I’ve been working my way through a reading list I compiled by combining The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time created by the British-based Crime Writers Association, published in Hatchards Crime Companion in 1990, with the Mystery Writers of America‘s The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time, published in The Crown Crime Companion in 1995.
My reading approach has changed since I started in August, 2018 so I’ve added tips and information to this page to help others who decide, like me, that working through this Top 100+ Crime and Mystery Novels List is a good idea.
Nowadays crime and mystery novels are a popular literary genre but this wasn’t always so. It’s popularity increased with time; the “Book Review Digest” only recorded 12 detective mysteries in 1914, 97 in 1925 and 217 in 1939. What started as a journey to read a greater variety of authors in a genre I enjoy reading ended up becoming an adventure discovering how the genre evolved.
About My Reading List
I’ve always enjoyed reading but it’s importance increased while caring for my mum who had motor neurone disease (MND/ALS). During the day I would work away on my computer while she spent her last 17 months in the bedroom next to my office often with her TV turned up loud. By the end of the day I craved peace which I found in reading. And with limited times I could leave the house as she required 24/7 care — it helped me relax.
More importantly it gave us both shared enjoyment. Reading was her escapism. She only left her bedroom a few times in those 17 months (excluding showers). Daily we would discuss what we were reading, our likes/dislikes or what we learnt from the books.
After growing tired of searching for new modern authors I wanted to read I set a goal in August 2018 of reading Top 100+ Crime and Mystery Novels of All Time as a way of introducing myself to new authors in a genre I enjoy reading.
The list was compiled by combining The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time created by the British-based Crime Writers Association, published in Hatchards Crime Companion in 1990, with the Mystery Writers of America‘s The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time, published in The Crown Crime Companion in 1995.
Both lists were compiled using the same approach:
- Their members were asked to name their five favorite books in each of ten categories. The highest vote-getter, regardless of category, made up their Top 100 and the more votes a novel received the higher on the list it was ranked.
- Members were more likely to nominate the same novel in the lesser read categories potentially pushing the ranking of these novels higher in the list. Higher ranking in the list doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better novel than lower ranked novels.
- Some novels were nominated as a result of members remembering famous movies or plays created from the novel. Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie is an example of this. It’s a short story included in several of her different short story novels considered one of the best mystery plays ever written.
- The reason for inclusion in the list could be the novel was unique, one of the first examples of a category or early example of a specific school of writing. ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd‘ and ‘And Then There Were None‘ by Agatha Christie are considered by many to be the best two novels she ever wrote. These novels are uniquely written as a result of how both are narrated but aren’t my favorite Agatha Christie novels.
- Knowing which category a novel was included in the list is helpful for comparing within genre.
|The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time categories used by the British-based Crime Writers Association were:||The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time categories used by Mystery Writers of America were:|
I discovered the best way to work through the list wasn’t in order of their ranking in the list, or by category, and reorganized my list so that I read in the following order:
- Read the novels in order of their year published; from oldest to newest.
- Start with earlier novels by the author and work through their novels to the novel on the list.
Benefit of this approach:
- Some of the authors refer to novels or characters published by famous earlier authors.
- Better understanding of how writing in each category, and writing style, evolved.
- Greater appreciation of the author work.
Listed below is my recommended order of working through the list from oldest to newest listed by author and their novels; with a summary of the author and their novels for the ones I’ve read.
Edgar Allan Poe
- The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) – Classic
- The Mystery of Marie Roget (1842) – Classic
- The Purloined Letter (1844) – Classic
- The Gold Bug (1843) – Classic
Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination is a compilation of Poe’s suspenseful tales. Poe is better known for his dark tales of terror and the supernatural however many consider Edgar Allan Poe’s three Auguste Dupin short stories as the first detective stories published.
I’ve listed the four short stories to read for those who prefer to read his key short stories rather than the entire Tales of Mystery and Imagination book.
His three Auguste Dupin short stories provides insight into early detective stories and it’s helpful to be aware of these stories because some of the early 1900’s crime novels reference Dupin. His “The Gold Bug” story was heavily nominated by the Mystery Writers of America and isn’t a detective story; it’s an old fashioned deciphering of a cryptogram in a tale without a crime.
Below is links to free ebooks that include the short stories:
- The Works of Edgar Allan Poe – Volume 1
- The Works of Edgar Allan Poe – Volume 2 – The Purloined letter
- The Woman in White (1860) – Classic
- The Moonstone (1868) – Classic
Wilkie Collins was an English novelist and playwright whose two novels The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868) are considered by many as the precursors for the modern mystery novel and suspense novels.
Both novels were originally published in serial form by Charles Dickens, a close friend of Wilkie Collins, in “All the Year Round” and afterwards published in book form.
I was originally reluctant to read Wilkie Collins’s novels as I was worried being written in the 1800’s that they would be hard to read and include content I couldn’t relate to. I loved both novels; both use the multi-narration method where different sections of the novels are told by different characters which isn’t commonly used nowadays but was very effective in developing the stories in both novels.
The Woman in White is about the unlawful confinement of a woman in a lunatic asylum by an unscrupulous villain to falsely claim a large inheritance. The Moonstone is about a priceless stone that goes missing soon after being given as a present on a birthday and the investigation to find what happened to the stone.
Both books can be downloaded as free ebooks from Project Gutenberg. I sourced my paper back versions of both from charity shops.
- Crime and Punishment (1866) – Classic
Crime and Punishment was originally published in Russian in twelve monthly installments in 1866. It’s consider by some as one of the greatest novels ever written. Worth delaying reading until you’ve read some of the other novels from this list as it’s a slow, in-depth story – happy I’ve read it as it provided an interesting insight into the time it was written and definitely memorable. Some consider it as one of the first psychological thrillers.
It can be downloaded as a free ebook or or easily found in charity shops.
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) – Classic
The Mystery of Edwin Drood is the final novel written by Charles Dickens and he dies before he finished this novel. No one knows how he intended to end it and only six of the planned twelve installments were published.
Incredible novel that I really enjoyed reading. Wasn’t easy to find in charity shops and wish I had realized sooner that I could have downloaded the free ebook here.
Arthur Conan Doyle
- The Complete Sherlock Holmes (1887-1927) – Classic
Being reluctant to read Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories after watching the different movie and TV adaptations, I now appreciate how amazing his stories are and how they’ve withstood the test of time.
Sherlock Holmes wasn’t the first fictional detective but he is the “most portrayed movie character” in history. The Sherlock Holmes stories have had a profound and lasting effect on mystery writing and popular culture.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories, has been credited as an influence to forensic science as a result of Holmes’ use of methods such as fingerprints, trace evidence, serology, ciphers, and footprints long before they were commonly used by the police.
You can read my detailed review Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his work here.
My hardest task was working out where to start so here’s my recommendation of order to read:
- A Study in Scarlet (1887) – introduces Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson.
- The Sign of Four (1890) – introduces Dr. Watson’s future wife Mary.
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – 12 short stories published in The Strand in 1891-1892 with the most famous being “A Scandal in Bohemia” which introduces Irene Adler.
- The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – 11 short stories published in The Strand in 1892-1893 with the most famous being “The Final Problem” which kills off Sherlock Holmes.
- The Return of Sherlock Holmes – 13 short stories published in The Strand in 1903-1904 with the most famous being “The Adventures of the Empty House” where Sherlock Holmes is resurrected.
- The Hound of the Baskervilles – serialized in the Strand in 1901-1902. Considered by many as the best Sherlock Holmes novel.
- The Valley of Fear – serialized in The Strand from 1914–1915.
- His Last Bow: Some Later Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes – stories published 1908–1917.
- The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes – stories published 1921–1927.
You can read as individual novels or you’ll find them all in The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. His books can be downloaded as free ebooks or easily found in charity shops.
- Dracula (1897) – Classic
Haven’t read yet.
- The Riddle of the Sands (1903) – Espionage
An early example of espionage novel and influential on the spy fiction genre. Parts were challenging to read but I learnt about the building up of the German navy which I hadn’t been aware of until reading the novel.
You can download the free ebook here. Occasionally see it for sale in charity shops.
- Four Just Men (1906) – Espionage
Edgar Wallace was one of the most prolific thriller writers of the early 1900’s. He was once considered second in popularity to Dickens and his popularity diminished after his death. At one stage he was producing one in every four novels sold in England.
The Four Just Man was the first novel of his I read and I really struggled reading it. It was only after reading some of his other novels that I appreciated how enjoyable his novels can be. Part of the issue may be I struggled to relate the earlier spy novels compared to crime novels.
- The Secret Agent (1907) – Espionage
This novel defeated me. I only managed to get part way through it. I originally tried reading it as an ebook and now have a paper back copy for when I’m ready to try again.
Mary Roberts Rinehart
- The Circular Staircase (1908) – Classic
Mary Roberts Rinehart was considered America’s Agatha Christie. The Circular Staircase is considered the pioneer of “had I but known” mystery writing.
I love reading her novels as her style is similar to Agatha Christie. In addition to The Circular Staircase I’ve read her following novels:
- The Man in Lower Ten (1909)
- The Window at the White Cat (1910)
- The Case of Jennie (1913)
- The After House (1914)
- Kings, Queens and Pawns: An American Woman at the Front (1915)
- The Door (1930)
Enjoyed reading her autobiography My Story (1931) and would love to read the updated version of My Story (1948) that she published in later years. Very hard to find!
All of her books I’ve read as ebooks as I’ve never seen any of her books in Australia. Some of her ebooks can be downloaded for free here.
- The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) – Classic
The Father Brown short stories were originally published in various magazines and later collated into five books. The first of the books published was The Innocence of Father Brown in 1911.
Can’t decide how I feel about the Father Brown stories. I’ve only managed to get so far the the series of stories each time I try to read The Innocence of Father Brown! Worth reading for those that enjoy the Father Brown TV series to see how show evolved from the stories.
I might have had more luck if I downloaded the free ebook rather than forgetting which short story I was up in my book!
- Trent’s Last Case (1913) – Classic
Trent’s Last Case was unique for it’s time as it involved a detective who gets things completely wrong after painstakingly collecting all the evidence as well as falling in love with one of the primary suspects. Phillip Trent is an artist and amateur detective. Trent’s Last Case is the first book published in his series of three books that includes Phillip Trent.
The book can be downloaded as a free ebook here.
- The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) – Espionage
- Greenmantle (1916) – Espionage
John Buchan was a Scottish novelist, historian and politician who served as Governor General of Canada and was a prolific novelist who wrote for leisure. He is considered the father of the spy thriller.
His well known spy thrillers feature Richard Hannay, his all action hero, is an ordinary person who had a knack for getting himself out of trouble, and are set before, during and after World War I. His first Richard Hannay novel The Thirty-Nine Steps was published in 1915 and was a great success with the men in the trenches.
His five Richard Hannay novels which include The Thirty Nine Steps and Greenmantle were incredibly popular and are still read today. I struggled reading these novels – maybe we don’t have the same sense of patriotism and are less able to relate to the circumstances surrounding World War I compared to World War II? I am glad I persisted as I really enjoy his mystery novels.
A few years after reading his Richard Hannay I discovered my grandfather had loved his books and I added his collection to my library.
John Buchan’s life story is fascinating and I’ve read the following autobiography/biography:
- Unforgettable, Unforgotten (1945) by Anna Buchan – download as a free ebook.
- Memory Hold The Door (1940) by John Buchan – found in my Grandfather’s collection.
- Beyond the Thirty Nine Steps by Ursula Buchan
You can download some of his books as free ebooks here and it’s fairly common to see the Thirty Nine Steps and Greenmantle in charity shops.
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) Poirot novel – The Golden Age
- The Witness for the Prosecution (1925) stand alone short story – The Golden Age
- Murder on the Orient Express (1934) Poirot novel – The Golden Age
- And Then There Were None (1935) stand alone novel – The Golden Age
I’m probably classified as an Agatha Christie fan based on my collection of her novels and other books related to her work and life. I read a selection of her novels when I was a teenager and initially started by reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd from my reading list. So far I’ve read over 50 of her novels since starting my reading challenge.
I feel I would have appreciated The Murder of Roger Ackroyd if I had read the Hercule Poirot novels in order of date published. The four novels included in this list are considered the best but aren’t my favorites. At least two of these novels represent a unique or different approach to crime writing that hadn’t been done before.
My recommendation is to start with The Mysterious Affair at Styles in the Hercule Poirot series. You can download a Poirot Reading List here which includes tips on the order and which to read. Here is the Miss Marple Reading list and you’ll find the complete Agatha Christie Reading list here.
The Witness for the Prosecution is a good example being included because those that nominated it remember it as a well known play or movie. Witness For The Prosecution isn’t a mystery novel. It is a short story that was included in a few of Agatha Christie’s Short Story Novel’s. Which novel it was included in varied between UK and USA. I wouldn’t even classify it as her best short story. However it is considered one of the best mystery plays ever written.
You can download a few of her books as free ebooks here or buy them from charity shops. There is always a wide selection of her books being sold cheaply in charity shops due to their popularity. I was lucky enough to have purchased almost a complete collection of her Agatha Christie Crime Collection series at a charity shop.
Her An Autobiography is the best autobiography I’ve read written by an author and well worth reading once you’ve read some of her novels.
Dorothy L Sayers
- Cloud of Witness (1926) – The Golden Age
- Strong Poison (1930) – The Golden Age
- Murder Must Advertise (1933) – The Golden Age
- The Nine Tailors (1934) – The Golden Age
- Gaudy Night (1935) – The Golden Age
‘Gaudy Night’ was the first Dorothy L Sayers novel I read as I originally started reading through my reading challenge based on their ranking in the list and this was her highest ranking book. ‘Gaudy Night’ by Dorothy L. Sayers is the tenth novel in her Lord Wimsey series and if I had read her novels in order I think I would have appreciated it more.
I would start with ‘Whose Body?’ first as in introduction to the Lord Wimsey characters.
I found ‘Gaudy Night’ challenging to read and was frustrated the story line was about a prankster rather than typical crime. The most important thing I learnt from reading ‘Gaudy Night’ was an appreciation of the challenges faced by women who wanted an education during this era.
Here’s her complete list of her detective novels which were all part of the Lord Wimsey series except for one:
- Whose Body? (1923)
- Clouds of Witness (1926)
- Unnatural Death (1927)
- The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)
- Strong Poison (1930)
- The Documents in the Case (1930) – stand alone
- The Five Red Herrings (1931)
- Have His Carcase (1932)
- Murder Must Advertise (1933)
- The Nine Tailors (1934)
- Gaudy Night (1935)
- Busman’s Honeymoon: A Love Story With Detective Interruptions (1937)
Whose Body? can be downloaded as a free ebook. Some of her books can be borrowed from the Internet Archive. Most of her books I sourced from libraries or brought from second hand shops/charity shops. I’ve read and enjoyed all her novels.
W. Somerset Maugham
- Ashenden, or, The British Agent (1927) – Espionage
‘Ashenden, or, The British Agent’ is a series of short stories loosely based on W. Somerset Maugham’s experience in British intelligence during World War I. His works is said to have influenced Ian Fleming. He was among the most popular writers of his era and reputedly the highest-paid author during the 1930s
I never realized until reading his short story Sanatorium how many people died of TB or that people could live a long time with TB. Maugham was diagnosed with TB after his service as an ambulance driver, and spent two years in a sanatorium in Scotland.
Anthony Berkeley / Frances Iles
- The Poisoned Chocolate Case (1929) Anthony Berkeley – The Golden Age
- Malice Aforethought (1931) Frances Iles – Psychological suspense
Anthony Berkeley Cox was an English crime writer who wrote under several pen-names, including Francis Iles, Anthony Berkeley and A. Monmouth Platts.
“The Poisoned Chocolate Case” is part of his Roger Sheringham series. It’s a classic Golden Age whodunnit set in 1920’s London in which a group of six armchair detectives each propose different solution as to the motive and the identity of the perpetrator.
I loved Lesley Grant-Adamson’s comment in her Psychological suspense chapter in Hatchards Crime Companion where she say’s I don’t like “Malice Aforethought”. “Malice Aforethought” had 30% more votes than any of than the rest in the British Crime Writers ‘Psychological suspense category’ and I also wouldn’t clarify this as his best novel. The novel was unique for its time and is credited as being the first book to tell the reader from the onset what happened and then spending the remainder of the book sharing details of how it happened. I like “Before the Fact” more than “Malice Aforethought”.
You can borrow a few of his novels from the Internet Archive. The books I’ve read have been sourced from second hand book shops or charity shops.
- Red Harvest (1929) – hard-boiled detective
- The Maltese Falcon (1929) – hard-boiled detective
- The Glass Key (1930) – hard-boiled detective
- The Thin Man (1934) – hard-boiled detective
Dashiell Hammett was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and is widely considered one of the finest mystery writers of all time.
In hard-boiled detective novels the typical protagonist is a detective who battles the violence of organized crime while dealing with a legal system that has become as corrupt as the organized crime itself.
I’ve read all of Dashiell Hammett novels. My favorite is the “Maltese Falcon”.
You can borrow his novels from the Internet Archive. It’s fairly common to see his novels in charity shops.
William Riley Burnett
- Little Caesar (1929) – Criminal
Little Caesar story is written during the prohibition narrated by a Mafia gangster; it is considered the first American gangster novel which was used as a template for future gangster novels. The film adaptation is considered the first of the classic American gangster movies.
The novel was considered highly innovative for the time for its social realism in depicting how a gang was run and organized, their crimes and on-going struggles with the law.
Wasn’t one of my favorite.
James M Cain
- The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) – criminal
- Double Indemnity (1943) – criminal
James M Cain was an American author most commonly associated with the hardboiled American crime fiction. Both of these novels are typical of his writing style that shows the crime and its consequences from the point of view of the criminal.
“The Postman Always Rings Twice” was his first novel and is considered one of the more important crime novels of the 20th Century. It’s title is a red herring as not postman appears or is alluded to. The saying refers to “The postman used to ring twice if there was something that needed an answer or signing for.” The story is narrated by a drifter who ends up working in a diner who conspires with the beautiful young wife, operator of the dinner, to kill her older husband.
“Double Indemnity” was originally published in serial from in 1936, later as three long short story tales. It’s about a insurance agent who falls for a married woman and together they conspire to kill her husband for the insurance money. I managed to accidentally read this novel twice!
Both these novels were made into films and the novels can be borrowed from the Internet Archive.
John Dickson Carr
- Three Coffins (USA) The Hollow Man (UK) (1935)– The Golden Age
- The Devil in Velvet (1951) – Historical
John Dickson Carr is an American author who lived for years in England and most of his novels have English settings with English characters. He is considered one of the greater “Golden age mystery” writers with plot driven stories with complex puzzles. He was considered the master of the locked room mystery where a detective solves an apparently impossible crime.
“Three Coffins” published as “The Hollow Man” in the UK is a classic example of his locked room mystery. The story resolves around how Gideon Fell solves two murders to explain how Professor Charles Grimaud received his visitor in his study and when a gunshot is heard from the study, the alarm is raised – the door is broken down and Grimaud is found, shot dead and alone. While just as nobody could have left that room, nobody could have murdered Pierre Fley in Cagliostro Street, shot at close range in front of witnesses but with nobody in sight and again, surrounded by undisturbed snow.
He spent the last two decades of his career publishing historical stories (history was one of his passions). Some consider “The Devil in Velvet” his best historical mystery while others disagree. This was the second historical novel he published and his first of three time travel books. I found parts of this novel challenging to relate to as I didn’t have a good understanding of the time it was based on. I definitely wouldn’t recommend starting reading John Dickson Carr’s novels by reading “The Devil in Velvet”. Probably worth reading “The Devil in Velvet” while reading others that were nominated in the historical mystery category to get a better perspective of how this novel compares with the others in the same category.
“Three Coffins” published as “The Hollow Man” in the UK is part of his Dr Gideon Fell series so I started by reading his earlier Fell novels before reading this one:
- Hag’s Nook – 1933
- The Mad Hatter Mystery – 1933
- The Eight of Swords – 1934
- The Blind Barber – 1934
- Death-Watch – 1935
- The Hollow Man – 1935 (US title: The Three Coffins)
Many of his novels can be borrowed from the Internet Archive. It’s fairly common to see his novels in charity shops. I borrowed “The Devil in Velvet” from a local library. He also published under the pseudonyms Carter Dickson, Carr Dickson, and Roger Fairbairn.
Caryl Brahms & S.J Simon
- A Bullet In The Ballet (1937) – Humorous
Caryl Brahms, was an English critic, novelist, and journalist specialising in the theatre and ballet who enlisted the help of a Russian friend, S. J. Simon, whom she had met at a hostel when they were both students. Together Brahms and Simon started to write comic thrillers.
Their first novel was “A Bullet in the Ballet” where Detective-Inspector Adam Quill investigates the killing when one of the star dancers in Vladimir Stroganoff’s ballet company is murdered after a performance. I enjoyed reading this comic mystery but didn’t enjoy the second novel in their series as much as “A Bullet in the Ballet”.
You can borrow this novel from the Internet Archive. I think I brought a paperback version of the novel at a second hand book store.
- Hamlet, Revenge! (1937) – The Golden Age
- The Journeying Boy also published as The Case of the Journeying Boy (1949) – The Golden Age
Michael Innes was a Scottish novelist and academic who published crime fiction under this pseudonym. His academic work was published under his real name J.I.M Stewart (John Innes Mackintosh Stewart). He was lecturer in English at the University of Leeds from 1930 to 1935, then became Jury Professor of English in the University of Adelaide, South Australia. He returned to the United Kingdom in 1946 where he continued to lecture in English.
John Appleby is his best known series and “Hamlet, Revenge!” is the second novel in this series. It centers on the investigation into the murder of the Lord Chancellor of England by Inspector John Appleby during an amateur production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
I started by reading his first John Appleby novel “Death at the President’s Lodging” (1936) (also known as Seven Suspects) before reading “Hamlet, Revenge!”
I had read 14 Michael Innes prior to reading “The Journeying Boy” as I had trouble finding the book and I enjoy reading his novels! Trouble was I didn’t realize it was also published as “The Case of the Journeying Boy”. Intriguing story based on a tutor being hired to travel with Humphrey Paxton, the son of one of Britain’s leading atomic boffins, to stay with relatives in Ireland that Sir Bernard Paxton hadn’t met.
Some of his Michael Innes’s novels can be borrowed from the Internet Archive. It’s fairly common to see his novels in charity shops.
Daphne Du Maurier
- Rebecca (1938) – Romantic Suspense
My Author Reviews
Initially I wrote a few author reviews as I completed their novels and here is the two detailed author reviews I completed:
Due to time constraints, and the number of novels read, I switched to recording quick notes in a Google spreadsheet so I had a record of my thoughts.
This Google Spreadsheet shows what my reading list looks like listed in order of date published and my progress:
The number of novels read column lists how many novels I’ve read written by that author. The total per author is only listed once so I can track the total number of novels read since starting my challenge. I’ve read over 200 novels since starting in August, 2018.