Stephen L. Carter writes:
Because I so enjoy mysteries, it is difficult to pick out a handful as the best. So here are thirteen that I have enjoyed. I do not claim that these are the dozen best mysteries ever written, or even that they are the dozen best I have ever read. Rather, they are twelve wonderful mysteries, by twelve wonderful writers, that sprang to mind when the question was raised.
So, here, alphabetically by author, are my selections:
_____, Genesis – Cain and Abel
Surely the most influential mystery story of all time. The key challenge is not figuring out who did it, but understanding his motive. Appreciating the why of Cain’s behavior can keep us out of a lot of trouble.
Isaac Asimov, The Robots of Dawn
The third and best of his Lije Baley mysteries, set in Earth’s future, with mankind under threat.
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
Not everyone agrees that this is Chandler’s best, but he was never grittier, and Marlowe was never smoother.
Agatha Christie, The A. B. C. Murders
I have not read all of Christie’s work by any means, but this book is one of my favorites, and, as far as I am aware, invented a clever plot device that has been copied by mystery and crime writers ever since.
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
A complex, delightful, scary tale, full of philosophy, theology, psychology, and, of course, semiotics, set in a medieval monastery.
Chester Himes, A Rage in Harlem
As gritty as Raymond Chandler, yet utterly original. Violent, funny, and sad, even, in some ways, a comedy of manners, even if they are the manners of the con man.
Sue Grafton, G is for Gumshoe
I confess a weakness for Kinsey Millhone, and the earlier novels especially. This one, in its grittiness, reminds the reader forcefully of Chandler.
John le Carre, A Murder of Quality
It is easy to forget that the formidable le Carre began his career as a mystery writer. Several of the spy novels that made him famous are built around murder mysteries. This was an early le Carre, a deft and clever mystery set at a British boarding school.
Steven Millhauser, The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman
One of the saddest and truest mystery stories I have ever come across. Reading it left me with a sense of almost personal guilt. To say more would give too much away.
Walter Mosley, White Butterfly
Perhaps not the best known of the Easy Rawlins mysteries, but possibly the best. A fantastic tale, earthy and complex and perfectly paced.
Edgar Allen Poe, The Purloined Letter
The discussion of the game of Odds and Evens, and its application to everyday living, is itself worth the price.
Ellery Queen, The Siamese Twin Mystery
Everything: Creepy atmosphere, isolated setting, disaster nearing, an unsolvable puzzle, and brotherly love.
Dorothy L. Sayers, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
A legal thriller as well as a mystery, set amidst the deliciously overdone atmosphere of a stuffy London men’s club.