This seems to be a big list-making week here at The Rap Sheet. On Wednesday I posted a rundown of my favorite books from the first half of 2010. Today I take up a more daunting task: choosing five works that represent what I think is best about crime fiction.
Spinetingler Magazine’s Brian Lindenmuth originally posed this challenge, according to Jen Forbus. But others have taken it up since, including Forbus herself, who’s been collecting such lists of five books in her Jen’s Book Thoughts blog. Some of the suggestions made so far have been excellent, including James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Rex Stout’s The Doorbell Rang, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna, and Robert Crais’ L.A. Requiem. I shall resist repeating any of those selections, though, if only to broaden the scope of discussion. The more ideas shared here the better.
Obviously, each person’s picks will depend on his or her depth of reading in the genre. It will also hinge on one’s taste in storytelling styles and preferences of setting or time period. In my own case, I lean toward private-eye tales and classic works.
With all of that said, here are my five choices:
• The Maltese Falcon (1930), by Dashiell Hammett
• The Chill (1964), by Ross Macdonald
• The Eighth Circle (1958), by Stanley Ellin
• Berlin Noir, by Philip Kerr
• Waxwork (1978), by Peter Lovesey
Yes, I realize that I’m cheating a wee bit by picking Berlin Noir, which is an omnibus of British author Philip Kerr’s first three Bernie Gunther crime novels--March Violets (1989), The Pale Criminal (1990), and A German Requiem (1991). But as an omnibus it does qualify as a single book, so I declare my choice legal. The others clearly demonstrate my preference for private-eye novels over other subgenres. If I were to extend my list beyond the almost ridiculous limit of five titles, though, it would also incorporate books that have nothing to do with P.I.s, works such as Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, James McClure’s The Sunday Hangman, Peter Robinson’s In a Dry Season, and John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Other books I might have chosen: Robert B. Parker’s Looking for Rachel Wallace, Anne Perry’s Face of a Stranger, Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, Kris Nelscott’s A Dangerous Road, Jonathan Valin’s The Lime Pit, Max Allan Collins’ Flying Blind, John Harvey’s Lonely Hearts, Sara Paretsky’s Killing Orders, Chester Himes’ Cotton Comes to Harlem, and of course Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Stop me now, before my alternative choices get out of hand!
But what about your opinions, dear readers? What five novels--new or old--do you think represent the best of crime fiction? Leave your suggestions in the Comments section below.
READ MORE: “My Five,” by Jen Forbus (Jen’s Book Thoughts).