The Subjects

The contributors to Books to Die For chose works by well over 100 different authors, and we'll post capsule profiles weekly between now and August 31. But which books made the list, and who chose them? You’ll have to buy the book to find out!  

Peter Ackroyd (b. 1949) is an English novelist, poet, biographer and critic whose particular passion is the history and culture of the city of London – “its power, its majesty, its darkness, its shadows” – leading him to become its greatest living chronicler. His novels frequently place real historical characters, in whose lives Ackroyd has immersed himself through research, in fictionalised or reimagined settings.  These have included the writer Oscar Wilde, the poet Chatterton, the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, and the English occultist John Dee. “The marvellous thing about research of that nature,” Ackroyd has remarked, “is that you can come upon luminous and illuminating details which tend to be neglected by more academic historians, or more professional historians.” 

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) is best remembered for his five humorous sci-fi novels collectively known as “the increasingly improbable trilogy” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), which emerged from the BBC radio series of the same name, first broadcast in 1978. Adams also published a pair of detective novels featuring the idiosyncratic private eye Dirk Gently: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987) and its sequel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988). Essentially a spoof on the PI sub-genre, the first Dirk Gently novel was described by its author as “a kind of ghost-horror-detective-time-travel-romantic-comedy-epic, mainly concerned with mud, music and quantum mechanics.” 

Gil Adamson (b. 1961) was first published as a poet, in 1991, with her collection Primitive. She subsequently published a collection of short stories, Help Me, Jacques Cousteau (1995), and another volume of poetry, Ashland (2003). Her debut novel, The Outlander, won the Hammett Prize in 2007. It remains her only novel to date. 

Margery Allingham (1904-66) described mystery writing as "both a prison and a refuge," the form providing her with the discipline and framework that she required to house her stories.  She was the creator of Albert Campion, an aristocratic yet modest detective who, over the course of forty years, developed from the ‘silly ass’ of Mystery Mile into a man of formidable intelligence, aided and abetted by his sidekicks, the former criminal Magersfontein Lugg, the solid, dependable policeman, Stanislaus Oates, and by Lady Amanda Fitton, who subsequently becomes his wife.  Allingham’s formula for the mystery novel was deceptively simple – "a Killing, a Mystery, an Enquiry and a Conclusion with an element of satisfaction in it." – but her execution was consummate, and nowhere more so than in Tiger in the Smoke. 

First published with The Dark Frontier (1936), Eric Ambler (1909-98) is credited with investing the spy novel with a radical dash of gritty realism. He is best known for The Mask of Dimitrios (1939), Journey Into Fear (1940) and The Light of Day (1962), the last of which won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Ambler also won two Gold Daggers, for Passage of Arms (1959) and The Levanter (1972), was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers Association of America, and made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth.  An accomplished screenwriter, Ambler wrote the screenplays for A Night to Remember (1958), The October Man (1947) and The Cruel Sea (1953). His autobiography, published in 1985, was titled Here Lies.  The arrangement of the cover typography allowed it to read "Here Lies Eric Ambler." 

Suzanne Berne (b. 1961) won the Orange Prize for her debut novel, A Crime in the Neighborhood (1997), which concerns itself with the murder of a child against the backdrop of the Watergate scandal, as recounted by a ten-year-old girl. Berne, an Associate English Professor at Boston College who has taught at Wellesley and Harvard, specializes in psychological narratives in a domestic setting. In addition to A Crime in the Neighborhood, Berne has published A Perfect Arrangement (2001), The Ghost at the Table (2006), and Missing Lucile (2010).

American-born author Cara Black (b. 1951) sets her Aimée Leduc mystery novels, of which there have been twelve to date, in Paris. Her first novel, Murder in the Marais, was published in 1998 and nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Novel, while her third, Murder in the Sentier, received an Anthony nomination for Best Novel. Her most recent book, Murder at the Lanterne Rouge, arrived in 2011. Cara Black was included in Elizabeth Lindsay’s Great Women Mystery Writers (2nd Edition).

Best known for his Matt Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr novels, Lawrence Block (b. 1938) has published more than sixty novels and 100 short stories. In addition, he has written five books for writers, the most recent being The Liar’s Bible (2011). First published in the 1950s under a pseudonym while writing in the paperback porn genre, Block’s debut under his own name arrived in 1957 with the short story "You Can’t Lose." He has been the recipient of multiple prizes for his novels and short stories, including the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award in 1994 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America in 2002.  

Edward Bunker (1933-2005) was an American author, screenwriter, actor and, notably, a criminal for the first half of his life.  According to his memoir, Education of a Felon (2000), he was the youngest ever inmate to be incarcerated in San Quentin Prison, and was regarded by fellow criminals as being so hard and fearless as to border on the insane.  Inspired by an encounter with the death row prisoner and writer, Caryl Chessman, Bunker began to write his own book while incarcerated.  It was almost two decades before it was finally published under the title No Beast So Fierce (1973).  The money that he earned from writing and, subsequently, acting enabled Bunker to earn a living without resorting to bank robbery or drug dealing.  On film, he is most fondly remembered as the doomed Mr Blue in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs

James Lee Burke (b. 1936) is one of America’s greatest living novelists. His first novel, Half of Paradise, was published in 1965; it was followed by To the Bright and Shining Sun (1970) and Lay Down My Sword and Shield (1971). The first offering in the Dave Robicheaux series, The Neon Rain, appeared in 1987; Burke has published 19 Robicheaux titles in total, the most recent being Creole Belle (2012). The author of 31 novels in total, Burke has also published two collections of short stories, The Convict (1985) and Jesus Out to Sea (2007). James Lee Burke has twice received the Edgar for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, first for Black Cherry Blues in 1990, and again in 1998 for Cimarron Rose. In 2009, James Lee Burke received the MWA’s Grand Master Award. 

Dame Antonia Susan Duffy (b. 1936), better known as the novelist and poet A.S.Byatt, is a native of Sheffield, England.  Since her first novel, The Shadow of the Sun (1964), she has published almost 30 books as writer or editor, including numerous works of fiction and studies of Iris Murdoch, George Eliot, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  She reputedly fell out with her sister, the novelist Margaret Drabble, over a depiction of their mother in one of Drabble’s books, as well as Drabble’s use of a family tea set as a plot point. 

One of a trio of writers, alongside Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, credited with creating the hard-boiled novel, James M. Cain (1892-1977) first worked as a journalist before establishing his reputation as an author. Early novels such as The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), Mildred Pierce (1941) and Double Indemnity (1943, but originally published in serial form in Liberty Magazine in 1936) were notable for their spare prose, authentic dialogue and dubious morality – the latter, presumably, prompting Raymond Chandler to dismiss Cain as "a Proust in greasy overalls, a dirty little boy with a piece of chalk and a board fence and nobody looking." A long-lost manuscript of Cain’s, The Cocktail Waitress, was published in 2012 by Hard Case Crime.  

Paul Cain was the pseudonym of George Carol Sims (1902-66), the son of a police detective who wrote 17 short stories for Black Mask magazine and one novel, the seminal title Fast One, which was published in 1933. Sims had some success in Hollywood as a screenwriter during the 1930s, writing under the pseudonym Peter Ruric. A collection of Paul Cain’s short stories, Seven Slayers, was published in 1950.  

The author of 25 novels, more than 150 short stories and twelve non-fiction titles, Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) is best known for his novels Tobacco Road (1932) and God’s Little Acre (1933). A Southern writer committed to writing about the dispossessed and marginalised in society, both black and white, Caldwell was ostracised by his peers for betraying his class and culture. On its publication in 1929, his debut novella, The Bastard, suffered problems with censorship, and was banned in Portland, Maine, the city in which Caldwell operated a bookstore. 

Truman Capote (1924-84) was born Truman Streckfus Persons in New Orleans, Louisiana.  He led an unsettled early life, raised by relatives following his parents’ divorce.  He was reunited with his mother following her marriage to the Cuban-born Joseph Capote, who adopted the young Truman and gave him his surname. Capote began writing when he was 11, and by his early twenties had already gained a reputation as a writer of short stories, as well as publishing his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, in 1948.  In Cold Blood, his most famous work, was inspired by a short article in the New York Times of November 16th, 1959, describing the murder of the Clutter family in Kansas. Assisted by his friend and fellow writer, Harper Lee, Capote began a lengthy process of investigation of the crime and its aftermath.  Originally serialized in 1965, it was published in book form early the following year.  Capote described In Cold Blood as a "nonfiction novel," and stood over the veracity of all that he had written, even in the face of accusations of distortion and fabrication.  

Caleb Carr (b. 1955) is a novelist, screenwriter and military historian, with a particular fascination for the late 19th century in his fiction, most notably in The Alienist (1994) and its sequel, The Angel of Darkness (1997). Carr grew up on a tough block of the Lower East Side of New York. He has said that the violence of the streets, and of his own home, gave him insights into such behaviour. At the age of 19 his father, the journalist Lucien Carr, stabbed a man to death for making unwanted sexual advances, and was helped by the writer Jack Kerouac to dispose of the body. Carr lives on Misery Mountain in Rensselaer County, New York, his isolation moderated by his admitted preference for dating much younger women. "I have a grim outlook on the world, and in particular on humanity," he told the New York Times in 2005. "I spent years denying it, but I am very misanthropic. And I live alone on a mountain for a reason."  

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) turned to writing crime fiction at the relatively advanced age of 44, publishing short stories with "pulp" magazines such as Black Mask. His first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939 and featured the private detective Philip Marlowe. In total, Chandler published seven novels, all of which featured Marlowe. He also worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood, adapting James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity (1944) with director Billy Wilder, and adapting Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train (1951) for Alfred Hitchcock. The Blue Dahlia (1946) was Chandler’s only original screenplay; it was nominated for an Academy Award, as was Double Indemnity. Chandler’s final novel, Playback, was published in 1958. His essay "The Simple Art of Murder," first published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1944, is regarded as a seminal piece of criticism on crime fiction. 

Before becoming a full-time writer, the Singapore-born Leslie Charteris (Leslie Charles Bowyer Yin, 1907-93) held a variety of jobs: tin-miner, pearl diver, gold prospector and carny. His first novel, X Esquire, was published in 1927, while Charteris was still at Kings College in Cambridge; his third, and the first Saint novel, Meet the Tiger, appeared in 1928. Charteris wrote short stories, novellas and novels featuring The Saint for the next 35 years, with ghostwriters subsequently penning Saint stories under his editorial supervision. During the 1940s, Charteris also wrote for the Sherlock Holmes radio series starring Basil Rathbone. The TV series "The Saint," starring Roger Moore, ran from 1962 to 1969; the series was revived, with Ian Ogilvy in the lead role, in the late 1970s.  

Lewis Elliott Chaze (1915-90) was a Louisiana-born writer and journalist who spent much of his later career in Mississippi as the city editor of the Hattiesburg American. With tongue set gently in cheek, he attributed his desire to write fiction to a combination of ego and money. This resulted in ten novels, both mysteries and non-mysteries, including Tiger in the Honeysuckle (1965), set against the backdrop of the civil rights’ struggle in the US, as well as short stories and articles for most of the leading magazines of his day, including Cosmopolitan and The New Yorker

The peerless doyenne of the mystery novel’s Golden Age, the hugely prolific Dame Agatha Christie (1890-1976) wrote 80 mystery novels and short story collections, 19 plays, and is heralded as the best-selling novelist of all time by the Guinness Book of Records, her sales ranking third behind those of the Bible and William Shakespeare. Her best known creations include Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, while her play The Mousetrap, which first opened in 1952, is still running in 2012 after more than 24,000 performances. She also wrote under the pen name Mary Westmacott. Agatha Christie was the first recipient of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award, and she was made a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1971. 

Harlan Coben (b. 1962) is the New Jersey-born author of more than 20 novels, including the Myron Bolitar series of mystery stories featuring a former basketball player turned sports agent and occasional investigator, but it was Tell No One, published in 2001, that catapulted him to a new level of fame. The novel was subsequently filmed by director Guillaume Canet and released as Ne le dis à personne in 2006. 

John Maxwell Coetzee (b. 1940) is a South African-born writer and academic. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003, and has won the Booker Prize for two novels, Life & Times of Michael K (1983) and Disgrace (1999). He now lives in Australia. 

Wilkie Collins (1824-89) was a hugely prolific English writer, producing 30 novels in his lifetime in addition to plays, short stories, and essays, although he remains best known for his novels The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868). T. S. Eliot described the latter as ‘the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe.’ Collins was a huge celebrity author in his day, yet still managed to maintain two distinct long-term relationships simultaneously, dividing his time in London between Caroline Graves, whom he claimed was his wife (although they never married), and the younger Martha Rudd, with whom he had three children under the assumed name of William Dawson.  

Michael Connelly has written 25 novels in 20 years, including his latest, The Black Box (2012). He is the author behind the long-running Harry Bosch detective series as well as the more recent Lincoln Lawyer series featuring defense attorney Mickey Haller. Connelly is a former journalist who covered courts and crime for newspapers in South Florida, where he grew up, and Los Angeles, where he lived for fifteen years and sets his novels. He currently resides in Tampa, Florida. 

Clarence Cooper, Jr. (1934-78) led a short and tragic life.  His first novel, The Scene, was published when he was only 26, and won acclaim for its narrative audacity and its depiction of the lifestyles of the heroin-addicted in the titular Scene, the place in any city where everything is for sale. Unfortunately Cooper, who was himself a heroin addict, was already in jail by the time the reviews appeared, and his lifestyle meant that mainstream publishers ran scared of him, relegating his subsequent novels to cheap pulp editions. He made one great, final effort for The Farm (1967), a daring, experimental love story between addicts set in the infamous Lexington Narcotics Farm, but the novel was judged less by its bravery and quality than by its author’s personal failings. Cooper died, penniless and homeless, at the 23rd Street YMCA in New York. 

Patricia Cornwell (b. 1956) was born in Miami, Florida, but started her career as a reporter for The Charlotte Observer in North Carolina. Specializing in crime reporting, she eventually took a job as a technical writer and, later, a computer analyst with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, which provided the basis for her most enduring character, the medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta. Postmortem, the first in the Scarpetta series, swept the mystery awards in the year following its publication.  It is one of the most important early contributions – if not the most important contribution – to what is now an established sub-genre in mystery fiction: mysteries in which the investigation of a murder is primarily conducted not through the questioning of the living, but by the examination of the dead. 

Edmund Crispin was the nom-de-plume of Robert Bruce Montgomery (1921-78), an Oxford graduate who first came to the public’s attention as a composer, most notably with An Oxford Requiem (first performed in 1951) and a number of scores for Carry On films, including the original "Carry On" theme. Montgomery took the pseudonym Edmund Crispin from a Michael Innes novel, writing nine novels that featured Gervase Fen, a Professor of English at a fictional Oxford college. He published eight novels from 1944 to 1952, but personal circumstances meant that he would publish only one more novel, The Glimpses of the Moon (1977), and a collection of short stories before his death in 1978. A further collection of stories, Fen Country, was published posthumously in 1979.  

James Crumley (1939-2008) is one of the most influential crime fiction authors of the last half-century. Ray Bradbury’s series detective Crumley is named for him, and the opening line of his novel The Last Good Kiss (1978) is frequently cited as the greatest opening line in crime fiction history. First published in 1969 with One To Count Cadence, and best known for creating the series characters Milo Milodragovitch and CW Sughrue (who appeared together in 1996’s Bordersnakes), Crumley won the 1994 Dashiell Hammett prize, awarded for Best Literary Crime Fiction, for The Mexican Tree Duck (1993).

Colin Dexter (b. 1930) is the creator of Inspector Morse, the Oxford-based police detective with a taste for Wagner, real ale, cryptic crosswords, and bamboozling his faithful sidekick, Detective Sergeant Lewis. Morse first appeared in 1975, in Last Bus to Woodstock, and went on to feature in twelve subsequent novels, the last of which, The Remorseful Day, was published in 1999. Awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2000, Dexter was handsomely decorated by various crime writers’ organizations throughout his career, eventually receiving the Crime Writers’ Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement in 1997. The TV series Inspector Morse, with John Thaw playing Morse, ran to thirty-three episodes between 1987 and 2000, with Dexter making a cameo appearance in almost every episode, and finally receiving a speaking part in 1993.

Charles Dickens (1812-70) was a prolific writer of short stories, plays, novels, non-fiction and journalism, as well as finding time to edit magazines, collaborate with fellow authors, perfect the concept of the publicity tour, and father ten children. He was also a crusader for social justice, borne out of his own childhood which saw his father, John, imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea prison, where he was joined by all of his family except Charles, who, at the age of 12, went to work at Warren’s Shoe Blacking Factory, and visited his family on Sundays. His first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was published serially from 1836-37, and he died leaving his final book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished.  

Peter Malcolm de Brissac Dickinson (b. 1927), author and poet, was born in Livingston, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), and educated at Eton and Cambridge.  He was an editor and reviewer for Punch magazine for 17 years, and has written extensively for both adults and young adults alike.  He has twice won the Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger, as well as Guardian and Whitbread awards for his young adult fiction.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) was one of the pivotal figures in mystery writing. A physician and writer born in Edinburgh, Scotland, he is best known as the creator of "consulting detective" Sherlock Holmes and his faithful amanuensis, Dr John Watson, although he also wrote a number of historical novels, and a series of adventure stories featuring the character of Professor Challenger, the best known of which remains The Lost World. He was friends for a time with the magician Harry Houdini, and became fascinated by Spiritualism in later life, a consequence of a series of bereavements that included the loss of his wife, Louisa, and his son, Kingsley, leading Conan Doyle to seek proof of an existence beyond the grave.  

Dame Daphne du Maurier (1907-89) was a British author and playwright. A native of Cornwall, she made the county the setting for many of her books, including probably the best known, Rebecca. A reclusive woman who was born into a famously theatrical and artistic family, her work has provided the inspiration for a number of films, including Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds

John Gregory Dunne (1932–2003) was an American novelist, journalist, and screenwriter whose reputation has been partially eclipsed by The Year of Magical Thinking, the memoir of mourning that his wife, Joan Didion, wrote about her life in the year following his passing. His most famous novel is True Confessions, a study of power, corruption, and Catholicism loosely based around the unsolved Black Dahlia murder in Los Angeles in 1947. It was subsequently filmed with Robert Duvall and Robert De Niro in the starring roles. Dunne and Didion wrote the screenplay, as they did for the movie that gave Al Pacino his first starring role, 1971’s The Panic in Needle Park. Dunne also wrote an acerbic memoir about his later Hollywood misadventures, entitled Monster: Living off the Big Screen (1997).

A highly regarded dramatist and essayist, Friedrich Dürenmatt (1921-90) also wrote crime novels. While his plays are generally acknowledged to be influenced by the theatre of the absurd, Dürenmatt’s detective novels offer an unflinching realism that interrogates the reader as to his or her relationship with the genre. Das Versprechen (1958), subtitled "Requiem for the Detective Novel," is the first-person account of a retiring homicide detective and his promise to a mother to find the killer of her eight-year-old girl. The novel was adapted for the film The Pledge (2001), directed by Sean Penn and starring Jack Nicholson. Dürenmatt is also known for his deeply cynical police inspector, Bärlach, who first appeared in 1950 in the novella Der Richter und sein Henker (The Judge and His Hangman).

Lee Earle “James” Ellroy (b. 1948) is one of the iconic figures in modern crime fiction, the self-described Demon Dog of the genre. Born in Los Angeles, his life and work have been shadowed by the murder of his mother, Geneva Hilliker Ellroy, in 1958, a case that remains unsolved but was explicitly explored in his nonfiction book My Dark Places (1996). His novels are densely plotted, bleakly moral, and have latterly been written in a telegraphic prose of short, unadorned sentences, a style that has not proved uncontroversial, with one critic comparing the experience of reading later Ellroy to being hit over the head with a small hammer for six hundred pages.

Nicolas Freeling (1927-2003) first conceived of his series hero Inspector Van der Valk while under arrest in Amsterdam. Formerly a chef, the author wrote 11 Van der Valk titles, the first, Love in Amsterdam, appearing in 1962. The inspector’s widow, Arlette, appeared in a further two novels after Freeling killed off Van der Valk in 1972. The Henri Castang series of novels followed, the first of which, A Dressing of Diamonds, was published in 1974. Freeling also published a number of cookery-related titles, which also functioned as semi-autobiographical works. The winner of the  Edgar Award for The King of the Rainy Country (1966), Freeling was also the recipient of a Grand Prix de Littérature Policière and a CWA Gold Dagger.

Mark Gimenez grew up in Galveston County, Texas. He graduated magna cum laude from Notre Dame Law School in 1980, was hired by a Dallas law firm, and eventually became a partner, but after ten years he walked away in order to start his own practice, and write fiction. His first novel to be published was The Color of Law in 2005, although he had already written two books that remain unpublished. Of one of those books, he remarked to New Zealand website Crime Watch that “once it got to 1,600 pages I stopped, you know because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. And a big part of that was not outlining it first, just starting writing . . . from then on I’ve outlined.” He has since written four more books, the latest of which is Accused.

Donald Goines (1937–74) began his writing career while incarcerated in Michigan’s Jackson Penitentiary. Influenced by the work of Iceberg Slim, Goines—who also wrote under the pseudonym Al C. Clark—produced sixteen novels in four years. In novels such as Dopefiend (1971), Whoreson (1972), Black Gangster (1972), and Daddy Cool (1974), Goines wrote about the ghetto experience of inner-city African-Americans. His blend of standard English and urban African-American dialect was later hailed as an influence by rap artists such as Ice-T, RZA, and Tupac Shakur.

Sue Grafton (b. 1940) is the Kentucky-born author of the groundbreaking “Alphabet Series” of detective novels featuring private investigator Kinsey Millhone, some of the inspiration for which she credits to Edward Gorey’s illustrated book The Gashlycrumb Tinies, in which assorted small children meet gruesome ends in strictly alphabetical order. She once threatened to come back from the grave if her children sold the film rights to the series after she was dead. Her decision to fictionalize Santa Barbara, California, as “Santa Teresa” is a tribute to the novelist Ross Macdonald, who was the first to reimagine the city under that name.

Graham Greene (1904-91) famously, or infamously, described his novels of suspense and mystery as "entertainments," a categorization he abandoned in the latter stages of his career. First published with The Man Within (1929), Greene’s reputation as one of Britain’s finest writers of the 20th century rests on novels such as Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), The Third Man (1949) and Our Man in Havana (1958). Greene was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1948 for The Heart of the Matter. In 1986 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire.  

Patrick Hamilton (1904-62) was an English novelist and playwright with an instinctive empathy for the poor and the underprivileged, due in no small part to the difficulty of his own upbringing. (Although his father and mother were both published authors, his father squandered his inheritance, and Hamilton was forced to leave formal education at 15.) He worked as an actor and stage manager, and then as a stenographer, before publishing his first novel, Monday Morning, in 1925. He fell in love with alcohol at an early age – he was a man "who needed whiskey like a car needed petrol" – and died of drink-related organ failure.  

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) was an American novelist, short-story writer, and political activist. Born in Maryland, he worked at various jobs before taking up a role as an operative at the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which provided the inspiration for much of his writing. He is widely regarded as the father of the modern American mystery, and his five novels, published in the space of five years between 1929 and 1934, are classics of the genre. For the final 30 years of his life he was involved in a relationship with the playwright Lillian Hellman. He died of lung cancer following a lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking, his body further weakened by tuberculosis and the aftereffects of imprisonment for his political beliefs.

Joseph Hansen (1923-2004) was an American novelist and poet who revolutionised the hard-boiled mystery novel by introducing into the form an openly gay lead character, the insurance investigator Dave Brandstetter, who became the protagonist of 12 of Hansen’s (many) novels.  Hansen, who disliked the term "gay" and preferred to describe himself as homosexual, was a lifelong activist in the gay rights movement. Brandstetter is notable for being contented, not tortured, in his sexuality. "My joke," said Hansen, "was to take the true hard-boiled character in an American fiction tradition and make him homosexual. He was going to be a nice man, a good man, and he was going to do his job well." It might well have served as a description of Hansen himself, who was happily married for 51 years to the lesbian artist Jane Bancroft.  They had one daughter, Barbara, who later changed her sex to male and her name to Daniel James Hansen. 

Thomas Harris (b. 1940) is an American novelist and screenwriter who is destined to be remembered principally for two things: the refinement of the serial killer novel into a separate subgenre of mystery fiction with two novels, Red Dragon (1981) and The Silence of the Lambs (1988), that are unlikely ever to be equaled; and making cannibalism seem like a sophisticated lifestyle choice for the discerning gourmand. Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic psychiatrist who gradually moved from the periphery to the heart of the four novels in which he has featured, arguably with diminishing returns, is one of the great monsters of popular fiction. Harris maintains a low media profile and is reputed to find the process of writing intensely difficult: he has published only five novels in thirty-seven years.

George V. Higgins (1939–99), sometimes referred to as the “Balzac of Boston”—although he would probably have preferred a comparison to Dickens—was a lawyer, academic, columnist, and author. He was a prosecuting attorney in the Organized Crime Section of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office before turning to private practice, and his pursuit of mobsters and lowlifes lent a particular pungency to his fictional portrayals of their kind. Unfortunately, he was probably cursed by the fact that his first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, was his best. Despite writing many others, he struggled to escape Eddie’s shadow. His 1990 book On Writing is honest about the writer’s trade to the point of being depressing, and is probably better read after one has become a published writer, rather than before.

Patricia Highsmith (1921-95) was the troubled author of more than 20 novels and numerous short stories. Born Mary Patricia Plangman, she took her surname from her stepfather, Stanley Highsmith, and had complicated relationships with both Stanley and her mother, Mary, who predeceased her daughter by only a few years, and was accused by Patricia of trying to abort her. Her first novel was Strangers on a Train, but she is probably best known as the creator of the amoral conman and murderer, Tom Ripley, who featured in five of her novels. Her great gift was the ability to make readers empathize with the most appalling of characters, forcing them to confront the darker corners of their own psyches.

Reginald Hill (1936–2012), known to his friends and fans simply as Reg, was an English mystery writer who gained gradual, well-deserved acclaim through his novels featuring the mismatched Yorkshire police detectives Andrew Dalziel and Peter Pascoe, the former earthy and instinctive, the latter urbane and reflective. They made their first appearance in 1970’s A Clubbable Woman and went on to feature in more than twenty further novels and a handful of short stories, although Hill, sometimes pseudonymously, wrote over thirty other novels, including five involving a black private detective named Joe Sixsmith. Hill delighted in wordplay and literary allusions, perhaps a consequence of his early career as a teacher. He appeared to have no qualms about his chosen literary direction, commenting in 2009: “When I get up in the morning, I ask my wife whether I should write a Booker Prize-winning novel or another best-selling crime book. We always come down on the side of the crime book.”

Tony Hillerman (1925–2008) was one of the most admired mystery writers of his generation. A decorated combat veteran of WWII, he worked as a journalist, and subsequently taught the subject at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. It was there that he began writing novels, including the series that would make his reputation, the Navajo mysteries featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police. Dance Hall of the Dead won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1974.
Peter Høeg (b. 1957) is a Danish writer of fiction who found instant critical and international popularity with his 1992 novel, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, published in the United States under the more functional title of Smilla’s Sense of Snow. It is both a thriller, with some elements of science fiction, and an exploration of the individual’s place in society, but it can also be regarded as one of the forerunners of the new wave of Scandinavian crime fiction, even if Høeg has since declined to return to the genre.

The author of almost 30 novels and seven collections of short stories, Geoffrey Household (1900-1988) graduated from Oxford with a BA in English Literature and served with British Intelligence during WWII. The author of novels for adults and young adults, he is best known for the thriller Rogue Male (1939), which was filmed twice, first as Manhunt (1941) and later as Rogue Male, starring Peter O’Toole, in 1976. 

Dorothy B. Hughes (1904-93) was first published as a poet with the collection Dark Certainty (1933). Her first mystery novel, The So Blue Marble, was published in 1940. A poet, critic and novelist, Hughes is today best known for a trio of novels that appeared in the mid-1940s: Ride the Pink Horse (1946), The Scarlet Imperial (aka Kiss for a Killer) (1946), and In A Lonely Place (1947). From 1940 onwards, Hughes reviewed crime/mystery novels for a variety of newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the New York Herald-Tribune, receiving an Edgar Award in 1951 for Outstanding Mystery Criticism. In 1978, she published a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner. In the same year she was given the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award.  

Phyllis Dorothy James White (b. 1920) is the award-winning, British-born author of more than 20 books, among them the Adam Dalgliesh and Cordelia Gray mysteries; the dystopian novel The Children of Men (1992); and a number of works of non-fiction, including Talking About Detective Fiction (2009), her study of the genre.  She is a Conservative life peer in the House of Lords, with the title Baroness James of Holland Park.

Carolyn Keene is the pseudonym that has been used by the authors of the Nancy Drew series of mystery stories since 1930. The books originated with the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a US book-packaging company that specialized in producing works for children, among them the adventures of The Hardy Boys and The Bobbsey Twins. Mildred Wirt Benson (1905-2002) is generally credited with having done much of the writing work on the earliest Nancy Drew mysteries, including The Ghost of Blackwood Hall.

Philip Kerr (b. 1956) was an advertising copywriter for Saatchi & Saatchi before publishing his first novel, March Violets, in 1989. The first of the “Berlin Noir Trilogy,” it featured Bernie Gunther, a detective and former police officer working in Germany in 1936. Five Bernie Gunther titles were published after the trilogy was completed, the most recent being Prague Fatale (2011). Kerr has also published nine nonseries novels for adults, as well as seven titles for young adults under the pseudonym P. B. Kerr. In 2009, Kerr was awarded the Ellis Peters Historical Award for his Bernie Gunther novel If the Dead Rise Not.

Stephen Edwin King (b. 1947) is, quite simply, one of the most successful authors in the world. Born in Portland, Maine, he was raised by his mother following his parents’ separation while King was still a toddler, and later graduated with a BA in English from the University of Maine at Orono. He sold his first short story in 1967, and published his first novel, Carrie, in 1974. Since then, he has published more than seventy books, including short story collections and nonfiction, and has been acclaimed across numerous genres, winning mystery, horror, and fantasy awards, as well as a National Book Award for his distinguished contribution to American letters. He still lives in Maine.

Natsuo Kirino (b. 1951) is the pen name of the Japanese writer Mariko Hashioka. She has written novels, short stories, and essays, but it was the translation of her 1997 novel Auto (Out) into English in 2003 that brought her to a larger international audience. Her books frequently deal with the issue of women and power, or their lack thereof. “I feel that this society [Japan] takes advantage of powerless women,” she said in an interview conducted shortly after Out’s English publication. She went on to describe herself as “a sort of ‘deviant’ that really doesn’t fit into an easy category. My debut as an ‘author’ was as a mystery writer, but in reality, I really don’t like mysteries that much. My main motivation to write is to ‘observe the fabric of human relationships.’ Sometimes the threads that connect people are strong, or warped, or weak, or twisted by the encounters. Isn’t that what storytelling is really all about?”

John le Carré is the nom-de-plume of David Cornwell (b. 1931), who worked for British Intelligence during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1961 he published his first novel, Call for the Dead; two years later, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963) won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. In all, le Carré has published 22 novels, including the ‘Quest for Karla’ trilogy, which is composed of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) and Smiley’s People (1979). Other novels include The Looking-Glass War (1965), The Tailor of Panama (1996) and The Constant Gardener (2001). His most recent novel is Our Kind of Traitor (2010).

Dennis Lehane (b. 1965) is one of the most highly regarded mystery writers of his generation, described by Michael Connelly as the “heir apparent” to Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Irish immigrant parents, he has used the city as the setting for most of his novels, including his series of six books featuring the private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro; The Given Day, his historical novel centered on the Boston police strike of 1919; and the hugely acclaimed Mystic River (2001). Unusually, he has been well served by film, and Mystic River, Shutter Island, and Gone Baby Gone have all been the recipients of high-profile and careful adaptations.

Commonly regarded as one of the greatest living American crime novelists, Elmore Leonard (b. 1925) made his publishing debut with The Bounty Hunters in 1953, and continued to write Westerns until the publication of his first crime title, The Big Bounce, in 1969. The author of more than thirty crime novels, Leonard won the Edgar Award for LaBrava (1983). A number of his novels, among them Get Shorty (1990), Rum Punch (1992), and Out of Sight (1996), have been adapted for film; he is currently a co-writer on the TV series "Justified," which features his series character Raylan Givens. Elmore Leonard was awarded the Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America in 1992, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature in 2008.

Laura Lippman (b. 1959) was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but raised in Baltimore, the city that has become the setting for much of her work, including the series of mysteries featuring Tess Monaghan, a journalist (as was Lippman) turned PI, with which Lippman began her career in 1997. She had already won every major mystery award before the publication of the stand-alone novel What the Dead Know in 2007. It brought her even greater levels of critical acclaim, and confirmed her as one of the leading mystery novelists of her generation.

A Harvard graduate, John D. MacDonald (1916-86) served with the OSS (the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner to the CIA) during WWII, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The author of over 500 short stories, his full-length debut The Brass Cupcake was published in 1950. MacDonald also published sci-fi novels, but it was titles such as The Executioners (1958) and One Monday We Killed Them All (1961) that established his credentials as a superior crime novelist. His first Travis McGee novel, The Deep Blue Good-By, appeared in 1964; the last in the 21-book series, The Lonely Silver Rain, was published in 1985. MacDonald received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1972.

Ross Macdonald is the pseudonym of the American mystery writer Kenneth Millar (1915-83), whose reputation rests on the series of novels that he wrote between 1949 and 1976 featuring private investigator Lew Archer, named, in part, after Sam Spade’s partner, Miles Archer, in The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.  Set in and around Santa Teresa, a fictionalised version of Santa Barbara in southern California, the books combine elements of the psychological thriller and the whodunit to create what screenwriter William Goldman described as "the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American."

Perihan Mağden (b. 1960) has written novels, poetry, and columns in Turkey’s national daily newspapers, first in Radikal and later in Taraf. She is the author of four novels currently available in English: The Messenger Boy Murders, 2 Girls, Ali and Ramazan, and Escape, as well as one title not yet translated, The Companion. Her novels have been translated into eighteen languages. She is an honorary member of British PEN and winner of the Grand Award for Freedom of Speech by the Turkish Publishers Association.

Léo Malet (1909-96) was a French mystery novelist and poet who was involved with the Surrealist movement in the 1930s, and counted among his friends the artist René Magritte and the writer and poet André Breton. He is best known for his series of novels featuring the pipe-smoking Parisian detective, Nestor Burma.

Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942–95) was a French writer of short, violent crime novels who translated American crime fiction, including the work of Donald Westlake and Ross Thomas, into French as well as producing crime fiction of his own. Manchette, who was a student activist and a contributor to the newspaper La Voix Communiste, is credited with the invention of the néo-polar, a politically and socially engaged version of the traditional French polar, or detective novel. “Just as one must never leave the critique of fascism to democrats,” he once remarked in an essay, “the critique of democracy must not be abandoned to cretins.”

Henning Mankell (b. 1948) is a Swedish author best known for his Ystad-based police inspector Kurt Wallander, who featured in nine novels in total, along with a collection of novellas, The Pyramid (2008). The first novel, Faceless Killers, appeared in 1991; Mankell’s final Wallander mystery, The Troubled Man, was published in 2009. A prolific writer, Mankell has also published nonseries crime titles, including Kennedy’s Brain (2005) and The Man from Beijing (2007); a further twelve literary novels, beginning with his debut Vettvillingen in 1977; and two series of books for children and young adults. He has also written more than forty plays and a number of screenplay adaptations for TV. Among the many awards Mankell has won are the Glass Key award for Faceless Killers in 1992, and the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for Sidetracked in 1995.

Margaret Maron was born on a tobacco farm in North Carolina, and spent time in Italy and New York before returning to that same farm to live with her family. She began her writing career with a series of mysteries set against the backdrop of the art world, and featuring NYPD lieutenant Sigrid Harald, before returning to her native state with the character of District Court Judge Deborah Knott, the titular “bootlegger’s daughter” of her first book, and now the heroine of eighteen novels, the latest of which is The Buzzard Table.

Barcelona native Andreu Martín (b. 1949) is the author of more than fifteen crime novels. He made his debut in 1979, publishing three novels that year, and Prótesis followed in 1980. Martín has also written children’s books and comics, and for film, theater, and TV. He has won a number of European literary prizes, including the Premio Çírculo del Crimen, the Deutsche Krimi Preis, and the Alfa 7.

Ed McBain (1926–2005) was an American novelist and screenwriter. He was born Salvatore Lombino in New York, and served in the navy in World War II. In 1952 he legally changed his name to Evan Hunter, and it was under this name that he gained fame for his novel, The Blackboard Jungle (1954), as well as his adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s short story “The Birds” for the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same title. Although he wrote science fiction and, like many genre writers of his time, pornography under a variety of pseudonyms, it is as Ed McBain that he is most fondly remembered by mystery readers. He began using the McBain identity in 1956 for Cop Hater, the first novel in the 87th Precinct series, largely in order to distinguish his mystery fiction from any literary work that he might produce under his own name. The series, which focuses on a team of detectives in the city of Isola, a fictionalized version of New York, virtually invented the modern police procedural, although McBain disdained the term.

James McClure (1939-2006) was a South African-born journalist and novelist best known for his Kramer and Zondi series of mysteries set in the land of McClure’s birth, as well as two fine non-fiction studies of police at work in Liverpool and San Diego.  Tromp Kramer is an Afrikaner police lieutenant, Mickey Zondi a Zulu detective sergeant, and the novels in which they feature are sly but impassioned studies of the realities of life in apartheid-era South Africa, influenced by McClure’s work as a journalist in Natal.  McClure, married with a family, and under police surveillance because of his work, left South Africa and moved to England in 1965.  He departed journalism in 1974 to write fiction full-time, but his heart was really in the newspaper business.  He missed the camaraderie of the newsroom and, following a brief stint as an undertaker, he returned to his former trade, eventually becoming editor of the Oxford Mail, a post in which he remained until his retirement.  Intending to return to fiction, he died with a novel left unfinished.

William P. McGivern (1922-82) published more than 20 novels in his lifetime, including a number under the pseudonym Bill Peters. He worked as a police reporter in Philadelphia before moving to Los Angeles in 1960 to write for television and film, and a number of his books were successfully adapted to film, most notably The Big Heat. His wife, Maureen Daly, is often credited with writing the first young adult novel, Seventeenth Summer, the story of a 17-year-old girl’s first romance, which was published in 1942.

While still at school, Scottish author Jill McGown (1947–2007) was taught Latin by Colin Dexter in his pre–Inspector Morse days. McGown wrote her first novel after being made unemployed by the British Steel Corporation. A Perfect Match was published in 1983, featuring Chief Inspector Danny Lloyd and Sergeant Judy Hill, and McGown would eventually publish thirteen novels in the series. She also published five nonseries titles, the first, Record of Sin, arriving in 1985, the last, Hostage to Fortune, published under the pseudonym Elizabeth Chaplin, in 1992. In an obituary written by Val McDermid for the Guardian, McGown was described as “one of the generation of crime writers who shifted the genre firmly into the contemporary world.”

Margaret Millar, née Sturm (1915-94), was born in Ontario, Canada, later moving to Santa Barbara following her marriage to her fellow writer, Kenneth Millar, who wrote under the pseudonym Ross Macdonald.   While, posthumously, his reputation has perhaps overshadowed her own, the situation was reversed earlier in their careers, with Margaret winning the Edgar award for best novel in 1956 for her book Beast In View, an honor that eluded her husband throughout his career.  Her novels were sociologically ambitious and psychologically acute, particularly in their unflinching yet empathetic analysis of the interior lives of women.

Pepe Carvalho, the Barcelona-based gastronome hero of the crime novels of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939–2003), first appeared in Yo maté a Kennedy (I Killed Kennedy) in 1972. To date nine of Montalbán’s novels have been translated into English, the most recent being The Man of My Life (2000). Commemorated in his native Catalonia by the Colegio de Periodistas de Cataluña’s Manuel Vázquez Montalbán International Journalism Award, Montalbán is also celebrated in the work of Italian writer Andrea Camilleri, whose series hero is called Salvo Montalbano.

Walter Mosley (b. 1952) has published more than thirty books across various genres, including science fiction, literary fiction, short fiction, and non- fiction, but is probably most famous for his mystery novels, in particular his series featuring the black private detective Easy Rawlins, and, latterly, the books featuring ex-convict Socrates Fortlow. These novels function not only as entertaining mysteries in their own right, but as social, political, and cultural histories of Los Angeles and, in particular, of the black experience in that city.

Surfer and novelist Kem Nunn (b. 1948) is credited with inventing the “surf noir” subgenre with his debut offering, Tapping the Source (1984), a novel nominated in the American National Book Awards’ best first fiction category. Nunn subsequently published a further four surf noir titles, the last of which was Tijuana Straits (2004), which won an L.A. Times Book Prize in the Mystery/Thriller category. He was the cocreator, with David Milch, of HBO’s "John from Cincinnati," a drama set against the backdrop of a Californian surfing community.

A pseudonym for Kenneth Lemieux, Kenneth Orvis (b. 1923) is one of the very few professional hockey players to turn his hands to crime writing. His novels included The Damned and the Destroyed (1962), Night Without Darkness (1965) and The Doomsday List (1974). In 1985, Orvis published the non-fiction title Over and Under the Table: The Anatomy of An Alcoholic.

Sara Paretsky (b. 1947) is a pioneering figure in modern mystery fiction. She is responsible for taking the traditional male archetype of the hard-boiled novel and transforming and reimagining it to create one of the earliest, and most iconic, of female investigators, V. I. Warshawski, the heroine of most of Paretsky’s books. Her novels combine thriller conventions with astute social commentary, and this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of Warshawski’s first appearance in print.

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Robert B. Parker (1932–2010) served with the U.S. Army in Korea. His first novel, The Godwulf Manuscript, featuring PI Spenser and set in Boston, was published in 1973. The author of more than sixty novels, Parker wrote a number of series alongside the Spenser titles, including the Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall, and Cole & Hitch novels. In 1976, Promised Land won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Parker also authored two novels based on Raymond Chandler’s character Philip Marlowe, Poodle Springs (1989) and Perchance to Dream (1991). Parker was presented with the Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America in 2002.

David Peace (b. 1967) is the British-born author of nine novels, among them the Red Riding Quartet, an intense saga of linked books detailing police corruption in the north of England, and the hunt for the real-life serial killer known as the Yorkshire Ripper. He is also the author of The Damned Utd, based on Brian Clough’s brief, ill-fated period in charge of Leeds United Football Club, which was adapted for the 2009 film of the same name.

The novels of George Pelecanos (b. 1957) are for the most part set in Washington DC, spanning a period of time from the 1930s (The Big Blowdown, 1996) to the present day (The Cut, 2011). He made his debut with A Firing Offense in 1992, the first of the Nick Stefanos trilogy. A second cycle of novels, the DC Quartet, began with The Big Blowdown and concluded with Shame the Devil (2000). A further series of four novels, featuring private eyes Derek Strange and Terry Quinn, began with Right as Rain in 2001; Pelecanos’s most recent novel, What It Was (2012), is a prequel to that series. Pelecanos has also served as a coproducer and writer on the TV series The Wire (2002–08), for which he has won Edgar, Emmy, and Writers Guild of America Awards, and is currently coproducing and writing on Treme (2010–).

Scott Phillips (b. 1961) worked as a photographer, translator, and screenwriter before publishing his first novel, The Ice Harvest, in 2000. Set in his native Wichita, Kansas, the novel was short-listed for the Edgar Award, the Hammett Prize, and the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger, and was adapted for a film that starred John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton. Phillips published a prequel, The Walkaway, in 2002, which was set in the 1940s. Phillips has subsequently explored other genres. Cottonwood (2003) is a Western set in California, while Rut (2010) is a dystopian tale set in the near future. The Adjustment (2011) is a post-WWII noir thriller.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) was an American author, poet, editor, and critic best known for his tales of mystery and imagination, many of them decidedly gothic in tone. For mystery readers, though, his fame rests on the three short stories he wrote about the character of Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin, which Poe described as his tales of "ratiocination." Intellectual yet imaginative, brilliant but eccentric, Dupin became the template for fictitious detectives to come, among them Sherlock Holmes, who name-checks Dupin in the very first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, albeit by describing him as "a very inferior fellow."  

Novelist and screenwriter Richard Price (b. 1949) was born in the Bronx in New York. His first novel, The Wanderers, was published in 1974, and established his reputation for exploring the reality of the inner-city American experience in an unvarnished style. He has published eight novels in total, the most recent of which is Lush Life (2008). A prolific screenwriter, Price was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for The Color of Money (1986). More recently, Price has written for the groundbreaking TV series "The Wire" (2002–08). In 1999, Richard Price was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Ian Rankin (b. 1960) is one of Britain’s leading mystery writers, and a major figure in the “Tartan Noir” school of Scottish crime writing. He is the author of more than thirty books, the majority featuring the character of Detective Inspector John Rebus, set in and around the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, in which Rankin still lives. Knots and Crosses, the first Rebus novel, was published in 1987; the seventeenth Rebus book, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, will appear later this year. Rankin has also published two books featuring an internal affairs investigator, Inspector Malcolm Fox. He has won every major mystery award, including the 2004 Edgar for Best Novel for Resurrection Men.

Derek Raymond (1931–1994) was the pen name of the English crime writer Robert Cook, the son of a wealthy textile magnate. Following a period of compulsory National Service, he drifted through Europe and the United States, rejecting his privileged upbringing in favor of an ongoing exploration of the possibilities offered by downward mobility. His lifestyle, which included flirtations with criminality, gave him firsthand experience of the low-life milieu about which he eventually chose to write, and provided the basis for the novel sequence on which much of his reputation still rests: the “Factory” books, regarded by many as the cornerstone of the British noir tradition.

Ruth Rendell (b. 1930) is one of the queens of the British mystery novel. Perhaps best known for her series of police procedurals featuring Chief Inspector Wexford, of which there have been over twenty published so far, she has also written over thirty other books, including a number of works of psychological suspense under the pseudonym of Barbara Vine. As Baroness Rendell of Babergh, she is a Labour Party life peer of the House of Lords.

James Sallis (b. 1944) is perhaps best known for the Lew Griffin mysteries, set in New Orleans, and the novel Drive, which became an acclaimed film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. He has published fourteen novels, more than a hundred stories, a number of collections of poetry, a translation of Raymond Queneau’s novel Saint Glinglin, three books on music, and reams of criticism on literature of every sort. Once editor of the landmark SF magazine New Worlds in London (“Way, way back in the day,” as Sallis puts it himself), he contributes a regular books column to the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957) was born in Oxford, England, where her father was headmaster of Christ Church Cathedral School. She took modern languages and medieval literature at Somerville College, Oxford, and in 1923 published her first novel, Whose Body?, which introduced her most enduring creation, the anxious, flawed amateur sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey. Sayers is one of the most important writers of the "Golden Age" of mystery writing. She tested and stretched the boundaries of the genre, touching on issues of morality and justice (both human and divine), the nature of the academic and literary lives, and experimenting with parody and social commentary, most often through the character of Harriet Vane, Lord Peter’s love interest, who is, like her creator, an Oxford scholar and a wealthy author. Her ambitions for the genre drew harsh criticism, most memorably from the American critic Edmund Wilson, who castigated her in the course of a 1945 New Yorker essay entitled “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” Wilson commented of Sayers that “she does not write very well: it is simply that she is more consciously literary than most of the other detective-story writers and that she thus attracts attention in a field which is mostly on a sub-literary level,” a stance that probably made Wilson few friends in the genre. Later in life, Sayers, a devout Anglican, turned her attention to a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, a project on which she was still working when she died.

One of the most prolific writers of all time, Belgian author Georges Simenon (1903-89) published hundreds of novels and 150 novellas, along with dozens of pulp novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. A former journalist who drew on his experience of Liege’s seedy nightlife for his early inspiration, he is best known for his series of detective novels featuring Inspector Maigret, the first of which appeared in 1931, the last in 1972. Simenon is also highly regarded for his psychological mysteries, or romans durs. He was presented with the Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America in 1966.  

Maj Sjöwall (b. 1935) and Per Wahlöö (1926-75) were a Swedish writing couple - lovers as well as co-authors. They are widely regarded as the godparents of modern Scandinavian crime fiction, but their sequence of 10 novels featuring Detective (later Inspector) Martin Beck of Stockholm’s National Homicide Department has influenced generations of mystery writers worldwide. They planned 10 books, and 10 books only, taking turns to write alternate chapters. Wahloo died shortly before the publication of the final Beck book, The Terrorists.

Martin Cruz Smith (b. 1942), the son of a jazz musician and a nightclub singer who met at the 1939 World’s Fair, is a former journalist, and has been a published writer for almost four decades. He is the author, among other works, of an acclaimed series of mystery novels featuring a Russian investigator named Arkady Renko (“a truth-teller,” as the author describes him, “an honest man in a dishonest system”), the first of which was Gorky Park. It has since been followed by six other novels featuring Renko, the latest of which is Three Stations (2010).

Scott Smith (b. 1965) is the American-born writer of two novels, A Simple Plan (1993) and The Ruins (2006), a horror story about young tourists who become trapped on a Mayan ruin in Mexico. Smith has adapted both novels for the screen, and received an Academy Award nomination for his sreenplay for A Simple Plan. He said that he turned to scriptwriting “to escape a long book that was never going to happen,” a reference to a novel he attempted to write between A Simple Plan and The Ruins, and which was eventually abandoned after one thousand pages.

Mickey Spillane (1918-2006) was the Brooklyn-born child of an Irish father and a Scottish mother who grew up to be one of the most commercially successful but critically misunderstood of mystery authors. He served in the US Air Force during World War II, and began his career in comic books before moving to novels. It is said that he wrote his first novel, I, the Jury, in only 19 days. The comparatively high sex and violence content of his work (for its day), along with the relatively simple structure of his plots, invited the opprobrium of critics, but gained him massive sales. “I have no fans,” he told one interviewer. “You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.”  

Mary Stewart (b. 1916) is an English novelist known for her work in the field of romantic suspense, with gothic undertones, and for her five-book sequence of Arthurian novels, published between 1970 and 1995, that blurred the lines between historical and fantasy fiction. The first three novels in the series—The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment—are generally referred to as the Merlin Trilogy.

Rex Stout (1886-1975) wrote serials for various magazines for more than 15 years before publishing his first novel, How Like a God, in 1929. After writing a political thriller called The President Vanishes (1934), he published Fer-de-Lance (1934), his first novel in the Nero Wolfe series, all of which are narrated by Wolfe’s assistant, Archie Goodwin. Stout’s prodigious output included novels, novellas and non-series novels, with 47 titles in the Nero Wolfe series. Stout was awarded the Silver Dagger by the Crime Writers Association for The Father Hunt in 1959, while the Nero Wolfe corpus was declared Best Mystery Series of the Century at Bouchercon in 2000. In 1959, Rex Stout received the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award.

Donna Tartt (b. 1963), a native of Greenwood, Mississippi, is the author of just two novels, The Secret History (1992) and The Little Friend (2002). She published her first poem at thirteen, and attended the University of Mississippi and Bennington College in Vermont, where she went on a blind date with a fellow writing student named Bret Easton Ellis, later to become the author of American Psycho. “I can’t write quickly,” she once admitted. “If I could write a book a year and maintain the same quality, I’d be happy. But I don’t think I’d have any fans . . .”

Peter Temple (b. 1946) was born in South Africa and moved to Australia in 1980, where he pursued a successful career as a journalist and editor. He became self-employed in 1995 in order to begin writing crime fiction, and published his first novel, Bad Debts, in 1996. It featured the central character of Jack Irish, a part-time lawyer based in Melbourne, who featured in a number of Temple’s subsequent novels. It was The Broken Shore, a stand-alone novel, that brought him to a wider international audience, and won him the CWA Gold Dagger award for best crime novel. His novel Truth received the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2010.

Josephine Tey was one of the pseudonyms of Elizabeth Mackintosh (1896-1952), a Scottish novelist and playwright who found fame with a series of novels featuring Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard. The most famous of these is probably The Daughter of Time (1951), which combined Mackintosh’s twin fascinations with history and crime by having a bedridden Grant investigate the question of whether or not Richard III was responsible for the murders of his nephews, the sons of Edward IV, commonly known as the "Princes in the Tower," at the end of the 15th century. Grant also makes a brief appearance in The Franchise Affair.

Dubbed the "Dimestore Dostoevsky" by novelist Geoffrey O’Brien, Jim Thompson (1906-77) published more than thirty novels during his career. Despite early critical praise, and particularly positive reviews from Anthony Boucher in the New York Times, Thompson’s talent went largely unrecognised during his lifetime. He made his debut in 1942 with Now and On Earth, and is best known for novels such as The Killer Inside Me (1952), Savage Night (1953), A Hell of a Woman (1954), The Getaway (1958) and The Grifters (1963), all of which were characteristic of an oeuvre that unflinchingly explored the darkest and nastiest recesses of the human psyche.  

Newton Thornburg (1929-2011) was an American novelist most famous for his 1976 masterpiece, Cutter and Bone, a book that manages to be simultaneously funny, angry, and despairing. It was filmed as Cutter’s Way in 1981, although Thornburg later dismissed the movie, unfairly and inaccurately, as "mediocre." Thornburg continued to publish for the next two decades, sustained mostly by reprints and movie options, but he was cursed by misfortune: his wife of 33 years died in 1986, a son was lost to alcoholism, and in 1998 a stroke paralyzed his left side, leaving him physically unable to write. He ended his days in a Seattle retirement home, and his death went almost entirely unremarked.  

Metta Fuller Victor (1831-1885) was a pioneer not just in the field of "dime novel" fiction, the predecessor to the modern mass-market paperback, but also in the development of the mystery novel in the United States.  She began contributing stories to newspapers at the age of thirteen, and published Poems of Sentiment and Imagination, with Dramatic and Descriptive Pieces, written with her sister, Frances, in 1851, quickly followed the same year by her first novel, The Senator’s Son. Hugely popular in her day, she was also the editor, at various times, of Home magazine and the Cosmopolitan Art Journal

Donald Westlake (1933-2008) was a hugely prolific writer of novels and short stories, most of them in the mystery genre, and operated under more pseudonyms than many convicted fraudsters. He was a committed writer from his youth, and began writing soft-porn novels under the pen name Alan Marshall at the end of the 1950s before finally publishing his first novel as Donald Westlake, The Mercenaries, in 1960.  He won Edgar awards in three different categories, and many of his works were adapted for film, most famously his 1962 novel The Hunter, written under his Richard Stark pen name, which became the basis for John Boorman’s 1967 film Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin, as well as Ringo Lam’s First Contact (1993) and the Mel Gibson vehicle Payback (1999).  

Rodney Whitaker (1931-2005), a New York-born film scholar and novelist, chose to write his non-fiction under his own name and his fiction under such a variety of noms-de-plume that even Contemporary Authors, the usually comprehensive guide, was forced to concede, somewhat ruefully, that it was "difficult to determine how many works he has published with other names." The pseudonym Trevanian is probably the best known of them, under which he wrote The Eiger Sanction (1972), The Main (1976) and Shibumi (1979), to which the mystery writer Don Winslow recently penned a companion volume, Satori.  His books sold in millions, in no small part due to Trevanian’s gifts for characterization and description, and his desire to avoid the formulaic. 

The word "prolific" may have been invented for Harry Whittington (1915-89), who published over 170 novels under a variety of pseudonyms, at one point publishing 85 titles in one 12-year period. He was called the "King of the Pulps," and the titles of his novels possess an admirable frankness: Desire in the Dust (1956), Backwoods Tramp (1959), Strip the Town Naked (1960), God’s Back Was Turned (1961), and Cora is a Nympho (1963). Highly regarded for the pace and plotting of what his publisher Stark House describes as "lurid and brisk noir," Whittington adopted the pen name Ashley Carter late in his career, and wrote a series of Southern historical novels.  

Charles Willeford (1919-88) was a prolific writer of poetry, prose, and criticism, although he is best known among mystery readers for his four novels featuring Detective Sergeant Hoke Moseley of the Miami Police Department, one of which, Miami Blues (1984), became a successful film directed by George Armitage. Written at the end of his life, they provided Willeford with his first real taste of public acclaim, but he died of a heart attack shortly after writing the final Moseley book. Willeford’s principal strength was his characterisation, and he was particularly astute about men and male sexuality.  His credo was: "Just tell the truth, and they’ll accuse you of writing black humor . . ."  

Robert Wilson (b. 1957) is a British-born crime writer who has largely eschewed his homeland as territory for his novels, choosing instead to write about Benin, West Africa, for his early Bruce Medway series, and Seville, Spain, the setting for his Javier Falcón books. He has won numerous awards, including the CWA Gold Dagger for the nonseries novel A Small Death in Lisbon.

Daniel Woodrell (b. 1953) has published eight novels to date, most of them set in the Missouri Ozarks and characterised by a tone Woodrell describes as "country noir." He debuted with Under the Bright Lights in 1986. His most recent publication is The Outlaw Album (2011), his first collection of short stories. Woodrell received the PEN USA Award for Fiction for his novel Tomato Red (1998); it was also longlisted for the IMPAC prize. Winter’s Bone (2006) was adapted for film by director Debra Granik and released in 2010. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Festival, and was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.