Declan Hughes

Monday 10 January 2011

Ten Crime Novels You Must Read Before You Die

John Connolly and I first presented versions of this list at the Dalkey Book Festival back in June, then at Bouchercon in San Francisco, and we promised at some stage to post it on our websites. A top ten inevitably leaves too many titles out, so we threw in an extra ten for good luck. John has decided to add the tens together and make it a top twenty; I'm not so inclined, as the second ten is rather more provisional than the first, and in any case, we differ in some of our choices. Feel free to disagree: we do ...

1) THE GLASS KEY (1931) - Dashiell Hammett

Also: The Maltese Falcon (1930)

Red Harvest (1929)

The Master - the JS Bach, the Louis Armstrong of crime fiction.

2) THE LONG GOODBYE (1953) - Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep (1939)

Farewell, My Lovely (1940)

The greatest prose stylist in the genre. Romantic, lyrical and witty.

3) THE CHILL (1964) - Ross Macdonald


The Galton Case (1959)

The Underground Man (1971)

Sleeping Beauty (1973)

The Doomsters (1958)

The single greatest novelist of the genre. No one has surpassed him. The Lew Archer novels make most crime fiction look like cartoons.

4) DEEP WATER - Patricia Highsmith (1957)


The Talented Mr Ripley (1955)

Strangers on a Train (1950)

Haunting, unsettling, extravagantly misanthropic.

5) THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1972) - George V. Higgins


City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit (1980) - Elmore Leonard

Looking for Rachel Wallace (1980)- Robert B. Parker

Dialogue worthy of David Mamet, Higgins's first half dozen novels are electrifying, and unlike anything else in the genre.

6) DIXIE CITY JAM (1994) - James Lee Burke


Heaven's Prisoners (1988)

Black Cherry Blues (1989)

Purple Cane Road (2000)

Simply the greatest living crime novelist.

7) RED DRAGON (1981) - Thomas Harris


The Silence of the Lambs (1988)

Hannibal (1999)

Although they form a trilogy, I don't believe Hannibal belongs on this list: I think it's a terrible book. John and I have cheerfully argued this one through many a last orders, and will again, no doubt.

8) A STRANGER IN MY GRAVE (1960) - Margaret Millar


Beast in View (1955)

How Like An Angel (1962)

The Listening Walls (1959)

Like a comic, psychologically acute Highsmith with a lighter touch. Structurally brilliant. Ross Macdonald's wife, and the single most underrated crime writer.



Cop Hater (1956)

Blood Relatives (1975)

Fuzz (1968)

Here begins the police procedural.

10) THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD (1926) - Agatha Christie


The Nine Tailors (1934) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Tiger In The Smoke (1952) by Margery Allingham

Christie is darker and subtler than she gets credit for, particularly in her dialogue; long derided by the hardboiled school, she is ripe for re-evaluation (not that the reading public give a hoot one way or the other: they love her and always have).

And then there were ten more...

MIAMI BLUES (1984) - Charles Willeford

Willeford was such a tough, funny, surprising writer. Read all the Hoke Mosleys and THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY, an hilarious portrait of artistic envy and psychosis (but I repeat myself).

THE LAST GOOD KISS (1978) - James Crumley

Crime fiction's ultimate shaggy (alcoholic) dog story.

GONE, BABY, GONE (1998) - Dennis Lehane

The PI novel meets Bertolt Brecht.

DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (1990) - Walter Mosely

Easy Rawlins, the PI resurrected. One of the outstanding series characters of the nineties.

THE BLACK ECHO (1992) - Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch's explosive debut. See also ANGELS FLIGHT, my personal favourite.

THE BIG BLOWDOWN (1999) - George Pelecanos

The historical wing of Pelecanos's great Washington Quartet.

WHAT THE DEAD KNOW (2007) - Laura Lippman

One of the most devastating twists in all crime fiction. A mighty book.

THE BROKEN SHORE (2005) - Peter Temple

South African born, Australia's finest.

DEVIL TAKE THE BLUE-TAIL FLY (1948) - John Franklin Bardin

Genuinely frightening psychological suspense.

THE HANGING GARDEN (1998) - Ian Rankin

Rebus and Edinburgh, a match made in the Oxford Bar. This is the best of a great series.


Blogger Janet Rudolph said...

Good list! Will include later this week on Mystery Fanfare.

10 January 2011 at 15:34  
Blogger Sam said...

Terrific list.

Being a fan of the genre, I almost hate to admit that I read Black Echo and didn't like it. I felt the same way about The Neon Rain, the first James Lee Burke. I know they're two of the top crime writers, but I can't help but think that I just picked the wrong place to start.

I kind of assumed it was better to start at the beginning of a series than to start with the author's most highly praised (or recent) novel. Do you think this can be a mistake?

10 January 2011 at 16:45  
Blogger Declan said...

Thanks Janet!
Sam, The Neon Rain, by far the weakest Robicheaux book, almost put me off as well. Pick another and see how you get on. Often (but not always), a writer gets better with each book, and you seldom have to read them in order - it's not in our interest to deter you from buying the new one, after all! On the other hand, sometimes, a particular writer is simply not for you.

10 January 2011 at 19:29  
Blogger Sam said...

Thanks Declan.

10 January 2011 at 20:42  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I attended that Bouchercon session and have written about it at my site several times. I'm sure I was not the only reader/attendee surprised by your inclusion of Christie. Lest I worry about being too English or too cozy or too traditional if I read her, a commenter at my place wrote: "You're missing out on some mighty fine writing. Connolly and Hughes will give you cover."

Yep, Christie owes you guys whatever success she enjoys today.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

12 January 2011 at 06:35  
Blogger Neal Kristopher said...

This is a splendid list, I can't wait to dive in; I've only read about half of these.


10 February 2011 at 05:55  
Blogger Tanya said...

I'd be inclined to include "The Wrong Kind of Blood" on that list - a beautifully written modern day noir!

27 March 2011 at 12:34  
Anonymous Rick Melching said...


I attended the discussion that you and John provided in New Orleans and thoroughly enjoyed it. You both provided wonderful information, great insights and plenty of humor.I jotted down the list and passed it on to friends, along with your name and John's.

Thank you for being there.

Rick Melching
Washington State

10 April 2011 at 21:36  
Blogger Unknown said...

This is the first must-read list I've found, other than my own, with Margaret Millar on it. Gold star!

6 October 2011 at 06:30  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your presentation at Boiuchercon got me interested in Ross Macdonald. I have to say that, as brilliantly executed The Galton Case is, its psychology makes most freshman-level coffeehouse introspection seem like Freud himself.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

28 March 2012 at 19:19  
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