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Friday, April 1, 2011

Best crime novels of the century

From the Rap Sheet -- again

Okay, I haven't worked out yet if the python was an April Fool's Joke or not, but this is such an amazing post from the Rap Sheet, that I reproduce it in full.  With comments.  Where appropriate.

It Was the Best of Crimes: Critics’ Choice 
Posted: 31 Mar 2011 02:11 PM PDT

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 -- and I interpolate my thoughts, where I have any thoughts at all.)

1902: The Hound of the BaskervillesSir Arthur Conan Doyle (Yes, brilliant)

1903: The Riddle of the SandsErskine Childers (Have it; have trouble reading it.)

1905: The Four Just MenEdgar Wallace (Oh yes, brilliant again)

1907: The Thinking MachineJacques Futrelle (Never heard of it)

1908: The Circular StaircaseMary Roberts Rinehart (Remember reading that, and it was good)

1911: The Innocence of Father BrownG.K. Chesterton (Oh yes, one of those books you remember ..)

1912: Trent’s Last CaseE.C. Bentley

1915: The Thirty-Nine StepsJohn Buchan (Unreadable now, unfortunately)

1918: Uncle AbnerMelville Davisson Post

1926: The Murder of Roger AckroydAgatha Christie (This woman was so-o-o reliable, always good)

1928: Ashenden (The British Agent)W. Somerset Maugham (Funny, that - thought I had read everything of his, but this is unfamiliar)

1929: Little CaesarW.R. Burnett

1929: Red HarvestDashiell Hammett

1930: The Maltese FalconDashiell Hammett (Tough times demanded tough sleuths, I guess)

1930: The Documents in the CaseDorothy L. Sayers, Robert Eustace

1931: Malice AforethoughtFrancis Iles (Who?)

1932: Before the FactFrancis Iles

1933: The Nine TailorsDorothy L. Sayers (Oh yes, was it that long ago? Great book, even 80 years later)

1934: Murder on the Orient ExpressAgatha Christie (See above, but this was one of her greatest)

1934: The Postman Always Rings TwiceJames M. Cain (Saw the movie, too violent for me; a hint of the Stephen King books to come)

1934: Death of a GhostMargery Allingham (Another great, reliable writer)

1935: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?Horace McCoy

1935: The Hollow ManJohn Dickson Carr

1935: The League of Frightened MenRex Stout

1936: The Wheel SpinsEthel Lina White

1938: Lament for a MakerMichael Innes

1938: The Beast Must DieNicholas Blake

1939: The Mask of DimitriosEric Ambler (Yes!  Chilling radio serial made from it)

1939: Ten Little Niggers (And Then There Were None)Agatha Christie (Politically incorrect, dear, but great in its day - and a good movie, too)

1939: Rogue MaleGeoffrey Household (Totally brilliant book, still very apt.)

1940: A Surfeit of Lampreys (Death of a Peer)Ngaio Marsh

1940: The Bride Wore BlackCornell Woolrich

1942: Calamity TownEllery Queen (This guy made mysteries deliberately commercial -- the modern world owes him a lot)

1943: The High WindowRaymond Chandler

1944: Green for DangerChristianna Brand

1946: The Big ClockKenneth Fearing

1947: The Moving ToyshopEdmund Crispin

1948: Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly –  John Franklin Bardin

1949: My Friend MaigretGeorges Simenon (Tried too hard to emulate Poirot)

1949: The Asphalt JungleW.R. Burnett

1950: Strangers on a TrainPatricia Highsmith (Oh yes, this one was great)

1950: Smallbone DeceasedMichael Gilbert (Was he the first lawyer to write mysteries?  Did them very well indeed -- teethed on his short stories in Argosy)

1950: The Stain on the SnowGeorges Simenon

1951: The Daughter of TimeJosephine Tey (Another one of those books that affects all your reading from then on -- wonderfully well researched, the first book that made me think deeply about history)

1952: The Tiger in the SmokeMargery Allingham (Another superb choice)

1952: Last Seen WearingHilary Waugh  (Great writer; not the book of his I would have chosen)

1953: Five Roundabouts to HeavenJohn Bingham

1953: The Long GoodbyeRaymond Chandler

1953: The BurglarDavid Goodis

1956: The Talented Mr. RipleyPatricia Highsmith

1956: Mystery StoriesStanley Ellin

1957: From Russia with LoveIan Fleming  (You have to be joking!  Was 1957 that bad?)

1959: The Manchurian CandidateRichard Condon (Great book, watchable movie)

1962: The Ipcress FileLen Deighton

1963: Gun Before ButterNicolas Freeling

1963: The Spy Who Came in from the ColdJohn Le CarrĂ© (Was I the only person in the universe who found this book unreadable?)

1964: The Deep Blue Good-byeJohn D. MacDonald (Why choose this one?  They were all the same, and they all did well to pass long airplane flights away)

1964: Pop. 1280Jim Thompson

1964: The Expendable ManDorothy B. Hughes

1965: Black MoneyRoss Macdonald

1967: RoseannaMaj Sjowall, Per Wahloo

1968: Making Good AgainLionel Davidson

1968: The Glass-Sided Ants NestPeter Dickinson (I tried so hard to read this book ...)

1969: Blind Man with a PistolChester Himes

1970: Jack’s Return HomeTed Lewis

1971: The Day of the JackalFrederick Forsyth (A whole new genre, and OMG he did it well)

1972: The Friends of Eddie CoyleGeorge V. Higgins

1972: Sadie When She DiedEd McBain (Why this one?  They were all pretty much the same, like watching a TV series.  Mind you, all his Ed McBain books were Evan Hunter lite)

1972: The Players and the GameJulian Symons (Brilliant writer -- I was addicted to him at the time)

1974: Other Paths to GloryAnthony Price

1976: The Wrong CaseJames Crumley

1976: A Demon in My ViewRuth Rendell

1976: A Morbid Taste for BonesEllis Peters (Yes, still very readable)

1977: A Judgement in StoneRuth Rendell

1977: LaidlawWilliam McIlvanney

1978: SS-GBLen Deighton

1979: Whip Hand Dick Francis (Another reliable writer -- don't stick with just this one, as the other years were just as good)

1979: SkinflickJoseph Hansen

1979: Kill ClaudioP.M. Hubbard  (Why three 1979s?)

1981: Red DragonThomas Harris

1981: Thus Was Adonis MurderedSarah Caudwell

1982: The False Inspector DewPeter Lovesey

1982: Indemnity OnlySara Paretsky

1982: The Artful EggJames McClure

1984: StickElmore Leonard

1984: Miami Blues Charles Willeford

1986: A Perfect SpyJohn Le Carré

1986: A Taste for DeathP.D. James

1987: The Black DahliaJames Ellroy

1988: Double WhammyCarl Hiaasen

1989: Lonely HeartsJohn Harvey

1990: PostmortemPatricia Cornwell (Another new take on the genre -- and only take it if you have a strong stomach for ersatz pathology)

1991: Devil in a Blue DressWalter Mosley

1991: Dirty TricksMichael Dibdin

1993: The SculptressMinette Walters

1993: In the Electric Mist with Confederate DeadJames Lee Burke (One of the first literary mystery writers)

1995: The Mermaids Singing Val McDermid

1998: On Beulah HeightReginald Hill

1998: The Hanging GardenIan Rankin

1999: The Remorseful DayColin Dexter

2000?  2001? etc.?  And why not Elizabeth George?

Suggestions welcome.


Vanda Symon said...

That's a heck of list. Handy timing, as I was thinking where to find a list of books that would have a good span of crime fiction over the years!

Joan Druett said...

I keep on thinking of the names that are missing -- Richard North Patterson, Julian Symons, Eric Ambler ... And there is the hero of my youth, the Saint!