes?) to boot. Library catalog link.
Setting aside its women problems (rampant amongst the hardboiled detective novel), there’s no denying that this is a thrilling, complex classic worthy of inclusion on any list. Plus, it’s where we meet Philip Marlowe for the very first time. Library catalog link.
This might just be the greatest hardboiled detective novel ever published in this country. Yes, still. Immensely influential, immensely entertaining, and excellently written, it is both a rollicking example of the genre and transcendent of the same. Library catalog link.
A thrilling classic from the grand dame of mystery. It was tempting to choose And Then There Were None, which still stands as the best-selling mystery novel of all time, but Orient is not only better but also features the detective Hercule Poirot, Christie’s most famous creation and the only fictional character to have gotten an obituary in The New York Times. Library catalog link.
That’s right, you sleuth: this is not a novel, but you’re going to have to allow me this one cheat on Poe’s account. After all, Poe basically invented the genre, and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” in which Dupin first appears, is widely considered the first-ever detective story, and influenced all that came after. And besides, Arthur Conan Doyle basically took Dupin and his unnamed confidante, slapped pretty names on them, dropped them off in London, and created the largest detective franchise of all time. Plus: these stories are amazing. Library catalog link.
This speculative mystery features all the classics of noir: an arranged accident, a scapegoat, elevator inspectors. Er, maybe that last bit is more unusual. Whitehead’s excellent detective novel, set during an alternative version of the Harlem Renaissance, investigates race and society as well as being a terribly good story. Library catalog link.
Here’s another compelling mystery set in an alternative version of the universe we know, this one featuring one of the best homicide detectives you’ll meet in any medium and not a little investigation of Judaism. Library catalog link.
Ishiguro uses the trappings of the detective novel to get at the thing that always fascinates him: the swirling inner workings of a mind ill at ease. Uneven but mesmerizing and sometimes brilliant, this deconstructionist’s detective story investigates the investigator. Library catalog link.
Sometimes cited as the first true mystery novelist, Collins is a must, and this book is as gripping as they come. A nod should go to his later work The Moonstone, too, which T.S. Eliot called the “first and greatest of English detective novels,” but falls just below The Woman in White on this reader’s personal radar. Library catalog link.
Sherlock Holmes will continue to skulk around this list, and good luck to anyone trying to stop him. Faye’s Dust and Shadow is a prime example of what a Holmes pastiche can do when it’s really, really good — solve the Jack the Ripper murders, for instance. Library catalog link.
In this novel, one of the best of Mosley’s many great books and the first of his Easy Rawlins mysteries, an unemployed World War II vet gets a strange job offer: to find a missing woman. So begins a truly great series of mysteries. Library catalog link.
Friday, August 25, 2017
A spy novel that reinvented spies in literature — and questioned the morality of just about everyone. Possibly the best spy novel ever written. Library catalog link.
In 1970, Hansen gave us Dave Brandstetter, the first openly gay private eye in the mystery genre. “When I sat down to write ‘Fadeout’ in 1967, I wanted to write a good, compelling whodunit, but I also wanted to right some wrongs,” Hansen said. “Almost all the folksay about homosexuals is false. So I had some fun turning clichés and stereotypes on their heads in that book. It was easy.” In this wry and rollicking novel, he accomplished that and more. Library catalog link.
Rinehart is known as the “American Agatha Christie,” though her first novel predates Christie’s by about 14 years. The Circular Staircase is widely considered the first in the “Had-I-But-Known” school of murder mystery writing, and is also widely considered to be amazing. Plus, she’s the person who originated the phrase “the butler did it.” Can’t argue with that. Library catalog link.
This 1951 detective novel by one of the queens of the genre follows a modern Scotland Yard detective as he investigates the crimes of Richard III. Not only an engaging mystery but an important book that questions the way we make and understand history. Library catalog link.
Because everyone loves a really good liar — not to mention an ashtray as murder weapon. Fun fact: Highsmith’s most famous work won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for best international crime novel in 1957. Library catalog link.
Thursday, August 24, 2017
This gripping and much-lauded literary mystery took the world by storm in 2007, and for good reason. It’s not only a deft police procedural-cum-psychological thriller, but a captivating investigation into modern Ireland and personal memory. Library catalog link.
The first installment of Neely’s stellar series starring Blanche, an African-American “domestic” for a dysfunctional family in the post-emancipation era. She is on the run and, of course, also something of a detective herself. The novel won the Agatha Award and the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, and the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery upon its publication in 1992. Library catalog link.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
No potboiler here, but an icy, beautiful book about a girl who connects with the snow and nothing else. Of course, there’s a murder mystery, but there’s also Smilla and her Danish/Inuit heritage, icebreaker ships, and old Copenhagen conspiracies. Truly lovely, and a haunting story to boot. Library catalog link.
Greene didn’t care much for this book; he considered the movie version the final product, and this novella just the draft before the draft. But there’s no denying Greene’s skill with a pen, and this great little spy book, set in World War II Vienna, proves him wrong. Library catalog link.
This neo-noir novel, based on the notoriously unsolved LA homicide, investigates murder, insanity, corruption, all that good stuff. Widely remembered as the book that elevated Ellroy from the genre ghetto and burned him into the minds of all the literary snobs. Library catalog link.
For all its gender politics, hacker style, and bleak brutality, Larsson’s book is still a well-crafted locked-room (er, if the locked-room is an island) mystery with a twist. Agatha Christie would be proud, even if she couldn’t stomach it. Library catalog link.
In this 1942 novel told from multiple perspectives, Caspary deftly manipulates the constraints of the genre to investigate not only the death of Laura Hunt but class and sexual politics at large. Not to mention the way a man can fall in love with a memory. Library catalog link.
There has never been a more delightful detective than Mma Precious Ramotswe, the first female private investigator in Botswana. Luckily, there are a lot of books after this one. Library catalog link.