Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Classic crime fiction curriculum challenge

The results of this challenge can be found here.

Imagine a reader new to crime fiction and wanting an education in the classics. Or consider a seasoned crime fiction reader who’s barely read a crime novel published prior to 1970. Well I’m that latter reader. I’ve read several hundred crime novels but nearly all of them are from the contemporary period. This is the year I intend to right that by reading some of the crime fiction canon. What I need though is a curriculum - a list of ten must-read crime fiction classics.

And this is where I need some help. So to that end I’m setting up a relatively straightforward challenge, one that doesn't even require any reading. The challenge is to set a ten book, pre-1970, crime fiction curriculum and to either post the list on your own blog and send me the link (, or post the list in a comment to this post by January 31st. I’ll then compile a curriculum based on the most popular choices (and provide link-backs to posts). Ideally, the selection of books needs to try and capture different crime fiction sub-genres and styles.

I hope you can help out, as I could do with the education. And please pass this challenge on to whoever you think might be able to advise. And if you do read any golden oldies this year, then Patti's Forgotten Friday series is the place to link your reviews to.


Uriah Robinson said...

As we are snowed in I will post about this later. Thanks for giving me something to think about apart from my children's problems.

Mack said...

Yikes, just 10 titles, this will be a challenge.

Uriah Robinson said...

Will Mack will list the four Holmes novels and then think about some others? ;o)

Anonymous said...

Rob - Thanks for giving me something interesting to think about! Hmmmm... OK, here are my offerings:

Arthur Conan Doyle - The Sign of the Four
Agatha Christie - The Body in the Library
Agatha Christie - Evil Under the Sun
Dashiell Hammett - The Maltese Falcon
Ngaio Marsh - A Surfeit of Lampreys
Edgar Allan Poe - The Purloined Letter
Ellery Queen - The Roman Hat Mystery
Dorothy Sayers - Strong Poison
Mickey Spillane - I, The Jury
Rex Stout - Fer-de-Lance

Hope you'll find this useful...

Mack said...

Nice list Margot. Interesting that you included a Mickey Spillane. As distasteful as modern readers might find him Mike Hammer has had an influence and is a direct descendant of Carroll John Daly's Race Williams, probably the first hardboiled detective. I might have sacrificed Spillane in favor of Raymond Chandler but I'm still pondering my list.

I suspect I will give Rob his top 10 and then provide more on my blog.

Norman, choosing among the SH novels is tough. I could make a case for any of them. Study in Scarlet is the first and defines Holmes' methods; Sign of Four gives us Holmes' methods, is a better story, and the story-within-a-story is much better handled; Valley of Fear is interesting to me because one can make a case that it can - at least partially- be considered hardboiled; Hound of the Baskervilles is the most well known Holmes story. Margot's selection of Sign of Four fits well in this kind of list.

Uriah Robinson said...

Here's my list. That Mrs mallowan

1] The Moonstone: Wilkie Collins 1868
2] The Hound of the Baskervilles: Arthur Conan Doyle 1902
3] The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Agatha Christie 1926
4] The Maltese Falcon: Dashiell Hammett 1930
5] Gaudy Night: Dorothy L. Sayers 1935
6] Farewell, My Lovely: Raymond Chandler 1940
7] The ABC Murders: Agatha Christie 1936
8] The Talented Mr Ripley: Patricia Highsmith 1957
9] From Doon With Death: Ruth Rendell 1964
10] Roseanna: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo 1965

Anonymous said...

Mack - Thanks for the kind words. I really did have to decide about the Spillane, but I consider Hammer to epitomize the "hardboiled" detective, so, much as I like Marlowe (and I do), I went with I, The Jury. Hard choice, that.

Norman - I really like your list!!! Thanks for including The ABC Murders and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I came close to choosing the latter, myself, as it is not only well-written, but was a "rule-breaker" in its time. I liked Gaudy Night, too, so thanks for selecting it as well.

Maxine Clarke said...

Great idea. My suggestions
1. Dashiell Hammett (the master) - I like The Dain Curse best but most people like The Maltese Falcon.
2. Ross Macdonald - any really, eg The Drowning Pool
3. James Hadley Chase eg No Orchids for Miss Blandish
4. Hillary Waugh, Last Seen Wearing, usually said to be the first police procedural told from the point of view of the details of the investigation, and fantastic.
5. Ngaio Marsh - again, any, really - I'd pick one with Agatha Troy in it. (wife of the detective, Roderick Alleyn)
6.Patricia Highsmith - the Ripley books were the start of something really else, but Strangers on a Train is great, much darker than the movie.
7. James Cain, eg The Postman Always Rings Twice
8. Raymond Chandler, any. (Lady in the Lake, perhaps?)
9. Wilkie Collins, either The Woman in White or No Name or Armadale (The Moonstone, to my mind, has not stood the test of time so well because the police detective novel has been so regularly imitated, and dare I say it, developed in more interesting ways)
10. I've run out! So many more I could choose. Dorothy Sayers is a bit snobbish but she is a classic so one of hers , eg Nine Tailors or Have His Carcasse.

If I may, I'll continue to a Baker's dozen:
I was going to suggest John Franklin Bardin, who wrote three extrordinary novels - one could buy them in a three-in-one Penguin edition years ago. And I also highly recommend Julian Symons, a superb author. One of his earlier ones (pre1970), eg The Man who killed himself or the Solomon Grundy one. Finally, Maj Sjowell and Per Wahloo's books were mainly written after 1970 but Roseanna, the first, just about scrapes in and of all these old books, is perhaps the freshest today in terms of its lean prose and lack of "style of the times".

Happy reading!

Donna said...

Goodness me - what a toughie. It's tough to stick to 10 so, given that Margot has given you a great set of choices already, I'm going to give 10 completely different ones.

Donald Westlake - THE HOT ROCK(best caper novel EVER)
Raymond Chandler - THE BIG SLEEP
Vera Caspary - LAURA
Patricia Highsmith - THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY
Cornell Woolrich - THE BRIDE WORE BLACK
Charles Willeford - COCKFIGHTER
Dorothy Hughes - IN A LONELY PLACE

[desperately hoping that Rob does not notice that my maths skills are distinctly lacking]

Police procedurals, capers, hard-boiled, PI, psychological, cosy, spy and deepest darkest noir. Having said that, I think my list is prettily heavily skewed to the hardboiled/noir side of the mean streets, so caveat lector!

A fun exercise, Rob - sorry I didn't stick to the rules :o)

Donna said...

Damn, I could have stuck to 10 if I'd only seen Norm's and Maxine's lists first :o) Maxine - I was going to say John Franklin Bardin's DEADLY PERCHERON, and also Ross MacDonald but by that time I thought I was going to be pushing my luck :o)

And then, of course I thought of Edgar Wallace. And one of my favourites Richard S Prather whose totally non-PC although very equal opportunities detective Shell Scott (he sleeps with a blonde, a brunette AND a redhead in every book) are a joy.

Maxine Clarke said...

Yes, it is impossible isn't it, Donna? Rob has set us a mean task.

Mack said...

Donna, Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me is an excellent choice. I've got a stack of his books and hope to go on a read/review binge to try to inspire new readers - if I can break loose from the iron grip of Sherlock, that is.

I very much approve of including Dorothy Hughes' In a Lonely Place. It is a wonderful piece of writing. The movie is completely different than the book.

Donna said...

Maxine - he's just cruel.

Mack - wonderful stuff - I love his SWELL-LOOKING BABE, POP 1280 (another version of THE KILLER INSIDE ME essentially), HELL OF A WOMAN especially. And what a life - his autobiographical BAD BOY and ROUCGHNECK (and I think there's another one) are a brilliant romp. The movie of IN A LONELY PLACE is very different - but also good (not often that happens!)

Rob Kitchin said...

Thanks for all the great suggestions so far. Mean and cruel. Heck. In my defence perhaps a challenge should be a challenge? If this was for a school curriculum you'd have to name just one or two for the little darlings to read. At least I allowed for ten! Ten seemed like a manageable number. I'm not sure why as when I edited a book on key contemporary thinkers on space and place we had a terrible time getting the list down to fifty (although naming the top ten wasn't particularly difficult, it was whittling down the mid-tier that caused the trouble). Anyway, this is a rambling way of saying I'm going to stick with asking for a mean and cruel ten. I want folk to put their head on the block and name the creme-de-la-creme of classic crime fiction; the one's that any budding scholar of the genre 'must read'.

Bernadette said...

Given that I am equally bereft of knowledge of 'the classics' I doubt I could come up with 10. I'll have a think though. But I'll be curious to see your results and may even join you in your reading as apart from Christie, Marsh and Rex Stout I haven't read a lot of classics and always feel a bit ignorant on the subject.

Bernadette said...

OK I've got six. I wrote a blathery blog post about them but in case you don't want to bother with my ramblings they are

*Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders at the Rue Morgue
*Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Final Problem
*Ngaio Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder
*Rex Stout’s Fer-de-Lance
*Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile
*Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Vagabond Virgin

I've also got my own personal list that I haven't read yet but will. One day

*Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab
*Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White
*Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train (I've read Ripley, didn't think it was all that wonderful to be honest)
*Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

Maxine Clarke said...

I've posted on my blog as you suggested, Rob. I did a trackback but in case it doesn't work (as often seems to happen), here's the URL:

Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Rob this is my contribution:
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)
Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
G. K. Chesterton, The Secret of Father Brown (1927)
Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon (1930)
Georges Simenon, The Yellow Dog (1931)
Dorothy L Sayers, Five Red Herrings (1931)
James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)
Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely (1940)
Ross Macdonald, The Moving Target (1949)
Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr Ripley (1955)
Best regards from Madrid

Rob Kitchin said...

Thanks Bernadette, Maxine and Jose. Much appreciated.

Mike Dennis said...

Rob, I've posted my 10 suggestions on my website:
Or you can click on my name at the beginning of this comment and go directly there.

Glenn Harper said...

Lots of good lists already--one name I think is missing is David Goodis (selecting perhaps Down There as a key example (Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player is based on Down There, one of at least 11 films made from Goodis's books). And perhaps one other, a distant relative of No Orchids for Miss Blandish: Faulkner's Sanctuary.

Dorte H said...

Hi Rob.

Great idea!

Here is my list:

Elaine said...

Here is my list:

Five Little Pigs - Agatha Christie (far and away her best Poirot book)
Murder at the Vicarage - Agatha C again (first Miss Marple book)
Murder is Easy - Agatha Christie (one of her stand alone books and very good indeed)
the Crooked House - ditto
Anything by Ngaio Marsh - ideally should be read in order but if not, then do start with Death in a White Tie
D LSayers and her marvellous creation, Lord Peter Wimsey. My favourites are the books that also have Harriet Vane in them - Gaudy Night is by far and away my favourite.
Murder must advertise - D L Sayers
The Thirty-Nine Steps - John Buchan
The Miss Silver Mysteries - Patricia Wentworth
The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin
The Hound of the Baskervilles - Arthur Conan Doyle

Sorry think I may have gone over the limit here!

Rob Kitchin said...

Thanks, Mike, Glenn, Dorte and Elaine. Loads of good suggestions. Mike, great to have a particularly noir list; I plan to check out all of them over time.

Deb said...

Well, my posting problems seem to be solved, so Rob, I'm taking the challenge you left me on Bernadette's blog to come up with ten books. I stuck with my original organization of ten categories of crime/mystery fiction and chose one from each category:

Precursors: The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes.

Golden Age: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.

Pre-WWII American Pulp/Noir: Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett.

Post-WWII American Pulp/Noir: I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane.

American Police Procedural: The Con Man by Ed McBain.

British Police Procedural: Triumph for Inspector West by John Creasey.

Psychological Thriller: The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin.

Plot Twists: A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin.

Cozies: The Ewe Lamb by Margaret Erskine.

One-Offs (sui generis): I Married A Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich.

Rob Kitchin said...

Thanks, Deb. Good to see some different suggestions there that cover a wide range of crime sub-genres and time periods.

Richard Robinson said...

Better late than never, and I couldn't stick to 10, but when the combining and weeding is done these will merit consideration for your final 10, which is, after all, an arbitrary number.

The order is alpha by author first name...

Agatha Christie - The Mystery of the Blue Train, Death on the Nile
Arthur Conan Doyle - Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Brett Halliday - Mike Shayne’s Long Chance, Murder is My Business
David Goodis - Dark Passage
Dorothy Sayers - The Nine Taylors, Gaudy Night
Edgar Allen Poe - Murders in the Rue Morgue
Eric Ambler - The Mask of Dimitrios, Journey Into Fear
Erle Derr Biggers - The House Without A Key
Erle Stanley Gardner - The Case of the Baited Hook, The Case of the Amorous Aunt
Georges Simenon - The Short Cases of Inspector Maigret
Jim Thompson - The Killer Inside Me
John D. MacDonald - The Deep Blue Good - by, The Quick Red Fox, The Empty Copper Sea
Raymond Chandler - Farewell, My Lovely
Rex Stout - Fer-de-Lance, Some Buried Caesar, And Be a Villain, Black Mountain
Ross MacDonald - The Moving Target, The Ivory Grin

I would have liked to include one of the Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters, but they are all published after 1970 The Virgin in the Ice would probably be my choice.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Lots of ones I would choose are already here but here's a few of mine.
The Franchise Affair, Josephine Tey
A Place of Execution, Val McDermid
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John LeCarre
Brighton Rock, Graham Greene
Double Indemnity, James Cain
Beast in View, Margaret Millar
The Laughing Policeman, Sjowall and Wahloo
The Chill, Ross MacDonald
The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
Outsider in Amsterdam, Janwillem van der Wetering.

Rob Kitchin said...

Many thanks, Richard and Patti for your contributions. A few there that haven't appeared in other lists and a couple that are published post 1970, but books still worth checking out.

Unknown said...

I come by chance by your blog and I wish to give my contribute to the lists:
Conan Doyle, The Hound of Baskervilles
Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance
Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon
Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep,
Leigh Brackett, No Good from a corpse
Joel Townsley Rogers, The FRed Right Hand
Mickey Spillane, I, the Jury
John Evans, A Taste of Ashes
Jim Thompson, Pop. 1280
Elmore Leonard, City Primeval
James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss