As much as readers may enjoy selecting their own literary diversions, they’re also curious to know what novels authors themselves have enjoyed. Which makes Books to Die For: The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the
World’s Greatest Mystery Novels (Atria/Emily Bestler), a 560-page compilation of tributes to more
than 120 memorable works of crime, mystery and thriller fiction, so delightful.
Edited by Hibernian wordsmiths John Connolly (The Burning Soul) and Declan Burke (who also compiled last year’s study of Irish crime fiction, Down These Green Streets), Books to Die For isn’t
fully representative of what’s been published in this field over the last 171
years; notable omissions include Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, Peter Lovesey, Thomas B. Dewey, Peter Robinson and Stanley Ellin. However, it serves as both a primer on the evolution of the genre and a welcome escort into its less-familiar corners.
Some of the essays included here were fairly predictable — Max Allan Collins writing about Mickey Spillane’s I, the Jury, for instance, or Linwood Barclay extolling the virtues of Ross Macdonald’s The Goodbye Look. However, there are also unexpected pairings of contributor and subject matter. I particularly relished Mark Billingham’s remarks on The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett; Laura Lippman’s recommendation of Love’s Lovely Counterfeit, by James M. Cain; Eddie Muller’s piece about The Big Heat, by William P. McGivern; Megan Abbott’s praise for In a Lonely Place, by Dorothy B. Hughes; James W. Hall’s encomium to LaBrava, by Elmore Leonard; Gary Phillips’ ovation for The Scene, by Clarence Cooper Jr.; Val McDermid’s study of On Beulah Height, by Reginald Hill; and … well, the real problem here is that there are so many intriguing choices, it’s hard to know where in the book to begin.
Take my advice: Just flip open this volume at random. Chances are, you’ll learn something interesting from whatever you read first. ◊