"We decided to give mystery writers from around the world the opportunity to enthuse about their favorite novel, and in doing so we hoped to come up with a selection of books that was, if not definitive (which would be a foolish and impossible aim), then heartfelt, and flawless in its inclusions if not its omissions."
---John Connolly and Declan Burke, Books to Die For
Wow. Take a hundred or so of the best crime writers in the world today. Ask each of them to pick one - just one - novel which influenced them, or which influenced crime literature, one book that they would urge anyone to read. Just one.
That's what you have in the new collection Books to Die For: The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels, edited by Irish mystery writers John Connolly and Declan Burke. It's enormous, more than 500 pages, with more than 120 essays (each roughly 4000 words) by today's great crime writers, each choosing a single novel to discuss. It's arranged in chronological order, based on the publication date of the book being discussed - from 1841, and the Dupin tales of Edgar Allan Poe, to 2008, publication date for The Perk, by Mark Gimenez.
It was largely a labor of love - John Connolly says the writers usually donated their essays in exchange for a bottle of Irish whiskey. You'll find essays on Bleak House, The Moonstone, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, Murder on the Orient Express, and Rebecca, but you'll also find Love's Lovely Counterfeit, Brighton Rock, Daddy Cool, and Last Bus to Woodstock. Contributors include Sara Paretsky, Karin Slaughter, Linda Barnes, Mark Billingham, Charlaine Harris, Laura Lippman, Cara Black, Max Allan Collins, Michael Connelly, Louise Penny, Lee Child...the list goes on. Think about it: what ONE book do you think Kelli Stanley would choose? Cara Black? Megan Abbott? Margaret Maron? Bill Pronzini? Jeffery Deaver? Laurie R. King? George Pelecanos? Read it and find out.
The book was a centerpiece at this year's Bouchercon in Cleveland. In fact, some 30 of the contributing authors attending the conference made themselves available at a massive group signing session to autograph their essays in the book for hundreds of eager readers. I anticipate spending quite a few nights reading these wonderfully written and thoughtfully selected essays. There are a lot of old friends among the books discussed here, but there are also some that are new to me - names I do not know, such as John Gregory Dunne, A. S. Byatt, Derek Raymond, Peter Hoeg, Donna Tartt. All I know about them is that someone has chosen one of their books for inclusion on this list - and that means that perhaps I should be reading them.
Books to Die For? Nothing that drastic, I hope. Perhaps books to live for. But I commend this collection to you - if you are looking for mystery classics, this is a very good place to start.