Bonus Materials

Like most mystery fans, many of our contributors had a hard time limiting themselves to a single recommendation – and even with 120 essays, we found that some essentials were overlooked. We invite you to post your own recommendations on the YOUR PICKS page, but will be updating this page regularly with titles and authors beyond the scope of the book.

Contributor Joseph Finder talks about what he learned from THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE by James M. Cain:


Contributor Julia Spencer-Fleming describes how she discovered BOOTLEGGER'S DAUGHTER by Margaret Maron:


Contributor Linwood Barclay discusses his friendship with the legendary Ross Macdonald, and what THE GOODBYE LOOK has meant to him: 


Contributor Meg Gardiner describes how she fell in love with A IS FOR ALIBI by Sue Grafton



Contributor Lee Child talks about how he discovered THE DAMNED AND THE DESTROYED by Kenneth Orvis: 


Contributor Katherine Howell discusses her "book to die for," THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN by James Lee Burke:

Editorial assistant Ellen Clair Lamb recommends seven overlooked titles:

The Circular Staircase (1908) by Mary Roberts Rinehart is a fascinating mixture of Victorian sensibilities with the birth of the modern, introducing a new type of independent literary heroine. No-nonsense spinster Rachel Innes takes a summer house in the country with her niece and nephew, and is initially unfazed by signs that it may be haunted. When her nephew is kidnapped, however, Miss Innes begins her own investigation. Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958), a doctor’s wife who turned to fiction to support her family after the stock market crash of 1903, was one of the best-selling novelists of her day. Her influence is apparent in the works of many later authors, including Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie (considered her chief rival). The creator of Batman, Bob Kane, credits her 1920 novel The Bat as one of his inspirations.

Charlotte Armstrong’s charming and unexpected A Dram of Poison (1956) won the 1957 Edgar for Best Novel. The story involves the disappearance of a bottle of poison marked ‘olive oil’ by its owner, who plans to use it to commit suicide. The book’s first half is Hitchcockian; the second half will remind modern readers of a Richard Curtis film. Armstrong (1905-69), an American fashion reporter and advertising copywriter, wrote 29 novels and a collection of short stories under her own name and the pseudonym Jo Valentine. The 1952 thriller Don’t Bother to Knock, starring Marilyn Monroe, was adapted from her novel Mischief (1951). None of Armstrong’s novels is currently in print.

Fire, Burn! (1957) was one of John Dickson Carr’s favorites of his own novels, combining the classic locked-room mystery Carr was known for with a vivid depiction of Regency England and a matter-of-fact treatment of the uncanny. Detective Inspector John Cheviot gets into a cab in London in 1957 and arrives in 1829, where everyone seems to be expecting him. A case of stolen birdseed turns out to be a clever jewel theft, which in turn leads to a seemingly impossible murder; although several of Cheviot’s modern skills are useless, he manages to solve the case and return to his own place in time. Best known for his fictional detective Dr. Gideon Fell, the prolific Carr (1906-77) wrote more than four dozen novels and collections of short stories, as well as a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Anatomy of a Murder (1958), by Robert Traver, may not have created the legal thriller, but did more than any previous novel to popularize the subgenre. In a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, attorney Paul Biegler defends Lieutenant Frederic Manion on charges of murdering bartender Barney Quill. That Manion killed Quill is not in doubt; the questions are first, whether Manion’s act meets the legal definition of justifiable homicide, and second, whether Manion can be held legally responsible for his crime. Traver, the pen name of Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker (1903-91), based the novel on a real case he had tried as a defense attorney. The novel became a controversial and award-winning film of the same name, directed by Otto Preminger, in 1959.

Odds Against (1965), Dick Francis’s fourth novel, introduced jockey Sid Halley, who is given a job with a private enquiry firm after an injury ends his steeplechasing career. No one expects him to do much, he’s told, and he spends two years in a depressive torpor until a bullet wound lands him in the hospital. While he recovers, he is drawn into an investigation of sabotage at Seabury racecourse, and surprises himself by discovering a drive to know the truth and win justice. Halley, who appeared in three subsequent novels (Whip Hand, Come to Grief, and Under Orders), is Francis’s classic hero: a man of ordinary intelligence but extraordinary nerve, with an unexpected depth of compassion and an unyielding moral code. Francis (1920-2010), a champion jockey in his own right, gave readers an unprecedented inside view to the world of horse racing in more than 40 novels as well as his 1957 autobiography, The Sport of Queens.

The Salzburg Connection (1968) may be the quintessential novel by Helen Macinnes (1907-85), a Scottish writer of spy fiction who spent most of her life in New York City. Possibly inspired by her own husband’s career in MI6, Macinnes wrote 18 espionage novels that are characterized by their vivid settings and attention to detail – so much so that Allied intelligence agents read Assignment in Brittany (1942) as preparation for working with members of the French resistance. The Salzburg Connection finds American attorney Bill Mathison on a business trip to Zurich, where his attraction to a young widow, Lynn Conway, plunges him into a life-threatening chase for a cache of Nazi documents. The 1972 film adaptation of the same name, directed by Lee H. Katzin, struggles with the plot’s complexities but delivers fantastic Alpine scenery.

Mary Higgins Clark (b. 1927) was a widow who supported her family by writing short stories and radio scripts until Where Are the Children? became a runaway bestseller in 1975. Nancy Harmon faces every mother’s worst nightmare when her two children disappear. As the police investigate, however, they discover that the distraught mother had narrowly escaped execution in California years earlier for the grisly murder of her first two children. Although Clark did not create the subgenre of domestic suspense, she made it her own with this book and the more than four dozen that have followed. In 2001 her publishers, Simon & Schuster, endowed the Mystery Writers of America’s Mary Higgins Clark Award for ten years, recognizing books written “in the Mary Higgins Clark tradition.” 

Contributor David Corbett on BELLMAN & TRUE by Desmond Lowden (1975), a book that didn't quite make the list: 

My favorite heroes are seldom the stalwart, valiant, Galahad kind. I prefer the muckabout or lost soul, the despised and disregarded outcast who comes through in a selfless act of courage. He just feels more honest, more convincing to me, and his arc is more gratifying because it travels a more difficult and unlikely trajectory. One of my favorites in this line appears in a relatively little known novel, later adapted to film, with both versions bearing the title Bellman & True. It comes from an old Cumberland song titled “D’ye Ken John Peel,” specifically the lyric: 
Yes, I ken John Peel and Ruby too. 
Ranter and Ringwood, Bellman and True.
From a find to a check, from a check to a view, 
From a view to a death in the morning.
There’s a pun in the term “bellman.” It refers to a criminal who specializes in getting past bank alarms.

I saw the movie first, and as good as it is—and it’s not just one of my favorite crime films, but one of my favorite films, period—I recently spent a sunny Sunday reading the book on which it’s based, by Desmond Lowden. I’ve now ordered everything else I can find that this man’s written—most of which, sadly, is long out of print and can be had for a song.
Don’t confuse obscurity with lack of talent.
This book provided me with one of the most gratifying reading experiences I’ve had lately. As I said, I read it in a day—it’s a mere 183 pages—almost in one sitting. I’ve only done that with two other books: James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity and Kim Addonizio’s brilliant poetry collection, Tell Me.

The book is briskly paced, deftly executed, with brilliant dialog and a well-researched and richly detailed high-tech bank heist at its core. But what makes it truly unforgettable is the writing, which accomplishes its effects not with surface pyrotechnics but “writing from the inside”—developing its depth and richness and texture from fully imagining the characters, the setting, the situation, the action.

Consider a couple character sketches, which are deceptively simple:

Of Hiller, the hapless hero:  
He was middle-aged, with thinning hair, but there was something of the schoolboy about him. It was the tweed suit, ready-made, from a High Street tailor’s. The sort of suit you bought on leaving school for your first job. The man had kept to the same style ever since, though heavier now in the stomach and seat. And he’d looked after them well, as he walked he kept the suitcases carefully away from his trouser creases.
Of Hiller’s stepson, known only as The Boy:  
He was small, the back of his head was soft and rounded. But his face was pale, sharply pointed with the effort of being eleven years old. 
Of Anna, a former high-priced call girl (“on the game, what you’d call the big game, South Africa and the Bahamas”): 
She had two suitcases, a radio, and a little girl called Mo. The girl sat quietly while her mother took over the spare bedroom next to Hiller’s room. She swept it, scrubbed it, and all the time she kept the radio at her side as though she needed a wall of sound around her. . . She wore no make-up, she was strangely neutral, like a fashion model walking from one job to another, her face and hair in her handbag, and no expression for the journey in between. 
Even minor characters get mindful treatment, such as this shop clerk: 
The man was grey-haired. He had bacon and a suburban train-ride on his breath, and he caught the smell of whiskey on Hiller’s. 
Lowden’s setting descriptions are equally evocative. This one manages to convey the place, the situation, the character and a sense of menace all in one, while being not in the least bit showy:  
The room, when they reached it, was small. There was an old striped carpet, and a basin in the corner held up by its plumbing. Hiller went straight to the window. He stood close to the glass and smelled the sourness of other people’s breath. Across the street he saw the four houses in a row that were empty, their insides gutted and piled at the kerb, their windows dark. And Hiller felt safe. No-one could see he was here. 
But the truly great reward of the book is in the interactions between Hiller and the boy, specifically the stories Hiller tells him to keep him entertained. Hiller has a bit of a drinking problem (to put it mildly), and his storytelling conveys not just that, but an imaginative intelligence squandered in drudgery and a misbegotten marriage to the boy’s mother, who has abandoned them both.  

The other great joy of the book is watching Hiller’s character deepen, and his love for the boy solidify. He is a genuine hero, though not the sort for idealists or sentimentalists. It’s easy to assume that Hiller is doomed, because of his clueless involvement with men far more vicious than he realizes. But it’s not as simple as that, and Hiller is not that simple a man. And his fondness and concern for the boy crystallizes in their mutual realization they only have each other, and it’s never been otherwise. 

Hiller engages me in ways more conventional mystery/thriller heroes just don’t. He’s not just the clichéd “tarnished hero.” He’s a recognizable man with a complex past and an almost overwhelming problem in the present, caused by his own thoughtless flirtation with evil. And by the end he isn’t the same just more so, like so many heroes one comes across, especially in the crime genre. Without giving too much away, he achieves a recognizable nobility, that of a man who gets up off his knees. 

Co-editor Declan Burke offers his list of titles that didn’t make the cut, but probably should have:

Was B. Traven (1882-1969) really a Polish-born German anarchist? Nobody knows. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1927; first published in English in 1935) was the second offering from author renowned for his ‘proletarian adventure novels’, a grimy allegory for a sordid kind of capitalism as three American prospectors grub for gold in the Mexican mountain range of the Sierra Madre. Leave the politics to one side and you have a pulsating tale of geed, double-cross and man at his worst, all of it wrapped up in gorgeously vivid prose.

Described by Raymond Chandler as “one of the great forgotten novels of the 1930s”, Thieves Like Us (1937) was Edward Anderson’s (1905-1969) second novel, an nervy blend of the Bonnie & Clyde story, a coarse pulp poetry and John Steinbeck’s epics of dustbowl migration. Bank robbers and star-crossed lovers Keechie and Bowie have nowhere to run to where Fate and the law won’t find them, and Anderson invests their hopeless plight with a heartbreaking poignancy.

The author of 18 novels that could very easily be mistaken for extended suicide notes, David Goodis (1917-1967) was the poet laureate of the bleakest kind of noir. His second novel, Dark Passage (1946), may well be his most autobiographical work, as fugitive from justice Vince Parry (“It was a tough break,” the novel begins. “Parry was innocent.”) goes to nightmarish lengths to disguise his true identity. Other notable titles include Nightfall (1947), The Moon in the Gutter (1953), The Wounded and the Slain (1955) and Shoot the Piano Player (1956).

Horace McCoy (1897-1955) is best known for his novella They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1935), his account of a Depression-era dance marathon, but his finest crime novel is Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1948), a blistering account of homicidal psychosis in the figure of prison escapee Ralph Cotter, a Phi Beta Kappa scholar who reckons he’s so smart he doesn’t have to play by the rules. Can man live by the will to power alone? Tough, terse and hard-boiled amorality at its finest.

W.R. Burnett (1899-1982) wrote a number of superb crime titles, any one of which could have graced this collection: Little Caesar (1929), High Sierra (1940), Nobody Lives Forever (1945). He’s probably best known for The Asphalt Jungle (1949), one of the greatest among the classic heist-gone-wrong tales, as the perfect jewellery store robbery goes south when the assembled gang start to reveal their flaws and foibles, with fatal results. 

Florida-born Gold Medal veteran Gil Brewer (1922-1983) wrote dozens of novels under a variety of pseudonyms, many of them bordering on pornography, but his finest moments were noir tales of an ordinary guy bewitched by a femme fatale and seduced into selling his soul. 13 French Street (1951) opens with ex-army grunt Alex Bland visiting his old buddy Verne and coming up against a killer more ruthless than anything he ever encountered in the war - Verne’s wife, the “bold, beautiful” Petra. Brewer’s prose was as precise and direct as a stiletto.

Peter Rabe (1921-1990) wrote over 30 pulp novels, most of which were good enough for Donald Westlake to declare Rabe “by far the best” of the Gold Medal writers of the 1940s and ’50s. Kill the Boss Good-By (1956) is a deceptively slender slice of amoral noir, as gangsters Pander and Fell go head-to-head in a power grab. If you’ve ever wondered - and who hasn’t? - what a collaboration between Paul Cain and James M. Cain might read like, Peter Rabe’s your man. 

The prolific Philip K. Dick was a science-fiction writer, but the character of Deckard, the bounty hunter who stalks a post-apocalyptic earth in search of “replicants” in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), may as well as been wearing a trenchcoat and fedora, so closely does he resemble the private eyes of the classic hardboiled novels. As in all the great existential private eye tales, Deckard winds up investigating his own motives, objectives and, ultimately, himself. 

William Goldman (b. 1931) is a novelist and Oscar-winning screenwriter who has turned his hand to Westerns, fairytales and thrillers, to name but three genres. Marathon Man (1974) was one of the finest paranoid thrillers of the 1970s, and redolent of the fall-out from Watergate, as naïve college student Babe gets mixed up in inter-agency warfare and an aging Nazi determined to secure his stash of illicitly obtained diamonds. You may want to avail of medical insurance before you open Marathon Man: the novel contains at least two whiplash-inducing reverse-twists.

Robert Stone (b. 1937) won the National Book Award for Dog Soldiers (1975), which follows hack journalist John Converse as he attempts to broker some drug-dealing action between Saigon and LA during the last days of the Vietnam War. Things do not, to put it mildly, go to plan: Converse and his half-assed hippie connections come up against hard-nosed cops, corrupt Feds and professional hitmen as Stone explores the darker side of post-Watergate America. Worth reading in tandem with Newton Thornburg’s Cutter and Bone (1976).

Joseph Wambaugh (b. 1937) was still a serving detective sergeant with the LAPD when he published his first novel, The New Centurions (1971). In its blackly comic tone and grittily realistic detail, and particularly in terms of how Wambaugh used anecdote for narrative material, The Choirboys (1975) is characteristic of Wambaugh’s finest work, as he brought his personal experience as a policeman to bear on his fiction. Hollywood Nocturne (2012) is the fifth in the “Hollywood” series of novels Wambaugh has published since 2006.

Better known for his science-fiction work, Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) also published a trilogy of crime novels featuring an unnamed narrator who, in aspiring to be a novelist in Death is a Lonely Business (1985), is regarded as something of an autobiographical figure. Set in Venice, California in 1949, the novel is marked by a classic hardboiled tone as Bradbury pays homage to Hammett, Chandler, et al - and to James Crumley, for whom the novel’s police detective is named. A Graveyard for Lunatics (1990) and Let’s All Kill Constance (1995) complete the trilogy.

Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula (1990) by Barry Gifford (b. 1946) was the first in a series of seven novellas detailing the “Sailor and Lula” saga, and showcased Gifford’s clipped-to-the-bone style of Southern-fried noir. As dialogue-driven as anything by Elmore Leonard or George V. Higgins, the story follows the star-crossed lovers as they take off on a road-trip designed to out-run Lula’s Sailor-hating momma, the killer she’s hired to put Sailor away for good, and possibly Fate itself. It’s a bayou-dialect Romeo and Juliet, with pitch-black humour and way too many guns, and a direct descendant of Edward Anderson’s Thieves Like Us.

Co-editor John Connolly suggests five overlooked books:

Raymond Chandler once remarked that the ideal mystery was “one you would read even if the end was missing.”  In his 1966 novella, The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon took this statement to heart, creating a witty commentary on the Californian P.I. novel in which Ms Oedipa Maas tries to carry out her duties as the executor of the immense fortune left behind by her former lover, a Californian millionaire, uncovering a centuries-old conflict between two mail distribution companies on the way to discovering the "truth" about the nature of the eponymous “Lot 49.”

Hawksmoor (1985) by Peter Ackroyd is another novel that ends a chapter before a conventional mystery narrative would end.  Nicholas Hawksmoor, a senior detective, who, in a nice bit of circularity, shares his name with an actual English architect who lived from 1662-1736, begins investigating a series of murders on the sites of 18th century churches designed by one Nicholas Dyer, and the novel moves brilliantly, hauntingly between the two periods, events in one echoing actions in the other, until it reaches its strange, ambiguous climax.

The Name of the Rose (1980) by Umberto Eco should, by rights, have been in the main body of the book, but we were rather let down at the last minute by the writer who had agreed to consider the book.  In 1327, Brother William of Baskerville, accompanied by his novice, Adso of Melk, who narrates the story, arrives at an Italian abbey to investigate a series of murders among the monks, and effectively sows the seeds of modern detective technique.

The Name of the Rose bears some comparison with Barry Unsworth’s Morality Play (1995), which is another evocative historical mystery set in the 14th century.  A group of travelling players, with a young cleric in their midst who has absconded from his diocese, arrive in a town reeling from the murder of a young boy named Thomas Wells.  The players decide to make some money by reenacting the murder as a play, but as they progress with the creation of their drama, they begin to spot the discrepancies in the official version of events, and find themselves increasingly under threat.

Father Ronald Knox was a cleric who, in the first half of the last century, compiled a set of rules for writing the detective novel, including injunctions against using ghosts and, indeed, Chinamen.  In Sins for Father Knox (1973) Josef Skvorecky set about deconstructing the traditional detective novel by writing 10 stories in which the reader must not only guess the identity of the murderer, but figure out which rule has been broken in each tale, probably causing Knox to spin in his grave along the way.

Contributor Lauren Henderson adds three titles she almost chose:

Ngaio Marsh’s Artists in Crime (1938): In which ‘Handsome Alleyn’, Marsh’s aristocratic detective, meets not only the love of his life, the painter Agatha Troy, but a satisfyingly quirky group of young artists taking a course at Troy’s house. (Echoes of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, another dark, eccentric, unconventionally beautiful creative type). Alleyn and Troy flutter around each other with the hypersensitivity Marsh attributes to upper-class people with refined nerves, while Alleyn solves the murder of an artist’s model. Marsh’s trademark attention to forensic detail is absolutely precise; as always, if you’ve followed the investigation carefully, there’s only one solution to the mystery.

Elbur Ford’s The Bed Disturbed (1952): Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert wrote crime as Elbur Ford, but she is better known for her historical novels under the pseudonyms Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr. The Bed Disturbed is an extraordinary psychological crime novel in which Euphrasie Mercier, an unsuccessful shop-owner in provincial France, latches onto wealthy, sweet Elodie, poisoning Elodie to take over her house, in which Euphrasie dreams of installing her beloved sister Adele; we know from the beginning that Euphrasie will be caught, but her efforts to avoid suspicion ratchet the story up to nerve-tightening levels of suspense. Its psychological acuity and use of domestic details to increase the tension are very much before its time and foreshadow the work of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine.

Georgette Heyer’s Death in the Stocks (1935): Rich, nasty Arnold Vereker is found late at night, stabbed in the back, his feet locked in the village stocks, and his feckless siblings – bull-terrier-breeding Antonia, artistic, sharp-tongued Kenneth, and deceptively-vague Roger are all suspects. Heyer delighted in creating wicked social caricatures in her contemporary crime, and her plots are constructed so well that she could afford to dispense with sympathetic central characters; the Verekers are extremely selfish and badly-behaved, but their antics make very enjoyable reading, and the solution closes tightly as a vice by the end. As a welcome side-effect, you’ll never be able to use the word ‘personally’ again.