I write about crime—whether it’s a murder committed by a member of my own family or one that comes out of a world of my own. I also read about crime and have since I was old enough to get a library card. Now, what I consider a crime novel, you might not—for example, I would put THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (my favorite all-time book) in the crime category. But the ones I’ve chosen below, these 10 amazing books, are the ones I’ve gone to school on, learned from and read again and again. They are, for my money, the best the crime arena has to offer:
- THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE by George V. Higgins. A classic. It is practically a how-to on writing and pacing a crime novel. And the dialogue is as on the money as it is possible to be. Higgins is one of the underrated greats of the crime fiction world.
- INNOCENT BLOOD by P.D. James. The only murder happens even before the story begins but this is one of the most chilling reads you will ever encounter. The writing is crisp, clean and elegant and the characters so real you feel as if they’re in the room with you.
- STRANGERS ON A TRAIN by Patricia Highsmith. We all know the story since it has been copied about two dozen times by movie and TV writers down the years. But this is the one that brought it home and Highsmith writes with a cold detachment that helps ground the story in reality, making it all the more frightening.
- COP KILLER by Ed McBain. The first of the 87th series and still one of the best. This series set the standard for police procedurals and inspired a number of TV shows—including HILL STREE BLUES and LAW & ORDER.
- THE NOVEMBER MAN by Bill Granger. This is also the first in a series that disappeared way too early. Fast-paced, exciting and filled with enough twists and turns to make you take hard notice.
- THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo. This one is the Olympic medal winner in the crime world. It will never be matched. Ever.
- THE CONTINETNAL OP by Dashiell Hammett. This collection of stories that brings the OP into the PI arena is Hammett at his best and Hammett at his best beats everyone else in town.
- CITY PRIMEVAL: HIGH NOON IN DETROIT by Elmore Leonard. I could pick from as many as 35 Leonard books for this list but this earlier work still rocks and rolls with great dialogue, tons of action and heroes who could easily be villains and bad guys you end up liking more than you probably should.
- THE BLOODING by Joseph Wambaugh. Any of his novels could have made my list, but this non-fiction book ranks among his best. It’s factual and that makes its gruesome story all that more amazing—well-written and a stunner of an ending.
- IN COLD BLOOD By Truman Capote. It broke EVERY rule of non-fiction and set a new template for how to tell a true crime story. Beautifully written yet never once allows the reader to forget the brutal crime behind the tale.
What are your favorites?