Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Pierce’s Picks: “Books to Die For”

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

Books to Die For: The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the World’s Greatest Mystery Novels, edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke (Atria/Emily Bestler):
More than a month after its release in Britain, this 560-page compilation of tributes to more than 120 memorable works of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction has finally reached U.S. bookstores. Some of the essays included in this volume, edited by Irish wordsmiths John Connolly and Declan Burke (the latter a sometime Rap Sheet contributor), were predictable--Max Allan Collins writing about Mickey Spillane’s I, the Jury, for instance, or Linwood Barclay extolling the virtues of Ross Macdonald’s The Goodbye Look. However, there are also unexpected pairings of contributor and subject matter. I particularly relished Mark Billingham’s remarks on The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett; Laura Lippman’s recommendation of Love’s Lovely Counterfeit, by James M. Cain; Eddie Muller’s piece about The Big Heat, by William P. McGivern; Megan Abbott’s praise for In a Lonely Place, by Dorothy B. Hughes; James W. Hall’s encomium to LaBrava, by Elmore Leonard; Gary Phillips’ ovation for The Scene, by Clarence Cooper Jr.; Val McDermid’s study of On Beulah Height, by Reginald Hill; and ... well, the real problem here is that there are so many intriguing choices, it’s hard to know where in the book to begin. Its contents do not include all of the genre’s best-known fictionists (where, I must inquire, are Erle Stanley Gardner, or Peter Lovesey, or Peter Robinson, or Stanley Ellin?); yet Books to Die For would provide fine guidance both for readers who are just starting to develop a curiosity about crime and mystery fiction, and others wishing to expand their familiarity with the field.

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Also new and worth getting your hands on are Jo Nesbø’s Phantom (Knopf), which finds deeply troubled series detective Harry Hole working outside the Oslo police force to prove that a boy he’d helped rear, and then deserted, is innocent of murder; and Instrument of Slaughter (Allison & Busby), Edward Marston’s second World War I-era mystery (following A Bespoke Murder), focusing on efforts by Inspector Harvey Marmion and Sergeant Joe Keedy of Scotland Yard to solve the bludgeoning death of a young conscientious objector.


Brian Lindenmuth said...

In case someone decides to read the comments of this post I just wanted to say that Rap Sheet contributor Gary Phillips has a new book out today also, The Warlord of Willow Ridge. Haven't read it yet but am looking forward to doing so.

AnswerGirl said...

James Lee Burke is represented in BOOKS TO DIE FOR with a lovely piece on THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN, by Australian author Katherine Howell - pp. 510-514 of the U.S. edition. She discusses her choice in a short video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxEdQ58-yEM

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Thanks for catching that, AnswerGirl. I did miss the inclusion of Burke's Tinroof Blowdown.


John said...

The subtitle is intensely hyperbolic if you ask me. Many of the greatest mystery writers are long gone and dead, in my opinion, and few of the contemporary writers who contributed to this volume will ever surpass them. It should come as no surprise that Gardner is missing from this latest "Best of" compiliation. More and more these reference works on "the book you have to read" overlooks anything written prior to 1950 (Gardner's best work was in the 1930s, IMO). I have yet to see the entire contents but I am betting the majority of the works cited were published between 1950 and 1990. Nice to see Dorothy B Hughes profiled. Megan loves that book and movie. I wonder how many other woman writers are featured? Charlotte Armstrong? Margaret Millar? Elisabeth Sanxay Holding? All pioneers who wrote a several excellent books that I would include in a list of "the greatest". I'm guessing probably none of them are included.

The Passing Tramp said...

It would be nice to see the full list. I guess the answer to that is: "Buy the Book!" ;)

The Passing Tramp said...

John, you can see the listing of the full contents on amazon.co.uk

Looked like about forty from 1840-1960 and about 80 from 1960-2010.

"Classical" GA writers from the period 1920-1960 included: Sayers, Have His Carcase (nice, unusual choice for her), Christie's Orient Express, Stout's Too Many Cooks, Crispin's Moving Toyshop, Tey's Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar and Allingham's Tiger in the Smoke. So, only seven and some of these aren't really traditional detective novels.

No John Dickson Carr or Ellery Queen, apparently--though I know they still have a few admirers among modern mystery writers, particularly Carr. Not really surprised to see two by Tey, she seems more loved among mystery writers these days than most of the Crime Queens.

Christie's Endless Night was also included, though that's post-50s. And also more a suspense novel. One by PD James (her first oddly), but didn't see Ruth Rendell, surprisingly. Oh, well, will have to review it in full!

AnswerGirl said...

A complete list of authors included in the book is on the book's own website, WWW.bookstodiefor.net. Margaret Millar is absolutely included, as is Ruth Rendell. Why such apparent hostility? The collection is idiosyncratic, as any such collection would have to be, but half the fun is comparing these very personal choices to your own.