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The 100 best mystery novels of all time
December 2, 2007 8:16 PM   Subscribe

The 100 best mystery novels of all time. Here they are, with links...

1. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle (Included in this are The Hound of the Baskervilles, A Study in Scarlet, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Sign of Four, each of which garned a lot of votes on its own.)
2. The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
3. Tales of Mystery and Imagination, by Edgar Allen Poe (Includes "The Gold Bug" and "Murders in the Rue Morgue," which also received a lot of individual votes.)
4. The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
5. Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow
6. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John le Carré
7. The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins
8. The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler
9. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
10. And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians or Ten Little Niggers), by Agatha Christie
11. Anatomy of a Murder, by Robert Traver
12. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie
13. The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler
14. The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M Cain
15. The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
16. The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris
17. A Coffin for Dimitrios, by Eric Ambler
18. Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L Sayers
19. Witness for the Prosecution, by Agatha Christie
20. The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth
21. Farewell, My Lovely, by Raymond Chandler
22. The Thirty-Nine Steps, by John Buchan
23. The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco
24. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
25. Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett
26. Rumpole of the Bailey, by John Mortimer
27. Red Dragon, by Thomas Harris
28. The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy L Sayers
29. Fletch, by Gregory Mcdonald
30. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John le Carré
31. The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett
32. The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
33. Trent's Last Case, by E C Bentley
34. Double Indemnity, by James M Cain
35. Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith
36. Strong Poison, by Dorothy L Sayers
37. Dance Hall of the Dead, by Tony Hillerman
38. The Hot Rock, by Donald E Westlake
39. Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammett
40. The Circular Staircase, by Mary Roberts Rinehart
41. Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
42. The Firm, by John Grisham
43. The Ipcress File, by Len Deighton
44. Laura, by Vera Caspary
45. I, the Jury, by Mickey Spillane
46. The Laughing Policeman, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
47. Bank Shot, by Donald E Westlake
48. The Third Man, by Graham Greene
49. The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson
50. Where Are the Children?, by Mary Higgins Clark
51. "A" Is for Alibi, by Sue Grafton
52. The First Deadly Sin, by Lawrence Sanders
53. A Thief of Time, by Tony Hillerman
54. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
55. Rogue Male, by Geoffrey Household
56. Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy L Sayers
57. The Innocence of Father Brown, by G K Chesterton
58. Smiley's People, by John le Carré
59. The Lady in the Lake, by Raymond Chandler
60. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
61. Our Man in Havana, by Graham Greene
62. The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens
63. Wobble to Death, by Peter Lovesey
64. Ashenden, by W Somerset Maugham
65. The Seven Per-Cent Solution, by Nicholas Meyer
66. The Doorbell Rang, by Rex Stout
67. Stick, by Elmore Leonard
68. The Little Drummer Girl, by John le Carré
69. Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene
70. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
71. The Talented Mr Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith
72. The Moving Toyshop, by Edmund Crispin
73. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
74. Last Seen Wearing, by Hillary Waugh
75. Little Caesar, by W R Burnett
76. The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by John V Higgins
77. Clouds of Witness, by Dorothy L Sayers
78. From Russia, with Love, by Ian Fleming
79. Beast in View, by Margaret Millar
80. Smallbone Deceased, by Michael Gilbert
81. The Franchise Affair, by Josephine Tey
82. Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters
83. Shroud for a Nightingale, by P D James
84. The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy
85. Chinaman's Chance, by Ross Thomas
86. The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad
87. The Dreadful Lemon Sky, by John D MacDonald
88. The Glass Key, by Dashiell Hammett
89. Judgment in Stone, by Ruth Rendell
90. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey
91. The Chill, by Ross Macdonald
92. Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosley
93. The Choirboys, by Joseph Wambaugh
94. God Save the Mark, by Donald E Westlake
95. Home Sweet Homicide, by Craig Rice
96. The Three Coffins (aka The Hollow Man), by John Dickson Carr
97. Prizzi's Honor, by Richard Condon
98. The Steam Pig, by James McClure
99. Time and Again, by Jack Finney
100. A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters, tied with Rosemary's Baby, by Ira Levin
posted by jbickers (111 comments total) 100 users marked this as a favorite

 
Isn't it cheating to make #1 a collection?
posted by smackfu at 8:18 PM on December 2, 2007


Wop wop wop wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
posted by ageispolis at 8:19 PM on December 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


You know who else wanted their content broken up into logical sections? ROGER ACKROYD.
posted by jbickers at 8:23 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is a cool list, but it is a blog post, not the best of the web.

Flagging for deletion and favoriting.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:23 PM on December 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


Also, I would like to find the person who placed Tom Clancy above Walter Mosley, Ruth Rendell, Dashiell Hammett, and Prizzi's Honor (!!!) and piss in his eyes while fire ants eat him and he dies screaming no god no why why why. Why? Because look. Look there. Look at what you just did.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:24 PM on December 2, 2007 [12 favorites]


I feel that posting the entire list ruins the mystery.
posted by spiderwire at 8:24 PM on December 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Here they are, with links:
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:24 PM on December 2, 2007


Yeah, as I've said before: I'm a dumbass. But the list is a good one.
posted by jbickers at 8:25 PM on December 2, 2007


Metafilter: Scrolling makes us cranky.
posted by NikitaNikita at 8:25 PM on December 2, 2007


Quick, everyone go nuts!

"Go"?

From where?
posted by spiderwire at 8:26 PM on December 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Hi, I'm a dumb guy"
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:26 PM on December 2, 2007


15. The Godfather, by Mario Puzo

Uh, what? Nevermind the collection nonsense with #1 and #3, The Godfather isn't a mystery novel in any way.
posted by atbash at 8:26 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, you are so naughty.
posted by caddis at 8:26 PM on December 2, 2007


Wop wop wop wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Wait a minute, you saying jbickers is an Italian crybaby?

*ducks*
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:28 PM on December 2, 2007


I actually said "Oh, my!" out loud when I got onto MeFi. My life has reached new lows. Why do I care so?
posted by liquorice at 8:28 PM on December 2, 2007


In which books did the butler do it?
posted by stavrogin at 8:28 PM on December 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


You get a pass for what is obviously a mistake in the form of the post.

You get a big fat MEH! for the the content of the post.

Listfilter, not so hot.
posted by oddman at 8:29 PM on December 2, 2007


I thought I'd clicked the wrong link.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:30 PM on December 2, 2007


In which books did the butler do it?

I did all of them!
posted by sbutler at 8:30 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Many of these are not mysteries. Crime and Punishment?! Dracula? The Hunt for the Red October?
posted by Mid at 8:31 PM on December 2, 2007


Of all the Nero Wolfe stories, they picked "The Doorbell Rang"? Not, for instance, "Gambit"?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:31 PM on December 2, 2007


Dude, that's a lot of time spent on Google plus ctrl^c ctrl^v *highlight, hightlight*.... *clicks link button*
posted by Joe Invisible at 8:32 PM on December 2, 2007


Hey, jbickers, you broke the page.

Yeah, I know, I'm a damned idiot. But do you know who else was a damned idiot?

Roger Ackroyd!
posted by jbickers at 8:34 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I accuse jbickers, on the Front Page, with the 100 best mystery novels of all time.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:34 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


100. A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters

I read this as "A Morbid Taste for Boners"
posted by dhammond at 8:36 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is a great post, and you put a lot of care and work into it.

Pity that everyone will remember it for the one mistake you made, which you have already acknowledged. That says a lot more about us than about you, so don't lose any sleep over it.
posted by yhbc at 8:36 PM on December 2, 2007


[OMG you guys are GRADESCHOOLERS. HURFDURF comments removed.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:37 PM on December 2, 2007


That's two Roger Ackroyd jokes. Two! Who the hell is Roger Ackroyd? I've read the topmystery.com link and I don't get it.
posted by stavrogin at 8:38 PM on December 2, 2007


The Killer Inside Me is not a mystery! If you're going to bend the rules like that, I'd expect to see some Ellroy or Raymond/Cook.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:39 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


aww, I missed the hurfdurf comments.
posted by stavrogin at 8:40 PM on December 2, 2007


This is a great post, and you put a lot of care and work into it.

And sometime during the beginning of December 2007, Metafilter became the Special Olympics.
posted by dhammond at 8:40 PM on December 2, 2007 [7 favorites]


im holding out for triple spacing (stop deleting my comments! haha)
posted by phaedon at 8:40 PM on December 2, 2007


bullocks! you fixed it, wait, haha
posted by phaedon at 8:42 PM on December 2, 2007


watching this post getting reformatted in real time has just totally made my night.
posted by phaedon at 8:42 PM on December 2, 2007


No Poe???
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 8:43 PM on December 2, 2007


watching this post getting reformatted in real time has just totally made my night.

That makes exactly one of us. Carry on.
posted by jessamyn at 8:43 PM on December 2, 2007 [7 favorites]


Pity that everyone will remember it for the one mistake you made...

You've managed in this one statement to condescend to every single MeFier. Who are you to say what "everyone" will remember this post for?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:43 PM on December 2, 2007


aww, I missed the hurfdurf comments.

Yeah, there were some *ahem* good ones.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:45 PM on December 2, 2007


No Poe???

Poe is #3.
posted by inconsequentialist at 8:46 PM on December 2, 2007


watching this post getting reformatted in real time has just totally made my night.

Seriously, it's like the stargate sequence from 2001 just unfolded right in front of my very eyes, only in real life, and in plain text. How will any of us go on from here? What is left for us in life?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:47 PM on December 2, 2007


I gives this post a 6.0
posted by phaedon at 8:48 PM on December 2, 2007


Who am I?

I AM LEGEND

See me at a theater near you on Dec. 14!
posted by yhbc at 8:49 PM on December 2, 2007


I gives this post a 6.0

You're fired.
posted by stavrogin at 8:49 PM on December 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


What is left for us in life?

Well, there's a hundred mystery novels for you to read.

Except, they're not all mystery novels.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:50 PM on December 2, 2007


(I think this is a pretty good post, actually, the formatting issue aside. I guess it's listfilter, but it's from a pretty reputable source -- i.e., not fer chrissake cracked.com -- and the results are just WTF enough to promote some entertaining feedback.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:51 PM on December 2, 2007


Oh, and fuck you too, dhammond. There used to be several very active members who would put great care and effort into their multi-link posts, and I hope they weren't all run off by the self-righteous know-it-all brigades so amply represented by yourself.
posted by yhbc at 8:51 PM on December 2, 2007


There are no theaters near me, but that's a good answer nonetheless, yhbc.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:51 PM on December 2, 2007


Oh, but I shoulda previewed... you're a little testy there, ain'tcha yhbc? I didn't realize your answer translated as "fuck you", but apparently it did. You're actually kinda humorless, it would seem. Oh well.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:55 PM on December 2, 2007


Well, I am a mystery.
posted by yhbc at 8:56 PM on December 2, 2007


ASPOLED was my 7th comment deleted, ever. I dub this thread

~|||Thread of Mysteries|||~
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:58 PM on December 2, 2007


I am so tempted to follow AV's lead and repost some of my deleted comments, but I like Jessamyn, and I don't want to see her angry.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:01 PM on December 2, 2007


There's nothing sexier than an angry librarian...
posted by stavrogin at 9:07 PM on December 2, 2007


Not to second guess the Mystery Writers of America, but why is "Edwin Drood" on the list? Dickens wrote some great mysteries into his novels (including "Bleak House" with Holmesian progenitor Inspector Bucket), but for these, he actually managed to live long enough to finish. Drood could have been great or not, but unless you happen to sit through the tripetastic musical version, where you can vote for your favorite character to be the murderer and sing one more song penned by Rupert "Do-You-Like-Pina-Colatas?" Holmes (thereby giving them a less human end than the Victorian penal system could have envisioned), we really have no idea if the mystery as a whole was successful.

At least my man Wilkie made the list.

And now I'm going to watch Dexter. Why the hell isn't he there?
posted by bibliowench at 9:08 PM on December 2, 2007


And yet "hi, I'm a dumb guy" remains! Inexplicable? You may say so! Luckily, this gentleman is on the case...

(Possible spoiler: I think jessamyn could be sleepy or didn't see it or something)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:08 PM on December 2, 2007


Thank god there's no Stephen King, although I'm not sure how The Firm got on there. I also always assumed Scott Turow was pulp, but evidently I'm too elitist. Anyway, why must MetaFilter continually taunt me with the books I haven't read? Poe first, I guess...
posted by gsteff at 9:11 PM on December 2, 2007


There's nothing sexier than an angry librarian...

Time for some empirical research!
*Goes to set husband's shoes on fire, then change into something more comfortable*
posted by bibliowench at 9:11 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


And now I'm going to watch Dexter. Why the hell isn't he there?

(Possible spoiler: Because the show is way better than the books. Inexplicable? You may say so! Luckily, this gentleman is on the case...well, probably not so luckily for him, but you know.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:11 PM on December 2, 2007


*Goes to set husband's shoes on fire...

Would that be while he's wearing them?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:16 PM on December 2, 2007


Glad to see so many Josephine Tey novels on this list.

And I join kittens for breakfast in the eye-pissing: I will piss in the eyes of whoever picked Silence of the Lambs over Gaudy Night, and Red Dragon over the Nine Tailors.
posted by rtha at 9:16 PM on December 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


Books! Lists! Links! Blithering, sputtering meltdowns over formatting! What's not to love?

Unless I missed it, though, I didn't see an explanation of the selection process and criteria, which I'm curious about. This is maybe more accurately a Mystery and Crime list, I would say.

The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association also have a list, The 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century, which is quite good - straight mystery, and no author listed more than once.
Members of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association's online discussion group spent nearly two months considering and debating hundreds of titles recommended by mystery booksellers throughout the country.

"Fortunately, since we were working online, no blood was spilled in the creation of this list," commented IMBA director Jim Huang. "It was a lively and contentious process, with each of us pulling for cherished books."

"We agreed that each author would appear on the list only once," Huang added, "in order to represent as many of our favorite writers as possible." Some of the genre's greatest and most prolific writers had several titles nominated.
posted by taz at 9:18 PM on December 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


stavrogin: "In which books did the butler do it?"

The author of #40 on this list, Mary Roberts Rinehart, wrote a novel called The Door which is where that phrase comes from.
posted by octothorpe at 9:20 PM on December 2, 2007


but unless you happen to sit through the tripetastic musical version, where you can vote for your favorite character to be the murderer and sing one more song penned by Rupert "Do-You-Like-Pina-Colatas?" Holmes

Dude. The musical is one of the best of the eighties, funny as hell and full of terrific songs. It holds up extremely well in stock, and Rupert Holmes will often attend rehearsals personally to give his advice.

And Holmes has himself referred to "Escape" as "the hit single that ruined (his) career," having previously been a very well-regarded singer-songwriter who suddenly became known only for his one whimsical novelty song. He doesn't write much music anymore (other than the horrific Curtains, for which I refuse to judge him), and it's a crying shame.
posted by Epenthesis at 9:20 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think I don't understand why this post sucks. I think it is good. I look forward to reading many of these books, although many of them aren't mysteries. Thanks.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 9:31 PM on December 2, 2007


That makes exactly one of us. Carry on.

It isn't too late for a deletion with extreme snark.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:32 PM on December 2, 2007


Thanks for this post. I've read about twenty of these already but that leaves 80 pretty damned good reads left.

79, actually. The Hunt for Red October is not a mystery.
posted by ryanhealy at 9:36 PM on December 2, 2007


I think I don't understand why this post sucks. I think it is good.

It sucks as a metafilter post because it isn't even the best of the web. A few of the links link to e-texts, but that really isn't the web. This post would have made a nice blog post at a literary blog someplace, but it is not really good metafilter material.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:36 PM on December 2, 2007


Dude. The musical is one of the best of the eighties,
Wench, actually.

To each his own. "Eighties" and "musicals" together mostly make me cringe, quite possibly because I had delusion of being in them.

I made it through to about the lyrics "A man could go quite mad / and not be all that bad" before I devoted the rest of my evening to playbill origami.

And it's one novelty song, but it's a fucking Star Trek Wrath of Khan screaming Chekov Ceti eel earworm of a song which is always lurking somewhere in my brain, ready to break through to my consciousness at any accidental hearing. It's like aural herpes.

And kittens for breakfast, thanks for the warning about the Dexter books. That's sad.
posted by bibliowench at 9:40 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


No Paco Ignacio Taibo II?
posted by Camel of Space at 9:43 PM on December 2, 2007


Yeah, as I've said before: I'm a dumbass.
posted by jbickers at 8:25 PM on December 2


No, you're great. If you're going to do something like that, do it with style and ambition. Make it classic, make it huge and amazing, and be humble and cool when it's all done.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:45 PM on December 2, 2007


If Rosemary's Baby's a mystery my ass is a gateway to another universe.
posted by dobbs at 9:46 PM on December 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


If Rosemary's Baby's a mystery my ass is a gateway to another universe.

The film version actually had me guessing until the end.
posted by gsteff at 9:50 PM on December 2, 2007


"Why Do People Read Detective Stories?", by Edmund Wilson, Oct 14, 1944, The New Yorker. A classic. Discusses some of the works in the top 10. A delightfully cranky old bastard.
What, then, is the spell of the detective story that has been felt by T. S. Eliot and Paul Elmer More but which I seem to be unable to feel? As a department of imaginative writing, it looks to me completely dead... the detective story proper bore its really fine fruit in the middle of the nineteenth century, when Poe communicated to M. Dupin something of his own ratiocinative intensity and when Dickens invested his plots with a social and moral significance that made the final solution of the mystery a revelatory symbol of something that the author wanted seriously to say.
posted by stbalbach at 9:54 PM on December 2, 2007


And sometime during the beginning of December 2007, Metafilter became the Special Olympics.

This from the user who pulled off a single-link YTMND of a cat purring? Seriously? I don't get it.

But this, ah yes, this is a great post. Thanks.
posted by Avenger50 at 10:00 PM on December 2, 2007


This is a cool list, but it is a blog post, not the best of the web.

Also: since was a list automatically a blog post? What are you even talking about?
posted by Avenger50 at 10:06 PM on December 2, 2007


stbalbach, Wilson was just being a dick in that piece, deliberately blurring the line between what he thought was bad writing and all modern detective fiction. Raymond Chandler did a much more thoughtful, nuanced *and* snide dissection of good-versus-bad mystery-writing in his 1950 essay "The Simple Art of Murder." A sample:

[T]he detective story, even in its most conventional form, is difficult to write well. Good specimens of the art are much rarer than good serious novels...This is very annoying to people of what is called discernment. They do not like it that penetrating and important works of fiction of a few years back stand on their special shelf in the library marked "Best-Sellers of Yesteryear," and nobody goes near them but an occasional shortsighted customer who bends down, peers briefly and hurries away; while old ladies jostle each other at the mystery shelf to grab off some item of the same vintage with a title like The Triple Petunia Murder Case, or Inspector Pinchbottle to the Rescue. They do not like it that "really important books" get dusty on the reprint counter, while Death Wears Yellow Garters is put out in editions of fifty or one hundred thousand copies on the news-stands of the country, and is obviously not there just to say goodbye.

To tell you the truth, I do not like it very much myself...


Chandler then smoothly, savagely goes after the Golden Age writers, esp. Christie, Milne and Sayers:

There is one of Dorothy Sayers’ in which a man is murdered alone at night in his house by a mechanically released weight which works because he always turns the radio on at just such a moment, always stands in just such a position in front of it, and always bends over just so far. A couple of inches either way and the customers would get a rain check. This is what is vulgarly known as having God sit in your lap; a murderer who needs that much help from Providence must be in the wrong business. And there is a scheme of Agatha Christie’s featuring M. Hercule Poirot, that ingenius Belgian who talks in a literal translation of school-boy French, wherein, by duly messing around with his "little gray cells," M. Poirot decides that nobody on a certain through sleeper could have done the murder alone, therefore everybody did it together, breaking the process down into a series of simple operations, like assembling an egg-beater. This is the type that is guaranteed to knock the keenest mind for a loop. Only a halfwit could guess it.

There are much better plots by these same writers and by others of their school. There may be one somewhere that would really stand up under close scrutiny. It would be fun to read it, even if I did have to go back to page 47 and refresh my memory about exactly what time the second gardener potted the prize-winning tea-rose begonia.


He's just getting started. He saves his best for Sayers' famous comment, "It (the detective story) does not, and by hypothesis never can, attain the loftiest level of literary achievement." Chandler's response:

I think what was really gnawing at her mind was the slow realization that her kind of detective story was an arid formula which could not even satisfy its own implications. It was second-grade literature because it was not about the things that could make first-grade literature. If it started out to be about real people (and she could write about them–her minor characters show that), they must very soon do unreal things in order to form the artificial pattern required by the plot. When they did unreal things, they ceased to be real themselves...Dorothy Sayers’ own stories show that she was annoyed by this triteness; the weakest element in them is the part that makes them detective stories, the strongest the part which could be removed without touching the "problem of logic and deduction." Yet she could not or would not give her characters their heads and let them make their own mystery. It took a much simpler and more direct mind than hers to do that.

He means Hammett, of course:

Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish.

Game, set and match. It's a great essay, informed by a lot more than Edmund Wilson's casual dismissal, and must-reading for mystery buffs. Hammet has a good one, too, about how to write stories with real detective work in them (hint: you can't tell colors by moonlight), but I can't remember what it's called right now.

Oh, and the posted list is pretty meh, as these lists go.
posted by mediareport at 10:57 PM on December 2, 2007 [11 favorites]


Glad to see so many Josephine Tey novels on this list.

Yes, agreed. And glad to see Ross MacDonald, although The Chill was only one of his best. In my opinion he's more "important" than most of the others authors featured here.
posted by christopherious at 11:52 PM on December 2, 2007


Oh, and the posted list is pretty meh, as these lists go.

Completely agree. How do so many spy novels make it on there, while so much of the great recent mystery fiction (Pelicanos, James Lee Burke, Faye Kellerman, Block's Scudder books, etc.) is completely absent? Presumably, they're seeking to list books that influenced the genre rather than books located squarely within what most people consider the genre to be.

And I like Presumed Innocent, but number five? I don't think so. Ah well. You can always get another list, but there's only one Maltese Falcon.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:27 AM on December 3, 2007


Wilson was just being a dick in that piece

I think his animus was more a little closer to the bone than that... It appears that he wrote at least three harshly exasperated criticisms of the genre, as addressed in Detective Fiction and Edmund Wilson: A Rejoinder by someone named George J. Demko (apparently a professor of geology at Dartmouth).

Another refutation, and a lovely read is The Mysterious Romance of Murder, a great, far-ranging article with an unfortunately awful, awful title, by David Lehman, who, among other things, quotes Gertrude Stein: "[the detective story is] the only really modern novel form" and Borges: "If you read detective novels, and if you take up [other] novels afterwards, the first thing that strikes you--it’s unjust, of course, but it happens--is to think of the other books as shapeless."

both of those links found at Murder in the Stacks
posted by taz at 12:29 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


First of all, anyone that would vote for Scott Turow ahead of Raymond Chandler should be stripped of their rank, drummed out of the association, be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.

Second, I don't mean to be that guy, and who am I to question the mighty Mystery Writers of America, but this list leaves a lot to be desired (through no fault of the poster, I hasten to add).

Unless I am much mistaken, the following are not mysteries, per se:

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Godfather, The Silence of the Lambs, Crime and Punishment, Eye of the Needle, Red Dragon, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I, the Jury, The Killer Inside Me, Smiley's People, Our Man in Havana, Stick, The Little Drummer Girl, Dracula, A Time to Kill, From Russia, with Love, The Hunt for Red October, Rosemary's Baby.

Third, Sue Grafton at 51 and Lawrence Block doesn't make the list?

Fourth and finally, The Mystery Writers left off a bunch of great authors, to whom they owe a great debt. The list is long, but I would cite:

Ross MacDonald, Peter Cheney, Raul Whitfield, Jonathan Latimer, Cornell Woolrich, William P McGivern, and Paul Cain.

Perhaps this modern group doesn't want us to read the authors who really inform their work? That is an idea that calls for further investigation. Quickly, Watson! The game is afoot!

P.S.: Thanks mediareport for calling out Wilson's asshattery in re: stbalbach's post, and for sharing Chandler's essay. Really, an easy refutation of everything Wilson had to say there could be done with a reading of The Long Good-bye.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 12:34 AM on December 3, 2007


Ah. I stand corrected. Ross Macdonald is on the list, though I would opine that Chill is not his best work, and while you are distracted arguing that point, I nonchalantly slip Philip McDonald into the list.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 12:43 AM on December 3, 2007



If Rosemary's Baby's a mystery my ass is a gateway to another universe.
posted by dobbs at 9:46 PM on December 2


I loved you in Ed the Happy Clown.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:22 AM on December 3, 2007


At least one Frederic Brown pulp should be on the list.
posted by rfs at 2:12 AM on December 3, 2007


The Smiley books are mysteries.

There was no Dick Francis on this list. There is no Robert Parker on this list. I think the Bee Keeper's Apprentice should be on the list. Alister McLean, many of who's works are both mystery and adventure, is not on the list. Erle Stanley Gardner should be on the list too.
posted by ewkpates at 3:46 AM on December 3, 2007


Plenty of things to check out here, thanks. And even more in the thread.
posted by Skorgu at 5:01 AM on December 3, 2007


Fletch is #29? Seriously?

I wanted to read the Mystery Booksellers' list but the page, it burned my eyes.
posted by miss tea at 5:06 AM on December 3, 2007


Just wanted to say that all of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's Martin Beck mysteries (see #46) have been re-released in the UK and they are great fun. A little gentle socialism and a lot of '60s Scandi realism married to some fun detective work make for cracking reads.
posted by patricio at 5:36 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think his animus was more a little closer to the bone than that...

Honestly, taz, I don't. It's pure snobbish, gleeful poking just to get a reaction. It's very telling that nowhere in Wilson's piece does he mention Chandler, who was at that time already widely acknowledged as a literary master. Wilson thinks he's going for the jugular, but he's really just nipping at the heels of an entire genre with very little interest in backing his opinions with anything but a cursory analysis.

That is, he's being a dick.
posted by mediareport at 6:20 AM on December 3, 2007


The 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century, which is quite good - straight mystery, and no author listed more than once.

Does not compute. The 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century would have lots of author repetitions (as does this list, quite rightly, though it's not a very good list); if no author is listed more than once, it's a list of 100 Favorite Mystery Authors. Which is silly, and a sop to a bunch of minor authors who would feel bad if the list consisted mainly of Hammett, Chandler, MacDonald, and a few others, as it should.

Thanks mediareport for calling out Wilson's asshattery... and for sharing Chandler's essay.


Seconded. Edmund Wilson had no business writing about a field he didn't like or understand, and Chandler's essay is brilliant.

If you have time in your life for only two mystery novels, they should be The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key. Hammett is simply the best.
posted by languagehat at 6:24 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Jesus, The Glass Key is #88?! What a dumb list.
posted by languagehat at 6:25 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, I've read quite a lot of these -- As opposed to all the other "best ever books" lists, where I only pretend to have read a lot of them.
posted by afx237vi at 6:34 AM on December 3, 2007


And kittens for breakfast, thanks for the warning about the Dexter books. That's sad.

I shouldn't overstate the case; the books aren't bad (well...the new one is kinda bad), they're just not the show. I think I would have enjoyed them much more if the series hadn't set the bar as high as it has.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:47 AM on December 3, 2007


This list means nothing withough the greatest mystery solver of all time included. Now excuse me, I'm on my way to the North Pole to look at the penguins.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 7:05 AM on December 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


To Kill a Mockingbird?
posted by kirkaracha at 7:07 AM on December 3, 2007


Also, The Day of the Jackal is a great book, but it's a thriller, not a mystery.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:08 AM on December 3, 2007


The mystery for me at this point is what those HURFDURF comments were.

Also, regarding Tom Clancy's placement (or even mere appearance): What kittens said, only more so.
posted by sparkletone at 7:15 AM on December 3, 2007


Jim Thompson should have been better represented. The Getaway is brilliant. And James Ellroy best captures the tabloid dystopia that reigns these days.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:47 AM on December 3, 2007


Fletch is #29? Seriously?

Seriously. I though it'd be higher. Of all the books I can think of at the moment, I can't think of any that have been so helped and hindered by a movie treatment as Fletch. The book is really good. Really, it is - you just have to drink a lot (a lot) of gin to erase the movie from your mind. Likewise, the movie is not that bad - you just need to drink still yet more (more) gin to erase your memory of how good the book is when you watch it.

I agree with all the "wait, that's a mystery?" sentiment regarding the list. If some of those non-mysteries were pulled, maybe there'd be room for some Caroline Graham.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:48 AM on December 3, 2007


And James Ellroy best captures the tabloid dystopia that reigns these days.

Ye gods. I didn't even catch that Ellroy was missing until you pointed it out. That's a pretty glaring oversight (on the listmakers' part and my own).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:04 AM on December 3, 2007


I can think of a thousand ways to say hello
So I start through 'em all, goin' real slow
They listen hard and act like they care
How can they be so completely unaware
Of the truth,
The answer is always in hiding
So i introduce 'em to the killer inside me


-- MC 900 ft Jesus - Killer Inside Me
posted by quin at 8:17 AM on December 3, 2007


Mediareport, I totally agree he was being a dick, I was just saying that it apparently wasn't a just a one-off, snide what-beloved-fluff-can-we-insult-today bit of wankery, because he wrote three different columns on the subject of "mystery novels = yucky", so he was apparently a pretty fervent hater.
posted by taz at 8:34 AM on December 3, 2007


Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent, in my mind, deserves to be on the list, because it was one of the very few mysteries I didn't solve before I got to the end of the book, even though all the clues were there, right in front of me. And that's one of my vital criteria. I hate a 'mystery' that doesn't clue the reader into vital information that would have made the solution obvious; i.e. that guy we ruled out as a suspect because he was dead isn't really dead but we have no evidence of that until he shows up to kill the lead character, etc. Worse, though, is the mystery that insults the reader with how easily it is solved (way too many of these on the shelves!).

Which is why I am so glad to see some of Agatha Christie's work so high on the list. She wrote traditional, classic mysteries but still managed to throw in added surprises.


[SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!: Murder of Roger Ackroyd]

[Seriously, don't read this if you haven't read the book and plan to! You are warned!]

[Okay, here goes:]

For instance, in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the narrative is written in first-person, from the perspective of the assistant to lead detective Hercules Poirot. The reader makes the natural comparison to Arthur Conan Doyle and his Holmes/Watson duo. This novel, one of Christie's most controversial, shocked mystery devotees, however, with the clever plot twist revealing the narrator himself as the murderer. All is made clear when Poirot explains how the crime was done and we learn that the narrator's account up until his unveiling was an attempt to discredit Poirot's reputation as a detective (which, naturally, fails). The book concludes with the murderer's written confession and suicide note, as the narrator takes as own life after Poirot has outed him.

Even better are the twists in Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None (read them yourself and you'll see what I mean).
posted by misha at 8:47 AM on December 3, 2007


I'm sad a Sarah Caudwell mystery didn't make the list. I think at least one of her novels them made the New York Times Notable books list. They were at least as cleverly written as Agatha Christie's books. She had such snappy dialogue. She died a few years ago.
posted by bluefly at 9:14 AM on December 3, 2007


As if to answer Edmund Wilson, in the first few pages of Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy lies a passage which reflects my sentiments about detective stories:
"What he liked about these books was their sense of plenitude and economy. In the good mystery there is nothing wasted, no word that is not significant. And even if it is not significant, it has the potential to be so -- which amounts to the same thing. The world of the book comes to life, seething with possibilities, with secrets and contradictions. Since everything seen or said, even the slightest, most trivial thing, can bear a connection to the outcome of the story, nothing must be overlooked. Everything becomes essence, the centre of the book shifts with each event that propels it forward. The centre, then, is everywhere, and no circumference can be drawn until the book has come to its end.

The detective is the one who looks, who listens, who moves through this morass of objects and events in search of the thought, the idea that will pull all these things together and make sense of them. In effect, the writer and the detective are interchangable. The reader sees the world through the detective's eye, experiencing the proliferation of its details as if for the first time. He has become awake to the things around him, as if, because of the attentiveness he now brings to them, they might begin to carry a meaning other than the simple fact of their existence."
If you like to read into things, a good mystery gives you something to read into; real life events are rarely ever so meaningful. Or satiating.
posted by Lush at 9:14 AM on December 3, 2007


Oh, well I see Caudwell made the list taz linked to, so that makes me feel better (and shows how arbitrary these things are -- but still fun!)
posted by bluefly at 9:22 AM on December 3, 2007


> Of all the Nero Wolfe stories, they picked "The Doorbell Rang"? Not, for instance, "Gambit"?
> posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:31 PM on December 2 [+] [!]

Both are great, but if you're only going to recommend one Nero Wolfe book, I would have to pick one of the early ones where Stout is still giving a lot of attention to introducing and building the Wolfe character. A good portion of the wonderfulness of the later ones depends on the reader's already knowing Wolfe well and, y'know, hanging on his every word. (Unrelated aside: I don't think it took much to conceive of the Wolfe character initially: "OK, just to be different we'll have a fat detective who never goes out. But to make up for that he'll have to have a really vivid personality, so we'll make him equal parts Samuel Johnson and Mycroft Holmes." It's in writing lines for Wolfe that are good enough to have come out of the mouths of Johnson or the elder and smarter Holmes brother -- there's where the unalloyed genius comes in.) (/R-Stout-fanboy.)

P.S. only one Brother Cadfael, too. Grump, grump.


> Well, I am a mystery.
> posted by yhbc at 11:56 PM on December 2 [+] [!]

Amateur. I am a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

posted by jfuller at 9:44 AM on December 3, 2007


so he was apparently a pretty fervent hater

Oh, you were saying his analysis was closer to *his own* bone. I get it. I thought you were saying he cut the *subject* close to the bone, which I think we both agree he didn't. Sorry!

posted by mediareport at 9:47 AM on December 3, 2007


"The Talented Mr Ripley" is also not a mystery. It's a great book, but it's more of a thriller.
posted by grumblebee at 12:40 PM on December 3, 2007


Smilla's Sense of Snow. And yes, Caudwell. And The Alienist, although Carr's second book sucked horseloogies. But not Beekeepers Apprentice, when "The Moor" is so much better.

And I join Kittens and rhta in the pissing and fire ants treatment, although I vote we just cut to the chase and say it with stakes.

And if you want 19th century 'Rivals of Sherlock Holmes", where the hell is Mystery of a Handsome Cab?
posted by jrochest at 1:14 PM on December 3, 2007


Well, "The Doorbell Rang" made a big splash at the time because of the whole "Nero Wolfe vs. J. Edgar Hoover'" angle.

J. Edgar Hoover himself and the FBI's powerful publicity machine came down hard on Stout in 1965 when his novel, The Doorbell Rang, was published by the Viking Press. About one hundred pages in Stout's file are devoted to this novel, the FBI's panicky response to it, and the attempt to retaliate against the author for writing it.

As to the list itself, I can't get too mad at any list that has The Daughter of Time in the top five. Best joy-of-history novel ever.
posted by ormondsacker at 1:38 PM on December 3, 2007


I liked this list a lot better when I thought they were links to the actual texts of the novels. Ah, well.
posted by flatluigi at 4:22 PM on December 3, 2007


No Freeling? No Van de Wetering? No SIMENON??? pffft.
posted by generalist at 10:28 AM on December 4, 2007


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