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.
* * *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.