While surfing the blogosphere today, I came upon Rob Kitchin’s blogspot. Rob is an Irish author who’s in search of pre-1970 crime fiction classics to read. Okay, Rob, here’s my list, in no particular order.

1. The Grifters, Jim Thompson, 1963

2. Double Indemnity, James M Cain, 1936

3. The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett, 1929

4. The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler, 1953

5. The Asphalt Jungle, W R Burnett, 1949

6. Street Of No Return, David Goodis, 1954

7. The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson, 1952

8. 13 French Street, Gil Brewer, 1951

9. His Name Was Death, Fredric Brown, 1951

10. Branded Woman, Wade Miller, 1952 (back in print, thanks to Hard Case Crime)

Rob is looking for an introduction into pre-1970 crime fiction, so these are my recommendations. They all lean heavily toward noir and away from traditional whodunits, so no Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe here. Holmes and Wolfe are fine, as are other much older novels, like The Woman In White. But these 10 books are what I feel would be a good intro to the darkside.

I’ve included two novels by Jim Thompson. The Grifters is a much more “standard” crime novel, but only as compared to everything else that went through Thompson’s twisted mind, while The Killer Inside Me is a sheer trip on the fast train to hell.

Anybody else got any good ideas?  Any good additions to this list?

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  1. I hate to double up on writers (because someone else would have to slip) but THE BIG SLEEP and RED HARVEST are awfully good.

    Good call on Cain. POSTMAN is good, but DOUBLE INDEMNITY is better.

  2. Can’t argue with anything on the list, all classics! An eye-opening book for me was the John Franklin Bardin Omnibus, which collects his first three novels from the late 1940s. Really bizarre, psychological crime stories. “The Deadly Percheron” is quite funny, reminded me of Fredric Brown. “The Last of Philip Banter” is also quite good. My favorite, however, was “Devil Take The Blue-Tail Fly,” which is really terrifying.

  3. I dug deep into Jim Thompson this year myself — even visited his home town — so good call! If I made a list like that, it’s hard for me to imagine not putting at least one Stark/Westlake title on it; I’d go with The Hunter (1962) at least, for sure.

  4. Nothing hardboiled about it, but Cain’s Mildred Pierce rocked my boat (as did Postman and DI).

  5. Mike Dennis

    Dana–I haven’t read RED HARVEST, but I found THE BIG SLEEP a little too plot-heavy. POSTMAN, as you say, is very good, too.

    Cullen–The Bardin Omnibus sounds great. I’ll have to check it out.

    Chris–You’re right. Stark/Westlake belongs on any such list. My error of omission.

    Charlie–I read MILDRED PIERCE, too, and it was sensational. Cain could tell a story as well as anybody. And speaking of stories, I loved “Dead Man’s Prerogative”, which appeared in Out Of The Gutter #5. Well done.

  6. Glenn

    The Library of America’s 2-volume Crime Novels set is a great place to start on classic noir. 10 novels, including Cain, Thompson, Willeford, Chester Himes, Edward Anderson, Woolrich, Patricia Highsmith.

    A personal favorite is Ted Lewis’ Jack’s Return Home (Get Carter).

    And finally, I’d suggest an early Travis McGee novel and maybe The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Higgins.


  7. Glenn–
    Woolrich, Willeford, The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, all the rest of them…certainly deserved inclusion. All great.

  8. Eddie Coyle is 73, I think … but it’s the bestist ever.

  9. Mysti Berry

    I’m a little late, but Cornell Woolrich short story collection came out a year or two ago — most (all?) not previously avalable since the pulp days. I highly recommend it!
    Title: Night and Fear

    there are other collections of his stories that include the ones that became movies like Rear Window, search amazon for those. Nght & Fear stories are mostly from the 30s.

  10. Joyce Ann

    Oh good grief! You have to start with Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky).

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