The best crime novels of the past 50 years

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been a long-form journalist for more than 50 years, a voracious reader of both nonfiction and fiction for even longer, and am the author of three true-crime books (as William Swanson) and five suspense novels (as W.A. Winter). I especially love noir fiction, the darker and grittier the better, with complex story lines, multiple characters, adult situations and language, and no happy endings. I’m currently at work on another thriller, this one, like its predecessors, set in post-World War II Minneapolis, where and when I grew up.


I wrote...

The Secret Lives of Dentists

By W.A. Winter,

Book cover of The Secret Lives of Dentists

What is my book about?

In 1955, small-town girls flock to Minneapolis for work, love, and adventure. But Teresa Hickman, from tiny Dollar, North Dakota, is a special case. Beguiling, promiscuous – and, on a chilly April morning, lying dead along an abandoned trolley track in a quiet Southside neighborhood. Could her killer be, among the many men drawn to her, H. David Rose, a middle-aged dentist who admits he was with her the night she died? Dr. Rose’s trial and its shocking aftermath will mesmerize the Upper Midwest like few cases before or since. Inspired by actual events.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Friends of Eddie Coyle

W.A. Winter Why did I love this book?

Elmore Leonard—in my opinion the greatest suspense writer of our time—called Higgins’ 1970 debut “the best crime novel ever written.” Higgins, who died in 1999, wrote three other crime novels I’d place in my top twenty-five, but this slim, taut misadventure of the eponymous Boston gun runner and police snitch takes the cake. Brutal, funny, and ultimately soul-crushing—most of it delivered in the underworld patois Higgins, a onetime criminal prosecutor, made his trademarkEddie Coyle is simply as good as it gets. P.S. Robert Mitchum is spot on as doomed Eddie and Peter Boyle is perfect as one of Eddie’s “friends” in Peter Yates’ excellent 1973 film version of the book.

By George V. Higgins,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Friends of Eddie Coyle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eddie Coyle is a small-time punk with a big-time problem - who to sell out to avoid being sent up again. Eddie works for Jimmy Scalisi, supplying him with guns for a couple of bank jobs. But a cop named Foley is onto Eddie, and he's leaning on him to finger Scalisi, a gang leader with a lot to hide. These and others make up the bunch of hoods, gunmen, thieves, and executioners who are wheeling, dealing, chasing, and stealing in the underworld of Eddie Coyle.


Book cover of Killshot

W.A. Winter Why did I love this book?

Just about any of Leonard’s several dozen suspense novels could have a top spot in this reckoning, including the better known Get Shorty, Freaky Deaky, and Glitz. My vote for the best goes, however, to Killshot, his dark, deftly plotted, highly comedic 1989 thriller about two bumbling killers and a ballsy middle-aged married couple the killers mistake for easy marks. Armand Degas, a soulful Ojibway known as the Blackbird, has grown tired of being a hit man for the Detroit mob. He’s befriended by a moronic thug named Richie Nix, whose bucket list includes robbing a bank in every state. When they decide that Carmen, a real estate agent, and her steelworker husband Wayne Colson hold the keys to a fortune, they learn that, like the Bible says, the wages of sin is death.  

By Elmore Leonard,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Killshot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The King of Cool returns with another thrilling tale of crime capers.

Arman 'The Blackbird' Degas is a professional hitman: one shot, one kill. But when he's carjacked by ex-con Richie Nix, he finds himself with a lethal partner.

Nix is on his way to shake down a realtor and the Blackbird is along for the ride. But they don't count on Carmen and Wayne Colson getting in their way. Exposed as eyewitnesses, the Colsons are placed in witness protection but soon discover the program contains as many predators as the underworld they're hiding from. But can they outrun the…


Book cover of Miami Blues

W.A. Winter Why did I love this book?

Start with Willeford’s introduction of Freddy Frenger, “a blithe psychopath from California,” who blithely snaps the finger of a Hare Krishna in the Miami airport and launches himself, in league with an improbable prostitute who calls herself Pepper, on a diabolical spree of theft, murder, and debauchery. It also brings him face to face with one of fiction’s most memorable detectives, middle-aged, down-on-his-luck Hoke Moseley of the Miami P.D. Their cat-and-mouse game through the glitzy neighborhoods and seedy precincts of south Florida includes cons, graphic sex, and Hoke’s shattered dentures before the slippery monster from Out West gets his comeuppance. Funny, crude, and suspenseful, Miami Blues is impossible to put down.

By Charles Willeford,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Miami Blues as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After a brutal day investigating a quadruple homicide, Detective Hoke Moseley settles into his room at the un-illustrious El Dorado Hotel and nurses a glass of brandy. With his guard down, he doesn’t think twice when he hears a knock on the door. The next day, he finds himself in the hospital, badly bruised and with his jaw wired shut. He thinks back over ten years of cases wondering who would want to beat him into unconsciousness, steal his gun and badge, and most importantly, make off with his prized dentures. But the pieces never quite add up to revenge,…


Book cover of American Tabloid

W.A. Winter Why did I love this book?

For brilliant audacity, I know of no one who tells such pitch-black tales as audaciously or brilliantly as James Ellroy. Hard to pick a “best” from among a canon that includesThe Black Dahlia and The Big Nowhere, yet Tabloid, with its fearless reimagining of the skullduggery leading to John Kennedy’s assassination gets my vote. JFK, J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes, and Sam Ciancanna are among the flesh and blood characters mingling with Ellroy’s familiar fictional hoods, bent cops, sleazy newspapermen, and easy women. Ellroy’s unrelenting rat-a-tat style—“The dope hit home. Big Howard went slack-faced”—takes some getting used to, but the pace and language grab you by the throat and don’t let go. You’re equal parts exhausted and exhilarated at story’s end. 

By James Ellroy,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked American Tabloid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first novel in Ellroy's extraordinary Underworld USA Trilogy as featured on BBC Radio 4's A Good Read.

1958. America is about to emerge into a bright new age - an age that will last until the 1000 days of John F Kennedy's presidency.

Three men move beneath the glossy surface of power, men allied to the makers and shakers of the era. Pete Bondurant - Howard Hughes's right-hand man, Jimmy Hoffa's hitman. Kemper Boyd - employed by J Edgar Hoover to infiltrate the Kennedy clan. Ward Littell - a man seeking redemption in Bobby Kennedy's drive against organised crime.…


Book cover of The Long Drop

W.A. Winter Why did I love this book?

An accomplished author of imaginative thrillers and police procedurals, Mina here draws on the actual case of 1950s Scottish mass murderer Peter Manuel and conjures up a complex fictional context that transforms the factual account into noir art (2017). Her gritty pre-urban renewal Glasgow demonstrates how a story’s setting can be as vivid and determinant as its human characters. Running nearly the length of its lean narrative is a murder trial that throws a harsh light on conflicting strata of the city’s brutally misogynistic society, from its corrupt business elite to its grimy criminal underbelly. When the drama is over and the perpetrator is hanged, Mina tells us, everything returns to its depressing normal and the murders become just “a creepy story about a serial killer.” Actually, in Mina’s hands, it's much more than that.

By Denise Mina,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Long Drop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A masterpiece by the woman who may be Britain's finest living crime novelist' Daily Telegraph

'Absorbing... this is a bravura performance, a true original' Ian Rankin

Glasgow, 1957. It is a December night and William Watt is desperate. His family has been murdered and he needs to find out who killed them.

He arrives at a bar to meet Peter Manuel, who claims he can get hold of the gun that was used. But Watt soon realises that this infamous criminal will not give up information easily.

Inspired by true events, The Long Drop follows Watt and Manuel along back…


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Book cover of Subjugation: Zanchier

SG Boudreaux

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Harper Brinley is running for her life.

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The one place where no one would think to search for her. There, she found a massive hollowed tree in which to survive the harsh mountain winter. If she can survive the four-legged, fire-breathing firebirds and the equally large wildcats of the mountain ridge, then maybe she can find her way back to her children. She was…

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What is this book about?

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