I want to give a big hat tip this morning to Randal S. Brandt of the University of California, Berkley’s Bancroft Library, who pointed me toward Flavorwire’s new list of what it declares are “50 Essential Mystery Novels That Everyone Should Read.”
Most of the titles featured are predictable (The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Murder on the Orient Express, etc.) and deserve their spots in this rundown. However, there are a few surprises, including Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, Thomas Berger’s Sneaky People, and Julian Barnes’ Arthur & George. Writer Emily Temple also demonstrates unusually good taste by including Elmore Leonard’s LaBrava (rather than one of his later, bigger-selling novels) and Vera Caspary’s Laura. I’m less impressed, though, to see Ross Macdonald’s last novel, The Blue Hammer, featured here, rather than one of his better Lew Archer novels, such as The Chill or The Zebra-Striped Hearse. Furthermore, Temple’s tally leaves out many other deserving writers, among them Georges Simenon, Rex Stout, Ngaio Marsh, Reginald Hill, Margery Allingham, John Harvey, H.R.F. Keating, Ken Bruen, Ian Rankin, Erle Stanley Gardner, Robert B. Parker, Donald E. Westlake, Sara Paretsky, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Martin Cruz Smith, and … well, the missing list might double the number of choices Temple has already made. It’s impossible to make this sort of list both discriminating and comprehensive, which is why I’ve avoided any similar exercises.
Flavorwire’s choices at least demonstrate a modicum of thoughtfulness, and they might point less-well-read fans of crime fiction toward new areas of exploration.
Again, you’ll find the list here.