Monday, January 16, 2012

The 100 Greatest: Do You Agree?

by Julia Buckley
I'm not sure what Meta-Filter is, but this website lists its choices for the TOP 100 GREATEST MYSTERIES OF ALL TIME. How many have you read? How many of these titles surprise you?

Now, we're not counting MOVIE versions of the books instead of the books themselves--which makes me have to cross about ten of these off my list. My actual count comes to 37.

Do you feel anyone important was left off this list? Do you feel that any of these books aren't mysteries? For example, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is one of my favorite novels, but I would never classify it as a mystery. Would the same be true of THE GODFATHER?

And if I were to list books that serve as great literature alongside good mystery novels, then I would put CRIME AND PUNISHMENT at the top and the Dorothy Sayers novels close under that. But of course we would all make different lists, and we all have different criteria.

What great authors would go on your own best 100 list who are not listed here?

Granted, it's really hard to narrow down all the great mystery writers into one representative list. But I think this particular list could use some updating.

What changes would you make, mystery readers and writers?

(photo: one of my bookshelves, filled with well-worn favorites. I don't necessarily group things by category, so I do see some mysteries mixed in with literary tomes, including a Mary Stewart novel, Jasper Fforde's first book, three Dorothy Sayers' books in one big volume, a Poe anthology, and a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle (a gift which, alas, I have not yet read). I turned CRIME AND PUNISHMENT facing out, to show my partiality, I suppose. :) Oh, and those books at the bottom, on the shelf you can barely see? Those are the blue leather-look Agatha Christie's , which I collected back in the '80s, a few books at a time, from a used book dealer in my town. I have just about all of her books in that lovely blue binding. )


Sheila Connolly said...

Compulsively I had to count, and now I'm depressed--only 42 I could swear to. There may be some that I simply don't remember after reading them many years ago.

I'd love to know who put this list together, and why that person or group decided some of an individual writer's works were better than others (although I would second the ranking of Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night as the best of her books).

So many books, so little time...

Jerry House said...

I count fifty-six, with another possible six. This list, while interesting, is worthless. The ones compiled by Howard Haycraft, Ellery Queen, H. R. F. Keating, Julian Symons and others at least have their own internal logic.

Sandra Parshall said...

The Godfather is crime fiction, but not a mystery. I find that too many "greatest mysteries" lists are loaded down with Golden Age books that feel shallow to me, while ignoring most of the wonderfully complex and meaningful crime fiction being published today.

Julia Buckley said...

Well, I'm impressed by the number of books you've read, Sheila and Jerry. And of course you're right, Jerry--the list seems arbitrary--and yet lists always make for interesting discussion.

Sandra, I agree with you; someone needs to update the list and explain the criteria. "Of all time" doesn't mean all old books.

The English Teacher said...

I agree with you that To Kill A Mockingbird is not a mystery (after all, we learn the solution to the crime half-way through the book at the trial), but neither is Dracula. There is no mystery to unravel in that book; it's all about catching and destroying a vampire. Plus, while "Murders in the Rue Morgue" was the first mystery tale and "Gold Bug" counts as a mystery, that hardly means that an entire collection of Poe's works, great as they are, should qualify as mysteries, as everything else he wrote was basically psychological horror.

Julia Buckley said...

I agree on all points. I've never read DRACULA, but even knowing the basic premise of the novel tells me it doesn't belong on the list.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I've read quite a few, and I'm glad to see Sayers and Tey well represented on the list: Gaudy Night and Brat Farrar are in my all-time top ten list. But I find the old pure-puzzle mysteries like The Moving Toyshopterribly dated. One of the principles of this particular list seems to be the first in series that continued well. Along those lines, I'd add Margaret Maron's The Bootlegger's Daughter, Laurie R. King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice, and Janet Neel's Death's Bright Angel, all also on my top ten.

Julia Buckley said...

Yes--modern mysteries are needed here. The classic locked-room story is interesting as a sub-genre, but it doesn't stand up against the more complex works that have evolved since then.