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.
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 The fact that the detection is performed through examining historical documents, deductive reasoning, and using intuition while the sleuth is flat on his back in a hospital bed makes this feat all the impressive.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
tradition with one difference. Leigh Brackett was female. This is practically a
step-by-step How To Write Hardboiled Detective Fiction. Chandler
So these are my recommendations. What are some of yours?