Recommended Reads: 10 Classic Mysteries
Summer is a great opportunity to relax and read those books sitting in our “to be read” pile. If you’re a mystery fan like me, consider reading some classic examples of the genre. These selections often appear on “best of” lists; so if you haven’t read them, now is the time.
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915) – Though more an action adventure story than mystery, this early novel features an intriguing nest of spies and the search for the meaning behind the titular thirty-nine steps.
Laura by Vera Caspary (1942) – a haunting tale of murder that inspired the 1944 film starring Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews about a woman brutally murdered and a detective who falls in love with her portrait.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939) – arguably Chandler’s best. In his first appearance, P. I. Philip Marlowe is hired to deal with a blackmailer and ends up uncovering a complex murder plot.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926) – of all of Christie’s many novels, why this one? This is the novel that ignited Christie’s career with its ingenious and controversial (at the time) solution.
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868) – One of the earliest detective novels concerns the theft of a famous diamond. The story’s narrative unfolds in a series of letters written by the main characters. Collins’ deftly introduces and employs several mystery tropes in his novel.
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930) – Private eye Sam Spade becomes involved in the search–along with everyone else–for the mysterious Maltese falcon and the secrets it contains. Spade is also determined to learn who killed his partner.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (1935) – debateably Sayers’ best. Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane investigate a series of malicious pranks and strive to prevent a possible murder.
The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1908) – a middle-aged spinster takes a furnished house in the country. The idyllic house, however, has its secrets and murder comes calling in this slow-boiling tale of suspense.
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (1951) – simple a riveting account of a detective attempting to solve the impossible. Tey’s Inspector Grant, laid up in a hospital bed, attempts to solve a historical murder by deductive reasoning. Did Richard III murder the princes in the tower?
Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (1958) – one of the best courtroom drama mysteries. A small town lawyer takes on the defense of a man who readily admits he’s guilty but doesn’t remember the details of the crime. But did he really do it?
There are so many other books (by these authors and others) that could be added to this list, which made it difficult to narrow the choices to just ten. However, I would also recommend the complete novels and stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the complete stories (particularly the Dupin tales) by Edgar Allan Poe. And I would add one nonfiction title to this list of classics…
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966) – considered the first true crime novel. Capote spent six years researching his nonfiction account of the mass murder of a farmer and his family by two ex-parolees.
I chose these particular works as they frequently appear on top 100 lists and I’ve been keen to read (or re-read) them myself. After all, how well can one write in the genre of mysteries if one has no grounding in where the genre has been?
Be sure to comment on your favorite classic mysteries.