Friday, August 26, 2011

Mystery/Crime/Thriller Must-Reads--help me make a list, please!

Hello, reader friends.

(Because I don't have enough reading projects already...)

I want to be a more well-rounded mystery/crime/thriller reader, and to that end have decided to put together a must-read list of 100 must-read titles. I'm looking for books that are the backbone of this genre: probably classics and modern classics, formative titles, and/or huge and important bestsellers that have changed or evolved the genre when they were published.

Will you help me out by making suggestions for my list? My hope is to collate a list so that, if someone were to make their way through the whole thing, they could come to the end and say, "Why yes, I AM well-read in that genre!"

Your help is much appreciated :) I'd love to hear your title/author suggestions, and, if you can be persuaded to share, a little about why you suggest that title/author.

Thank you!


Rick Daley said...

I really like Harlan Coben's books. I haven't read any of the Myron Boltair novels, but GONE FOR GOOD and TELL NO ONE were both entertaining thriller / mysteries.

I like Coben because he hooks me from the beginning, and he has good twists at the end...they don't seem thrown in from left field just to make sure you didn't guess them, they come out with some form of plausible motivation (to the characters, if not real-life plausibility :-)

Josh S.. said...

Dennis Lehane is by far my favorite genre mystery writer. Mystic River would be the one to make a list like this, because it's a standalone that spawned a well-respected movie, and also is a really good book. Lehane's works are regularly getting adapted now, and I think his impact is significant enough to make the list--people really like his work.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, clearly.

Lush Life by Richard Price for a 21st-century, state-of-the-art literary crime novel that got rapturous praise.

Hmm, what else...

jen_alluisi said...

For books that formed the backbone of the genre, you need to read Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Any and all of them, really, but in particular, THE BIG SLEEP, FAREWELL MY LOVELY, RED HARVEST, THE MALTESE FALCON, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. If you have never read Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue," that's pretty crucial as well. For more modern stuff, my favorites are Kate Atkinson's CASE HISTORIES (and sequels to that one), almost any Denise Mina book, Martha Grimes's Richard Jury series, Carol Goodman's LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES, Julia Spencer-Fleming's Claire Fergusson mysteries, and Tamara Siler Jones's Dubric Byerly mysteries (which combine fantasy/supernatural with mystery). Lots of people I respect love Michael Connelly too, but I was underwhelmed by the one book I read by him. My husband is a big Greg Rucka fan and he is not a mystery junkie like me. I think that exhausts my thoughts :)

Deb Salisbury said...

Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians (also called And Then There Were None). Most of her work was brilliant, but that one is a must-read. :-)

Jaester said...

Seconding everything jen_alluisi said, and I'd recommend PD James as one of the back-bone authors. And The Talented Mr. Ripley (and, to a lesser degree, its sequels) by Patricia Highsmith.

These aren't staples, but are so damn good that I have to rec them: The Athenian Murders by José Carlos Somoza and The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Both are beautiful, haunting, and shiver-inducing.

Linda said...


Not my genre so much, but anything by Josephine Tey (start with Three by Tey). I loved THE MOONSTONE by Wilkie Collins. Agatha Christie, of course, and Sherlock Holmes. My personal modern fave is PD James. Have fun, and don't scare yourself too much! Peace...

Travener said...

Martin Cruz Smith - GORKY PARK. Phillip Kerr's BERLIN NOIR triology.

JES said...

Good to see you're still around. :)

I agree with pretty much all of the ones recommended so far. Love Chandler.

I'd add (among more recent folks): much of Elmore Leonard's work; James Ellroy; not-quite-but-not-quite-NOT-in-the-right-category Stephanie Plum books; and Preston/Child's Agent Pendergast series.

Oddballs and outliers to keep an eye open for: Edmund Crispin; the Repairman Jack series... and oh gods, you're so well-read you'd love Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.

Here's a good resource site: Stop, You're Killing Me.

JES said...

And, sheesh, with your foodie mentality: Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series.

RDJ said...

Here's fifty, in no order other than as they come to me, and with the admission that my personal tastes are on display:

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett
The Glass Key, Dashiell Hammett
The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain
Double Indemnity, James M. Cain
Serenade, James M. Cain
Black Friday, David Goodis
Shoot the Piano Player, David Goodis
The Getaway, Jim Thompson
Savage Night, Jim Thompson
Pop. 1280, Jim Thompson
Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith
The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
Dirty Snow, Georges Simenon
The Hunter, Richard Stark
The Man with the Getaway Face, Richard Stark
The Collector, John Fowles
A Dark-Adapted Eye, Barbara Vine
In a Lonely Place, Dorothy B. Hughes
Bury Me Deep, Megan Abbott
The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth
The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
The Deep Blue Good-by, John D. MacDonald
The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper, John D. MacDonald
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane
Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith
The Manchurian Candidate, Richard Condon
The Bottoms, Joe R. Lansdale
The Sculptress, Minette Walters
The Sins of the Fathers, Lawrence Block
Eight Million Ways to Die, Lawrence Block
La Brava, Elmore Leonard
Split Images, Elmore Leonard
Killshot, Elmore Leonard
Dance Hall of the Dead, Tony Hillerman
The Ax, Donald Westlake
And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy
American Tabloid, James Ellroy
The Dead Zone, Stephen King
Killing Floor, Lee Child
The Poet, Michael Connelly
The Doomsters, Ross Macdonald
Savages, Don Winslow

(And if you feel like it, Good Neighbors or The Dispatcher by me.)

I left a bunch of people and books worth reading out, mostly because making lists starts to get boring after a while and I felt like stopping at fifty, but I think the above is a good start.

Teresa said...

For me Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford mysteries are a must read. Start at the beginning. PD James, Dorothy Sayers, Martha Grimes and Elizabeth George all on the list as well.

Hart Johnson said...

I think backbones need to include Raymond Chandler (though I find him misogynistic--still, he is a cornerstone) Agatha Christie, Robert Ludlum, Ken Follet's spy ones (Eye of the Needle is my favorite of the genre), Elizabeth George, Scott turnow, David Baldicci, Janet Evanovich

You've got some good reads ahead!

Carmen Webster Buxton said...

I don't read thrillers much but I do read mysteries, My list would start:

1) S J Rozan, CHINA TRADE (1st in the series; she alternates first person narrative from the two protags, Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, from book to book). This is one of the few current mystery series I still read
5) Spencer Quinn, DOG ON IT (also current; funny mysteries narrated by Chet, detective Bernie's Little's dog. Voice really is everything, and Quinn has Chet's voice down)
3) Dorothy L Sayers, STRONG POISON (love her Lord Peter character, and this one is the first with Harriet Vane in it)
4) Ellis Peters, any Brother Cadfael book (medieval monk/apothecary as detective)
5) Lindsey Davis, SILVER PIGS (ancient Roman mysteries, hilarious & rather sweet)
6) Josephine Tey, BRAT FARRAR (wonderful setting, wonderful characters, cool twist to the plot)

Harry Connolly said...

Mickey Spillane was wildly successful in his time, but he's not very good. Try I, THE JURY and you can be done with him.

HAVE HIS CARCASE by Dorothy Sayers is terrific and very smart. While Americans were going hardboiled, the British were playing a much more genteel game. Sayers's work is terrific.

You could fill a quarter of the list with Donald Westlake and his pseudonyms: check out THE OUTFIT by Richard Stark, a vicious little crime novel.

Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels are also very good: try THE GALTON CASE or THE CHILL. Skip the later stuff, as the author unfortunately starts using the protagonist to make speeches for him.

RED HARVEST by Dashiell Hammett is a terrific thriller and it may have invented a whole new plot.

John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee books were pretty damn popular at their time but they don't hold up all that well. All the "wounded birds" and such. CINNAMON SKIN is a good one to read so you can say you tried it, and if I remember correctly, that's one book where Macdonald doesn't do that thing where you can ID the female baddies by their fat behinds.

P.D. James's AN UNSUITABLE JOB FOR A WOMAN is pretty amazing.

Also, this may sound funny, but the early entries in Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" books were actually good. Try B IS FOR BURGLAR.

stacy said...

THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD by John LeCarré really stands out. I've heard the George Smiley series by LeCarré is very good, too, but I haven't read that series yet.

Patrick Lee's THE BREACH and GHOST COUNTRY are relatively new and kind of overlap with science fiction, but the way he uses the science fiction is played down and the books read like thrillers. THE BREACH kept me reading long past my bedtime——which is a major feat.

I just read THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT by Alan Furst and was really impressed. Will definitely be reading more by him.

Sara J. Henry said...

WINTER'S BONE by Daniel Woodrell (or his TOMATO RED or THE DEATH OF SWEET MISTER) - incredibly written, stark, real.

brionywilliamson said...

I second (third? fourth?) The Big Sleep.

Here's a few others off the top of my head...

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
Mysteries of Udolpho - Anne Radcliffe (which gets talked about in Persuasion)
Night Train - Martin Amis
The Good German - Joseph Kanon
Anything by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell's alter ego).

My favourite series are the Commissario Brunetti books by Donna Leon. They're set in Venice, so food plays an important part too! I also love the Dalziel and Pascoe books by Reginald Hill, only because Andy Dalziel is how I imagine my brother would be if he became a cop.

moonrat said...

I love you guys.

nightsmusic said...


Big Hug!

Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter books, but by far, The Nine Tailors had me guessing to the last three pages. The only mystery book I didn't see the end coming just pages in.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Not really my genre anymore. How about a non-fiction entry Devil In The White City. I haven't finished it yet, but it's very good. Won an award. Um, some adult non-fiction award. *bad writer - must learn the awards*

Follows the architects of the Chicago World's Fair and the serial killer who used it to find victims.

Alexander said...

Carole Nelson Douglas's Catnap, A midnight Louie mystery, is awesome, as it discusses and makes fun of a lot of the tropes of the genre.

Agatha christie, Ten little indians, as well as the first miss marple novel, The Murder at the Vicarage.

For crime novels, Obviously sherlock holmes. Less obvious, but just as much mystery and crime, The Caves of Steel, by Issac Asimov.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think you might have to include a John D. MacDonald, probably the Travis McGee series. There are a bunch of those that are really good. Darker than Amber, The Green Ripper, Free Fall in Crimson. The last one might be my favorite.

anjali.dayal said...

I want to second the Dorothy L. Sayers! I love Agatha Christie (and I recommend in particular The Hollow, They Came to Baghdad, and Nemesis), but Dorothy Sayers' books combine the classic British mystery delights with a rich emotional complexity and a striking, modern ethos. The books reward repeat reading, as the characters are compelling. I'd recommend (in addition to the ones that your other commenters have recommended) Murder Must Advertise and Gaudy Night. If you're looking for compelling fluff, then Georgette Heyer's Why Shoot a Butler is both a quick read and a clever play on some tropes of that era of mystery writing. On John le Carré front, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Constant Gardener. In terms of Raymond Carver, The Long Goodbye (but after The Big Sleep).

J.J. said...

There's a new kid in town. Check out Mirror Lake by J. Parrington Cole on Kindle. An indie book, but his book brings all of the elements of mystery in one. And it's fresh.

So while Mary Higgins Clark remains my number one 'go to gal' for mysteries, I suppose I could move her over a bit to make room for a new author.

Caitlin said...

I second the Clare Fergusson series, Jasper Fforde and anything by Arturo Perez-Reverte. But how has Robert Crais and his freaking fantastic Elvis Cole books(start with THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT) not made it on here yet? He's also got some excellent stand-alone novels; read DEMOLITION ANGEL for sure.

Jane Steen said...

I third the Dorothy L. Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey series, for the joy of watching the characters develop and deepen. And I second (?) anything by P.D. James - my absolute favorite is Death in Holy Orders for the subtle tension that runs through the book. Ruth Rendell and Susan Hill are wonderful for an understated paciness - the difference between Law & Order US and the excellent UK version.

Can you guess I like my suspense a little underplayed, with edgy, difficult to know characters?

RDJ - Awesome list. That one got clipped to my list of reading lists. I just used list three--four!--times in a paragraph.

Moonie, we are going to have your list when you've compiled it, right? Please issue a reading challenge because I also need to get a broader knowledge of the mystery/crime/thriller area.

moonrat said...

You know me, Jane. A reading challenge is inevitable!

vcmw said...

For thrillers, I'd say Lee Child is hugely popular right now (the Jack Reacher books).

I'm not sure that they're very popular sales-wise, but I really liked Joe Lansdale's Hap and Leonard books. The language can be a bit rough, but I love the friendship at their center.

I love Raymond Chandler and Dorothy Sayers et al.

For modern writers, Julia Spencer-Fleming is very popular, especially in cross-over with romance readers. Louise Penny is very popular around here (northern VT, NY). Authors like William Kent Krueger are really popular in MN - there's a lot of regional setting at play in the mystery genre, I think.

For things on the cozy end, I adore Elaine Viets's Dead-End job mysteries, which are the cross-recommend that Evanovich fans don't know to look for but often love.

There was a group of writers that kind of identified as "Tart Noir" that I liked - Sparkle Hayter's mystery series and Lauren Henderson's both really worked for me, but I'm not sure either series was ever hugely popular. They've got strong, consciously feminist leads and some relationship stuff, but are also funny and snarky.

Christine said...

I must admit to a really soft spot for the J D Robb, In Death series. It's set in an urban future featuring Lt Eve Dallas and her to die for husband Rourke.

It hits the spot; brutal but also character driven and gritty with excellent moments of humour.

Read my books; lose ten pounds! said...

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Sassee B said...

My TBR pile just grew exponentially. Thanks guys! :)

Imogen said...

I concur with all those who recommended Dorothy L Sayers; beautifully written and genuinely puzzling, albeit period pieces now. She did her research, too (all the paint stuff in "Five Red Herrings" is spot-on, likewise apparently all the details of the then railway timetable for the Scottish Highlands).
Can I also second the person who recommended Lindsay Davis? The Falco books are highly entertaining, well-plotted, and superbly researched.
Le Carré is brilliant - but SO depressing.
Not a book, I know, but the French film of "Tell no-one", "Ne le dis à personne", is fantastic...
Lastly, and a bit left-field, perhaps, but certainly a thriller (if not really "mystery/crime"): "The Birds Fall Down" by Rebecca West. Unputdownable, terrifying, and probably the best use I've come across of the figure of the first person narrator who doesn't fully understand their situation.