Thursday, March 31, 2011

It Was the Best of Crimes: Critics’ Choice

In the summer of 2000, British critics H.R.F. “Harry” Keating and Mike Ripley were commissioned by the London Times newspaper to conduct a survey of the best crime novels (mysteries/spy stories/thrillers) of the 20th century, choosing one per year, 1900-1999. This, said the two critics, couldn’t be done so neatly, but what they would do was select 100 books to represent a century which began with the recall of Sherlock Holmes and ended with the death of Inspector Morse.

In the end, Ripley cheated a bit by nominating 101 titles to include Keating’s own The Perfect Murder from 1964, which modesty had forbidden its author from suggesting.

The survey, with a brief justification for each title, was published in a 16-page supplement to The Times on Saturday, September 30, 2000. The basic list of titles selected is republished here for the first time as a tribute to author and scholar Harry Keating, who died earlier this week at age 84. (Titles and years are as when published in the UK.)

1902: The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1903: The Riddle of the Sands – Erskine Childers
1905: The Four Just Men – Edgar Wallace
1907: The Thinking Machine – Jacques Futrelle
1908: The Circular Staircase – Mary Roberts Rinehart
1911: The Innocence of Father Brown – G.K. Chesterton
1912: Trent’s Last Case – E.C. Bentley
1915: The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan
1918: Uncle Abner – Melville Davisson Post
1926: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie
1928: Ashenden (The British Agent) – W. Somerset Maugham
1929: Little Caesar – W.R. Burnett
1929: Red Harvest – Dashiell Hammett
1930: The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
1930: The Documents in the Case – Dorothy L. Sayers, Robert Eustace
1931: Malice Aforethought – Francis Iles
1932: Before the Fact – Francis Iles
1933: The Nine Tailors – Dorothy L. Sayers
1934: Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
1934: The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain
1934: Death of a Ghost – Margery Allingham
1935: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? – Horace McCoy
1935: The Hollow Man – John Dickson Carr
1935: The League of Frightened Men – Rex Stout
1936: The Wheel Spins – Ethel Lina White
1938: Lament for a Maker – Michael Innes
1938: The Beast Must Die – Nicholas Blake
1939: The Mask of Dimitrios – Eric Ambler
1939: Ten Little Niggers (And Then There Were None) –
Agatha Christie
1939: Rogue Male – Geoffrey Household
1940: A Surfeit of Lampreys (Death of a Peer) – Ngaio Marsh
1940: The Bride Wore Black – Cornell Woolrich
1942: Calamity Town – Ellery Queen
1943: The High Window – Raymond Chandler
1944: Green for Danger – Christianna Brand
1946: The Big Clock – Kenneth Fearing
1947: The Moving Toyshop – Edmund Crispin
1948: Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly
John Franklin Bardin
1949: My Friend Maigret – Georges Simenon
1949: The Asphalt Jungle – W.R. Burnett
1950: Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmith
1950: Smallbone Deceased – Michael Gilbert
1950: The Stain on the Snow – Georges Simenon
1951: The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey
1952: The Tiger in the Smoke – Margery Allingham
1952: Last Seen Wearing – Hilary Waugh
1953: Five Roundabouts to Heaven – John Bingham
1953: The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler
1953: The Burglar – David Goodis
1956: The Talented Mr. Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
1956: Mystery Stories – Stanley Ellin
1957: From Russia with Love – Ian Fleming
1959: The Manchurian Candidate – Richard Condon
1962: The IPCRESS File – Len Deighton
1963: Gun Before Butter – Nicolas Freeling
1963: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John Le Carré
1964: The Deep Blue Good-by – John D. MacDonald
1964: Pop. 1280 – Jim Thompson
1964: The Expendable Man – Dorothy B. Hughes
1965: Black Money – Ross Macdonald
1967: Roseanna – Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö
1968: Making Good Again – Lionel Davidson
1968: The Glass-Sided Ants Nest – Peter Dickinson
1969: Blind Man with a Pistol – Chester Himes
1970: Jack’s Return Home – Ted Lewis
1971: The Day of the Jackal – Frederick Forsyth
1972: The Friends of Eddie Coyle – George V. Higgins
1972: Sadie When She Died – Ed McBain
1972: The Players and the Game – Julian Symons
1974: Other Paths to Glory – Anthony Price
1976: The Wrong Case – James Crumley
1976: A Demon in My View – Ruth Rendell
1976: A Morbid Taste for Bones – Ellis Peters
1977: A Judgement in Stone – Ruth Rendell
1977: LaidlawWilliam McIlvanney
1978: SS-GB – Len Deighton
1979: Whip Hand – Dick Francis
1979: Skinflick – Joseph Hansen
1979: Kill Claudio – P.M. Hubbard
1981: Red Dragon – Thomas Harris
1981: Thus Was Adonis Murdered – Sarah Caudwell
1982: The False Inspector DewPeter Lovesey
1982: Indemnity Only – Sara Paretsky
1982: The Artful EggJames McClure
1984: Stick – Elmore Leonard
1984: Miami Blues – Charles Willeford
1986: A Perfect Spy – John Le Carré
1986: A Taste for Death – P.D. James
1987: The Black Dahlia – James Ellroy
1988: Double Whammy – Carl Hiaasen
1989: Lonely Hearts – John Harvey
1990: Postmortem – Patricia Cornwell
1991: Devil in a Blue Dress – Walter Mosley
1991: Dirty Tricks – Michael Dibdin
1993: The Sculptress – Minette Walters
1993: In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead – James Lee Burke
1995: The Mermaids Singing – Val McDermid
1998: On Beulah Height – Reginald Hill
1998: The Hanging Garden – Ian Rankin
1999: The Remorseful Day – Colin Dexter

Now, what do you think? Are there other books from the 20th century that you believe belong on this rundown, or some mentioned here that you think ought not be included? And how many of these works have you actually read? Sound off by clicking on “Comments” below.


Heath Lowrance said...

If this list was done now, I'd wager that Allan Guthrie's "Slammer" would be on it, and Megan Abbott's "Bury Me Deep".

J F Norris said...

I think IN A LONELY PLACE or even Hughes' first book - the sinister tale of the psycho brothers in top hats and tails - THIS SO BLUE MARBLE are much better choices to represent her work than what they chose.

Two Simenon books but nothing from Boileau & Narcejac? Now that's a crime.

Anonymous said...

I've read most of the books in the first half of the list (my interests tend to run more towards the traditional mystery, as practiced in the first half of the 20th century). I disagree strongly with only one choice - "The Documents in the Case," which I found more boring than I'd expect from Sayers. For the most part, though, it's a good, representative list of authors, though I might have chosen different works for some of them.

Winifred said...

Thought that other Michael Dibdin novels from the Aurelio Zen series would have been in there. Now I'll have to read Dirty Tricks.

Didn't think Roseanna was the best of the maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo Martin Beck series but it was good.

Read a few others including Colin Dexter's The Remorseful Day but have to say the TV series beat them to a pulp. Even Colin Dexter admitted that the telly was better than his books. Brave man. Not often that happens!

Now I have a massive list to find on the library catalogue including the HRF Keating books. Thanks for these!

Brent Hudson said...

Is John Le Carre in another genre or something? Some of his are classic mysteries, like "A Small Town in Germany," for instance, don't you think?

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Two le Carre books do appear on this list: "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" and "A Perfect Spy."