The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie
There are all kinds of crime novels, from sweeping epics to grand national narratives, carefully constructed psychological studies or taut literary masterpieces and every other shade or type of novel imaginable. But there’s also a kind of novel that can only be a crime novel. They are short. They are sharp – ostentatiously so, as though a plot line is like an amped-up guitar riff that deserves to be played with a flourish. They are cool, the people are cold. The world is often lurid, even comic, yet nevertheless connects with reality in a way that feels urgent, if odd ball. These are my favourites.
The Sign of the Four (1890) - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The novel that exposed Sherlock Holmes cocaine addiction. The plot: something bad happened in India and now it’s happening over here.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) - Agatha Christie
Who did it? The narrator, that’s who. Poirot, a great comic creation, realises there’s something fishy about the guy telling his story.
Red Harvest (1929) - Dashiell Hammett
The bosses hire the mafia to break a strike. The Continental Op fights back. This is the great leftwing crime novel and the inspiration for Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars.
No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939) - James M Cain
A kidnapped heiress gets hot for the man who kidnapped her. As George Orwell said in an essay on the novel, “one’s escape is essentially into cruelty and sexual perversion.”
The High Priest of California (1953) - Charles Willeford
A sociopath tells his own story. Willeford had two careers, here in the fifties and later in the eighties with the Hoke Mosley novels. (The High Priest is, of course, a used car salesman.)
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1970) - George V Higgins
It’s the dialogue. Nothing ever sounded so criminal as these Boston gangsters, inspired by the Whitey Bluger crew later seen in Scorsese’s The Departed.
Ripley's Game (1974) - Patricia Highsmith
In the third novel, the young Ripley has grown into an urbane psychopath who listens to Lou Reed and – just for fun – manipulates a mild-mannered picture restorer into becoming a hit-man.
Freaky Deaky (1988) - Elmore Leonard
A fascinating mix of low cunning, digression and street cool presented in the inimitable note perfect style of western writer turned crime god, Elmore Leonard.
A Wild Sheep Chase (Japan 1982, UK 1989) - Haruki Murakami
Inspired by the same noire writers as Elmore Leonard, and developing his style almost in parallel, a young Japanese jazz club owner creates his own post-modern surreal cool.
White Jazz (1992) - James Ellroy
The final novel of the great LA Quartet, this is the logical end of the brutal noire world, where pulp is so compact and dense it becomes as tough as diamonds.
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