Archive for October, 2020

100 best crime novels of all time, as chosen by me…

I do love a list. And so I seized upon Dead Good’s list of the 100 best crime novels of all time, as chosen by their readers. I was surprised by how many were completely unfamiliar to me, and by how many of my favourite writers and novels didn’t feature at all.

So, obviously, I had no choice but to put together my own list…

Not ranked, just in alphabetical order of author’s names, only one title per author allowed. Many are in series, and I have been completely inconsistent in whether I cite the first in the series, or the latest, or just one I happen to particularly care for. I’ve linked to reviews, where they are not too spoilery.

The stories span the centuries – from 1327 to some time in the future – and the continents. Whilst most are set in the UK or the US, we also travel around Europe, and to Africa. It’s a pretty white list, only three black writers, to my chagrin. To my ‘read more black writers’ resolution I will add the postscript, ‘and more black crime writers’… About half the writers are women – and more than half if we just take contemporary writers.

Not all of these are whodunnits – in some we know who from the start, in others there may be uncertainty even on the final page, or the ‘who’ may simply not be the point. The protagonists may be coppers or PIs, perpetrators or victims. Not all feature police procedure or private detectives or lawyers. But all have crime at the heart of the story.

So. My top 100:

Ben Aaronovitch – Moon over Soho. My favourite (because jazz) from the brilliant Rivers of London series.

Lisa Appignanesi – Paris Requiem

Claire Askew – All the Hidden Truths

Kate Atkinson – Case Histories. First in the excellent Jackson Brodie series.

Belinda Bauer – The Shut Eye

T C Boyle – Talk Talk

Oyinkan Braithwaite – My Sister, the Serial Killer. Audacious Lagos-set novel. Evidently not a whodunnit…                                                                  

Chris Brookmyre – Places in the Darkness. Brookmyre does scifi. Crime scifi.

James Lee Burke – The Neon Rain. First in the Dave Robicheaux series, set in Louisiana.

Michel Bussi  – Maman a tort. A highly complex and twisty French thriller, which really messes with your head. In English translation as The Wrong Mother  and recently on the telly as The Other Mother…                                                                      

Helen Cadbury   – To Catch a Rabbit.  First of three Sean Denton police procedurals, set in South Yorkshire, gritty and gripping.                                                              

Andrea Camilleri – August Heat.  The late Andrea Camilleri’s tenth Inspector Montalbano novel.  Plenty of humour and forthright political commentary too.     

                                                                        

Jane Casey  – The Cutting Place. Latest in the Maeve Kerrigan series, which just gets better and better.                                                                     

Raymond Chandler – The Long Goodbye. Stone cold classic.

Agatha Christie – Sleeping Murder. I always liked the Miss Marple ones best. Something about her beady-eyed take on the world made the murders creepier and this is one of my favourites.                                                                      

W H Clarke – An End to a Silence.  First in a trilogy, part 3 still eagerly awaited.                                                                      

Ann Cleeves – Harbour Street. A Vera Stanhope title (I was torn, could have chosen a Shetland, but there you go, and I do like Vera a lot).                          

Harlan Coben – Home. The first of his that I read. Slick but very skilful.  

Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White. Arguably one of the earliest detective novels. A brilliant story, with a great female character in Marian Hascombe.                                                              

Joseph Conrad  – The Secret Agent. A political thriller, featuring Chief Inspector Heat, the precursor of so many dogged coppers in pursuit of criminals of various stripes.                                                                     

Patricia Cornwell – Postmortem. The first Scarpetta novel.                                                                              

Didier Daeninckz – Meurtres pour memoire  (Murder in Memoriam). A contemporary crime leads back to a suppressed atrocity in 1961 and back further to war crimes under the Vichy government.

Jill Dawson – Fred and Edie. Based on the true story of Edie Thompson & Fred Bywater, who conspired to murder Edie’s husband, and were both hanged for the crime.                                                                              

Colin Dexter  –  Last Bus to Woodstock. The first Morse.                                                            

Charles Dickens – Bleak House. Another early detective, Inspector Bucket, possibly based on real-life detective Jack Whicher (see Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher). It’s also the finest novel in the English language, BTW.                                                                        

Eva Dolan  – Long Way Home. First in a series featuring DI Zigic and DS Ferreira from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit.         

Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime & Punishment.                                                               

Louise Doughty – Platform Seven

Arthur Conan Doyle  – Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I read these as a child, in the bound volumes of the Strand Magazine that my grandfather had owned.  ‘The Speckled Band’ in particular haunted me.                                         

Theodore Dreiser  – An American Tragedy  Based on a 1906 real-life murder.                                                            

Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose.  “Books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told”. Postmodernism, semiotics and murder.                                                           

Gillian Flynn – Dark Places                                                                             

John Fowles – The Collector. Fowles’ disturbing literary debut.                                                                      

Tana French – Broken Harbour. In the excellent Dublin Murders series. This one got thoroughly under my skin.                                                                        

Frances Fyfield  – Perfectly Pure and Good. A crime writer who doesn’t get enough attention these days – I read her a lot in the 80s and 90s. This is one of a series featuring lawyer Sarah Fortune.                                                    

Robert Galbraith – The Cuckoo’s Calling. First in J K Rowling’s pseudonymous crime series.

Valentina Giambanco – The Gift of Darkness. First in her Alice Madison series.

Andrea Gillies – The White Lie . I came across this writer with her moving account of life with a family member with dementia. Themes and preoccupations recur…

Lesley Glaister   – Honour thy Father. The first of Glaister’s novels that I read, I think. Gothic, murdery, full of secrets.      

Graham Greene – Brighton Rock.  Damnation and justice. Ida Arnold fighting crime, not because it’s her job but because it’s the right thing to do.                                                                  

Isabelle Grey – Good Girls Don’t Die. First in the DI Grace Fisher series    

Elly Griffiths – The Crossing Places. First in the splendid Ruth Galloway series. Read them all, and Griffiths’ other series too. You’ll thank me later.

Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time    

Jane Harper  – The Lost Man. Third novel from Harper and the strongest, I think. The landscape – in this case, the Australian outback, where the scorching heat itself is a ruthless killer – is a powerful part of the narrative, almost a protagonist.                                                           

Joanne Harris – Different Class. Darkly funny and a bit bonkers.                                                                        

Robert Harris – An Officer and a Spy.   The story of the Dreyfus affair and the officer who fought to prove his innocence                                                            

Thomas Harris – Red Dragon. A baroque serial killer and an FBI profiler, precursor to Silence of the Lambs                                                                          

John Harvey  – Cold in Hand. The penultimate novel in John Harvey’s wonderful Resnick series

Paula Hawkins – Girl on the Train                                                                        

Noah Hawley  – Before the Fall                                             

Emma Healey – Elizabeth is Missing                                                                  

Mick Herron – Slow Horses   First in a series about a department of MI5 rejects – acerbically funny but without pulling any emotional punches.                                                                          

Patricia Highsmith  – Strangers on a Train  

Lynn Hightower  – Flashpoint. First in the Sonora Blair series.

Sarah Hilary –  Never be Broken. The most recent Marnie Rome.                                                                       

Reginald Hill – On Beulah Heights.  The best Dalziel & Pascoe.                                                                 

Susan Hill  – The Betrayal of Trust.  One of the best of a fascinating series, featuring DCI Simon Serrailler.                                                       

P D James  – Cover Her Face. The first Adam Dalgliesh novel.                                                                     

Doug Johnstone  – The Jump                                                                               

Philip Kerr – Prague Fatale.  Bernie Gunther’s eighth outing. As always, Kerr walks a fine line, integrating Nazi atrocities with the mechanics of the thriller. But he does it superbly well.    

                                                                   

Stephen King  – Mr Mercedes. First in a trilogy (see also Finders Keepers, and End of Watch) with characters who recur in other recent King novels.                   

Vilmos Kondor – Budapest Noir.  The first in a series of five, apparently, but the only one available in English                                                                

Stieg Larson – Girl with the Dragon Tattoo                                                 

John Le Carré – Call for the Dead.  Our first encounter with one George Smiley…                                                                      

Elmore Leonard – La Brava                                                                                    

Ira Levin – A Kiss before Dying.   Less well-known than some of Levin’s other titles, but an absolutely cracking thriller.

Laura Lippman – Lady in the Lake                                                                  

Attica Locke – Pleasantville.   Sequel to Black Water Rising

Henning Mankell – Sidetracked.  Wallander no. 5

Peter May – The Blackhouse.  First of the Lewis trilogy                                                                

Ed McBain  – Let’s Hear it for the Deaf Man.  26th in the 87th Precinct series, and the third to feature their most challenging adversary, the eponymous Deaf Man.                                        

Alexander McCall Smith – No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency 

Val McDermid – The Distant Echo.  The first in the DI Karen Pirie series

Ross McDonald  – The Drowning Pool                                                                

Adrian McKinty  – The Cold Cold Ground First of his Belfast-set Sean Duffy crime series                             

Dervla McTiernan – The Ruin                                                                                       

Denise Mina  – The Long Drop.    Based on a real 1950s Glasgow murder case                                                                      

Thomas Mullen – Darktown    

                                                                                

Julie Myerson – Something might Happen                                                     

Catherine O’Flynn – What was Lost                                                                         

Sara Paretsky  – Indemnity Only.   Our introduction to the redoubtable V I Warshawski                                                                      

Nii Ayikwei Parks  – Tail of the Blue Bird.  Set in the Ghanaian ‘hinterland’, the storytelling is shared between Kayo, the young forensic pathologist armed with all of the science stuff, and Opanyin Poku, the old hunter who is armed with proverbs and stories.  

Louise Penny  – A Fatal Grace.  The second in the Inspector Gamache series, set in a small Québécois town. Not at the gritty end of crime fiction but that doesn’t mean they’re superficial or cliched.                                                                            

Ian Rankin – The Naming of the Dead.  The 16th Rebus                                                              

Danuta Reah – Silent Playgrounds.  Atmospheric thriller, set in Sheffield                                                               

Ruth Rendell – Judgement in Stone.  Generally reckoned to be one of her greatest works. Adapted for the cinema by Claude Chabrol, no less.                                                             

C J Sansom  – Dark Fire.   Second title in the Tudor-set Shardlake series. If you’ve been missing Thomas Cromwell since finishing The Mirror & the Light, he’s here.      

Dorothy L Sayers – Strong Poison. Probably my favourite of the Lord Peter Wimseys, which I have read and re-read for decades. Always loved Harriet Vane. Shout out, BTW, to the late Jill Paton Walsh who wrote a series of four Wimseys, which are very good indeed.                                                                             

Lynn Shepherd – Tom All Alone’s. ‘Literary’, postmodern crime – this one riffs primarily on Bleak House (see above), and there’s a slice of The Woman in White in here as well.

Anita Shreve – The Weight of Water.

Lionel Shriver – We Need to Talk about Kevin                                              

Tom Rob Smith  – The Farm     

Cath Staincliffe – The Girl in the Green Dress.  Staincliffe is always concerned not just with the crime and its solution but the ripples that flow out from the crime, and her novels carry real emotional heft. This one is devastating.                                              

Susie Steiner – Remain Silent.  The latest in the Manon Bradshaw series, featuring a tremendous, real, abrasive central character.     

Josephine Tey – Daughter of Time                                                                     

Lesley Thomson  – The Detective’s Daughter.  The start of a most intriguing series. Thomson has been compared to Rendell, and to Kate Atkinson.                                                

Scott Turow  – Presumed Innocent                                                                

Barbara Vine  – A Dark Adapted Eye

Sarah Waters – Fingersmith                                                                           

Emile Zola – Thérèse Raquin           

                                                              

Of course, if I were to do this again in a few years, some of these titles would have been superseded. But I am inclined to think many of the authors will still be there.

This genre has so much potential. The titles I’ve picked not only give us plot and character, suspense and tension. They also address issues of morality and mortality, class and race and gender, politics and psychology and sociology – the whole rich tapestry of human life is here. And human death, obviously…

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Rasoul, Shiva, Anita and Armin

Words failed me when I heard of this latest tragedy. They haven’t failed Phil Davis, whose writing about refugees is always passionate and based on first-hand knowledge.

A darkened room

Earlier this week Rasoul Iran-Nejad, Shiva Mohammad Panahi, Anita and Armin drowned in the English Channel, attempting to cross from France in order to seek asylum from Iran.

Home secretary Priti Patel issued a statement.

“I am truly saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life in French waters this morning. My thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones at this time… This tragic news highlights the dangers that come with crossing the Channel and I will do everything I can to stop callous criminals exploiting vulnerable people.”

There is a political and policy response to this, but first lets pause and remember 4 people -two adults and 2 children, dead. Underlying all of this is a human tragedy.

I’m sure Priti Patel genuinely mourns them too. She’s no cartoon monster. This tragedy, to an extent, demonstrates the broken asylum and immigration system that she has…

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