Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Best 100 Crime & Mystery Books

From time to time I see complaints on various blogs about how too many modern mystery readers (as well as some writers) seem to have no sense of--or much respect for--the writers who've gone before.

H.R. F. Keating is a distinguished novelist (the Inspector Ghote stories for just one example) and critic (for years he reviewed crime novels for the Times of London) who has written a book that is a graduate study course in the history of mystery. In one hundred thoughtful--and sometimes brilliant--short essays he traces the mystery from Poe to the late eighties and P.D. James.

This is a sleek, witty, rich travel guide through examples of every kind of mystery, from Christie to Wambaugh. With pieces on, G.K. Chesterton, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Ngaio Marsh, Margaret Millar, Ed McBain and many, many others Keating touches on the themes, styles, trends of every decade from 1868 to 1986. You may not want to read every single book Keating recommends but the essays you will give you a helpful, historical sense of the mystery's evolution over more than a century.

I've mentioned before that Keating is so good a stylist, he's fun to read just for how he shapes his sentences. He also has his own slant on writers. Much as I admired Julian Symons his own collection of opinions (Bloody Murder) cost me a couple of molars from grinding my teeth. Keating is more gracious; he finds the most interesting book in a writer's bibliography--not always the most popular. He never offers us a bad book just so he can score points.

"Indispensable" is rarely used appropriately but it certainly applies here. If there is one book that belongs on the shelf of every mystery reader, this is it.

6 comments:

Martin Edwards said...

I agree, Harry Keating's book is marvellous. Great to dip in to, or to read from start to finish. (I must add I'm also a huge fan of the Symons book - I think he was trying to do something rather different from Harry's celebration of landmarks in the genre.)

Ed Gorman said...

I thought the Symons books was fine for the most part, it was just a few of his opinions that really rankled. I was also an admirer of his fiction. I want to make it clear that Bloody Murder is well worth owning.

Ed Gorman said...

I thought the Symons books was fine for the most part, it was just a few of his opinions that really rankled. I was also an admirer of his fiction. I want to make it clear that Bloody Murder is well worth owning.

Laurie King said...

Every year I submit Harry Keating's name to MWA for consideration as a Grand Master, and every year he's overlooked. If there is any writer on the planet who is the very definition of Grand Master, it's HRF Keating.

buckycatt said...

Is this book still in print? Amazon doesn't look like it!

Mick Parker said...

You mentioned Ed McBain. He was one of the first American writers I found as a young man. I loved his cop stories, but eventually drifted away from that genre to others. I'm now a writer myself and like to think my skills were helped by reading people like Ed McBain. My Sixth novel will be out in May 2009. You can learn more at http://www.the thirdsecret.co.uk

Michael Parker