I grew up reading mysteries, starting with Nancy Drew. My grade school girlfriends and I used to trade copies around — among the three of us, we had a complete collection — and even had slumber parties (old-fashioned term for sleepovers) in which we all curled up happily with books.
By the time I hit junior high I had graduated to my mother’s collection — heavy on Rex Stout and Agatha Christie — and by high school I expanded my mystery reading to include spy stories. I read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, was particularly hooked on Len Deighton’s work, and was challenged by John Le Carre, whose complex stories are not only beautifully written, but will make you think seriously about how governments do things.
My reading habits expanded significantly in college, but I discovered more good mystery authors along the way. And even as I became a serious SF/F reader, I didn’t get rid of my mystery collection — I’ve still got a huge stack around here, some of them so old and well-read that they’re falling apart and I have to be careful not to drop them or all the pages will end up out of order.
My life’s been a little stressful lately, so I’ve been using books to hide from the world whenever possible. The nice thing about reading is that it looks like you’re doing something, even when you’re reading a book for the tenth time. And because your mind is engaged, you can forget about the things you’re supposed to be doing. I think I developed this habit as a kid, because in my family reading was a good excuse for not doing other things — most of the time, anyway. It gave me privacy.
So I’ve been rooting through my mystery collection, looking for books that I haven’t re-read recently in the hope that I won’t quite remember how the story goes and also picking up my old favorites, the ones I’ve practically memorized.
Since I’m thinking about my favorite mysteries, I decided to elicit lists of yours. As with the fantasy and SF lists, this isn’t an effort to create a definitive world’s best list; it’s just a place for everyone to list their favorites.
As always, a few rules:
1. It’s possible to be a purist about mysteries, defining them as detective stories, but I’m not in the mood to subdivide genre. Mysteries, classic detective stories, thrillers, spy stories, noir — whatever you think fits.
2. We’re not leaving out the big names this week: all authors are acceptable.
3. The usual limit of ten favorites per person applies. You can list individual books, or an author’s series with a recurring character or characters, or short stories.
4. YA is OK. Or even books aimed at younger kids. If you still love Nancy Drew, flaunt it.
5. Expand our horizons. My own list is heavy on US writers, with a few UK ones thrown in. I’d like to see something different.
OK? Here’s my list to get you started:
Nicola Griffith, Always. My favorite of the Aud books.
Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books. Especially the ones with Harriet Vane in them.
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye. I love all of Chandler, but The Long Goodbye is my absolute favorite.
Dashiell Hammett, The Glass Key. I also love all of Hammett, but this one always tugs at my heart.
Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins books. I love the way they provide historical context as well as an intense story.
Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books. I didn’t like these much as a kid, but as I grow older, I am drawn by the portrait of a highly intelligent spinster in a time and place where such women were still disdained. Of course, all of Christie’s plots were ridiculous, but that’s true of a lot of mystery stories.
Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski books. In my recent spate of mystery reading, I’ve decided Vic is an excellent depiction of a feminist of our times: tough, vulnerable, angry, outraged even though she knows the score. And I love it that the bad guys in these books are so often the powerful.
Joseph Wambaugh, The Black Marble. This is more of a love story than a detective story.
Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries. Another series that gives us culture and depth along with a story.
Rudolfo Anaya’s Sonny Baca series (starts with Zia Summer). This is a perfect example of blending fantasy elements with mystery, which is probably why I like it so much.
OK. Now it’s your turn.
My novella Changeling is available as an ebook through Book View Cafe. It’s a coming of age story. And it’s not about faeries.