Achievement Unlocked: The CWA top 100

Since beginning Past Offences I have been quietly working my way through the CWA’s 1990 list of the 100 best crime books, a list which begins or end with The Four Just Men (#100) and ends or begins with The Daughter of Time (#1).

With the publication of my review of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (#19), I have officially completed the list. You probably sensed the disturbance in the force.

Even more impressively, I actually read more than 100 books because the CWA cheated. The Collected Sherlock Holmes Short Stories (#21) is five books, not one. And Len Deighton’s Game, Set and Match (#58) is definitely three. I should know, I’ve read them. So that’s like, um, 106 books.

Anyway, I know you’re all crying out for more cold hard stats. Here are some handy charts.


Date of publication is an interesting one. A bit of Victorian action from Collins and Poe, followed by Conan Doyle and the early thrillers into the 20s, then bang! the Golden Age kicks in with 18 titles in the 30s. The genre dropped off a bit to allow for World War Two, and revived in the hard-boiled 40s and 50s. A quieter 60s and 70s, then what’s this? The 1980s is the best decade for crime fiction in over a century? Or were people just voting for their mates? Tsk. In similar news, 80% of the books were by British authors.

(To be fair, there were some good ones in the 80s.)

Author-wise, I thought the Crime Queen hit-rate was quite low. Three by Agatha Christie, four by Dorothy L. Sayers, two by borderline Crime Queen Josephine Tey, and one by Margery Allingham. And only three in the top ten. Their successors did okay, with four Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vines, and three by P. D. James. Across the Pond the leaders were Chandler (four) and Hammett (three).

cwa_sourceWhere did I get all these books from? Well, mainly ‘Other’ (a category which included second-hand bookshops in London, Norwich, Wymondham, Cromer and Blickling). After that, Norwich Millennium Library helped me out quite a bit with no fewer than 17. Thirteen from Abebooks and six from the late lamented charity/book-recycling site Greenmetropolis. I had ten already, and Mrs Offences bought me nine before saying she had no way of knowing what books I had read, so was not buying me any more books. Despite the fact that THERE IS A WEBSITE ABOUT WHICH BOOKS I HAVE READ.


And what did I make of all these books? Glad you asked.

A total of 42% are completely overrated in my distinguished opinion. 39% are pretty good, and 19% are worthy of their place in the top 100.

Place your bets for which are my five-star reads, and which was my personal worst of the best – all will be revealed in my next post.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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16 Responses to Achievement Unlocked: The CWA top 100

  1. realthog says:


    Next, Proust.


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    I’m impressed, Rich – well done


  3. tracybham says:

    Quite an accomplishment. I had noticed recently that you were very close to finishing. At one point I thought I would like to try to read all those books, but then I decided there were too many there I don’t want to read that much and I have too many other books to read. But if I were younger…


  4. Guy Savage says:

    I like using lists as a resource, but I have my problems with them. I mean, we can’t read ALL the crime books so if a individual compiles a list it’s problematic. Even if it’s an organization, there are inevitable biases.


  5. JJ says:

    Superb work, Rich! I remember coming across one such similar list (not this one, I have a feeling it was HRF Keating’s) when my reading was taking off while at uni, but after tracking down several duds giving it up as a bad job. So congrats on seeing it through. Next up: the complete Sexton Blake?

    As for favourites…I’m gonna guess The Ipcress File or Tragedy at Law. Because…well, I’ve got a small chance of being right, right?


  6. Some interesting stats there, and I wonder how many of the 100 I have read (or even heard of).


  7. Fascinating Rich – I do remember when you kicked this off as I had done something similar by ticking the various books in my copy of the book from way back when. I do think a lot of the choices are skewed but do provide a fascinating picture of an almost pre-internet when just getting a half-way decent copy of the book could be hard / expensive. Congratulation on reaching the century (or 106), a towering achievement! So, what’s next?


  8. Well done! That’s quite an achievement!


  9. Yay!!!! Well Done! And great stats too. It surprised and then it didn’t surprise me how many were from the 1980s. Definitely feel like we should some sort of celebratory cake at the BL conference now. Are you tempted to do another list sort of challenge?


  10. jasonhalf says:

    What an interesting endeavour. Really enjoyed your statistics — I never thought of the 1980s as being a particularly fertile period for crime fiction. There are a few titles from the 1970s and then a number of new-fad notable titles in the 1990s, like serial-killer suspense prototypes and the evolution of the 21st century forensic crime story. Congrats, and I look forward to your best-and-worst list!


  11. Pingback: John Sladek: Invisible Green | Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

  12. Oh well done Rich! Look forward to reading your judgements…


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