Two months after the Daily Telegraph disclosed its list of the 50 crime writers to read before you die, it’s the London Times’ turn to offer its own Top 50 and the result is just as interesting – that is, not much. Neither of both lists is very imaginative: much overlap, some curious omissions (Rex Stout is decidedly not popular with the British audience) and a general bias to psychological thrillers and hardboiled/noir fiction, preferably homegrown. Were Crimetime to issue their own pantheon, it would probably include the same authors, except of course the golden-agers. Other than showing they’re as crime-savvy as the Telegraph folks, it’s hard to fathom what motive prompted Berlins and his team to round up the usual suspects once again; hopefully the Grauniad and the Independent if they enter the game will come up with something a little more original.
Still, making lists is always fun, so I decided to set mine, though of a somewhat different kind. It has « only » 30 items but I don’t pretend them to be the best ever; they’re just in my opinion the best not to make the other lists despite being at least as deserving, if not as well-known as those who did. Feel free to make your own suggestions or voice your disagreements; that’s why the comments section and Hotmail are for.
Charlotte Armstrong 1904-69
Turned suspense fiction into a modern-day morality play. You can’t but like the author who gave Marilyn Monroe one of her precious few opportunities to act.
Robert Bloch 1917-94
Better-known as the guy who fathered Norman Bates but there’s more, much more to him.
Pierre Boileau 1906-89 and Thomas Narcejac 1908-98 a.k.a. Boileau-Narcejac
A towering moment of French mystery fiction, either as solo acts or as a duet. They’re Martin Edwards‘ favorite suspense writers: I can’t think of a better recommendation.
Yorkshire mystery writer with a lot of promise.
Christianna Brand 1908-88
The other queen of crime.
Fredric Brown 1906-71
The master of paradoxes, equally good at mystery and sci-fi.
Howard Browne a.k.a. John Evans 1908-99
Chandler with plots.
Michael Butterworth dates unknown
British gothic writer with a fondness for decay, madness and body parts.
Thomas H. Cook 1948-present
Master-stylist, brilliant explorer of tortured psyches and haunted pasts and, more importantly, the very best plotter around.
Ursula Curtiss 1923-86
The woman who made people afraid of neighbours, old ladies, phones, peacocks and wasps.
Stanley Ellin 1916-87 and Jack Ritchie 1922-1983 and Henry Slesar 1927-2002
The Big Three of short crime fiction and an example to follow in these times of literary brontosaurianism. (Ellin and Slesar also wrote some excellent novels)
Richard Austin Freeman 1862-1943
The man who made forensics sexy and gave the world the inverted story – and Dr. Thorndyke.
Celia Fremlin 1918-present
Albion’s answer to Charlotte Armstrong.
Emile Gaboriau 1832-73
Yes, he’s wordy and his plots drag. But he started it all. And the first part of Le Crime d’Orcival is pure beauty.
Paul Halter 1956-present
Not quite John Dickson Carr’s heir but responsible for some of the best locked-room mysteries in recent years.
Edward D. Hoch 1930-2008
Father of Nick Velvet, Captain Leopold, Ben Snow, Simon Ark, Rand and many others. Need I say more?
Patricia McGerr 1918-1987
One of the most innovative mystery writers of the late 40s, now sadly forgotten.
Mark McShane 1930-???
The weirdest and most unpredictable of all British crime/mystery writers.
Leo Malet 1909-1996
Nestor Burma’s daddy, he did for Paris what Chandler had done for L.A.
Margaret Millar 1915-1994
The absolute queen of suspense fiction and the finest deviser of plots of the post-WWII era.
The most glaring omission of both lists. How can one pretend to make a list of best crime writers and then omit the duet responsible for The Player on the Other Side, Calamity Town, The Murderer is a Fox or Ten Days’ Wonder among other gems and the fondation of the world’s leading (and oldest) mystery magazine? Shame, shame, shame.
The other great mystery duet, responsible for Peter Duluth, Inspector Trant, Dr Westlake and daughter Dawn and lots of excellent short stories.
René Reouven 1925-present
French king of mystery steampunk, author of some of the finest and most imaginative holmesian pastiches ever. Also writes science-fiction.
Mary Roberts Rinehart 1876-1958
The godmother of all modern mystery fiction, no less. Read her seriously if you don’t believe me.
Julian Symons 1912-94
Often exasperating as a critic, but one of the very few authors who genuinely tried to break new ground – and succeeded on more than one occasion.
Henry Wade 1887-1969
Awfully underrated Golden Age detective writer in bad need of a reprint.