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Crime Fiction: Classics

Clued in: 12 mystery masters name their favourites Add to ...

Michael Connelly, Harlen Coben and 10 more unearth buried treasure just for you.

Michael Connelly

I would say New Hope for the Dead, by Charles Willeford, is a buried treasure. Published in 1985, it is the second instalment in the Hoke Moseley series. In this story, the Miami homicide detective finds himself juggling an investigation of a boy’s killer with all the cold case files that his promotion-seeking boss has dumped on his desk. Added to that, Hoke has female problems coming from all directions; his partner, his daughters and the stepmother of the boy whose death he is investigating.

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Willeford keeps all these balls in the air like an expert juggler. There are humour and humanity in equal parts and you just can't help but love the way the pragmatic Moseley goes about his life and work, keeping it simple but always with a plan. Willeford was in the front of the pack when Florida crime novels became so popular they got their own genre heading. This was one of the best to ever come out of the sun-drenched state, getting the place just right on every page.

What’s more, Willeford had Moseley working cold cases long before it became in vogue in police departments and crime novels around the world. That’s even before the advent of DNA typing and other technologies brought new hope for the dead.

Michael Connelly’s The Black Box will be published in the fall.

Natasha Cooper

In the 1950s, the crime genre was more or less restricted to detective stories and still subject to the strict rules drawn up by commentators such as Ronald Knox, Dorothy L. Sayers and Raymond Chandler. However, plenty of novels were published that would, I believe, now be categorized as “crime fiction.” One of my favourites is Rose Macaulay’s The World My Wilderness, from 1950.

Set in Collioure in the south of France, and then London and Scotland, it deals with relations between Helen Michel, the English widow of Maurice, a French collaborator, and her daughter, Barbary. Maurice was murdered by the Maquis, and questions of guilt, innocence, punishment and redemption saturate the novel. Helen herself – beautiful, scholarly and self-indulgent – is a sinner by any measure applied by her still-living first husband, a strict English barrister, or their alluring son, Richie. Not only did Helen refuse to live by the ferocious rules of British society before the Second World War, but she is also now an intellectual fraud, pretending to have “discovered” some French medieval poetry she has in fact written herself.

But it is the murder of Maurice and Helen’s fight to name and punish – or forgive – his killers that drive the novel through the unhappy exile of the troubled teenage Barbary, who is the true heroine, and who nearly dies in the ruins of bombed-out London before the revelations that make sense of everything.

Natasha Cooper’s, Vengeance in Mind is published in Britain this summer.

Harlan Coben

Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder series is both a classic and probably the best modern private eyes series you’ve haven't read. I would start with A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, a noir novel that takes dark to a whole new hue. Thank me later.

Harlan Coben’s Stay Close has just been published.

Gail Bowen

The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, by Rex Stout. Forty years ago, I read Stout’s The League of Frightened Men, and entered into a love affair that I knew would last a lifetime. Jacques Barzun praises Stout for his “sinewy, pellucid, propelling prose,” but it wasn’t Stout’s prose that drew me to his protagonist. My passion for Wolfe is carnal. He’s brilliant; he seldom leaves his elegant brownstone on West 35th Street. He solves cases; grows orchids (“my concubines: insipid, expensive, parasitic and temperamental”) and he lives to eat.

In The Final Deduction, Wolfe’s legman and trusted confidant, Archie Goodwin, describes a scene at Wolfe’s dinner table: “In between bites of deviled grilled lamb kidneys with a sauce he and Fritz had invented, Wolfe explained why it was that all you needed to know about any human society was what they ate. If you knew what they ate, you could deduce everything else – culture, philosophy, morals, politics, everything.”

The Nero Wolfe Cookbook introduces us to a world of civilized pleasures where food preparation is taken seriously, a dish is cooked only for an occasion that is worthy of it, and every bite is savoured.

No recipe in this book will disappoint, but it is the pleasure of Wolfe’s company that will draw you back again and again to the graceful dining room of the brownstone on West 35th Street.

Gail Bowen’s 13th Joanne Kilbourn mystery, Kaleidoscope, has just been published.

William Deverell

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