Books and reading

The best crime novels: 10 must-read books

Writing great crime fiction means reading the best crime novels? Below are 10 crime novels that will give you a good reading foundation.

Writing great crime fiction means reading the best crime novels? Below are 10 crime novels that will give you a good reading foundation:

Defining what we mean by ‘crime novels’

Most aficionados of crime and mystery fiction could quibble about the differences between crime and mystery fiction. There is a great deal of overlap, but one of the main distinctions is that a crime novel may not necessarily include a mystery.

The list below covers a variety of styles, eras and subjects. While there are too many great crime novelists to cover them all in a list of just 10, these books are each illuminating in their own way.

Crime novelist quote - George Pelecanos | Now Novel

Our list of the best crime novels

  1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
    One of the crime queen’s best, and its surprising twist ending has resonated across decades of crime fiction since.
  2. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
    Remembered for its use of language, its detective Philip Marlowe and its skilful evocation of 1930s California.
  3. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet
    Features the detective Sam Spade who was influential in Chandler’s creation of Marlowe.
  4. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
    The first in her series about the charming sociopath Tom Ripley who lies and murders his way into European high society.
  5. A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell
    Begins with the murder of a family and works its way backward to reconstruct how the woman responsible was driven to do so.
  6. In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke
    New Orleans detective Dave Robicheaux encounters the ghosts of soldiers during his efforts to catch a brutal killer.
  7. The Big Blowdown by George Pelecanos
    A departure for this chronicler of the Washington D.C. underworld. It goes back to the 1940s to tell about the parents and grandparents of some of Pelecanos’ regular characters.
  8. Money Shot by Christa Faust
    Features one of the toughest dames in crime fiction racing against time to clear her name and save her life.
  9. The Bottoms by Joe Lansdale
    This won the 2001 Edgar Award for Best Novel for this tale of a serial killer loose amid a racially tense Texas town in the 1930s.
  10. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
    An international publishing sensation. The tale of a young damaged hacker and the journalist she works with to stop a serial killer.

Read Pan MacMillan’s list of the best crime books of 2020. What are your favourite crime novels and why?

By Bridget McNulty

Bridget McNulty is a published author, content strategist, writer, editor and speaker. She is the co-founder of two non-profits: Sweet Life Diabetes Community, South Africa's largest online diabetes community, and the Diabetes Alliance, a coalition of all the organisations working in diabetes in South Africa. She is also the co-founder of Now Novel: an online novel-writing course where she coaches aspiring writers to start - and finish! - their novels. Bridget believes in the power of storytelling to create meaningful change.

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