Books to Die For: The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the World’s Greatest Mystery Novels
In this collection, 120 mystery writers were selected to write an essay on the book they consider ‘the best.’ It is not meant to be read at one time. I like how Connolly and Burke say it in the Introduction, “obviously ideal for dipping into when you have a quiet moment.” For that reason I’ll probably not try to review the book as a whole, but will add some commentary when I review a book that’s in here.
I’ve only read a dozen of the essays, but I can tell you that I recommend this book for mystery lovers. Give it as the perfect gift, even if it’s to yourself 🙂 I picked this up at Bouchercon and had it signed by 30 of the authors. I’ll have to see how many more I can get as the years go by.
Since I’ve read 7 of the 120 novels (a sad total, right?) I’m going to give you a taste of the essays on the books I’ve read and then my thoughts on the book. The book lists them in chronological order but I think I’ll list them in order of how I like them best.
A Simple Plan by Scott Smith was chosen by Michael Koryta “The plotting of A Simple Plan is, and should be, widely praised, but I’d argue that the greater genius of the novel is in the way in which Smith renders the voice of Hank, our narrator. In those early pages, Hank is compelling and familiar and reasonable. Oh so reasonable… He’s not a typical suspense novel protagonist-no military skills, police background, or heroic traits. No, he’s the accountant at a feedstore in a small midwestern town. He has a pregnant wife and a troubled brother and the weight of two lost parents and one lost farm hanging over him, but these are problems we know or can relate to. This man is one of us. He’s speaking for us.” To me this is a forgotten gem and I think everyone should give it a read. Just reading his essay not only made me want to read it again, but to also finally read Koryta!
Tell No One by Harlan Coben was chosen by German writer Sebastian Fitzek. “To sum up, for its inconsistencies alone Tell No One is a “book to die for” for me. It starts with a question that sounds almost supernatural, but leads to a real story, which leads to a logical ending. It’s about extraordinary people we have never met in real life, but take at face value…With this book Coben has not invented a new genre, but he has pushed the boundaries toward new frontiers. It makes him one of the few popular authors whose style can be recognized without looking at the name on the cover.” This was my first Coben book and the one I always recommend to thriller lovers. I’ve read all of his books and even though there’s no Myron it’s probably still my favorite.
Clockers by Richard Price was chosen by Gar Anthony Haywood. “Part of the great pull of Clockers is the anxiety a reader is made to feel throughout, waiting for Strike or Rocco to prove himself more compassionate, more alive than Price would lead us to believe he is. In the hands of a lesser writer, characters this detached and manipulative, wading through daily existences this harsh and seemingly pointless, would tax a reader’s patience…But Price lends each man just enough humanity, just enough hope for his sorry future, to make writing him off impossible.” It’s been many years since I read this one but I remember being blown away by the dialogue. I think it may be time for a reread.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote was chosen by Joseph Wambaugh. “This book is less interested in the bogeyman terror of the event or the whodunit aspect of the investigation that in the psychological exploration of the criminal mind and motive, which had not been done in such depth since Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.” My thoughts are here.
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain was chosen by Joseph Finder. “If you haven’t yet read it, or haven’t read it in a while, you’ll be surprised at how well it holds up. The prose is lean and spare, completely stripped of ornamentation or affection. It reads like the confession that it reveals itself to be.” You can find my thoughts here.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was chosen by Minette Walters. “For those who see Daphne du Maurier as a romantic author, the book ticks every box in the developing Jane Eyre-love between the older Maxim and his younger second wife. For crime buffs, it is one of the few murder stories where the voice of the victim resonates loudly on every page, playing not only with the minds of the other characters but also with the reader’s.” I listened to the audio of this a few years before I started blogging and liked it, but didn’t fall in love with it.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt was chosen by Tana French. “For me, this book redefined the territory that mysteries can claim. When I started writing, more than ten years after I first read it, I was writing within a landscape that The Secret History had redrawn for me. I aim to write mysteries that take genre conventions as springboards, not as laws, and never as limitations on quality or scope: books where the real murder mystery isn’t whodunit, but whydunit and what it means.” Listened to this on a road trip way, way back when and remember liking it but not a whole lot else.
A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton was chosen by Meg Gardiner. “Deftly plotted, vivid, and convincing, the story has twists, multiplemurders, and some we-intended B&E by the heroine. It has sex. It has regret, and gunplay. It has a cast of motley neighborhood characters that, over the course of the series, become beloved. And in the center of the action it has Kinsey… My thoughts here.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle was chosed by Carol O’Connell. “There are 56 short stories, but I recommend Doyle’s finest of four novels, The HOund of the Baskervilles, to understand why Holmes’s story can never end, but extends from the horse-drawn-carriage era of 1887 into the twenty-first century-with fresh horses.” My thoughts are here.