CWA list: When written, male versus female, Yank versus Brit.
MWA list: When written, male versus female, Yank versus Brit.
|The CWA list favored British authors, the MWA list favored American authors. Both favored male authors.|
The above pie charts reflect the individual authors on the lists, not how many books they wrote.
I used the lists as a personal guide to bulk up on my reading of the classics. Now that I have read a sufficient number, I'm setting out on a mission to compose reviews for the top 50 entries from each list. (Fifty-one for CWA due to a tie).
The lists overlap. Using the top 50 from the two lists, there are a total of 76 entries. Four of these are short story collections and the rest are novels. Of these 76, I have read 53, and I plan to read the others as I proceed with the reviews.
Why Read the Classics?
As a jazz-lover, I am a big fan of the be-bop forties and fifties. This must drive modern jazz musicians crazy. They will tell you a lot has happened since. Similarly, it is true that many mystery fans are engaged by the brilliance of the late-greats such as Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and Dorothy L. Sayers, sometimes to the exclusion of modern masters who could profit from a few extra sales.
I would argue that the older pieces are better. Why? To continue the above analogy, one reason that old music seems better than the recent output is that the poorer old pieces have been forgotten. Along these lines, the top novels from 150 years of mysteries have had 150 years to accumulate their best. Extending this argument, the list of all-time greats is still growing, but slowly. The 76 entries in a century-and-a-half, works out to be a single choice every two years.
Because of this, I hold two seemingly contradictory opinions: the classics are the best and these are the good old days.
Furthermore, the enduring classics remain relevant for a reason. Ezra Pound once said that "literature is news that stays news." For a classic to endure, it must resonate with a truth that speaks across generations.
Two more reasons to read the classics. The first of these is the classic academic reason: by connecting with the classics a reader can begin to build a better appreciation of the modern.
The final reason is this. A time back, I discovered a New York Times article from 1914 in which many of the best writers of the day picked their favorite short stories. I went out of my way to read all of the selections (forty-nine of them, 500,000 plus words). I assembled them in a three volume set so others could read them without hunting them down.
From this exercise in reading pre-modern literature I learned a lot about the rigors of linear plotting and character development, much more so than I had from reading today's writers: Classics have something to teach modern writers. This is even more true for mysteries. More than other genres, classic mysteries have to be brilliantly plotted.
Review of the #1 Mystery Novel from the CWA List.
Here are the top fifty mystery novels and short story collections from the Crime Writers' Association and the Mystery Writers of America, arranged by author. When a particular mystery appears in the top fifty of both lists, its place in the corresponding list is noted in brackets.
The Top 50 Mysteries as chosen by the Crime Writers' Association (1990), by Author.
26 Margery Allingham: The Tiger in the Smoke (1952)
24 Eric Ambler: The Mask of Dimitrios (1939) 
34 E. C. Bentley: Trent's Last Case (1913) 
41 Anthony Berkeley: The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929)
16 Francis Iles: Malice Aforethought (1931)
20 John Buchan: The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) 
30 James M. Cain: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) 
2 Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep (1939) 
7 Raymond Chandler: Farewell My Lovely (1940) 
15 Raymond Chandler: The Long Goodbye (1953) 
47 Raymond Chandler: The Lady in the Lake (1943)
5 Agatha Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) 
19 Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (1939) 
8 Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone (1868) 
28 Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White (1860) 
21 Arthur Conan Doyle: The Collected Sherlock Holmes Short Stories (1892-1927) [1*]
32 Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) [1*]
25 Edmund Crispin: The Moving Toyshop (1946)
9 Len Deighton: The IPCRESS File (1962) 
36 Colin Dexter: The Dead of Jericho (1981)
40 John Dickson Carr: The Hollow Man (1935)
50 John Dickson Carr: The Devil in Velvet (1951)
6 Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca (1938) 
13 Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose (1980) 
35 Ian Fleming: From Russia, with Love (1957)
17 Frederick Forsyth: The Day of the Jackal (1971) 
46 Graham Greene: Brighton Rock (1938)
10 Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon (1930) 
31 Dashiell Hammett: The Glass Key (1931)
38 Patricia Highsmith: Strangers on a Train (1950)
45 Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
14 Geoffrey Household: Rogue Male (1939)
3 John le Carré: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963) 
33 John le Carré: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974) 
44 Ira Levin: A Kiss Before Dying (1953)
27 Peter Lovesey: The False Inspector Dew (1982)
36 Ed McBain: Cop Hater (1956)
42 Ellis Peters: A Morbid Taste for Bones (1977)
42 Ellis Peters: The Leper of Saint Giles (1981)
23 Edgar Allan Poe: Tales of Mystery & Imagination (1852) 
39 Ruth Rendell: A Judgement in Stone (1977)
49 Ruth Rendell: A Demon in My View (1976)
29 Barbara Vine: A Dark-Adapted Eye (1986)
50 Barbara Vine: A Fatal Inversion (1987)
4 Dorothy L. Sayers: Gaudy Night (1935) 
18 Dorothy L. Sayers: The Nine Tailors (1934) 
22 Dorothy L. Sayers: Murder Must Advertise (1933)
1 Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time (1951) 
11 Josephine Tey: The Franchise Affair (1948)
48 Scott Turow: Presumed Innocent (1987) 
12 Hillary Waugh: Last Seen Wearing ... (1952)
The Top 50 Mysteries as Chosen by the Mystery Writers of America (1995), by Author.
17 Eric Ambler: A Coffin for Dimitrios (1939) 
33 E. C. Bentley: Trent's Last Case (1913) 
22 John Buchan: The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) 
14 James M. Cain: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) 
34 James M. Cain: Double Indemnity (1943)
44 Vera Caspary: Laura (1942)
8 Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep (1939) 
13 Raymond Chandler: The Long Goodbye (1953) 
21 Raymond Chandler: Farewell My Lovely (1940) 
10 Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (1939) 
12 Agatha Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) 
19 Agatha Christie: The Witness for the Prosecution (1948)
41 Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express (1934)
7 Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone (1868) 
32 Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White (1860) 
1 Arthur Conan Doyle: The Complete Sherlock Holmes (1887-1927) [21/32]*
35 Martin Cruz Smith: Gorky Park (1981)
43 Len Deighton: The IPCRESS File (1962) 
24 Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Crime and Punishment (1866)
9 Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca (1938) 
23 Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose (1980) 
25 Ken Follett: Eye of the Needle (1978)
20 Frederick Forsyth: The Day of the Jackal (1971) 
48 Graham Greene: The Third Man (1950)
42 John Grisham: The Firm (1991)
2 Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon (1930) 
31 Dashiell Hammett: The Thin Man (1934)
39 Dashiell Hammett: Red Harvest (1929)
16 Thomas Harris: The Silence of the Lambs (1988)
27 Thomas Harris: Red Dragon (1981)
50 Mary Higgins Clark: Where Are the Children? (1975)
37 Tony Hillerman: Dance Hall of the Dead (1973)
6 John le Carré: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963) 
30 John le Carré: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974) 
29 Gregory Mcdonald: Fletch (1974)
26 John Mortimer: Rumpole of the Bailey (1978)
3 Edgar Allan Poe: Tales of Mystery & Imagination (1852) 
15 Mario Puzo: The Godfather (1969)
40 Mary Roberts Rinehart: The Circular Staircase (1908)
18 Dorothy L. Sayers: Gaudy Night (1935) 
28 Dorothy L. Sayers: The Nine Tailors (1934) 
36 Dorothy L. Sayers: Strong Poison (1930)
46 Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö: The Laughing Policeman (1968)
45 Mickey Spillane: I, the Jury (1947)
4 Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time (1951) 
11 Robert Traver: Anatomy of a Murder (1958)
49 Jim Thompson: The Killer Inside Me (1952)
5 Scott Turow: Presumed Innocent (1987) 
38 Donald E. Westlake: The Hot Rock (1970)
47 Donald E. Westlake: Bank Shot (1972)
Further notes: Why the top 50? I've read three-quarters of them and only half of the top 100 lists. I have found the lists to be more hit and miss for numbers 51 to 100. In previous blog entries I discussed the novels at the exclusion of the short stories. It seemed problematic to consider publication date of a collection of short stories, or complete collections in describing aspects of a writer's career. Here, I will include the short story collections.
*The CWA list has the complete short stories of Sherlock Holmes as one entry and Hound of the Baskervilles as another. The MWA has the complete Sherlock Holmes as a single entry. These were counted as overlapping.
Martin Hill Ortiz is the author of Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press.
|Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press|
Never Kill A Friend is available for purchase in hard cover format and as an ebook.
The story follows Shelley Krieg, an African-American detective for the Washington DC Metro PD as she tries to undo a wrong which sent an innocent teenager to prison.
Hard cover: Amazon US
Kindle: Amazon US
Hard cover: Amazon UK
Kindle: Amazon UK
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