Friday, July 23, 2010

Party of Five

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).


Steve Oerkfitz said...

Really an impossible task to narrow it down to 5.
1. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
2. A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
3. The Specialty of the House by Stanley Ellin
4. The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowell and Per Wahloo
5. The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

Josiah said...

God, it's so hard not to just list every Dashiell Hammett novel except for The Dain Curse.

But here goes:
1. The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett.
2. Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene.
3. 813, by Maurice Leblanc: great serial killer/conspiracy novel starring the gentleman thief, Arsene Lupin.
4. The Amateur Cracksman, by E.W. Hornung: because I do love my gentleman thieves.
5. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. Kind of a cheat, but it's a novel about agents of the Empire working for Dracula and his wife Queen Victoria to capture Jack the Ripper, who is killing vampire women with a silver knife. It sort of qualifies.

Gary said...

Hound of the Baskervilles (1901-02) by Arthur Conan Doyle – "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!" Need I say more?

The Maltese Falcon (1930), by Dashiell Hammett – Great dialogue, great writing, and great characters. What else do you need?

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) by John le Carré – This novel put spy novels into the literature category. Great atmosphere.

Memory (written in 1960s, published 2010) by Donald Westlake – One of the best character studies I have read. It is about a man whose brain was injured during a bar fight. It reaches from the past and shakes you until you understand its present day implications for individual human beings and our society.

2666 (2009) by Roberto Bolaño - Not your traditional mystery and I am not sure what it all (900+ pages) means, but some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read.

I have listed the novels in chronological order so you will notice the huge gaps. How about the ten best?

Gary Thaden