The best crime novels if you appreciate style and humor

The Books I Picked & Why

The Big Sleep

By Raymond Chandler

Book cover of The Big Sleep

Why this book?

There are two authors that all crime writers look up to. The first is Raymond Chandler. If ever there was a master of pure style, it was Chandler. Turn to any page and pick a paragraph, you’re sure to find a description or a turn of phrase that will stop you in your tracks. I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with the plots of Chandler’s books, but the ins and outs of his stories are beside the point, all the elements of the classic mysteries are there, rich and powerful men with twisted secrets, femme fatales with opaque motives, and world-weary detectives who have seen it all before, or think they have, until their latest case turns their worlds upside down. This is what great crime writing is all about!

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Get Shorty

By Elmore Leonard

Book cover of Get Shorty

Why this book?

Every crime writer loves Raymond Chandler, but there’s one author they idolize above all others: Elmore Leonard. There’s a reason Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing continually makes the rounds; he knew how to keep readers turning the pages, most notably by leaving out the stuff that people are likely to skip. Get Shorty is my favorite of Leonard’s books. It’s funny. All of the characters are people you’d like to have a drink with. And the action takes place in a world that has always fascinated me: Hollywood. This book is just terrific fun.

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The Old Man

By Thomas Perry

Book cover of The Old Man

Why this book?

I love a good chase element in my crime stories, and no one does them better than Thomas Perry. There’s a reason this guy co-wrote thrillers with Clive Cussler for so many years, he knows how the keep the story moving just as fast as a bullet. For my money, The Old Man is Perry’s best book. First of all, the main character is literally named Chase, Dan Chase. And the action kicks in within the first few pages and never really slows down. Perry doles out the character details on a need-to-know basis in between breathless escapes as we follow the not so innocent Dan from his home in New England, to a Pacific Northwest island that is very close to my heart.

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The Ranger

By Ace Atkins

Book cover of The Ranger

Why this book?

Ace Atkins is a master of the crime genre. It’s no wonder Robert B. Parker’s estate tapped him to carry on the Spenser series. He’s great at capturing places and the internal monologues of weary men. He’s also able to tell stories just seedy enough to keep readers curious, without making them cringe. The first book in Atkins’ Quinn Colson series is on par with Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens books. Quinn seems entirely real, the small town he returns to after a years-long absence feels lived in and believable. And the pacing is masterful. Whereas Perry drags readers along for the action, Atkins makes you feel as though you’re sitting in the backseat, riding down the winding roads of Tibbehah County in northeast Mississippi as Quinn uneasily approaches another backcountry crime scene.    

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The Thursday Murder Club

By Richard Osman

Book cover of The Thursday Murder Club

Why this book?

This book is a fairly recent addition to the world of crime fiction, but there’s a reason it has been such a breakout hit. I can’t recall the last time I so instantly fell in love with the characters in a book. Every member of Osman’s crew of elderly sleuths feel believable and strangely inspiring. Elizabeth, Ron, Joyce, and Ibrahim are all three-dimensional, fully developed individuals, each with their own cockeyed but wise outlooks on the world. Their internal thoughts and observations inevitably ring true. And the twists and turns in the plot come just as frequently as the laughs. I love this series and hope new installments become an annual publishing event. 

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