Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ten Top Crime Novels

I'm continuing my list for Sisterfilms (and anyone else who wants a list) with ten crime novels.
Before anyone asks why I didn't include Baby Shark, may I remind you that my ten books had to be selected from among the books in the Crime category of the Guardian's 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read. Some of these books are firmly in the mystery and detective genre, others are considered "serious literature," but all have a crime at the heart of the plot. Once again I'll list them in chronological order by publication date.

1. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment.
Raskolnikov is one of the great characters in Russian, or any other literature. The punishment he suffers is his own remorse at his actions. There's no "whodunnit" in this book, and Raskolnikov makes a rather refreshing contrast to the soulless perpetrator who is common in today's crime novels.

2. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet.
Far-fetched the plot may be, but it's hard for me to imagine anyone who could read this book and not be drawn in to the world of 221B Baker Street, in the London of pea-soup fogs and street urchins. Mormons might not like it much, though.

3. Agatha Christie, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
The first appearance of M. Hercule Poirot and his "little grey cells," his egg-shaped head, his moustaches, his tisanes....An excellent example of the English country-house murder mystery.

4. Dorothy L. Sayers, Murder Must Advertise.
Lord Peter Wimsey goes undercover as an advertising copywriter to solve the mysterious death of a young man. Although the book was published in 1933, it has a bit more of a 20s feel to me, especially in the scenes involving the Bright Young Thing Dian de Momerie. This is my favorite of the Wimsey novels, showing Wimsey's ability to move in circles not his own -- I very much enjoy the bits where he comes up with advertising slogans.

5. John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men.
Heartbreaking Depression-era tragedy of two men for whom things just aren't ever going to turn out right

6. Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time.
Tey wrote only eight mystery novels, but they are all excellent. Five of the novels have the same sleuth, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard. In this book, Grant is in hospital for a lengthy period and is going slowly bonkers until he decides to research whether Richard III really did kill the Princes in the Tower. Since he can't get out of bed, he has his friends research under his direction, and comes to a surprising but well-reasoned solution.

7. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.
It's hard to believe that there can be a living person who hasn't read this book or at least seen the movie, given that it was a best-seller on publication, a frequent school assignment, and most recently has been the "Community Read" for a number of towns and cities. It's a portrait of a time not so long ago when life for African-Americans was very different; that time should not be forgotten.

8. John Le Carre, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
I had actually not read this myself until just last year, when it came up as part of my project to read all the Best Novel winners in the Edgar Awards. Of course, the Berlin setting was of interest to me, but the writing, the deviousness of the characters, and the characterization made it one of the best books I read all year.

9. Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, The Laughing Policeman.
Getting toward the end of the list, a lot of tough choices had to be made. I chose this book partly because it was neither British nor American in origin (if you hadn't guessed, it's set in Stockholm). It's a good example of a police procedural, one of my favorite kinds of detective novel. It was also an Edgar winner for Best Novel. If you have seen the movie with Walter Matthau, this book has almost nothing in common with it except a couple of plot points; I didn't care for the film at all even though I usually like Matthau.

10. Mario Puzo, The Godfather.
Sure, you've seen the movie(s) many times, but you really should read the book too. I suppose there were novels about the Mafia before, but nothing like this.


Processing Counselor said...

To Kill a Mockingbird, my favorite book in just about ever! Liked your Friday Five, too!

Barbara B. said...

Of Mice and Men would be my #1. :)
Great list!

Diane said...

I love The Daughter of Time! (and I would have chosen the Nine Tailors by Sayers...)

Of Mice and Men is so sad. I saw a production at the Guthrie when I was in high school.