Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What are the Best Mystery Novels of the Past 25 Years?

Over 25 years have passed since 1990 when the Crime Writers' Association of Britain compiled their list of the 100 Best Mystery Novels. It has been 20 years since the Mystery Writers of America undertook a similar effort. These lists, which included several entries that are short story collections, have been commented on and analyzed in past posts.

The lists.

This post presents the question: What novels of recent years are worthy to be included on a list of the best mystery novels? Combined, the 1990 and 1995 lists contained 156 novels spanning approximately 130 years. Therefore, it seems reasonable to add at least one novel for each year. How to narrow down a list to 26 entries? 

Below are the main competitors. I have unfairly included only one novel per author and even with this limitation the number swells rapidly to over fifty. 

One of the greater points of contention is why I chose a particular volume to represent an author's work. I did have a method, albeit a flawed one. I looked for the highest ratings on Goodreads among the top vote-getters for a particular author. Other times, I included the first in a series because that work defined them.

I tried to keep this list impersonal. I have read approximately half of these and could not judge those I did not read, and I did include several which were popular, but not my favorites.

Automatic Inclusions:

  • The Firm by John Grisham (1991)
  •  Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Moseley (1990)
These two are the sole mysteries on the MWA list that were published too late to be considered for the CWA list.

The Juggernauts.

Often when a book is too successful, it invites scorn. Other times it is worthy of every sale.
(This list, along with the others, is alphabetical by author)

  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2002)
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)
  • Millennium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. . .) by Stieg Larssen (2005-2007)
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002)
  • Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2001) Although lesser known than the above choices, this is the second best-selling novel in the history of Spain, after Don Quixote, and one of the top 90 best-selling books (not just novels) of all time.

People's Choice.

Other quality works that were immensely popular or are representative of best-selling authors.
  • The Alienist by Caleb Carr (1994)
  • Worth Dying For by Lee Child (2010)
  • Tell No One by Harlan Coben (2001)
  • All That Remains by Patricia Cornwell (1992)
  • The Cold Moon by Jeffery Deaver  (2006)
  • One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (1994)
  • In the Woods by Tana French (2007)
  • Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)
  • Kiss The Girls by James Patterson (1995)
  • The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (2002)
  • Buried Prey by John Sandford (2011)
  • The #1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (1998)

Other Acknowledged Masters.

My intent for this group is to include representative works from others who are acknowledged as the best in the field. Some of these could qualify as people's choice above while others peaked below the bestseller lists.
  • Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by MC Beaton (1992)
  • The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke (2010)
  • Loves Music, Loves to Dance by Mary Higgins Clark (1992)
  • The Black Echo by Michael Connelly (1992)
  • The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook (1996)
  • L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy (1990)
  • M is for Malice by Sue Grafton (1996)
  • Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg (1992)
  • Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (2003)
  • The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey (1991)
  • No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (2005)
  • The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø, Don Bartlett (2000)
  • The Judas Child by Carol O'Connell  (1998)
  • 1974 by David Peace (1999)
  • Right As Rain by George Pelecanos (2001)
  • A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (2011)
  • Clock Watchers by Richard Price (1992)
  • A Simple Plan by Scott Smith (1993)
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)
  • Affinity by Sarah Waters  (1999)

Masters in the Later Parts of their Careers.

Although most of these authors were included on the MWA and CWA lists, they continued to put out memorable works.
  • The Cat Who Came to Breakfast by Lilian Jackson Braun (1994)
  • To the Hilt by Dick Francis (1996)
  • The Private Patient by P.D. James (2008)
  • The Constant Gardener by John le Carré (2000)
  • Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard (1990)
  • Body Work by Sara Paretsky (2010)
  • Night Passage by Robert B Parker (1997)
  • Anna's Book by Barbara Vine (1993)



  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003)
  • Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris (2001)
  • The City and the City by China Mieville (2009)
  • Naked In Death by JD Robb (1995)

If Non-Fiction is Considered.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt (1994)
  • And the Sea Will Tell by Vincent Bugliosi (1991)
  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (2003)
  • Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon (1991)


The Mystery Writers of Japan did update their list of best Western mystery novels in 2012. Below are the choices that were published after the 1990 cut-off of the CWA list. Many of these are already listed above.

  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown  (2003)
  • The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook  (1996)
  • The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver  (1997)
  • The Cold Moon by Jeffery Deaver  (2006)
  • White Jazz by James Ellroy (1992)
  • Point of Impact  by Stephen Hunter  (1993)
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro  (2005)
  • Millennium series by Stieg Larsson  (2005-2007)
  • Boy's Life by Robert R. McCammon  (1991)
  • The Judas Child by Carol O'Connell  (1998)
  • The Big Blowdown  by George Pelecanos (1996)
  • Flicker  by Theodore Roszak (1991)
  • A Simple Plan by Scott Smith (1993)
  • Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (2008)
  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002)
  • Affinity by Sarah Waters  (1999)
  • A Cool Breeze on the Underground by Don Winslow (1991)
  • The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow (2005)
If you do consider two or more entries from worthy authors (as did MWJ), this combination of lists could grow into 100 mystery novels in the past 26 years.

A Predator's Game, now available, Rook's Page Publishing.

A Predator's Game is available in soft-cover and ebook editions through Amazon and other online retailers.
Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Henry H. Holmes are all characters in my thriller, A Predator's Game.

Back page blurb of A Predator's Game.

Manhattan, 1896.

When the author Arthur Conan Doyle meets Nikola Tesla he finds a tall, thin genius with a photographic memory and a keen eye, and recognizes in the eccentric inventor the embodiment of his creation, Sherlock. Together, they team up to take on an "evil Holmes." Multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes has escaped execution and is unleashing a reign of terror upon the metropolis. Set in the late nineteenth century in a world of modern marvels, danger and invention, Conan Doyle and Tesla engage the madman in a deadly game of wits.

Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. Its sequel, set in 1890s Manhattan and titled A Predator's Game, will be available from Rook's Page Publishing, March 30, 2016. It features Nikola Tesla as detective.

His recent 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

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps I've leaned too hard toward the popular, but relying on award-winners has faults of its own. And if a book was obscure would I be adding it in due to my personal prejudices?
    I also combed websites that addressed this question or listed "best of all time" and considered those published 1990 or after.
    Perhaps I neglected literary mysteries (Ishiguro, for example).