The Top Twenty
I have now made a score of posts presenting and analyzing The 100 Top Mystery Novels lists from the Crime Writers' Association (British, 1990), the Mystery Writers of America (1995), and the two lists of "Western" (American and European) Novels from the Mystery Writers of Japan (1985, 2012).
I believe these lists to represent a historical mind-set of the best in mystery from a time when lists did not overwhelm us. (The exception being the 2012 list.) Yes, once upon a time, lists had important things to say. These statements were not a definitive declaration of which is the best, but did put forward what mystery lovers considered were the best.
In the posts I've made, I've noted that the lists tell stories of their own: how appreciated are female writers? (not appreciated enough). What was the golden age of writing? (these are the good old days).
Here are the twenty novels which made the lists from all three sources. (Note: any book written after 1990 could not have made all three lists.) For the sake of ranking, the MWJ 1985 and 2012 were combined as one and had one vote. The three individual rankings were summed and then ordered.
Arthur Conan Doyle was shortchanged because each of the lists had a different way of dealing with his works. The British list lumped all of the Holmes short stories together and included The Hound of the Baskervilles, separately. The American list lumped together all of Sherlock Holmes works together, short stories and novels (and ranked it number one). The Japanese lists considered individual Holmes' novels and short story collections.
Rank Author Title (Year)
1 Agatha Christie The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
2 Agatha Christie And Then There Were None (1939)
3 Raymond Chandler The Long Goodbye (1953)
4 Dashiell Hammett The Maltese Falcon (1930)
5 Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose (1980)
6 Josephine Tey The Daughter of Time (1951)
7 Frederick Forsyth The Day of the Jackal (1971)
8 Raymond Chandler Farewell, My Lovely (1940)
9 John le Carré The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963)
10 Scott Turow Presumed Innocent (1987)
11 Raymond Chandler The Big Sleep (1939)
12 Daphne du Maurier Rebecca (1932)
13 Dorothy L. Sayers The Nine Tailors (1934)
14 James M. Cain The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)
15 Eric Ambler The Mask of Dimitrios aka A Coffin for Dimitrios (1939)
16 Edmund Clerihew Bentley Trent's Last Case (1913)
17 John Dickson Carr The Hollow Man aka The Three Coffins (1935)
18 Dashiell Hammett Red Harvest (1929)
19 Ruth Rendell A Judgement in Stone (1977)
20 Dashiell Hammett The Glass Key (1931)
Next up: How long should a mystery novel be?