My best of the hundred best crime and mystery stories

(aka Blogger tries clickbait headlines)

Earlier in the week I announced that I’d completed reviewing all 106 in the CWA’s list of the 100 best crime and mystery books, and promised to let you know which books I thought genuinely deserved a place in that list.

My favourites (with their ranking in the CWA list) are:

6. Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca (1938)
7. Raymond Chandler: Farewell My Lovely (1940)
12. Hillary Waugh: Last Seen Wearing … (1952)
16. Francis Iles: Malice Aforethought (1931)
19. Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (1939)
26. Margery Allingham: The Tiger in the Smoke (1952)
31. Dashiell Hammett: The Glass Key (1931)
38. Patricia Highsmith: Strangers on a Train (1950)
39. Ruth Rendell: A Judgement in Stone (1977)
45. Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
47. Raymond Chandler: The Lady in the Lake (1943)
48. Scott Turow: Presumed Innocent (1987)
79. Richard Condon: The Manchurian Candidate (1959)
80. Caroline Graham: The Killings at Badger’s Drift (1987)
86. John Fowles: The Collector (1963)
87. J. J. Marric: Gideon’s Day (1955)
94. Dashiell Hammett: Red Harvest (1929)

You’ll notice I didn’t pick any of the CWA’s top ten, which includes some properly over-rated titles such as (don’t shoot me) The Ipcress File (impenetrable), Gaudy Night (full of itself), and The Daughter of Time (not even a crime novel). And by the way, I do love other books by Deighton and Tey, and grudgingly like some Sayers.

Some of my faves are well known enough not to need any more explanation, but some of them are relatively forgotten, so let me give you some quick rundowns…

 

  • Hillary Waugh’s Last Seen Wearing… is a landmark in police procedural. A hard-working team of cops solve the mystery of a missing college girl.
  • Francis Iles’ Malice Aforethought: A study of a rural doctor digging himself deeper and deeper into trouble. Cherchez les femmes.
  • Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key: Not one of his big-hitters, but a fascinatingly complex study of the hinterland between crime and politics.
  • Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone: Sad, grim, unremitting, inevitable, tragic – and it hooks you in by telling you the end on page one.
  • Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent is not my usual thing – glossy 80s lawyers – but my God is it clever.
  • Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate: A little bit crimey, but actually more of a biting satire in the vein of Catch-22.
  • Caroline Graham’s The Killings at Badger’s Drift: Forget Midsomer Murders, Tom Barnaby’s first outing in print has genuinely disturbing undercurrents.
  • John Fowles’ The Collector: Another book which sets the tone for a subgenre, in this case stalking-obsessive-kidnaps-and-kills.
  • J. J. Marric’s Gideon’s Day is a British take on police procedural by the hyper-productive pulp writer John Creasey. Gideon is paternal, pains-taking, and calmly sorts out a day’s worth of trouble in his patch.
  • Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest: Hard-hitting and surprisingly violent, Red Harvest reads like the template for every action movie ever.

 

I also promised to reveal my worst of the worst. Although I find I’ve been surprisingly consistent in my dislike for know-it-all action men (Rogue Male, Running Blind, The Key to Rebecca, Twice Shy), I find my lowest-scoring title is an Edgar Wallace, The Four Just Men. There are much better Wallaces, believe me. I think it just made the top 100 by being his best known.

 

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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24 Responses to My best of the hundred best crime and mystery stories

  1. I happen to concur with the majority of your choices, although I do have a fond spot for Gaudy Night . . . but Rebecca was and is still one of my all time favorite books, a classic, so much that I studied it one summer at Oxford in a class on Gothic Lit and it still impressed me~

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Guy Savage says:

    Have you read Ruth Rendell’s The Tree of Hands? I ask because I see (and very happy about it oo) a Rendell on the list. IMHO The Tree of Hands is superior to Judgement in Stone–not to pick at your list or choices as I appreciate the effort that went into it. Just curious and thinking perhaps The Tree of Hands is too literary to make the list.

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  3. Bit hard on Wallace and the Deighton maybe, but I can’t disagree with your final choices Rich (or with your criticism of the Tey and Sayers titles), they definitely deserve to be top of the heap. Well, apart from the Graham, but only because it’s the only one I’ve not read 🙂

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    • realthog says:

      Well, apart from the Graham, but only because it’s the only one I’ve not read

      Oddly enough, I had the exact same cavil . . . precisely because I have read it!

      The capsule descriptions are jolly useful! When I counted up which of the Top 100 I’d read an alarming number fell into the “probably” category. I can now add two of those — the Iles and the Rendell — to the “definitely” column.

      Liked by 1 person

    • pastoffences says:

      I’ve been much kinder to them elsewhere. My favourite Wallaces (not that I’ve read that many) are J. G. Reeder and The Angel of Terror. I found The Four Just Men a grind. Deighton-wise, I think he gets far more readable than Ipcress.

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  4. A nice selection and I’m glad to see two Hammetts in there. I too have a soft spot for Gaudy Night – but them I’m exceptionally partial to all Sayers’ books.

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  5. realthog says:

    You’ll notice I didn’t pick any of the CWA’s top ten

    Forgive me, but you seem to have picked #6 and #7. Or am I misunderstanding something in my usual dense fashion?

    And what do the asterisks signify?

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    • realthog says:

      Oh, wait: the asterisks indicate those books you reckon are so well known as not to need thumbnail synopses.

      Hm. Interesting. I’d have put the Condon and very, very certainly the Fowles into that category too. I wonder if in the latter case it’s a generational thing? The book was such a massive bestseller that even by the time I read it, in the late 1960s, it was probably still bobbing around somewhere in the lower reaches of the Top 100 chart.

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      • pastoffences says:

        For me, Fowles is The French Lieutenant’s Woman (which I believe was an A Level English set text). I don’t think any of his other titles have that level of prominence.

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      • realthog says:

        If you were around when The Collector was published, it’s the Fowles you automatically think of first. It was everywhere.

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    • pastoffences says:

      Hmm, how did those asterisks get there? They’re titles I’d read before working my way through the list, but the asterisks aren’t showing up on the Google spreadsheet I was using. I think what we have there is a technical error. I’m going to reverse the polarity on it and see if that helps.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve read all your favourite ones, and now I have to look and see if I still have a copy of the original CWA book, and count up how many of the 100 I have read.
    Your 19 would make a pretty great capsule library, covering so many different genres.

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  7. tracybham says:

    This is the best result of you reading all 100 books, to see which ones you really liked. I felt the same way about the Ipcress File when I read it (recently enough to remember). It was my first Deighton and it did not do anything for me. (I think I would like it much better on a reread.) But I love the Bernard Samson series and others in the Nameless Spy series. Now he is one of my top spy fiction authors. There are several of your favorites that I have not read and I will have to seek them out. Especially Waugh’s Last Seen Wearing.

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  8. Keishon says:

    Interesting results… although I did frown at Scott Turow’s book making the list.

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  9. JJ says:

    Could I ask for a recommendation of some of those much better Wallaces? FJM is my only one to date, and I’d love to read mroe ofthe man…but, boy, are there a lot of books, and more often than not that translates into a lot of guff…

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    • pastoffences says:

      I really enjoyed The Angel of Terror, mainly for the properly impressive female villain.J. G Reeder is funny. Beyond that (apart from Sanders of the River which isn’t really crime), they’re all a blur.

      Liked by 1 person

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