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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Five Mystery Novels Every Mystery Writer Should Read

One of first -- and best – pieces of advice an aspiring mystery writer receives is the instruction to read widely within the genre. Not only is this good advice, it’s enjoyable advice, so it’s a rare thing to find a mystery maven who isn’t on speaking terms with Dame Christie and couldn’t, at least, pick Mr. Chandler out of a lineup.


That said, it’s only natural that most mystery authors primarily read their contemporaries. After all, reading one’s contemporaries kills two birds with one stone: it’s a means of keeping one’s fingers on the pulse of prospective publishers, and it’s a means of keeping one’s eye on the competition.


Mystery fiction has changed a good deal since the Golden Age, and it’s true that many books which were bestsellers in the good old days wouldn’t make it over the publisher’s transom now. That still leaves hundreds, if not thousands, of crime classics in every conceivable sub-genre.


For example:


The Three Coffins (1935) by John Dickson Carr - Carr is the universally acknowledged master of the Locked Room mystery, and The Three Coffins is arguably his most famous contribution to the genre.


The Daughter of Time (1951) by Josephine Tey - One of the first and all time best cold case files. The fact that the detection is performed through examining historical documents, deductive reasoning, and using intuition while the sleuth is flat on his back in a hospital bed makes this feat all the impressive.


Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier - A little bit thriller, a little bit gothic, a little bit murder mystery, and a lot romance: this one has it all. It’s the original bestseller crossover. If you haven't read Rebecca, I am shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you. And Mrs. Danvers is shocked too.


The Moon-Spinners (1962) by Mary Stewart - The gold standard for romantic suspense. An exotic location, a handsome and mysterious man in a world of trouble, a smart, witty, capable heroine thrust into dangerous and confusing circumstances.  Stewart perfected the formula.


No Good From A Corpse (1944) by Leigh Brackett - Classic PI novel in the Chandler tradition with one difference. Leigh Brackett was female. This is practically a step-by-step How To Write Hardboiled Detective Fiction.

So these are my recommendations. What are some of yours?


Marcelle Dubé said...

I've read three out of the five and agree that they are classics. On the short story side, I would recommend "The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century," edited by Tony Hillerman. A fabulous anthology ranging from O. Henry to Stephen King and touching on the many different sub-genres of mystery.

Tony said...

Hey Josh -"Daughter of Time" is the best! Still re-read it from time to time. It's a quintessentially British mystery - 20th Century Scotland Yard smashed up with one of my favorite historical periods, The Wars of the Roses. Did Richard do it???
Another very good positive fictional treatment of Richard can be found in Sharon Kay Penman's "The Sunne in Spendor." It's not structured as a mystery per se, but it still explores the actual historical mystery - with lots of battles and dynastic skulduggery thrown in. And Richard also makes an indelible appearance in Robert Louis Stevenson's wonderful "The Black Arrow."
I think "Rebecca" has one of the great opening paragraphs of all time, and the rest of the story is just as compelling.
I may have read "Moonspinner," but if so, it didn't stick. Didn't Disney or someone make a movie out of it?
Guess I better read the other two. Is a book report due?

Anne Marie Becker said...

I've read Rebecca, but will have to check out the others you recommend. I grew up on Agatha Christie (and Stephen King, but that's more horror...), so I would recommend almost anything by them.

Helena said...

I've read three, possibly four (I can't be sure I've read the JDC book). I love Daughter of Time but prefer Tey's Brat Farrar. I re-read all Mary Stewart's romantic suspense books regularly - they are one reason why I love mysteries.

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