Five great crime novels

August 6, 2010
By

top5A few weeks back I asked the following question:

If you could give someone 5 crime novels that for you represents everything great about the genre, what would they be?

It was originally posted on Twitter before I spread it around to some other places. Keeping in mind the character constraints of Twitter I tried to craft the question in such a way as to be a kind of hybrid question that lies somewhere between “What is the best” and “what are your favorites”. Which isn’t to say that I succeeded just that was the goal. My intentions were simple, I was hoping that it would be a cheap ploy to have everyone pass along some recommendations and so that we could talk about books.

I like these kind of open ended questions, without specific parameters nailed down, because it’s interesting to see what the answer says about the person who created it based off of their interpretation of what the question implies, but doesn’t state, to them.

After the jump check out all of the responses

The first person to respond was Jon Jordan:

In A Strange City by Laura Lippman
Place Of Execution by Val McDermid
Sleepyhead by Mark Billlingham
Darkness Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane
George Chesbro – Dark Chant in a Crimson Key

Soon after The Nerd of Noir answered:

Clockers Richard Price
The Sweet Forever George Pelecanos
American Skin Ken Bruen
American Tabloid James Ellroy
Mystic River Dennis Lehane

As I said I posed the question at different places. The following answers came from The Big Adios:

Poker Ben:

1. The Friends of Eddie Coyle
2. The Hackman Blues
3.Winter’s Bone
4.The Killer Inside Me
5.The Cat Who Robbed a Bank :)

Hard Feelings:

High Priest of California (Willeford – notice how the protagonist gets his yuk-yuks from Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony”)
A Hell of A Woman (Thompson – I’d also single out “Savage Night” and “The Getaway”)
High Life (Stokoe – the absolute end of the line for L.A. noir)
The Vengeance Man (Marlowe – for the bruising sex & violence. Mean!)
Rendezvous in Black (Woolrich – something very dreamlike and fatalistic about this book that does it for me)

Mike Dennis:

THE MALTESE FALCON / Dashiell Hammett
13 FRENCH STREET / Gil Brewer
SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER / David Goodis
THE KILLER INSIDE ME / Jim Thompson
DOUBLE INDEMNITY / James M Cain

Max Allan Collins (with a ps):

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE James M. Cain (lust-driven crime)
KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE Horace McCoy (criminal narrator — all Thompson derives from this)
THE MALTESE FALCON Dashiell Hammett (defines the P.I. genre)
THE CON MAN Ed McBain (somewhat arbitrary selection by author who defined police procedural)
THE ASPHALT JUNGLE W.R. Burnett (thief as antihero — father to Richard Stark )

Five authors not mentioned above without whom the crime genre would be a sad place indeed:

Chester Himes
Mickey Spillane
Donald E. Westlake
Charles Williams
Jim Thompson

Palin99999:

1. Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston
2. A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane
3. California Fire and Life by Don Winslow
4. Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
5. The Dramatist by Ken Bruen

Mtmorgan:

Shake Him Til He Rattles- Malcolm Braly
Hell’s Our Destination- Gil Brewer
They Don’t dance Much- James Ross
Simple Plan- Scott Smith
La Brava- Elmore Leonard

Matthew Craig:

THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY by Patricia Highsmith
THE KILLER INSIDE ME by Jim Thompson
THE NEON RAIN by James Lee Burke
LA CONFIDENTIAL by James Ellroy
FATHERLAND by Robert Harris

Plenty of authors missing off the list (Chandler, MacDonald, Menkell, Goodis, etc, etc), but that would probably be my “Desert Island Crime Novels”

Mark Johnson:

FALLING ANGEL William Hjortsburg
THE MONGOL REPLY Benjamin Schutz
THE FAR CRY Fredric Brown
THE AUTUMN DEAD Ed Gorman
BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL Elliott Chaze

Jen Forbus was an early responder too, acknowledging that it would take some time and thought. She eventually posted about the question but couldn’t quite pull the trigger on a list. The comments provided some more lists. Where’s that list Jen ;) Jen corrected me she did make a list.

Jen Forbus (go read her post for her reasons plus other titles):

L.A. REQUIEM
SHUTTER ISLAND
BREATHING WATER
LAST CAR TO ELYSIAN FIELDS
THE BRUTAL TELLING

Pop Culture Nerd:

1) LA Requiem. Duh.
2) DOUBLE INDEMNITY–James M. Cain
3) CAUGHT STEALING–Charlie Huston
4) THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS–Thomas Harris
5) AND THEN THERE WERE NONE–Agatha Christie

Judy Bobalik:

THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo
THE FRATERNITY OF THE STONE/THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE/THE LEAGUE OF NIGHT AND FOG by David Morrell
THE BOURNE IDENTITY by Robert Ludlum
L.A.REQUIEM by Robert Crais
WINTER AND NIGHT by S.J. Rozan

Les Blatt:

1. The Complete Sherlock Holmes. My first real mystery; my first love!
2. The Three Coffins. John Dickson Carr introduced me to both fair play and locked rooms.
3. And Then There Were None. Christie’s best, IMHO.
4. The Doorbell Rang. Rex Stout created my favorite US detective, and this one would convert almost anyone to a Wolfe fan.
5. The Nine Tailors. Still my favorite Sayers, carrying crime fiction into literature.

Patti Abbott:

Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey
When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, Lawrence Block
Roseanna, Maj Sjowal and Per Wahloo
The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

MysterLynch:

The Maltese Falcon
L.A. Requiem
The Alienist
Winter and Night
The Dawn Patrol

The Rap Sheet also picked up on the question and ran with it.

J. Kingston Pierce (who pulls a fast one and slips in an omnibus – that’s ok I admire the creativity):

The Maltese Falcon (1930), by Dashiell Hammett
The Chill (1964), by Ross Macdonald
The Eighth Circle (1958), by Stanley Ellin
Berlin Noir, by Philip Kerr
Waxwork (1978), by Peter Lovesey

From the comments of The Rap Sheet

Steve Oerkfitz:

1. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
2. A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
3. The Specialty of the House by Stanley Ellin
4. The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowell and Per Wahloo
5. The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

Josiah:

God, it’s so hard not to just list every Dashiell Hammett novel except for The Dain Curse.

1. The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett.
2. Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene.
3. 813, by Maurice Leblanc: great serial killer/conspiracy novel starring the gentleman thief, Arsene Lupin.
4. The Amateur Cracksman, by E.W. Hornung: because I do love my gentleman thieves.
5. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. Kind of a cheat, but it’s a novel about agents of the Empire working for Dracula and his wife Queen Victoria to capture Jack the Ripper, who is killing vampire women with a silver knife. It sort of qualifies.

Gary Thaden:

Hound of the Baskervilles (1901-02) by Arthur Conan Doyle – “Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!” Need I say more?

The Maltese Falcon (1930), by Dashiell Hammett – Great dialogue, great writing, and great characters. What else do you need?

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) by John le Carré – This novel put spy novels into the literature category. Great atmosphere.

Memory (written in 1960s, published 2010) by Donald Westlake – One of the best character studies I have read. It is about a man whose brain was injured during a bar fight. It reaches from the past and shakes you until you understand its present day implications for individual human beings and our society.

2666 (2009) by Roberto Bolaño – Not your traditional mystery and I am not sure what it all (900+ pages) means, but some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read.

We had one responder over on Faceboook.

Matthew C Funk (Make my funk the C funk, I wants to get funked up. I want the bomb, I want the C funk – ahem, sorry):

No Country for Old Men
The Big Sleep
Manhunter
The Big Nowhere
The Killer Inside Me

I think I’ve gathered them all. If I didn’t yell at me in the comments but more importantly. What are your five? (I’ll put mine in the comments)

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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13 Responses to Five great crime novels

  1. Nigel Bird on August 6, 2010 at 8:48 am

    i’ll go an give it some thought.
    what an inspired idea. here’s a list i’m going to write down for future reference. i do feel overwhelmed as i’d guess i’ve read only about a fifth of them, maybe two fifths. lots to go then. well done.

  2. Keith Rawson on August 6, 2010 at 8:52 am

    THE KILLER INSIDE ME by Jim Thompson
    GIVE US A KISS BY DANIEL WOODRELL
    L.A. CONFIDENTIAL BY JAMES ELLROY
    THE POWER OF THE DOG BY DON WINSLOW
    AMERICAN SKIN BY KEN BRUEN

    The only problem with not really being on Twitter all that much these days is I miss stuff like this

  3. Naomi Johnson on August 6, 2010 at 9:51 am

    I’m still turning this one over in my head.

  4. Scott M. Shewan on August 6, 2010 at 10:02 am

    American Skin – Ken Bruen
    Fletch – Gregory Mcdonald
    Of Tender Sin – David Goodis
    A Hell of a Woman – Jim Thompson
    Miami Purity – Vicki Hendricks

  5. Nigel Bird on August 6, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Sea Minor:

    Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
    Clockers by Richard Price
    The Night Gardner by George Pelecanos
    Double Indemnity by James M Cain

    To see the padding and a superb cover for one of them, pop to:

    http://nigelpbird.blogspot.com/2010/08/5-great-crime-novels.html

  6. Ron on August 6, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Deep Water, Patricia Highsmith
    Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson
    The Axe, Donald Westlake
    Nightfall, David Goodis
    The Bridesmaid, Ruth Rendell

  7. Patrick Balester on August 6, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Some excellent choices. Here are a few that people may not have thought of but represent a strong portrait in the huge canvas that is crime fiction.

    Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe (The tale that brought the detective story to the masses.)

    The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain (Helped establish the noir genre in mystery.)

    Rendezvous in Black by Cornell Woolrich (Chilling tale of a man who will stop at nothing in his search for revenge against those who wronged him.)

    The Unquiet Night by Patricia Carlon (Suspense filled tale of a young man stalking a woman and child who may have witnessed him commit murder…this is the book that motivated me to finish my first mystery novel.)

    The Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates (A collection of short stories that will make any bachelor think twice before popping the question to the woman he loves.)

  8. Jack on August 7, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    I might be lonely in this, but I consider The Great Gatsby a crime novel. And one of the great ones at that.

  9. Peter on August 11, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Hmm, comment not posting even when I removed the long HTML coding in my signature.

  10. Peter on August 11, 2010 at 12:13 am

    The Chinaman, In Matto’s Realm, Thumbprint or Fever by Friedrich Glauser. No one captured the pathos of the downtrodden better than Glauser. No crime protagonist, not even Simenon’s Maigret, ever felt more empathy for the perps than did Glauser’s Sgt. Studer.

    Lovely Mover by Bill James, though several other books from the middle period of his long-running Harpur and Iles series could serve as well. Dark, funny, gorgeously written prose by possibly the best prose stylist ever to write crime fiction in English.

    Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. They were pioneers in Scandinavian crime writing and pioneers in socially engaged crime fiction. They could also write terrific mystery and suspense.

    The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette. Cool, brutal dissection of the dehumanizing effects of power. One of the few books that deserves to be called neo-noir.

    Lorraine Connection by Dominique Manotti. More cool analysis, this time of crime high and low.
    ===========
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  11. Brian Lindenmuth on August 11, 2010 at 5:57 am

    Your other comments got caught in spam. If it happens again just shoot me an email and I’ll rescue it so you don’t have to re-do it multiple times.

  12. Ed on August 11, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    THE BIG BLOWDOWN George Pelecanos

    THE BOTTOMS Joe R. Lansdale

    TAPPING THE SOURCE Kem Nunn

    NIGHT DOGS Kent Anderson

    BREAKHEART HILL Thomas H. Cook

  13. Mya on September 22, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Poit Crime – David Belbin
    It’s a series of books and they are amazing !!