Monday, July 13, 2015

Around the World in Mystery, Part One.

Although American and British authors dominate the (usually) American and British lists of the best crime writing, mystery has an international history with Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment (Russian), Simenon's Maigret (Belgian), Leroux's Phantom of the Opera (French), and Rampo's Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Japanese), and Borges complex mysteries/anti-mysteries (Argentinian) being chief among many examples. More recently, Zafón, Eco and Larsson have crossed over to becoming international bestsellers.

The reader who dares to explore the full world of mystery writers is rewarded with new insights and perspectives and experiences a diversity of cultures and landscapes. To read world literature is to sample the best the world has to offer.

Where to start? Below I've assembled several lists from famous authors who advocate for reading the mystery and crime novels from their countries and regions. Other entries are for the best crime novels set in a particular location and those which describe the location best. In a future post, I will look at the best locations in crime novels and those authors who best describe their bloody towns.

Camilla Läckberg: Top 10 Swedish Crime Novels

Swedish mysteries are hot, probably due to global warming. Läckberg is one of the dominant figures in Swedish literature with each of her novels achieving bestseller status. Her list of the best crime novels from her native land.

1. The Mind's Eye by Håkan Nesser
Soulful works with very real characters including the villains.
2. Blackwater by Kerstin Ekman
A bestseller and classic.
3. Missing by Karin Alvtegen
A psychological thriller.
4. Sun Storm by Åsa Larsson
Following the exploits of an amateur detective/tax attorney.
5. The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell
Inspector Wallander has gone on to fame in Swedish and BBC productions.
6. Unseen by Mari Jungstedt
Included because there are not enough crime-solving couples in this world.
7. Shame by Karin Alvtegen
Follows the story of a pair tormented by memories.
8. Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin
A ghost and a mystery.
9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Mystery, sharply-defined characters and action.
10. Midwinter Blood by Mons Kallentoft
A terrific plot.

Brian McGilloway: Top 20 Modern Irish Crime Novels

McGilloway has written two bestselling series, one featuring Inspector Devlin and one featuring Detective Sergeant Lucy Black. His list:

1. The Wrong Kind of Blood by Declan Hughes
The opening: The last time, they'd pressed the sharpened points of their sheath knives into the flesh of their thumbs, and let their blood mingle, and smeared it on each other's foreheads till it looked like burning embers. They were blood brothers for sure then, bound fast as any natural born siblings. But embers turn to ashes and blood doesn't always take.
2. The Guards by Ken Bruen
One of the pioneers of the modern Irish crime novel.
3. Mystery Man by Bateman
Comic romp in a mystery book store.
4. Darkhouse by Alex Barclay
Mixes American and Irish story lines.
5. The Midnight Choir by Gene Kerrigan
Brings a psychological and journalistic insight into his characters.
6. The Big O by Declan Burke
"... recalls Elmore Leonard at his best."
7. Dead I Well May Be by Adrian McKinty
"... hard-boiled Irish noir at its best."
8. Undertow by Arlene Hunt
A dark look at immigrants' plights in modern Ireland.
9. The Anglo-Irish Murders by Ruth Dudley Edwards
Edwards skewers modern Irish politics.
10. In The Woods by Tana French
Hugely popular, a mystery that remains mysterious.

Catherine Sampson: Top 10 Asian Crime Fiction

Sampson lives in Beijing where she has also set her more recent mystery novels. Her list includes both Asian writers and Western writers who set their works in Asia.

1. Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong
Detective Chen investigates a case that threatens to upset Chinese politicians.
2. Playing For Thrills by Wang Shuo
Featuring Chinese punk, Shuo's works are often banned in China.
3. Crime De Sang by He Jiahong
Jiahong delves into the justice and injustice of China's legal system.
4. Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
Organized crime in Bombay.
5. Jack the Ladykiller by HRF Keating
Keating looks at colonial India circa 1935 in this mystery.
6. Out by Natsuo Kirino
The tale of a young woman who murders her husband.
7. All She Was Worth by Miyake Miyabe
Looks at the dark side of Japan consumerism.
8. Inspector Imanishi Investigates by Seicho Matsumoto
A Japanese classic police procedural from the sixties.
9. Murder At Mount Fuji by Shizuko Natsuki
A visiting American and a Japanese detective work together to solve a murder.
10. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
1950s Saigon, before the American disaster.

Michael Stanley: Top 10 African Crime Novels

Michael Stanley, like Ellery Queen, is a pseudonym for a mystery-writing pair, native Africans Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Link.

1. Murder at Government House by Elspeth Huxley
Although remembered mostly for The Flame Trees of Thika, Huxley also wrote mysteries including Murder at Government House which looks at the death of the ruling governor and a web of colonial intrigue.
2. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Although Christie tried her hand at classical Egyptology in other books, this one is a straightforward Poirot mystery.
3. Song Dog by James McClure
McClure examined apartheid South African through mystery tales featuring a black and a white detective.
4. Instruments of Darkness by Robert Wilson
A British ex-pat and a local policeman work together to solve a murder in Benin.
5. The Screaming of the Innocent by Unity Dow
Dow was the first female High Court judge in Botswana and she has written several novels examining justice from an African point of view.
6. The Mission Song by John le Carré
le Carré follows a native African as he uncovers a plot to overthrow the government in Congo.
7. Devils Peak by Deon Meyer
Set in contemporary South Africa, the story follows a man seeking revenge and the detective whose job is to stop him.
8. Blood Rose by Margie Orford
Orford worked as a crime reporter and provides a realism to a grisly tale in modern South Africa.
9. Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
Quartey writes about his native Ghana and the complex tensions that border on violence.
10. Zulu by Caryl Férey
Férey also turned his talents to writing about South Africa and how the apartheid history continues to destroy the present day.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón: Best Gothic of the 20th Century.

Zafón writes Southern Gothic: i.e, set in southern Spain. His novel Shadow of the Wind is the best-selling Spanish novel since Don Quixote (a fact which I did not know) and a great read (which I do know). Beneath each entry is a quote from his descriptions each of which was direct and vivid. This is an international list in only a limited sense: one selection is from Sweden, three from England and the rest from the United States; however, you can also add
Zafón to your reading list.
1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
"Jackson's writings are a must for aficionados of the gothic and of good literature."
2. Mysteries of Winterthurn by Joyce Carol Oates
"Life is short, so kill your TV now and start exploring her universe."
3. Sanctuary by William Faulkner
". . .it has always been regarded suspiciously and considered a minor work. It is not."
4.  Double Indemnity by James M Cain
"Lean, mean and dazzling."
5. Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg
"If you ask me, this novel is the best mystery thriller ever written."
6. The Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake
"Dark, dense, baroque and hauntingly beautiful."
7. Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
". . . one of the most interesting and promising writers to appear in the last few years in any genre."
8. Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories by Angela Carter
"A treasure chest of wonderfully wicked stories..."
9. Pet Sematary by Stephen King
"A modern-day Dickens with a popular voice. . ."
10. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
"... a fresh, powerful and brutally honest reinvention of the vampire novel."

Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. His latest mystery, Never Kill A Friend, is available from Ransom Note Press. His epic poem, Two Mistakes, recently won second place in the Margaret Reid/Tom Howard Poetry Competition. He can be contacted at


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