To swipe the immortal lines uttered by Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, a great mystery should take “the lid off life and let [you] look at the works.” Sure, entertainment is important; if these stories weren’t fun, who would read them?NPR’s favorite-five list looks like this:
But the corpses, stolen gems and purloined letters that litter the pages of the classic detective tale are just excuses to set the plot in motion; they’re not the point. A great crime story also tackles the big mysteries: love, death, the problem of God, the presence of evil in the world. This year’s top five mysteries all provide suspenseful plots with satisfying solutions while also affirming that the eternal enigmas can’t be cracked.
• Small Crimes, by Dave Zeltserman (Consortium)
• The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson; translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland (Knopf)
• The Chinaman, by Friedrich Glauser; translated from the German by Mike Mitchell (Bitter Lemon Press)
• Death Vows, by Richard Stevenson (MLR Press)
• The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, by Judith Freeman (Vintage)
I am particularly pleased to see Larsson’s work being mentioned again. But if anything, that late journalist-author’s second novel, The Girl Who Played with Fire--due out on both sides of the Atlantic next year--is even better than his first.
Again, the NPR list can be found here.