Rob Kitchin has a challenge for classic mystery aficionados:
Imagine a reader new to crime fiction and wanting an education in the classics. Or consider a seasoned crime fiction reader who’s barely read a crime novel published prior to 1970. Well I’m that latter reader. I’ve read several hundred crime novels but nearly all of them are from the contemporary period. This is the year I intend to right that by reading some of the crime fiction canon. What I need though is a curriculum – a list of ten must-read crime fiction classics.And this is where I need some help. So to that end I’m setting up a relatively straightforward challenge, one that doesn’t even require any reading. The challenge is to set a ten book, pre-1970, crime fiction curriculum and to either post the list on your own blog and send me the link or post the list in a comment to this post by January 31st. I’ll then compile a curriculum based on the most popular choices (and provide link-backs to posts). Ideally, the selection of books needs to try and capture different crime fiction sub-genres and styles.
Needless to say, I have a plenty of suggestions, but Rob wants only ten books. All of those I have in mind have an equal claim to greatness and importance and choosing one rather than another is a pretty painful experience, but that’s what challenges are about. So here is my not-so-final round-up of the ten mysteries you should read before I change my mind again; it is as varied as could be given my admittedly biased tastes, but no one I think will waste his/her time checking these out.
John Dickson Carr, The Emperor’s Snuff-Box – His most atypical work in many respects – no impossible crime, no hint of the supernatural and no Fell/Merrivale – but a towering achievement all the same for its deceptively simple plot and excellent characterization (go read it and tell me Carr had no sense of character…)
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown – Absolute perfection. Period.
Agatha Christie, Five Little Pigs – Not her most-often cited book, but the one where she’s really at the height of her powers as both a plotting genius and a writer.
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone – If you are to read only one detective novel in your life, be it this one (or The Hound of the Baskervilles)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles – If you are to read only one detective novel in your life, be it this one (or The Moonstone)
Stanley Ellin, The Eighth Circle – A private eye novel with a difference by one of the greatest short-story writers ever.
Cyril Hare, An English Murder – A dirge for a society, a class-system and a whole genre; the mystery equivalent of Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game.
Charlotte Jay, Beat Not the Bones – A thriller like no other: Joseph Conrad meets Cornell Woolrich.
Margaret Millar, A Stranger In My Grave – Her whole output would deserve inclusion here; I’m picking this one in particular because of its superb title and the character of Steve Pinata which sadly never reappeared again.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Whose Body? – One of the most brilliant debuts in the history of the genre, and the best was yet to come.
Readers of this blog are strongly encouraged to submit their own « classics » in the comment section.