Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Top Ten Lists in Mystery and Crime Fiction

I was catching up on some DorothyL digests (okay, okay, I was procrastinating) and I came across a list of top ten mysteries in film, chosen by the American Film institute. Just in case you wondered, they are:
#1 Vertigo
#2 Chinatown
#3 Rear Window
#4 Laura
#5 Third man
#6 Maltese Falcon
#7 North by Northwest
#8 Blue Velvet
#9 Dial M for Murder
#10 Usual Suspects.

Naturally, there is a lively discussion about which ones should stay on the list and which ones shouldn’t. But it got me to thinking about top ten Mystery Novel lists—er, I mean Crime Fiction lists. When I Googled the concept using Mystery, I got a bunch of private websites, but I also came across a list on Amazon, the “Top Ten Editors’ Picks.” They are:
#1 Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane
#2 Fatal Flaw, by William Lashner
#3 Night of the Dance, by James Hime
#4 Soul Circus, by George P. Pelecanos
#5 Lost Light, by Michael Connelly
#6 The Bridge, by Solomon Jones
#7 Bold Sons of Erin, by Owen Parry
#8 Tropic of Night, by Michael Gruber
#9 Last Car to Elysian Fields, James Lee Burke
#10 Hard Rain, Barry Eisler

Here’s the link if you want to check it out. The list set my mind a-whirling. First, all but the first book are out of print (!?!). Next, I’ve only read two or three of these books, though some of my favorite authors are on the list. I love Dennis Lehane’s work (I would have picked Mystic River over Shutter Island, though), Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, and Barry Eisler. There are a couple of books on the list I may have read a while ago and forgotten about. If I remember correctly, I’ve read James Hime’s book and loved it. Which brings me to another thought—I need to go back and read more of these authors’ books. I’ve been missing some good stuff!

Then I got to thinking about semantics, and whether it makes a difference if we call our work Crime Fiction as opposed to Mystery, so I Googled the top ten crime fiction novels, and came up with David J. Montgomery’s award-nominated book dossier. The link is as follows:, and his top ten CRIME NOVELS for 2007 are:
#1 The Watchman, by Robert Crais
#2 Power Play, by Joseph Finder
#3 The Ghost, by Robert Harris
#4 Down River, by John Hart
#5 The Crime Writer, by Gregg Hurwitz
#6 The Shotgun Rule, by Charlie Huston
#7 Body of Lies, by David Ignatius
#8 What the Dead Know, by Laura Lippman
#9 The Reincarnationist, by M.J. Rose
#10 The Secret Servant, by Daniel Silva
I’ve read a few of these books, and if one uses Publishers Weekly reviewer Peter Canon’s definition of a mystery, all the ones I’ve read on this list would classify as mysteries.

Just in case you missed that discussion, Canon defines a mystery as a book where the sleuth seeks to solve a murder committed by an unknown killer, and the sleuth and reader try to figure out the murder before it’s revealed in the end.

Enjoy the Top Ten lists. I figure it’s a great starting place for finding new movies and books to enjoy.


Donis Casey said...

First, I will agree that Laura is one of the best mystery movies ever. SEcond, of 30 movies/books listed, only 2 are by women! What the hey?

David J. Montgomery said...

Thanks for linking to my list -- some excellent books were published last year.


Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

You're right, Donis. We should point this out to the SinC folks who do the review surveys. It's an uphill battle, isn't it?

Vicki Delany said...

I also immediately noticed the lack of women on the lists. Which may explain why I haven't read anything on either of the lists! And I am very avid crime novel reader. I generally prefer British crime writing, and when it comes to Americans, I read the mid-list women such as Nevada Barr or Dana Stabenow, and, of course, Donis Casey and Debby Atkinson. When it comes to books by American men, Poisoned Pen Press books excepted, I am perhaps too afraid that they'll be 'tough guy' books and so I stay away. I got a book by James Lee Burke in my gift bag at Bloody Words and am planning to read it. Perhaps he'll change my mind.

Donis Casey said...

I only see one person of color on the lists, though I may have missed someone. I would certainly nominate Walter Mosely's "Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned." It's sure not a cosy, but it will knock your socks off. His Easy Rawlins books are pretty remarkable, too.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

I've always enjoyed James Lee Burke, and Walter Mosely, too. I haven't read Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned yet. That's going on my TBR list.

Rick Blechta said...

I think the issue here is that being inclusive is not part of making up these lists. They are generally very subjective, but if the criteria for a list is what the compiler(s) thought was "best", you're going to have to deal with any bias these folks have.

My guess is that all of Debbie's listed lists were compiled mostly by males. I'm sure they wouldn't outwardly exclude a book because an author was female or black (or whatever), but their list would lean natural bias of the type of novel the compilers enjoy reading.

Vicki's comment clearly shows that were she to compile a list, it would definitely have a bias towards certain types of writing and writers. Is this a bad thing? Of course not -- unless Vicki's list is held up as the only one of any value or consequence.

Personally, I'd like to know who compiled the Amazon list. That would be very telling!

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