6/20/11

My 150 Favorite Mysteries (Updated: July 1, 2012)

"There are those among us who claim that the detective story is a form of escapist literature. Lovers of the genre will deny this, and they are right to do so, for the detective story addict is not content to sit back and enjoy what is called "a cosy read." For full enjoyment of the story, the reader needs to use his brains. A problem has been set before him, and the true addict obtains pleasure from doing his best to solve it."
-
Gladys Mitchell.
Last month, fellow blogger and mystery enthusiast Sergio, who's better known under his shadowy aliases of Cavershamragu and Bloodymurder, posted an assemblage of his favorite mystery and crime novels – which is an idea I have been chewing on ever since opening up this blog for business. His post prompted me to start laboring on a list of all-time favorite mysteries of my own and today I was finally in the right mood to put the finishing touches to that compilation, however, this list will look completely different a year or so from now – and I will probably have to extent it to 150 200 favorite mysteries. There are already a few glaring omissions in this one, but at least I tried to make it as varied as possible. My picks range from classic, puzzle-orientated stories to modern hardboiled private eye novels.

A regular review will be up within the next two or three days, but in the mean time you could hop over and take a look at Ho-Ling's blog – who has been on a posting binge the past few days and just uploaded a critique of Bertus Aafjes' Een ladder tegen een wolk (A Ladder Against the Clouds, 1969).

My 150 favorite mystery novels and short story collections:

Lampion voor een blinde (Bertus Aafjes, 1973)
Murder Points a Finger (David Alexander, 1953)
Mystery and More Mystery (Robert Arthur, 1966)
Caves of Steel (Isaac Asimov, 1954)
The Naked Sun (Isaac Asimov, 1957)
The Return of the Black Widowers (Isaac Asimov, 2003)
De dertien katten (A.C. Baantjer, 1963)
Een dodelijke dreiging (A.C. Baantjer, 1988)
The Sullen Sky Mystery (H.C. Bailey, 1935)
Black Land, White Land (H.C. Bailey, 1937)
Jumping Jenny (Anthony Berkeley, 1933)
Trial and Error (Anthony Berkeley, 1937)
A Question of Proof (Nicholas Blake, 1935)
Head of a Traveller (Nicholas Blake, 1949)
The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams (Lawrence Block, 1994)
De laatste kans (M.P.O. Books, 2011)
The Case of the Solid Key (Anthony Boucher, 1941)
The Case of the Seven Sneezes (Anthony Boucher, 1942)
Exeunt Murders (Anthony Boucher, 1983)
Green for Danger (Christianna Brand, 1944)
Death of Jezebel (Christianna Brand, 1948)
London Particular (Christianna Brand, 1952)
Hardly a Man is Now Alive (Herbert Brean, 1952)
The Traces of Brillhart (Herbert Brean, 1961)
Holiday Express (J. Jefferson Farjeon, 1935)
Night of the Jabberwock (Fredric Brown, 1950)
Case for Three Detectives (Leo Bruce, 1936)
Chinese Red (Richard Burke, 1942)
The Youth Hostel Murders (Glyn Carr, 1952)
Poison in Jest (John Dickson Carr, 1932)
The Three Coffins (John Dickson Carr, 1935)
The Four False Weapons (John Dickson Carr, 1937)
The Crooked Hinge (John Dickson Carr, 1938)
The Problem of the Green Capsule (John Dickson Carr, 1939)
Till Death Do Us Part (John Dickson Carr, 1944)
He Who Whispers (John Dickson Carr, 1946)
Captain Cut-Throat (John Dickson Carr, 1955)
The Lady in the Lake (Raymond Chandler, 1943)
The Complete Father Brown (G.K. Chesterton, 1911-35)
Partners in Crime (Agatha Christie, 1929)
The Mysterious Mr. Quin (Agatha Christie, 1930)
Peril at End House (Agatha Christie, 1932)
Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie, 1934)
The A.B.C. Murders (Agatha Christie, 1936)
Death on the Nile (Agatha Christie, 1937)
After the Funeral (Agatha Christie, 1953)
The Man from Tibet (Clyde B. Clason, 1938)
Poison Jasmine (Clyde B. Clason, 1940)
Half-Moon Investigations (Eoin Colfer, 2006)
Banner Deadlines (Joseph Commings, 2004)
The Case of the Gilded Fly (Edmund Crispin, 1944)
The Long Divorce (Edmund Crispin, 1951)
The HOG Murders (William L. DeAndrea, 1979)
Killed on the Rocks (William L. DeAndrea, 1990)
The Werewolf Murders (William L. DeAndrea, 1992)
Murder – All Kinds (William L. DeAndrea, 2003)
The Plague Court Murders (Carter Dickson, 1934)
The Unicorn Murders (Carter Dickson, 1935)
The Punch and Judy Murders (Carter Dickson, 1937)
The Judas Window (Carter Dickson, 1938)
Nine-and Death Makes Ten (Carter Dickson, 1940)
She Died a Lady (Carter Dickson, 1943)
The Department of Queer Complaints (Carter Dickson, 1944)
Death in the Back Seat (Dorothy Cameron Disney, 1936)
The Strawstack Murders (Dorothy Cameron Disney, 1939)
The Anubis Slayings (Paul Doherty, 2000)
The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1887-1921)
Full Dark House (Christopher Fowler, 2004)
Ten Second Staircase (Christopher Fowler, 2006)
The Eye of Osiris (R. Austin Freeman, 1912)
The Stoneware Monkey (R. Austin Freeman, 1939)
Something Nasty in the Woodshed (Anthony Gilbert, 1942)
Smallbone Deceased (Michael Gilbert, 1950)
The Danger Within (Michael Gilbert, 1952)
Dead Skip (Joe Gores, 1972)
What a Body! (Alan Green, 1949)
The Chinese Gold Murders (Robert van Gulik, 1959)
The Red Pavilion (Robert van Gulik, 1961)
Necklace and Calabash (Robert van Gulik, 1967)
The Fourth Door (Paul Halter, 1987)
Night of the Wolf (Paul Halter, 2007)
The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett, 1930)
An English Murder (Cyril Hare, 1951)
Spelen met vuur (Heuvel and De Waal, 2004)
The Devotion of Suspect X (Keigo Higashino, 2005)
On Beulah Heights (Reginald Hill, 1998)
Murder on Safari (Elspeth Huxley, 1938)
Inspector Ghote Goes by Train (H.R.F. Keating, 1971)
Inspector Ghote Draws a Line (H.R.F. Keating, 1978)
Under a Monsoon Cloud (H.R.F. Keating, 1986)
The Body in the Billiard Room (H.R.F. Keating, 1987)
The Whistling Hangman (Baynard Kendrick, 1937)
The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi (Okamoto Kido, 2007)
Obelists Fly High (C. Daly King, 1935)
The Exploits of Arsène Lupin (Maurice Leblanc, 1907)
813 (Maurice Leblanc, 1910)
The Mystery of the Yellow Room (Gaston Leroux, 1907)
The Columbo Collection (William Link, 2010)
Bloodhounds (Peter Lovesey, 1996)
The Far Side of the Dollar (Ross MacDonald, 1965)
Surfeit of Lampreys (Ngaio Marsh, 1941)
Points and Lines (Seicho Matsumoto, 1957)
Mr. Splitfoot (Helen McCloy, 1968)
The Blushing Monkey (Roman McDougald, 1953)
Pick Your Victim (Pat McGerr, 1946)
The Seven Deadly Sisters (Pat McGerr, 1948)
The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop (Gladys Mitchell, 1929)
Come Away, Death (Gladys Mitchell, 1937)
St. Peter’s Finger (Gladys Mitchell, 1938)
Merlin’s Furlong (Gladys Mitchell, 1953)
The Glass Mask (Lenore Glen Offord, 1944)
The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree (Stuart Palmer, 1933)
Nipped in the Bud (Stuart Palmer, 1951)
The People vs. Withers and Malone (Stuart Palmer and Craig Rice, 1963)
Death and the Maiden (Q. Patrick, 1939)
Verdict of Twelve (Raymond Postgate, 1940)
Hoodwink (Bill Pronzini, 1982)
Bones (Bill Pronzini, 1985)
Shackles (Bill Pronzini, 1988)
Carpenter and Quincannon (Bill Pronzini, 1998)
The Greek Coffin Mystery (Ellery Queen, 1932)
The Adventures of Ellery Queen (Ellery Queen, 1935)
Cat of Many Tails (Ellery Queen, 1949)
The Tragedy of Errors (Ellery Queen, 1999)
The Adventure of the Murdered Moth and Other Radio Plays (Ellery Queen, 2005)
Black Widow (Patrick Quentin, 1952)
Death from a Top Hat (Clayton Rawson, 1938)
The Gold Deadline (Herbert Resnicow, 1984)
The Gold Frame (Herbert Resnicow, 1986)
The Dead Room (Herbert Resnicow, 1987)
The Case of the Little Green Men (Mack Reynolds, 1951)
Death on the Board (John Rhode, 1937)
Home Sweet Homicide (Craig Rice, 1944)
The Frightened Stiff (Kelley Roos, 1942)
Sailor, Take Warning! (Kelley Roos, 1944)
Murder on the Way! (Theodore Roscoe, 1935)
The Sleeping Bacchus (Hilary St. George Saunders, 1951)
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (Dorothy L. Sayers, 1928)
Murder Must Advertise (Dorothy L. Sayers, 1933)
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (Soji Shimada, 1981)
Black Aura (John Sladek, 1974)
Too Many Cooks (Rex Stout, 1938)
Some Buried Caesar (Rex Stout, 1939)
The Tattoo Murder Case (Akimitsu Takagi, 1948)
The Hangman’s Handyman (Hake Talbot, 1942)
Rim of the Pit (Hake Talbot, 1944)
The Riddle of Monte Verita (Jean-Paul Török, 2007)
The Maine Massacre (Janwillem van de Wetering, 1979)
The Silver Scale Mystery (Anthony Wynne, 1931)
The Inugami Clan (Seichi Yokomizo, 1951)
 
Cue "how could you forgot" or "why didn't you include" comments in 3... 2... 1...

18 comments:

  1. I could never create such a list. I've tried to do so and failed. There are still so many books to read, and how can you narrow down such a wonderful genre to just 100 books? I, for one, can't do it- I'm far too indecisive about such a thing.

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  2. TomCat mate, what a fantastic list - along with lots of traditional authors we all know and love like Carr, Christie, Queen, Pronzini and Quentin there are also many intriguing and unexpected selections like the genre cross-over with the excellent Asimov title (which i just might purloin and add to my list actually) and all those amazing international titles that look like they are very hard to find in an English translation which is just plain cruel! How many languages to do you speak?

    There is a lot to learn from here - thanks very much for sharing.

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  3. Not surprised to see it tipping the scales in favor of impossible crime and locked room mysteries. But not one Anthony Wynne or Clyde Clason on your list. Have you read any of their books? I don't know about THE YOUTH HOSTEL MURDERS. The plot was fairly transparent to me. But Lewker is a fun character.

    P.S. The word verification for my comment was "pasion." Even with the missing S it's very fitting.

    Has the Heuvel & deWaal book been translated into English?

    I found a copy of Okamoto Kido's book a few months ago in a Half Price Books Store for less than $8. The translator's introduction and the history of the stories was fascinating. I've only read the first story so far and I reserve my judgement until I finish the entire book.

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  4. Now THIS is a post I can work with! ^^b

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  5. Quick responses:

    @Patrick

    Well, it wasn't one of the most easiest tasks I set myself, I can assure you that – and even now I'm constantly face palming for not including a specific title that should've been on there. There really isn't much of an excuse to exclude Maurice Leblanc's epic 813 from my list or any of Edmund Crispin's novels!

    I also fear harsh criticism for preferring the alternative Crime Queens, Christianna Brand and Gladys Mitchell, over Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Although the latter should've been represented with at least one book. So yeah, this list is still far from perfect and needs some more tweaking.

    @Bloodymurder

    I consider Caves of Steel to be one of the big achievements in the genre, which genuinely broke new grounds and still manages to stay through to the heart of soul of the detective story – and it's the end all argument to throw at people who claim that stuff like forensic science killed the traditional detective story.

    This book is set in a futuristic world of ray guns, mind probes and robots and it still pulled off a classic fair-play mystery plot with a string of false solutions in the Queen-Berkeley-Bruce tradition. It's not a pick that should unexpected, but a standard one, but then again, that just my humble opinion.

    @John

    Not only your memory is failing you, but also your eye-sight: Clyde Clason's The Man from Tibet AND Poison Jasmine are on my list. I haven't read anything by Anthony Wynne... yet! ;)

    I sort of agree with your assessment of The Youth Hostel Murders, but I just had to include it because it's plotted like a Scooby Doo episode – which is a series I (still) love and adore. Heck, it's probably the root cause of my detection addiction.

    The books by Dick van den Heuvel and Simon de Waal have never been translated into English, however, there is a German translation of that book available – if that is any help. By the way, any special reason for being interested in that specific book?

    The Kido book is simply amazing. Not just the fun, Holmesian stories, but also quality of the book itself. The lengthy, insightful introduction, a ton of extensive footnotes and a beautiful map of Old Edo with all the locations. A collectors item, IMHO!

    @Arman

    Yeah, you've got a lot of catching up to! ;D

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  6. Once again, thanks for the plug :)

    I think I would name individual short stories, rather than a whole collection if I were to make such a list, but even then I doubt I'd make it to 100 titles. Then again, I'm pretty sure I would make the list a bit more multi-media, including stories from manga/TV drama/games. No list of mine would be complete without stories from Detective Conan or Detective Academy Q, one or two cases from the Phoenix Wright games, or some episodes from Columbo, Furuhata Ninzaburou or Trick!

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  7. @Ho-Ling
    Any episodes of "Trick" particularly worth watching? I just recently got started on that series.

    Aslo, TomCat, I was walking in a store today and saw "The Maine Massacre". Ordinarily, I wouldn't have given it a second look, but I remembered seeing it on this list and bought it.

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  8. @Ho-Ling

    I was thinking of doing a multi-media list of favorite mysteries with separate columns for full-length novels, short story collections, individual short stories, TV/Movie and manga/anime, but that was too much work – especially the anime/manga bit. I really didn’t feel like plowing through nearly 40 volumes of Detective Conan to find my favorite stories.

    Yeah, I can be really lazy if I want to. But why don’t you post such a list. I think your list would be one of the more interesting ones around here.

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  9. Wait wut....I only just noticed, why do you have Baantjer listed? I always expected it to belong to the second-rate group of detectives.

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  10. Well, there are two reasons for listing Baantjer: 1) the nostalgia factor (Baantjer was my introduction to the world of mystery and detection, after which I graduated fairly quickly to world GAD) 2) when he was at his best, he wrote stories that were very much in the classic tradition.

    Een strop voor Bobby, for example, is a crime story in the vein of George Simenon, but turns into a full-fledge locked room mystery in the final quarter of the book. De Cock en de stervende wandelaar has a dying message and De Cock en de moord in séance is a nod and a wink at Agatha Christie – and one of his best pure detective stories. Baantjer introduced me to all the stuff I love today. He was also a great story teller. There's a reason why some foreign critics, who know their stuff, called him the Dutch Conan Doyle or the new George Simenon. And remember that a lot of our home grown critics, who slammed Baantjer, also have the same opinion of Doyle, Christie, Carr, Queen, etc.

    The layman often knows more and has a better judgement than the so called experts.

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  11. @Patrick: I'm actually surprised you're watching it, as it's more a comedy than a mystery and relies really, really heavily on Japanese wordplay/pop-culture/knowledge of the Kindaichi Kousuke-type detective stereotype/the distinct directing of Tsutsumi (weird camera angles/movements/non-sequitur humor).

    Episodes I like best are The Man With the All-Seeing Eye (Season 1, episode 8), Psi Trailer (S2, 6~7), The Retirement Home Where Nobody dies (S3, 5~6) and The Death Calling Punny Poems (S3, 7~8).

    For the public here, I think the best Japanese dramas are Furuhata Ninzaburou (Japanese Columbo) and 33pun Tantei (brilliant Police Squad-style parody of the genre; the premise is that although they always find the culprit within 5 minutes, they need to fill up the complete 33 minutes the programme takes, so they come up with bizarre deductions all too familiar to fans of the genre just to see if someone else might've done it).

    Oh, and the first half of Keizoku is pretty good though; It's from the same director of Trick, but starts out a bit more serious (the latter half is supernatural weirdness though).

    @TomCat: I'm just too lazy for that. I know myself pretty well and I would try to comment on every title if I were to make such a list, but such a post would just take way too long to compose, even if I only did 25~50 titles :P

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  12. Woah! I've watched them all yet. Thanks for this list, I really like watching mystery movies.

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  13. @Ho-Ling

    I know, right! Commenting on each, individual title was also a part of my initial, overly enthusiastically plans, but that's barely doable when you're putting together a Top 25 – let alone a 100 titles!

    This list really simplified compared to what I imagined when I started it. :P I should also start hunting down Furuhata Ninzaburou episodes again. Haven't seen an episode in over a year. The last one was the origin story with a young Furuhata Ninzaburou and all the wonderful Holmesian allusions.

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  14. hi,

    This is a great list and gives me a lot of suggestions for what I should read in the coming months, I guess I would not put Father Brown mysteries in there. I'm currently reading The Wisdom of Father Brown and have absolutely disliked it.

    Very happy to see a lot of books from the master himself "John Dickson Carr", but a bit surprised to see that you have not included Reader is Warned or The Red Widow Murders.

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  15. Sorry to read that you are not enjoying Chesterton, but may I suggest The Incredulity of Father Brown, which, not surprisingly, is my personal favorite, before you give up on him altogether. If you don't like that one, either, than he's simply not your kind of mystery writer.

    The most difficult part in compiling these lists is dropping most of Carr's output from them. I could easily make a list filled with just JDC. So a list like this one will never be truly complete as far as Carr's output is concerned.

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  16. I read The Innocence of Father Brown and thought it wad a decent read, then only I picked up Wisdom but I will take your suggestion and and give "The Incredulity of Father Brown" a try but not anytime soon.

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  17. What do you think is the best plotted novel you've read? I'm looking for one which works like a Swiss clock, where every part serves a precise function, without any superfluous parts.

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    Replies
    1. It's not a very original answer, but Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile fits that description. I re-read and reviewed it for this blog and knowing the solution enhenced my enjoyment of the story, because every thing ticks like a Swiss pocket watch. Plot, characters, setting and atmosphere gel perfectly. But I guess you have already read that one, huh?

      Brand's Green for Danger, Patrick's Death and the Maiden and Huxley's Murder on Safari even has footnotes in the solution pointing out the pages were the clues were given, and like my first answer, has a story were everything snugly fits together. Grossly underrated, IMHO.

      This is a harder question to answer than it appears, because plot quality is more subject to taste than you'd think. Like Green's What a Body!, which I think has a brilliant one-of-a-kind locked room trick, but Patrick couldn't disagree with me more.



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