Five great crime novels

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One of my personal backdoor brag:

“No one ever remembers that The Brothers Karamazov is a darn good murder mystery wrapped up in a complete telling of the Universe.”


Dashiell Hammett. Anything, really, not just The Maltese Falcon.
Elmore Leonard. Pretty much everything.
And, of course, Ross Thomas. Especially the ones with Cyril “Mac” McCorkle & Michael Padillo / Artie Wu & Quincy Durant in them. Yes, rather thrillers, but crime is crime.
Gisbert Haefs. Solid conventional crime novels, thrillers, crime/spy novels set in historical settings, a bit of SF, some weird stuff and some outstanding translations.
Gert Prokop. Did a couple of books that are both solid crime stories and SF at the same time, set in a dystopian America, with the added bonus of reality catching up with fiction dreamt up 30 years ago just a little bit more each year.


Thanks for this!

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Hey, if you like crime stories, try some of the old pulp reprints.

Stories are a bit quaint and formulaic though to be fair, they were new and more or less creating the genre. But, you get some vintage verbiage and colloquial dialogue, and a world that is a bit foreign because it is so old. Read who inspired the later super hero crime fighters.

Cornell Woolrich, who wrote some really interesting psychological stuff during the 1930s-40s. Some of his work was adapted for radio and the movies, most famously “Rear Window” [not “Strangers on a Train”; this was by P. Highsmith], though Truffaut directed a couple, and there have even been some recent adaptations of his stuff. Not a stylist like Chandler or Hammett, not as in-depth as Highsmith, but his plots could be quite memorable (I even recall thinking at one point that his plots could be like traps he set for his characters). IIRC “Rendezvous in Black” is about revenge taken for a mis-thrown empty coke bottle. Worth a look!


Hey, wait a minute…Papasan floats?


Whoops! ‘Stangers on a Train’ was by Patricia Highsmith, her debut novel in fact. Raymond Chandler was one of the screenwriters for the film.


Ross Thomas’s BRIARPATCH…

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A couple of lesser known writers:

Stephen Greenleaf is (was?) an excellent writer that didn’t seem to reach as large of an audience as he should. He was called by some a rightful successor to Chandler and James Crumley thought enough of him to make a passing mention in one of his books.

John Dickson Carr was an American author (oddly, considering that he wrote veddy, veddy British) and was THE master of the locked room mystery. The characters can be a bit clunky, but the plots are ingenious marvels which Agatha Christie claimed never to be able to unravel ahead of time. He also wrote under 3 or so pseudonyms.

Yikes, now I read this, I’m recalling it was Highsmith! Sorry about that!! Thanks for setting the record straight.

No problem. Happy that you mentioned Woolrich in any case.

I have a thing for Mickey Spillane. His plots are kinda meh, but the atmosphere is sooo sleazy.

The only movie version of his work which really captured that well was “Kiss Me Deadly” by Robert Aldrich. Aldrich actually couldn’t stand the book the film was based on and somehow in his effort to stylistically trash it, he made the film more Spillane than Spillane.


Donald Westlake is also one of those good prolific writers who never really got his due. He also had about a dozen pen names. A bunch of his novels have become interesting movies.


Hammett. Anything by him. What’s most remarkable about his writing is how each book is a completely different way of telling a story. Yes, he has recurring characters like the Continental Op but the stories themselves, the language used, the structure and pacing - all unique. Chandler was the one who wrote murder mysteries that didn’t really care about whodunnit - the stories were really all about the journey through all the sordid characters and how each of them were guilty in their own way for their own crimes; the “plot” was always a secondary concern. Leonard’s good because his words go down like popcorn at a good movie. I’d add Chester Himes to the list just because it’s Chester Fucking Himes, man.

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