Saturday, February 23, 2008

50 crime writers to read before you die

So, the Telegraph has listed the 50 crime writers to read before you die" Obviously, the main purpose of such a list is to generate controversy over the inclusions and omissions. Well, they've achieved their purpose. Over in the Corner, John Miller thinks (incorrectly) that "most obvious name missing from that best-crime-writer list is Michael Connelly," while Mark Hemingway believes that "it's an absolute travesty that Ross MacDonald is not on the list." Well, I've never read either Connelly or McDonald, so I can't comment on the omission of their names. But I do have a couple of comments.
  1. With apologies to Mr. Miller, the single most obvious missing name is Rex Stout. A prolific writer, an iconic character, virtually infinitely re-readable, the absence of the creator of Nero Wolfe, does, as suggested by one of the commenters at the Telegraph's website, "invalidate the list."

  2. The second most obvious omission is Erle Stanley Gardner. Is there a more iconic character in American crime fiction than Perry Mason? If you want to argue that Gardner wasn't a very good writer, you'll have to find someone else to do it with, because I won't disagree with you - he wasn't. But he was a very stylized writer, who was, in many ways, the creator of the courtroom thriller, and a master plotter. If Agatha Christie belongs on the list, and she obviously does, then so does Gardner.

  3. While recognizing that Dickens' novels frequently include crimes (and believe me, I'm a huge fan of Dickens in general, and Bleak House, which they cited, in particular), there's just no purpose to having his name on a list of this sort. He wasn't a "crime writer" any more than Shakespeare or Wodehouse, both of whom wrote about many crimes, both of whom were "better writers" than the vast majority of the inhabitants of the list, and neither of whom belongs on it. Nor does Dickens.

  4. Edmund Crispin? That's a joke, right? As were his novels. His presence on the list goes a long way towards invalidating it. If I could go back in time and spend the time I spent reading Crispin re-reading Gambit or Murder By The Book or Some Buried Caesar for the 20th time, I'd consider that a good thing.

  5. I'm not going to kick Wilkie Collins off, because I recognize the importance of The Moonstone. But that's it, as far as I know, and I've never actually been able to finish it.

  6. I want it understood that this is a question, not a criticism. I've never read Raymond Chandler, and maybe he should be there. But I can't help but wonder if he'd be there if Humphrey Bogart hadn't filmed The Big Sleep.

  7. One of the spots on the list is filled by "Steig Larsson, crusading Swedish journalist who died in 2004, leaving the manuscripts of three thrillers." I'm thinking that maybe, just possibly, that spot would be more appropriately filled by someone like Ellis Peters, the creator of the 20 wonderful Brother Cadfael mysteries.

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