It is more than slightly amazing to me that I am publishing today my 500th weekly podcast on Classic Mysteries. I have been doing these reviews for some 9 1/2 years now. Over the course of those years, I've read and reread a pretty good number of outstanding mysteries. I've learned a great deal about authors I didn't know before I began doing these reviews. And I look forward eagerly to continuing to read and write about mysteries.
There are a lot of people to thank. The Golden Age (and before and after) authors who wrote the books that we enjoy together. The publishers who are bringing back the wrongly-forgotten authors whose books are ripe for republication. My wife, who puts up with me (and my mysteries and my mystery conferences and...). And you, all of you, who keep coming back for more.
Because you do keep coming back, I'm offering something special today here and on the podcast: links to a Baker's Dozen (13) of my favorite mysteries. Please note that these are in alphabetical order by author's last name - there is no "preference of order" implied here. I like and enjoy them all (and could easily have provided a list ten times as long), and my only goal here today is to call your attention to a number of great classic mysteries that I think you would enjoy.
You can listen to the podcast by clicking here to learn a bit more about many of the titles. And - although the links below are to Amazon.com - PLEASE, if you have a favorite book store, especially one dealing in mysteries, buy through them!
The books on my list:
Christiana Brand: Green for Danger
Inspector Cockrill investigates the peculiar death of a patient on the operating table, which is compounded by a separate, stabbing murder. I love it because – just when you think you have figured out what is going on – the author pulls the rug out from under you and leaves you gasping. Well, leaves ME gasping, at any rate.
John Dickson Carr: The Nine Wrong Answers
He’s among my favorite authors. This one is a stand-alone, without either of his primary detectives. It reads like a thriller (which it is), but it’s a lot more than that, and I will promise you: you will reach a point in this book where you will jump out of your chair when you realize how cleverly and smartly you have been deceived.
Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None
It is amazing how much tension Christie is able to build in this stand-alone novel about ten people trapped on a remote island while a killer picks them off one by one. Who is that killer – and will anyone survive?
Edmund Crispin: Swan Song
Personally, I prefer it to his better-known book, The Moving Toyshop. The odious baritone Edwin Shorthouse will be singing the leading role of Hans Sachs in a production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger – or at least that was the plan until someone murdered Shorthouse in his own dressing room – a murder that apparently was impossible. Oxford Professor Gervase Fen investigates in a very clever and very funny mystery
Elizabeth Daly: The Book of the Dead
Henry Gamadge must figure out why everyone who has seen a particular battered old copy of Shakespeare’s The Tempest seems to become the target of a determined murderer. To my mind, this one rivals The Nine Wrong Answers in terms of its ability to fool the reader completely and send him or her haring off in the wrong direction. Daly is often said to have been Agatha Christie’s favorite American detective novelist. The Book of the Dead goes a long way towards explaining why.
Carter Dickson: The Judas Window
A young man is accused of murder because he and the victim were locked and bolted inside a sealed room. Only Sir Henry Merrivale, defending the accused, seems to know how that crime could have been committed - by using a Judas window. And what might that be? You'll find out...
Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles
The book which – not coincidentally! – first lured me into my life-long love of mysteries. But then, how could you not be gripped by that wonderful description: “Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”
Michael Innes: Lament for a Maker
It’s a murder mystery, with an impossible crime – but it’s also a book that builds a great, brooding terror surrounding the death of a mad and miserly Scottish laird who falls to his death from the tower of his castle on a stormy winter’s night. And the surrealistic touches – well, wait until you meet the learned rats of the castle. It’s vintage Innes.
Ellery Queen: "The Lamp of God" in The New Adventures of Ellery Queen
My favorite Ellery Queen story – and it’s a story, rather than a full book, or, rather, a novella. I love impossible crime stories, and this one is truly amazing, dealing – as it does – with the disappearance of an entire house. You’ll find it in a collection called The New Adventures of Ellery Queen.
Rex Stout: The Doorbell Rang
I like all of the Wolfe books – we read them, of course, not for Wolfe’s flashes of genius, but for Archie Goodwin’s narration, his quick wit, and his amazing abilities. The Doorbell Rang is vintage Wolfe – but it’s also less of a murder mystery (though there is one) than it is an absolutely delightful Wolfe-against-the-government book, as the great detective takes on J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI in a high-stakes battle of wits.
Hake Talbot: Rim of the Pit
It’s one of the very few impossible crime books that I’d rate every bit as highly as I rate those of John Dickson Carr. A houseful of people is stranded in their lodge, surrounded by a blizzard – and with someone in their party bent on murder. It has one of the best opening lines of any book: quote “I came up here to make a dead man change his mind.” Unquote. The speaker means that literally by the way.
Arthur Upfield: Man of Two Tribes
It stars Upfield’s brilliant Australian detective, Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte. Bony is called in to find out what happened to a woman who disappeared from a train while crossing Australia’s bleak and barren Nullarbor Plain. He finds a good deal more than he expected, and it will take all his considerable knowledge of how to survive in some of the most hostile circumstances to escape and rejoin civilization.
Robert Van Gulik: Necklace and Calabash
one of the author’s brilliant historical mysteries featuring Judge Dee and set in T’ang Dynasty days nearly 1400 years ago. I think this one may be the most enjoyable and readily accessible to today’s readers, as the judge must help the emperor's favorite daughter, the Third Princess, find a valuable necklace that is the center of court intrigue, as he also solves a gruesome murder and another mysterious disappearance.
Some of these books are a little hard to find - the ones by John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, in particular - but the links should help, if your favorite bookdealer can't find what you need. Again, the podcast has a little more detail about most of these books, and I hope you'll listen to it!
Comments are welcome!