Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Here's a list of ten more of my all-time favourite crime novels

Ten favourite crime novels simply weren't enough (see previous post) so here's another ten. I've tried not to repeat any of the writers from the first list (otherwise there would have been at least four more Chandlers and six more Highsmiths). I've only snuck in one short story collection - or else there's have been lots of Sherlock Holmes. 

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy (1987) – the first of Ellroy’s LA Quartet novels, set in 1943. His heavily-mannered, staccato style eventually got on my nerves, but it was fresh and intriguing here.

Wobble to Death by Peter Lovesey (1969) the first of the Sgt Cribb mysteries - set in 1879 London against the background of a six-day endurance race.

The Big Kiss-Off of 1944 by Andrew Bergman (1974) – New York Private Eye Jack LeVine helps young woman on cusp of stardom track down porno films she appeared in – sparkling stuff, with lots of real-life figures.

Fletch by Gregory Mcdonald (1974) – wisecracking ex-marine reporter is hired by a dying businessman to kill him – just very funny (quality suffered in later additions to the series).

The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham (1952) – strangely un-annoying posh amateur sleuth Albert Campion tracks down a very nasty piece of work in fog-shrouded London – very stylishly written.

Something Nasty in the Woodshed Kyril Bonfiglioli (1976) – second in a trilogy of novels featuring a degenerate aristocratic art-dealer – constantly surprising and funny, and should be better known (In 1999, Craig Brown completed a fourth Charlie Mortdecai confection which was unfinished at the time of Bonfiglioli's death from cirhossis of the liver in 1985.)

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton (1941) – subtitled “A Tale of Darkest Earl’s Court”, it moves to a spectacularly seedy Brighton and ends up in Maidenhead - dark and strange and depressing and unremittingly unpleasant (as was its alcoholic author) – God alone knows why I love it.

Trent’s Last Case by E.C. Bentley (1913) – annoyingly pretentious gentleman sleuth hunts the killer of a tycoon – again, I’ve no idea why I enjoy this so much.

The Mind of Mr JG Reeder by Edgar Wallace (1925) - a cheat, this, because it's actually a
collection of short stories - Reeder is an unassuming police detective will silly side-burns working for the public prosecutor's office. The stories are ridiculous and Wallace's writing style is appalling - and yet I lapped up every daft word of it (and the sequels).

The Black Marble by Joseph Wambaugh - the opening scene where a burned-out drunken Russian-American LA homicide detective hero attends Midnight Mass at an Orthodox Church is funny and poignant.

And yet there was no room for The Blue Nowhere by Jeffrey Deaver (computer hacker helps police combat another - homicidal - computer hacker), Roger L. Smon's The Big Fix, Caleb Carr's The Alienist, Thomas Harris's Red Dragon, The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell, Phillip Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy, any of the Colin Dexter Morse novels, Julian Symons The Blackheath Poisonings or even Death on The Nile, or James Crumley's The Last Good Kiss or anything by Elmore Leonard or Simenon or Jo Nesbø or... well, I'll leave you to fill in your own titles.


  1. Two great lists. The trouble about these lists is that you are reminded of what you haven't read. Apart from Eric Ambler I have not read any of the British writers [even Conan Doyle] or Georges Simenon. I note "Brighton Rock" does not make the cut. Strange.

    There is a nod towards the marvellous James Elroy and no mention of Dashiel Hammett [Maltese Falcon], James M. Cain [Postman etc, Mildred Pierce, Double Indemnity], George V. Higgins [ Friends of Eddie Coyle], Ross McDonald, George Pelecanos , Richard Price [the last two were heavily involved in writing "The Wire"] and the Swedes Sjöwall and Whalöö [ the Martin Beck series].

    And the daddy of them all, the colossus they call "Big" Jim Thompson? His "Killer Inside Me" [and the subsequent film treatment] is outstanding. Apart from all his great crime fiction he wrote the screenplays for "The Killing" and "Paths of Glory" for Kubrick who never fully acknowledged the fact [ bastard that he was].

    Crime fiction throws up some strange stories. Hemingway's very short story "The Killers" ended up being shot as film twice - in 1946 it kick-started Burt Lancaster's career and in 1964 it signalled the end of the acting career of one R. Regan [a very good performance as a heavy]. Some of us wish Old Hem had concentrated on crime writing because he was very good at it. Elmore Leonard pulled exactly the same trick with the Western " 3:10 to Yuma" [British title: "The 3:10 to Yuma has been cancelled."]

    I was going to make a point about "Oliver Twist", but my mind has gone blank. Must go and take my meds.

    1. The film of Brighton Rock would make the list, but the book has always struck me as a bit too literary and too much about Catholicism to count as a true crime movel - same reason Conrad’s The Secret Agent isn’t here, despite being one of the greatest novels of all time, and Richard Price’s excellent Clockers. Haven’t really figured out why I feel this way – I’ll ponder.

      Hammett – loved the movies, never really enjoyed the novels as much – but Maltese Falcon and Red Harvest almost made it, as did Double Indemnity. I’d forgotten about the excellent Friends of Eddie Coyle. I must try the Martin Beck series – never got round to it – the Laughing Policeman is on a list of eight recommended crime classics I jotted down whlle compiling these lists. I went through a Jim Thompson phase, but I find his books too nasty, somehow (I read a biography about him and he was truly horrible).

      Dickens was brilliant at criminals.

      Agreed about Hemingway - his style had a huge effect on hard-boiled crime writing. Reagan missed his true calling, which, despite his amiability, was to play baddies.

  2. I hope to read some of these one day.The Cry of The Owl by Patricia High Smith,although not as good as the first Ripley novel is a good read,as is a A Murder of Quality,by John Le Carre who was just beginning to cut his teeth on this genre.

    1. I love "A Murder of Quality" - have picked it out to re-ead next - thanks for the reminder