Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The 20 best crime novels of all time!!!!!!!!!!

Well, that's what writers at The Telegraph, a fairly prominent British newspaper, would have us believe.

In a recently published piece that may be more about generating hits with the headline and comments with the choices, the following were selected as crime's best of all time:

  • THE WOMAN IN WHITE by Wilkie Collins
  • STRANGERS ON A TRAIN by Patricia Highsmith
  • THE DAUGHTER OF TIME by Josephine Tey
  • THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD by Agatha Christie
  • THE MADMAN OF BERGERAC by Georges Simenon
  • THE NINE TAILORS by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • REBECCA by Daphne de Maurier
  • IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote
  • THE NAME OF THE ROSE by Umberto Eco
  • THE NEW YORK TRILOGY by Paul Auster
  • MISERY by Stephen King
  • THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler
  • LA CONFIDENTIAL by James Ellroy
  • FATHERLAND by Robert Harris
  • FINGERSMITH by Sarah Waters
  • THE SUSPICIONS OF MR WHICHER by Kate Summerscale
  • GET SHORTY by Elmore Leonard
Phew... well, plenty to create discussion there, and I guess in this modern hit-focused world of online journalism, that's the key consideration. Throw something up, with a little bit of thought or research (maybe), and then get people clicking and commenting... fair enough, that's how it goes nowadays, so I guess I should keep that in mind when analysing The Telegraphs' effort here.

I've seen a few such 'best crime novels' lists in my time, and this, for me, isn't one of the better ones. It seems they've picked a whole lot of names they think should be in there from the history of the genre, and represented them with a book (debatable in many cases whether it truly is the author's best novel), then added in some well-known other novels, and a few outliers. Not the worst way to put together such a list, but overall I find this one a bit 'meh'. 

A few thoughts and ponderings from someone who's loved the genre since childhood days of Hardy Boys, Agathie Christie, and Sherlock Holmes, and reads a wide range of authors old and new for interest and as a reviewer-interviewer: 
  • It seems like the list is trying to nod to history, but no Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, Edgar Allan Poe, EC Bentley or Ngaio Marsh, amongst others? Authors who were seen at the time and since as superior crime writers to contemporaries on the list? (okay, a couple of them got 'honourable mentions' at the end of the article in an additional 'contenders' section, but still... )
  • SMILLA'S FEELING FOR SNOW as the Nordic noir representative? (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was mentioned in 'the contenders' add-on ... and even then, Larsson's book bolstered the Nordic crime wave beyond fans to the wider populace, but are either really superior to some of the novels of Sjowall and Wahloo (who along with Ed McBain created a storytelling style influencing many others, in books and on-screen since) or contemporary stuff from the likes of Jo Nesbo)?
  • A few 'modern' novels in amongst the history lesson, but nothing on either list from the likes of James Lee Burke (massive, massive oversight), let alone Ian Rankin, John Hart, Michael Connelly, Daniel Woodrell, and many, many  other terrific, talented crime writing wordsmiths? 
  • Several of the books on 'the contenders' epilogue seem superior to some on the 'top 20' list, but worse, there are plenty of books on both lists that seem to take the place of terrific authors and books that don't make either list... 
  • No love for books that shifted the genre, such as Thomas Harris's novels, or Patricia Cornwell's earlier forensic-focused work? 
  • The list does seem a little Euro/Brit focused, either in terms of authors or books that have done well/won awards there... although that is understandable, as its The Telegraph.
So, that's some initial thoughts from me. I'd love to hear what you think. What books have been overlooked? What books shouldn't be on the list? How many hits and misses for The Telegraph?


  1. I agree with you--this is more about generating responses and hits and less about any serious attempt to really create a list of the 20 all time greats.

    As for missing authors--P. D. James along with the ones you bring up and many others.

  2. It seems like an okay list to be getting on with, but a bit conventional. The one that stood out to me on it, though I haven't read it, is The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. I know it because I used to work in a bookstore, but it is pretty recent (2008) and not anything I had heard the kind of praise for that would seem to warrant this. But maybe it had more of a following in England.

  3. Yeah, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher seemed to me to be a hometown (British) fave that was maybe thrown in there to get newer readers chatting, especially as it had been adapted for TV... I'd certainly never heard it bandied about on 'greatest crime novel' lists... ditto the Waters book, and a couple of others. It's great when lists veer from standard, and throw in things that should be more widely known, but don't think that was the case here...