Saturday, November 9, 2013

Who's the best?

The Crime Writers’ Association recently polled its members and produced this list of the “best ever” crime fiction authors:

WINNER: Agatha Christie
Raymond Chandler
Arthur Conan Doyle
Reginald Hill
Dashiell Hammett
Dorothy L Sayers
Elmore Leonard
Georges Simenon
PD James
Ruth Rendell

(See lists of other categories here.)  

While no one can discount the talent of these authors – and certainly Christie and Doyle have been among the most influential crime writers of all time – readers and authors in North America might find the list a bit lacking in diversity. We thought we’d give PDD readers a chance to vote for their own “best” choices among U.S. and Canadian authors, and we’re dividing them into two categories, past and current. But these are only suggestions. Because we’re doing this the American way, you’re free to declare “None of the above” and add another name.

Best North American crime fiction writer of the past:

James Cain

John Dickson Carr
Raymond Chandler
Mignon Eberhart

Erle Stanley Gardner
Dashiell Hammett
Patricia Highsmith
Ross MacDonald
Ellery Queen
Rex Stout
Cornell Woolrich
Write in:

Best North American crime fiction writer currently publishing:

James Lee Burke

Mary Higgins Clark
Patricia Cornwell
Tess Gerritsen
Sue Grafton
Dennis Lehane
Elmore Leonard
Walter Mosley
Sara Paretsky
George Pelecanos
Louise Penny
Nancy Pickard
Write in:

Okay, let’s see your votes in the comments!


Patrick said...

Not to be a jerk, but Ellery Queen was actually a team-up between Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.

Jerry House said...

Some tough choices here. From the past crime fiction writers, I'd have to go with Hammett, as I scratch my head and wonder why Erle Stanley Gardner and John Dickson Carr were not on the ballot. But Hammett it is.

For today's writers, my choice is a write-in: Bill Pronzini, with James Lee Burke trailing in second place. Others worthy of a nomination would include Mary Higgins Clark, Bill Crider, and Max Allan Collins.

Sandra Parshall said...

Jerry, you can write in any name you wish. We have, and have had, so many great American mystery writers that it's difficult to make up a short list that would include all of them. But you're right about Gardner and Carr, so they're being added to the list.

Julia Buckley said...

I'm a big Ross MacDonald fan. His mysteries were literary novels--elegant and spare and full of metaphor. (He's American/Canadian, so that counts, right?)

I also loved the books by Margaret Millar (his wife).

And on the British list I would add Jill McGown--her Lloyd and Judy novels were underrated.

Julia Buckley said...

Oh, and on the current list I would add Elizabeth George. I know she lost some popularity after a certain controversial book, but the majority of her novels are well-crafted and compelling.

bobbie said...

I would vote for Elizabeth George. Love her work.

jrlindermuth said...

On the CWA list I'd put both Ruth Rendell and Simenon higher.
On the North American past list, definitely Charles Willeford, closely followed by Patricia Highsmith.
Current list, no contest--James Lee Burke.

Nancy Adams said...

Greatest from the past: I vote for Raymond Chandler.

From the list of present-day authors: Louise Penny

Sandra Parshall said...

Yes, Elizabeth George definitely should be on the list of current (that is, living and producing)American authors. So should Thomas H. Cook, one of my two favorite writers (along with Ruth Rendell). His work is brilliant. And one of his books has a character named for me. :-)

Wasn't Highsmith the first author to create a sympathetic serial killer and write from his point of view? If you've never read her Ripley books, you really should. They're amazing even now, and I can imagine how bold and inventive they must have seemed when first published.

Oh, and another great Canadian mystery writer is Giles Blunt. Some of his work (Forty Words for Sorrow, etc.) has been published in the US, but he doesn't have the wide audience he truly deserves.

Kathy Waller said...

On the British list, Josephine Tey (past) and Ruth Rendell (present). Tey can write a murder mystery without a murder, without even a hint of a murder.

On the American, Patricia Highsmith (past).

Kathy Waller said...

And Thomas H. Cook. The Chatham School Affair is stunning.

Steven M. Moore said...

Hi Sandra,
Interesting lists, but your post made me feel old! I've read something from all the authors in your "best ever" list, except Sayers and Rendell; less from past American authors; and hardly anything from the current-authors list.
Two facts mitigate my diminishing range of reading. (1) I've read some authors possibly considered of low pedigree (Connolly, Deaver, etc) who aren't in your lists; and (2) I cover a wide spread of genres in my reading and reviewing, including non-fiction, and some of that might be called more properly suspense or police procedurals (Ian Rankin for the latter).
My penultimate novel was either a police procedural, mystery, or thriller, depending on which side of the genre-bed you rise up from. Because ebooks aren't on the shelves of a bookstore and most online retailers merge mystery, suspense, and thriller together, it probably doesn't make much difference (another thread?).

Mary Ann Corrigan said...

I second the vote for Josephine Tey on the British list and would like to add a name to the contemporary North American list, Canadian author Eric Wright. His Charlie Salter books are a joy to read.

doc said...

Rex Stout is the author whose books I am most likely to re-read. So for my money, he's the best.

Current? That's harder, because the people whose work I love keep dying on me (Tony Hillerman, Elmore Leonard...) who do I buy?

Lawrence Block, that's whose name comes up first.

Sandra Parshall said...

No one has mentioned John Grisham, who is the #1 bestselling author -- in all genres -- in the US, year after year. So he's popular but not great?

Steven M. Moore said...

Hi Sandra,
Who decides who's great? Isn't that in the mind of the reader? Some people say Harper Lee and Truman Capote were great--others that they were one-book wonders.
Now, if we're talking about who sells the most books, there's the union of Doc's list and mine for a start, plus Grisham, Thurow, Patterson, etc, etc.
And, for the "best ever," I'd add Asimov--Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun were sci-fi mysteries, with emphasis on mystery, and beat the book covers off any of your classics (I'm biased, of course). He also wrote a gaggle of short stories that were also mysteries--a very creative and prolific author.

Jeff Baker said...

I'll second the comments for Asimov and Pronzini and add Edward D. Hoch!

jill amadio said...

Interesting that the original top writers had more men than women, and those currently published have turned the tables - more women than men. Sign of the times?