Rob Kitchin needs the assistance of crime fiction readers everywhere. He wants your suggestions for the ten classic* crime fiction books that a fan of the genre who is more familiar with contemporary fiction than the older stuff should read.
As I mentioned in my review of the Patricia Moyes book the other day I’m fairly ignorant of the classics myself but surely we all know by now that I’d never let a lack of knowledge get in the way of having an opinion.
Last year I prepared a ‘Dartmoor Dozen’ list of books in a variety of mysterious sub-genres and three of those are books I would recommend to Rob
- Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders at the Rue Morgue (blame my mother, when she got through the poetry she started reading Poe’s murder mysteries to baby Bernadette assuming that it was tone of voice rather than content that was important)
- Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Final Problem (actually I have a giant volume of Doyle’s collected works and if I had the power I’d make Rob read the whole thing – it’s a delight)
- Ngaio Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder (published in 1935 it tackled weighty political issues like pre-Israel Palestine among the murder and mayhem)
From my own reading I would only add another three to the list
- Rex Stout’s Fer-de-Lance (it’s his first and one of the best and does a great job of introducing all the players)(plus Rob might enjoy the plot of a university professor being killed)
- Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile (we’ve talked about this book before)
- Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Vagabond Virgin (legal procedurals are a sub genre of crime fiction that seem to be out of favour these days but Gardner’s 85 Perry Mason books were damned good crime solving yarns)(I could have chosen any one of several books but seriously aren’t you just dying to know what the heck a vagabond virgin is?)
That’s it. I can’t come up with four more classics I’ve read that I would recommend (I have actually read a few more than this but not all old books are great) (sorry Dashiell Hammett and Arthur Upfield but …well…”ugh” on both counts).
However I’ve been preparing my own list of classics to read and I’m planning to read
- Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (Hume was arguably Australia’s first writer of detective fiction and this 1886 novel was discussed on a local radio show last year and was said to influence the great detective writers including Arthur Conan Doyle) (though this may be hogwash, we Aussies tend to believe we’ve had more influence on the world stage than is actually the case)
- Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (I’m pretty sure I have read this before as it’s one of a collection of 20 leather bound books I inherited from my paternal grandmother and I read them all as a teenager but I cannot recall a single detail of the Collins)(which is every sad because Collins was a protégé of one of my favourite writers ever, Mr Charles Dickens)
- Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train (does it count that I’ve seen the film a bunch of times?)
- Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (It’s highly unlikely I will like Chandler but stranger things have happened)
- Something by Margery Allingham (I’ve no idea what as to be honest none of the titles immediately appeal but I feel I ought to read something)
Actually ‘planning to read’ sounds a bit more organised than I really am. So far all I’ve done is make the list. But I’m in no great rush and I’m not going to devote oodles of reading time to books that are decades old when there is so much new stuff that intrigues me. I don’t mind delving sporadically into my favourite genre’s heritage but I’m not about to devote my life to such pursuits.
Please head over to Rob’s site and leave him your suggestions and I’ll check them out too. I am open to the idea of adding some more titles to my own ‘crime fiction to read before I die’ list.
*Rob defines classic crime as anything published before 1970. I define it as stuff published before I was born (spot the self-absorbed one). Oh and my date is 1967 (I have plenty of hang-ups but you knowing how old I am isn’t one of them).