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Ten Vintage Crime Fiction Favorites

The Killer Inside Me with Stanley Kubrick quote

The Killer Inside Me with Stanley Kubrick quote

This post was partly inspired by reader Elena, who asked me to do a post on my favorite vintage crime fiction favorites. Initially, I thought I couldn’t possibly put together a list of favorite vintage crime novels based on the thinking that I hadn’t read  very many old school crime fiction stories but yes, I have, enough to do a list of ten and almost all of them have come highly recommended and have stood the test of time very well.

I hope and plan to make a concerted effort to increase my reads of female crime fiction writers this year and also to  highlight them as well at the end of the year, a few of which are on this list, btw.

The list of  books published range from  1929 to 1990. So, I’m using the word vintage loosely here obviously.

One author still eludes me. I still haven’t finished reading a Raymond Chandler novel yet but I promised myself that I’d  read one of his books this year. I think I can manage it this time.

For the curious, the list is after the jump. Please feel free to share your favorites or comment on this list. I’ll be taking notes.  Oh and this list isn’t in any meaningful order. 

#1  I’ve read three Jim Thompson novels  and my favorite is  Pop. 1280 (1964).If you like pulp noir then he is a must-read. His protagonist are usually villains or social outcasts. Setting is some out of the way small town. Runner-up: The Killer Inside Me.  And check out the Stanley Kubrick quote that reads:

Probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered.

#2 The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1970) by George V. Higgins. An excellent novel about an informant working for the FBI.  I read this one in a day and a half. I remember the ending.

#3 Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965) by Chester Himes. I loved this book and was excitedly buying up the rest of his backlist and have went on to read three titles and Cotton Comes to Harlem stands out from the rest. Not to say that the rest are bad or anything but that if there is only one Chester Himes you want to read it’s this one.

#4 I’ve read and enjoyed bothRed Harvest (1927) and The Maltese Falcon (1929) by Dashiell Hammett and no contest,  my favorite is Red Harvest.  I loved Hammett’s writing  style almost immediately. He had such great turns of phrase and I loved the wisecracks!

#5. James M. Cain. I’ve read three of his books so far and my favorite hands down is Mildred Pierce (1941). A novel set during Depression era California. This is a novel about a housewife who becomes a successful businesswoman. This is also a relationship novel, the center of which involves her relationship with her oldest daughter, Veda, which is best described as tumultuous.

#6 I so enjoyed Margaret Millar’s Beast in View (1955) which is best described as psychological suspense, that I went out and bought a bunch more of her books.

#7 In A Lonely Place (1947) by Dorothy B. Hughes. This one is about a serial killer set in California post WW2. Enjoyed it. I appreciated it more after a second reading. Purchased more of her books, too.

#8 Derek Raymond – well, all four of his novel in the Factory series (well there’s five but I haven’t read Deadman Upright yet) are set in Britain during the Thatcher years. These were excellent with my favorite being the first and last books in the series, He Died With His Eyes Open (1984)and I Was Dora Suarez (1990). Brilliant reads all.

#9 Ed McBain, Ed McBain, Ed McBain. His 87th Precinct novels are great reads and I’ve been hopping around in the series. So far, I’ve read seven of his books and my favorite is The Pusher (1956). Although, Money, Money, Money wasn’t bad either.

#10 Of course I had to add one by Robert. B. Parker. I’ve read only two of his Spencer stories and Mortal Stakes (1972)is my favorite. It’s a baseball novel if you like that sort of thing and it read well on its own. I know very little about the sport and don’t follow it but enjoyed this novel all the same.

Lastly, I recently purchased Sarah Weinman’s Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives anthology.  Looking forward to reading this one.

22 Comments »

  1. Keishon, this is a terrific list of vintage crime fiction. I haven’t read any of them though I’ve read other books by some of these authors like James M. Cain and Hammett. One of the reasons is that I don’t come back to an author I have just read until a long time has passed. It’s a shame I still haven’t read “The Maltese Falcon.”

    • Hi Prashant, you should make time to read it. It’s really good. Hammett wasn’t as prolific as his counterparts. Still have a couple of his books I want to read and then I can say I’ve read them all (full length novels only and not the short stories).

  2. I haven’t read any of them except Ed McBain (where I have read all of them). I love his books.

    Thanks for the great recommendations.

    • I’ll be looking forward to those reviews, too, of Derek Raymond’s Factory series. Thanks Mrs P.

  3. Keishon, what a great list. Sometime, when I have the time and energy to come up with a list, I will have to do a list of 10 also. I am not very good with lists… I either come up with too many or too few.

    Your list is heavier on noir and realism than mine would be, but that is good. I want to read almost every author or book on your list (especially Derek Raymond and Dorothy B. Hughes and Millar). I have read McBain and plan to read many more, but the rest of the authors are on my “to read” list.

    • That’s a great idea Tracy and I’d love to see your list, too! Can’t wait to read your thoughts on Dorothy B. Hughes when you get a chance to read her book(s).

  4. I’ve been meaning to look at Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives too: thanks for your list. And on a book-buying-enabling note, Open Road sells a lot of the backlist authors like Millar, and they occasionally have crazy good sales.

    • Open Road Media is the best for backlist titles and you’re right. They offer great sales. Often I leave their ebooks in my wishlist and get notified on the price drops.

  5. Gosh I’ve only read 2 authors on your list (Hammet whom I didn’t much like and Himes who I think is a genius) – though I have read Chandler (not a huge fan, can understand why it’s taking you a while). I guess I haven’t read that much vintage fiction and what I have read tends to be English or Australian rather than American (blame the librarians of my youth…that’s when I did most of my vintage reading). I’ve got Mildred Pierce on my TBR shelves as someone gave me the movie so I thought I’d do a book vs adaptation sometime but have got so much to read right now for a judging panel that I don’t know when I’ll get to it

    • I’ll be looking forward to that post Bernadette whenever you get around to doing it. Didn’t know you were a fan of Chester Himes – good to know and yes he is a genius.

  6. Great list Keishon. I guess if I was compiling one across the same time frame I’d include Elmore Leonard and Charles Williams and Willeford in mine, though it’s been a while since I read Williams. Maybe John D MacDonald and also Eugene Izzi – though his books straddle the period, some before and after your cut off.

    Most of your author list tallies with mine as regards people I have read and have more to read from, Thompson, Higgins, Himes, Cain.

    Parker – I read maybe 25 Spencers and may have a couple more to read, but I think I’m basically done with him. Hughes – read IALP, not fussed about more.

    McBain and Raymond – got loads of both on the shelf and read none.

    Miller and Hammett – never tried. Don’t know whether to go the Continental Op route or Sam Spade with Hammett.

    • Missed adding Charles Willeford AND John Ball for In the Heat of the Night. Sorry to hear that Hughes didn’t work for you but with thousands of other books out there just move onto the next. I am cherry picking titles from Spencer (his best ones) and McBain you should def. make time to read as Nish said above, his books are short and very good reads. With Hammett, well, I prefer his Continental Op series but it will be interesting to see what you think either way and thanks for the feedback as usual.

  7. I usually don’t read noir or realism; the violence is too gruesome for me.
    However, I do like Hammett’s books. Of the two I’ve read, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, I liked the latter the best because of the humorous aspects.

    • The humorous aspect and style of writing in The Thin Man is very different from the rest of Hammett’s books. I plan to get back to it one of these days. From what I’ve read of it I liked.

  8. Keishon, thank you very very much! It is an honor to have a post “dedicated” to me. I am literally copying it so that I can buy all the books in the next few months, because I haven’t read any of them. I am quite curious abou Mildred Place, wasn’t there a Kate Winslet TV adaptation?

    • Hi Elena,

      Yes there was on HBO in 2011. I haven’t seen it yet. Of course there’s the Joan Crawford movie in 1945. I hope you enjoy those titles as much as I did.

  9. If you want really vintage mysteries, Otto Penzleur’s anthologies The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps and The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories are the books to get. They have tons of pulp mysteries (1100 pages each, 2 columns per page).They’ll keep you busy for a while.

    • Thanks! I bought the books you mentioned in ebook and I think it was you Ed who recommended them to me awhile back :-)

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