Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Your seventeen year old daughter, son, nephew niece, neighbor comes to you and says they've been given a bookstore gift certificate for the holidays. "Fifty bucks. I know you love crime fiction, Uncle Pete, where should I start?

What three books would you recommend to someone just starting on this path? It doesn't
have to be classics btw. Just three books that will excite this youngster.

To start it off: The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey, Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith, The Postman Always Rings Twice, James Cain


Anonymous said...

Interesting question as usual. I like your choices but I'm not sure a 17 year old new mystery reader would agree.

Let's see. We want books they'd enjoy but also things that will make them want to come back for more. I'm a big fan of the Tey but would a new reader be?

How about:

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon
Richard Stark (Donald Westlake), Butcher's Moon
Margaret Maron, Bootlegger's Daughter

It's tough. Ask for 50, no problem, but three is hard.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

Patti - I love this question although it is difficult. Hmm.. Agatha Christie - The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; Lee Child - The Killing Floor (It's not a classic or anything, but might "grab" a 17-year-old); Tony Hillerman - Sacred Clowns (or Dance Hall of the Dead) (Both involve kids of about that age). With a little more thought (and more coffee!) I could come up with lots more. This is my not-coffeed-up-enough set of ideas.

Cullen Gallagher said...

All of these are good choices. The obvious answer is "it depends on the teenager." I had friends in high school who adored Wilkie Collins and Agatha Christie but didn't go for the darker stuff. At the time I tried Hammett and Chandler, which I liked, but it didn't hook me. Mickey Spillane, Jonathan Latimer, Craig Rice, and Fredric Brown were the ones that really got me hooked on crime fiction. But to someone else, those same four might not do anything at all.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I almost might pick THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR instead. Loved Bootlegger's Daughter and Roger Ackroyd was the first Christie I read. I didn't even know it was an unusual setup at seventeen. Hillerman is a great choice. I have never read Craig Rice, big gap there.

Anonymous said...

It's funny, Margot, because Lee Child and Hillerman were on my short list as well. The problem with the latter was deciding which book to pick.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

I employ whatever word fits. English is the most nuanced language of all, and I want to take advantage of it.

Jerry House said...

Fredric Brown - Here Comes a Candle
Ed McBain - Ghosts
Peter Lovesey - The Last Detective

All good solid reads, opening the door to even more solid reads. Each has something to appeal to a seventeen year old; for someone older, I'd have a different list.

Chris said...

Imagining the 17 yo is my son, or one of his friends, these are the three I'd suggest:

The Hunter by Richard Stark
Hoodtown by Christa Faust
Hardcase by Dan Simmons

I could easily do this ten more times with different titles, but I loved all three of these books and would have when I was 17.

Anonymous said...

McBain and Lovesey were also on my prospective list. HARDCASE is a good pick too, Chris.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

As usual I am shocked at how many of these I have missed. Did I just read girly mysteries then?

Scott D. Parker said...

Mystic River - It's what got me excited about what crime fiction can do.

The Dawn Patrol - Simply my favorite PI book of the decade.

Money Shot - Modern hard-boiled story with a modern, female protagonist.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Mystic River is hard to beat for excitement.

Todd Mason said...

Just tell 'em to Not See The Film First (in MYSTIC RIVER's case). And, it does seem your CF reading ran to the cozy for whatever reason...never tempted by Hammett or Macdonald in your library browsing?

THE NEW MYSTERY edited by Jerome Charyn

Any of Robert Arthur's or Harold Q. Masur's adult ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: anthologies


--several of the AHPs and the BLACK LIZARD include novellas or even full novels.

MP said...

Red Dragon--Thomas Harris

Case Histories--Kate Atkinson

The Chill--Ross Macdonald

Trying to cover a lot of territory here. Two established classics and one that will be eventually.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I read all of both McDonalds. But none of their books stand out enough to choose as one of three books. I never read very many cozies per se, but I did read Sayers, Tey, Allingham, Marsh, Rendell, James, Freeling, Sjowahl and Wahloo, Blake, and a lot of other mid-century writers--but not much noir. Never read Westlake for instance. Not until The Axe, that is.
Can you rely on short stories to sway someone. I wonder if they would work. I never read a collection of short stories the equivalent of a book in the sense of drawing me in. I love them, and I love single-author collections especially, but I never stayed up all night to finish a collection. See what I am saying....

Todd Mason said...

Well, I hear that from a lot of people, but always have preferred the shorter forms. I have stayed up late reading short fiction, and the larger range of writers and forms that one encounters thus (along with the proviso that I make, that the Gorman and AHP books do contain longer works)(the 2ND BLACK LIZARD would work, too) will have the advantage of not putting one off if you dislike Hammett's tersenss or Chandler's floridness.

If you read Macdonald and MacDonald (and arguably Sjowahl and Wahloo), you sure were reading noir. (You weren't including McDonald, I assume, as in Gregory.)

Frankly, if someone doesn't like short fiction essentially as much as novels, I don't know what to make of them.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Well, I read Fletch too but I meant the other two whom I loved.
I like ss as much. But they serve a different function in my brain. Stories start and end. For an insomniac that is especially dangerous.
To be really sucked in, I need a long and continuous tale. And that's what my question was about--how to draw someone in. I bet almost no one entered the world of crime fiction through the short story door--except perhaps you. Now in science fiction, it maybe be wholly different since ideas play a bigger part.

YA Sleuth said...

I'm actually taking notes here--such great recommendations. The kid writer in me would love to know what that 17 year-old has read until now.

Todd Mason said...

Um...Sherlock Holmes, anyone? Yes, there's a novel and a novella or so, but the Canon is mostly much shorter fiction...Edgar Allan Poe...Jacques Futrelle...Leslie Charteris...BLACK MASK, DIME DETECTIVE, EQMM, MANHUNT...

You really want to assert that?

And sf readers can have the same novel biases as every other kind of fiction reader, and often do.

Todd Mason said...

Why dangerous for the insomniac? Seems like they might be better for the insomniac...certainly for me, a mild one.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Because they end before I am ready to fall asleep. And starting a new one wakes me up. I can never read either non-fiction or short stories in bed. I can never finish a book even. I must have fifty pages left to be safe. You are talking to the queen of insomnia here.

Todd Mason said...

Wow. Completely opposite dynamic for me. Reading anything helps me calm down for sleep, and wanting to finish something keeps me up.

Jerry House said...

Short stories, definitely. Robert Bloch's collections turned a lot of people I know to mysteries.

Holmes, for sure, Christie, and John Dickson Carr for the classics. Ed Hoch, Jack Ritchie, Fredric Brown, or Joe Lansdale are bound to hook a teenager. The Robert Arthur or Hal Masur-edited Hitchcock anthologies would surely work also.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It is better if I don't want to finish it. I just need the excess pages as a cushion.
All good short story collections but I bet for some readers they come later on. I wonder how many teens read short stories not assigned in school. Think Harry Potter-the bigger the better.

Todd Mason said...

Bigger the better mostly works, I've found, for people who aren't often or at least comfortable readers...if they're going to make the effort to imagine the settings and characters they are reading about, they want a Nice Long experience to reward them for that relatively strenuous effort.

I have to wonder how many of those young readers you cite read novels that they aren't assigned (or the ones they are assigned). Easy-reader GRIMM'S as well as Seuss first put me in touch with short fiction, and magazines and anthologies and single-author collections as well as textbooks presented me with early exposure to short fiction. I suspect the web will take the place of magazines for a lot of kids today or soon, and e-books will also probably repopularlize short fiction.

Jerry, Bloch certainly stood out early for me, though initially more for his horror and to some extent for his suspense fiction.

Todd Mason said...

Joe Lansdale and Fredric Brown are particularly likely to hook teens...and the latter particularly with his short fiction...

Rob Kitchin said...

For lads I'd go with:
- Divorcing Jack by Colin Bateman.
- The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski.
- Mucho Mojo by Joe Lansdale.

(or something by Tim Dorsey, Lawrence Shames, Jasper Fforde, Terry Pratchett or Carl Hiasson)

For lasses I'd go with:
- One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
- Too Many Blondes by Lauren Henderson
- Legwork by Katy Munger

(or something by Jessica Speart, Liza Cody or Donna Moore)

All of these have a strong pace, loads of action, and very strong dark humour that teenagers seem to like.

George said...

THE GALTON CASE-Ross Macdonald

Anonymous said...

I'd pick THE CHILL or THE GALTON CASE for Ross M. And THE ADVENTURES or THE HOUND for the Doyle. Christie there are many choices; just stay away from most of the later stuff.

Joe Lansdale, THE BOTTOMS

Jeff M.

Richard R. said...

I'm late as usual, it must be a West Coast thing.

Three mysteries? I'd suggest three sub-genres, then, hoping one of them would ignite the fire to read more.

* The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
* The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (or one of the short story collections, or an omnibus of his work)
* Hoodwink - Bill Pronzini
- or if the 17-year old is a female, since the others have male protagonists, instead of Hoodwink perhaps -
* Games to Keep the Dark Away by Marcia Muller

Dorte H said...

A young woman?

Sue Grafton´s alphabet series, a Laura Lippman and perhaps one of the first Mary Higgins Clarks.

(I loved Miss Marple and Lord Peter Wimsey when I was that age, but I am not sure all young women would appreciate them today).

Richard R. said...

I said different sub-genres thinking I'd include a Christie, then went with the Pronzini / Muller. So if a cozy is wanted, Peril at End House works.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Boy, did I love THE BOTTOMS and DIVORCING JACK. Any Ross MacDonald would work for me. And any John. How I waited for those colors.
How about a Margaret Millar-A Beast in View or How Like an Angel.
My favorite Lippman was the more recent WHAT THE DEAD KNOW.
I don't think I've read that Muller.
Liz Cody was terrific.

Charles Gramlich said...

That is too much responsibility for me. I love me some John D. MacDonald though.

John McFetridge said...

For a teenager today I think I'd recommend something recent like George Pelecanos and then they could work backwards.

Cap'n Bob said...

Love, Death and the Toyman
The Toyman Rides Again

Not because I wrote them, either.

Trent said...

I second The Maltese Falcon (that's what got me hooked) and The Hunter. I'd add LA Confidential.

Hmmm...that's all noir. To diversify a little bit, I'll give honorary mentions to The Hot Rock and Ten Little Indians.

Eric Beetner said...

I'd pick:
A Simple Plan - Scott Smith
Sunset & Sawdust - Joe Lansdale (though The Bottoms as mentioned earlier is an even swap)
Then a classic and I think Postman is a great choice. I'd say Cain over Chandler or Hammett just for the straightforward simplicity.
Maybe something with a dose of humor like Elmore Leonard of Steve Brewer?

pattinase (abbott) said...

I was tempted to put in Willeford's Hoke books for the humor.
LA Confidential is an excellent choice.
Ten Little Indians is certainly one of ACs most interesting books.