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).
Where 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.