Thursday, March 22, 2007

What is the best mystery book you ever read, and did you buy it at The Mystery Bookstore?

Who's asking: Valerie Vanaman, Los Angeles, CA

Valerie is one of the owners of The Mystery Bookstore, so I'm a little nervous about answering this question -- but I've been reading mysteries since I got my first Nancy Drew, at the age of six or seven, and I didn't start working at The Mystery Bookstore until I was 34. (Which makes seven years next month that I've been affiliated with the store. Yikes, time flies.)

Anyway, I could never pick just one book as "the best," so here's an opportunity for another list. Even this list might change from one day to another. If these are not my absolute Top Ten Mysteries of All Time, they're favorites I go back to, have owned multiple copies of, and have thrust on unsuspecting friends. Some of them I even bought at The Mystery Bookstore.

What's your favorite mystery novel(s)? Leave them in the comments section.

And if you're in central Maine, don't miss the social event of the season tonight at Hallowell City Hall, when Gaslight Theater launches its 70th season with "Almost, Maine," by John Cariani. The performance starts at 7:30, with a gala reception to follow. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors; call 207-626-3698 for reservations.

Ten Favorite Mysteries

James Lee Burke, In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead. My favorite Dave Robicheaux novel, though Jolie Blon's Bounce comes close. I think I originally checked this out of the Alexandria Public Library (Ellen Coolidge Burke branch), but bought my own copy later.

Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye. If I had to pick just one as "the best," this would be it. And I did buy it at the store. I'm embarrassed to say that I never read Chandler until I moved to Los Angeles.

John Connolly, The Killing Kind. Again, not necessarily the "best" Charlie Parker novel (that might be The Black Angel or The Unquiet, which I'll discuss tomorrow), but the one that captured my imagination most. I first read an ARC, but bought the US edition in both hardcover and paper (to give away) at the store.

James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss. Tom Ehrenfeld may have given me my copy of this book sometime in the 1980s. It is one of the greatest PI novels, and I think of it as an essential book of the 1970s.

Daphne DuMaurier, Rebecca. Classic in every sense. I checked it out of the Norfolk Academy library in eighth grade, bought the paperback sometime in my twenties, and reread it at least once a year.

Dennis Lehane, Mystic River. An epic American tragedy that also happens to be a mystery. I'm pretty sure I bought my copy at the store.

Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know. The newest book on this list, and I haven't bought it yet; I got an ARC and a copy of the book itself from William Morrow. Many people will be getting this book from me as a gift, so I'll be buying a few copies from the store.

Sharyn McCrumb, She Walks These Hills. The best and saddest of McCrumb's Appalachian mysteries. I think I bought this one in an airport bookstore.

Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night. Another book I first read in middle school, and I still have the battered paperback I bought then.

Josephine Tey, To Love and Be Wise. I cannot find my copy of this book, and wonder if I left it behind in one of my moves -- in which case, I will need to buy another copy (from the store, of course). It's a tossup between this one and Brat Farrar, but no one wrote better about the damage caused by polite lies.


Anonymous said...

I don't think I'll ever forget reading The Last Good Kiss -it's a classic to me.


AnswerGirl said...

THE LAST GOOD KISS owes a lot to THE LONG GOODBYE, so read that one if you haven't already.

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Since you were kind enough to mention me, I'll play.

Double Indemnity by Cain is tops on my list. I can't think of another mystery/thrilled that's so perfectly made--where there's seemingly no craft and yet it's all craft. And it's really rooted in something--in a guy who works in a business, and everything fits perfectly. The crime in inevitable and the outcome is as well, and nothing is forced.

Crumley's Last Good Kiss is also way up there. Again, the issue of tone, color, writing that's terrific but that never calls attention to itself.

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow will always be on my list. Simply for the way that he creates a story that's all about the inner workings of the Chicago justice system.

The first three Carl Hiaasen books. Just because personally I'd never read anything like them before--smart, funny, un-put-down-able. I like them all, but after those first three I always heard strong echoes of past stuff, and while he still delights, I'd cite the early stuff.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiel Hammett. Nuff said.

Misery by Stephen King. No fair, since its not a mystery per se; rather a thriller, but, my God, this guy can really write. And this book comes so close to being, gosh, literature. But don't tell anybody.

Agatha Christie. Haven't read her in years, okay decades--but I do have fond memories of trying to figure out just who did it. And loving it. I'll put Simeon's Maigret (sp?) books along with this.

Doubting Thomas by Robert Reeves. Not an enduring book, I will confess, but I got a copy from Kate Mattes at her urging when I was a reporter for the Cambridge Chronicle (did a story on the very lovely author) and as a result met the woman who's now my wife, thank you very much. And it is a good book.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. Wonderful.

Archimedes Principle said...

Answergirl, very hard to answer question! Still, here's my contribution: most things by Carl Hiaasen; James Crumley too; Sara Paretsky from time to time; George Pelecanos, though I do feel like I'm reading more of a soundtrack than something devilish and noir - so many side references to albums, songs etc; and for the final runner - how about George Simeon. Just terrific. Deftly handled writing; hard to find someone who could summarise a character's mental state in a handful of words better than George

AnswerGirl said...

It has come to my attention that Ms. Sharyn McCrumb strenuously objects to the characterization of her Appalachian novels as mysteries, despite the fact that they are stories of crimes and investigations. While it is an author's privilege to classify her work as she sees fit, the author cannot and should not try to control how the reader receives it.

The assumption that a "mystery" designation somehow devalues the book as literature disgusts and enrages me, as I would call THE SCARLET LETTER, THE GREAT GATSBY, TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV and even SILAS MARNER crime novels.

But for the record, Sharyn McCrumb doesn't want to be on this list.