Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ten Favorite Mystery Novels

A very subjective, and a very changeable, list, but, for right now, these are the ten crime novels I'd bring with me to my lonely desert island. In chronological order.

So I'm cheating right off the bat and bringing The Complete Sherlock Holmes instead of one of the original novels or volumes. Well, if I had to choose, I would probably bring the collection originally entitled The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. But since it's so easy to get all of Doyle's Sherlock stories in one volume, then I'll bring this one.

Daphne du Maurier's gothic triumph from 1938. Even better than the excellent Hitchcock adaptation.

My favorite Christie. Her creepiest book with the possible exception of Crooked House. I'm still waiting for a film version that's faithful to the book, and not the theatrical adaptation.

Even though this book begins the famous series, it works as a suspense-filled, twisty standalone. I've been reading and re-reading this book since I was twelve.

Three sisters have three awful experiences with the same murderous playboy. Ira Levin's first novel came out in 1953, same year as Casino Royale. 1953 was a good year for debut novelists.

I'd really like to bring the first three Fletch novels with me to that desert island, but if I had to pick one, I guess I'd pick the second book, 1976's Confess, Fletch, in which a newly-wealthy Fletch gets framed for murder in Boston. I wrote an appreciation of this book for PopMatters.

This is a sentimental pick, both because it's the least thriller-y and most sentimental of all the Spenser novels, but also because it was a book I fell in love with as a young teen. In this fifth book of Parker's series, Spenser kidnaps a troubled kid from his bickering parents.

Another cheat, but Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match are often packaged together as the Game, Set & Match trilogy. Deighton is Le Carre but with funnier dialogue, swifter action, and less philosophizing. Utterly enjoyable spy series. I doubt it would happen but Quentin Tarantino has mentioned turning these into a film.

JDM is my favorite thriller writer of all time, and picking A Flash of Green from 1984 is a little arbitrary, but it's got absolutely everything I love about JDM's standalone novels: Florida atmosphere, corrupt villains, flawed heroes, complex heroines.

Another slightly arbitrary choice but I wanted a Dick Francis on this list, and I've always loved this novel about a wine merchant who stumbles upon a mystery. This one's light on the horse racing but Tony Beach is my favorite Francis hero (yes, I know they are all pretty much the same guy).

There you go, subject to change tomorrow. Looking over this list, I realize that the only living author on it is Len Deighton, still writing and cooking at the age of 85.