Monday, April 6, 2009

100 Great Mysteries

by Julia Buckley

According to the online members of the Mystery Booksellers Association, these are the 100 favorite mysteries of the 20th century.

Naturally, after stumbling across this list, I had to check and see how many I had read. I love mysteries and I've been reading them for about 30 years, so I should have read almost all of them, right?

Well, no. But a respectable sampling at 37 books. And what a wonderful list I now have to choose from! There are some writers here that I look at and say, "Why have I never read that book?" Two that jump out at me are James Lee Burke and Lawrence Block--names I've heard many times, but whose work I haven't really explored (I've read one Burke novel but I've been told it was the "wrong" series to start with).

There are also a couple of names here that I've never heard of, like K.C. Constantine and Janet Neel (not due to their lack of fame, but to my ignorance).

This is one of the reasons that people continue to compile lists--because people like me love them. They are fun to read, fun to compare with one's own choices, and fun to use as fodder for future purchases or library visits.

I'm thrilled to see that both Ross MacDonald and his wife Margaret Millar are on the list--I've read all of their work, not to mention a couple of biographies of MacDonald (who is many ways was an unhappy man, but perhaps that was what tinged his writing with such sad beauty).

The biggest surprise to me is that the great Mary Stewart isn't on the list--perhaps because her books were classified as "suspense," as were the books of people like Phyllis A. Whitney. But if I made my own list--and maybe I will--those two would certainly be on it; their books aren't that far in structure from the Josephine Tey novel listed here.

Anyway, it's another fun list of some undeniably wonderful titles.

What would you add? What does it make you want to read?


caryn said...

52! I've read 52 of them. I don't know that I would add or subtract from the list. It's a good list that cuts pretty much across the genre. I might pick a different Christie though. Ackroyd might be the most discussed, but I don't know that I'd call it most people's favorite-and this is a list of favorites.
There are current books that might make the list in 10 years. It's hard to tell what will be a flash in the pan and what has "staying" power.
The #1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith might make the list in a few years.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I've read 60 or 61. It's not a bad list. Several of my top ten favorites are on it, including Janet Neel's Death's Bright Angel, which is available from Felony & Mayhem Press (I think Caroline Graham's The Killings at Badger's Drift is too), Brat Farrar, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, and The Bootlegger's Daughter. Some picks are the first of a series rather than the best, like Nevada Barr's The Track of the Cat, or a matter of personal preference, like Murder Must Advertise (vs Gaudy Night), Reginald Hill's On Beulah Height, and Peter Dickinson's The Yellow Room Conspiracy (vs King and Joker)--he was a huge favorite of mine but has been writing YA for the past few decades. And a few of the oldies, for me, have historical interest only. I recently reread The Moving Toyshop, and found the puzzle was clever but the people uninteresting and the attitudes uncomfortably dated. It was appropriate to its era, but didn't transcend it in any way, as some Golden Age mysteries have. Fun to think about--thanks, Julia. :)

Lonnie Cruse said...

Well, I've only read 12 on the list but I'm not hanging my head in shame because I've read other books by some of the authors, just not the book listed as the fave. I've read Allingham, for instance, just not that one.

My list of 100 would have Shirley Jackson on it.

Julia Buckley said...

Caryn, I agree with you about Ackroyd--it's not my favorite, either. And I still have to read The #1, after all the wonderful things I've heard about it.

Liz, wow--what a big list you've read! And I didn't even know Peter Dickinson was still writing.

Lonnie, I had the same experience--right author, wrong book. :)

Auntie Knickers said...

56 here. On the other hand, I haven't written any books, so don't feel bad!

Julia Buckley said...

But isn't it great to see how many great mysteries you've read--and how many of them are worth re-reading? The endless joy of books. :)

Sandra Parshall said...

I've read a lot of them, but I'm puzzled by many of the choices. Lots of older books, most of them terribly dated and interesting now only in the history-of-the-genre sense. We have so many writers today turning out crime novels that are better written and much richer in content than anything published 60-70 years ago.

Among the modern novels, the choices are also a little weird, because they aren't always the authors' best work. For example, Track of the Cat was Nevada Barr's first published mystery, and it is not by any measure the best.

Julia Buckley said...

That's an interesting point, Sandra. And yet this was compiled by readers, wasn't it? Makes you wonder about people's criteria.

Sandra Parshall said...

There are some readers who prefer the older mysteries and would rather read them over and over than read anything recent. Must have been a lot of those readers among the people who created this list. Then, too, when people are asked to name the "best of" for the last 100 years, they tend to go for the classics, even if they don't personally love the books. Human nature. Go figure.

Julia Buckley said...

Good point. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio . . .

That only sort of applies, but it popped into my head after I read your response. :)

Marlyn said...

I've read 29 of them. I wouldn't have included TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but I would have included something by Helen MacInnes.

Julia Buckley said...

Isn't that true, Marlys? And Helen MacInnes is suspense, too--maybe they have some criteria that suggests suspenseful novels aren't mystery novels--because Robert Ludlum isn't on here, either.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,
Hate to say this, but I can't find the list of 100 best mysteries. Please direct me.
Kathy Durkin

Anonymous said...

Well, never mind. I found the list of 100; read 12 of them, mainly contemporary, not older books.

Will bookmark the list and hope to read many more.

Kathy D.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Kathy! I hope you find some great reads on there.