Crime fiction favourites

I love crime fiction; have loved it ever since I discovered it at the age of 12 or 13. Crime fiction, well-written, is one of the most satisfying reading experiences there is: technically, the crime story provides a superb structure; characters are usually at crisis points in their lives and therefore can be explored vividly, atmosphere is tense–and more than anything, the stakes are high, in every way.
Over the years, I’ve discovered new authors and waxed and waned over old ones, but there are some authors I always enjoy, and a few who have disappointed me as I’ve gone on. Still others are patchy, but this is a bit of a list of those crime fiction writers, of all kinds, who have thrilled me over the years. How about yours?

*Agatha Christie–my first introduction to the genre. I devoured her books as a child for their suspense and puzzle but have come back to them time and again over the years for their humour, sly wit, archetypal yet vivid characters, great settings, and willingness to explore many different kinds of ideas, concepts and notions, yet all with a lightness of touch that has led some critics to dismiss her as lightweight. Nothing could be further from the truth. Their timeless appeal, like Tintin’s or Hitchcock’s, is based on both freshness and familiarity; a deceptively simple storytelling that reveals more and more the more you look. They’re not all equally good; but I’ve never failed to finish one.
*PD James–though I don’t like everything she does, at her best she is great. I didn’t like ‘Murder in Holy Orders’ for instance, but loved the newest one, ‘The Murder Room’, ‘Original Sin’, and many others.
*James Lee Burke–great stories and fantastically vivid pictures of New Orleans and Lousiana, so vivid that when we went there a couple of years ago, I felt as though I was on familiar territory! I prefer his Robicheaux books–the ones set in Louisiana–to the Billy Bob books–set in Montana–but the latter are not bad at all.
*Martin Cruz Smith–I adored Gorky Park and have liked most of the other Arkady Renko books, except for Polar Star which I found a little tedious. The latest, Wolves Eat Dogs, which I got for Christmas, is very good–a trawl through the wasteland of Chernobyl and murders connected to it.
*Ruth Rendell–well, especially her Inspector Wexford ones, which I think are very well-written, tightly-controlled and always interesting. Some of the others can go off into horror story territory more, and the Barbara Vine novels have to be swallowed slowly, and never one after the other, otherwise you feel rather sick, like when you’ve read too much Edgar Allan Poe or something.
*Arthur Conan Doyle–I still love the old Sherlock, and the cleverness of the solutions!
*Ross McDonald–this little known American crime writer of the 60’s is an excellent, intelligent and often melancholy read
*Dashiell Hammett–especially The Maltese Falcon
*Reginald Hill–the Dalziel and Pascoe novels are excellent, funny, and addictive
*Ian Rankin–the Rebus novels of a gritty Edinburgh crime scene are terrific, though I found the latest–Fleshmarket Close–boring and not up to standard
*Colin Dexter–Morse and Oxford, a great combination
*Sheila Radley–English author who didn’t write many books, but those that we have are little melancholy gems
*Ellis Peters–went through a Brother Cadfael craze at one stage, especially as I know the area where the books are set, in Shropshire, qyuite well. She’s by far the best of the ‘medieval mystery’ writers
*Walter Mosley–started off with Devil in a Blue Dress and have enjoyed most of what he’s written
*Lindsey Davis–the Falco novels set in Ancient Rome are a lot of fun, a sort of grown-up’s Asterix!
*Kathy Reichs–her Quebec-set novels are patchy, but at their best, can be pretty good.
*Peter Corris–the only Australian crime writer who I think can stand up alongside the others.
I’ve probably forgotten heaps, but those are the ones that spring directly to mind. As you can see, I’m not a great fan of the ‘hard-boiled’ sort, really, and I lean towards the British tradition, though with some exceptions. I have to say that though I’m French I’m not a great fan of Simenon, finding neither Maigret nor the stories particularly engaging.

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James Russell
2022 years ago

I’m much more enamoured of the hardboiled style. Chandler, Woolrich, Cain (both of them), Thompson, Bardin… that’s the stuff for me.

Michael Warby
2022 years ago

I enjoy Kerry Greenwood’s books, but I am not a crime fiction afficiando, I am very fond of Melbourne — which is a living entity in her books — and she’s a friend.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

here’s one out of left field – Chesterton. His Father Brown stories are quite clever and what is more, they frequently involve the debunking of supernatural explanations by naturalistic explanations.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Another one from left field: the Judge Dee novels of Dutch sinologist and diplomat Robert van Gulik. Judge Dee, for those not familiar with the books, is a district magistrate in China during the Tang dynasty. He moves around between provinces and solves various crimes, usually of the murderous variety. Judge Dee is usually assisted in his investigations by Ma Joong and Chaio Tai, reformed highwaymen, and Tao Gan, repentant swindler.

Not the best writing you will ever come across but the books have real charm.

Also – not sure if Alexander McCall Smith’s series about the No.1 Ladies detective Agency in Gabarone, Botswana is real crime fiction, but if it is it gets my vote as one of the best.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Conan-doyle was brilliant.
Agatha Christie was very good and fancy Jason liking GK Chesterton. The overt christian message pased him by. Damned fine novels though.

Susan
Susan
2022 years ago

No Peter Temple? I recommend. Urge you all, in fact.

Tony.T
2022 years ago

Raymond Chandler. No contest.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

I have bloodier tastes, since I’m evil — Jeffrey Deaver, Thomas Harris, Michael Connelly and others of the contemporary American school spring to mind. Though there’s nothing wrong with most of the authors previously mentioned.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Just remembered it was Dashiell Hammett who wrote ‘The Thin Man’. Definitely one for the immortals’ list.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
2022 years ago

“Hammett took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley.” Raymond Chandler, the Art of Murder

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

“and fancy Jason liking GK Chesterton. The overt christian message pased him by. Damned fine novels though.”
Homer, Chesterton is a Catholic. I thought you didn’t regard them as Christians?:-)
Anyway I liked this quote re the Father Brown stories
http://thinklings.org/jaredwilson/paradoxes_in_chesterton.html

“The detective’s priestly demeanor hides his refined intellect. Later in the story, when Flambeau asks what gave him away, Father Brown replies, “You attacked reason . . . It’s bad theology”

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Chesterton, Jason! Of course! How could I forget those! Loved them too. Sparkling and clever, yet with that undertone of seriousness–of moral strength–and healthy scepticism that isn’t however corrosive cynicism. They still stand up very well today..
And Rob, I love Alexander McCall Smith’s Botswanan series, too. Haven’t read his Scottish one–has anyone here? I’m told they’re rather more mannered than the No I Ladies..

Amanda
2022 years ago

I love mysteries of all eras and levels of bloodiness. Most of theose mentioned already are favourites (Christie, Chandler, James, Rendell, Burke, Mosely, Leonard) Recently I’ve been reading alot of Val McDiarmid. I also liked Patricia Cornwall’s Scarpetta books, although I was lukewarm on the one before last and haven’t got around to the new one. And don’t get me started on her Jack the Ripper nonsense.

Also Jim Thompson who is quiet overlooked thse days.

bill
bill
2022 years ago

Elmore Leonard. Expertly captures the conversation and the thinking of low life criminals in the seedy underbelly of America.

Nicolas Freeling. Always loved the European ambience of the van der Valk books, favourite is Gun Before Butter. I never really warmed up to Henri Castang.

Henning Mankell. Kurt Wallander the morose depressive Swedish detective is oddly compelling.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Jason,
If Chesterton IS then he isn’t a christian nor a catholic he is the messiah coming back!

Georg
2022 years ago

I count him as crime, dunno if everyone else does but James Ellroy would have to be one of the best. The old Ellery Queen is good, especially Cat of Many Tails, perhaps one of my favourite crime books ever. The best though is without doubt, Dashiell Hammett.

Andrew Frazer
Andrew Frazer
2022 years ago

Hammett and Chandler for mine. I was an Agatha Christie addict at school some *ahem* 20 years ago, but when I read some short stories a couple of years ago I found them quite unsatisfying.

My partner, who reads much more crime than I do, swears by Dot Sayers and Josephine Tey.

Simon Evans
2022 years ago

I second the vote for Kerry Greenwood, for both her Phryne Fisher novels and her Corinne Chapman novels. Both have an immensely strong sense of place – Melbourne lives and breathes. (And they’re the only crime novels that I know that have muffin and bread recipes.) That said, some of the novels are a bit obvious – as whodunits they are uneven. Nonetheless, strongly recommended, particularly for periods of illness and recuperation (which should give some clue about the writing).