07 October 2013

100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century







100 FAVORITE MYSTERIES OF THE CENTURY

by Jan Grape

A little over 10 years...to be exact, it was in 2000 which was 13 years ago, The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association selected and published their list of 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century. The book was edited by the President of IMBA, Jim Huang.

 My husband, Elmer and I had owned Mysteries and More bookstore in Austin for nine years. We had just decided to retire and had just liquidated the store after trying for months to sell it. We knew that we could continue as online booksellers as long as we wished. We were charter members of IMBA. And we definitely wanted to be part of this project.

This list is from the accumulated wisdom of the most knowledgeable booksellers in the business of selling mysteries.  Not the books we considered best sellers, but the books that we've most enjoyed through the years, hand sold to our customers and books that we read over and over ourselves. The project was began in late 1999, our tribute to the new upcoming new century. Our membership at that time consisted of 39 members, most with traditional stores, the remainder with online or internet and or mail-order stores. Some members did all three at once.

Each member was to list 100 titles. When the first list came in, around 700 different titles were listed. (All members didn't participate.)  After much discussion and back and forth calls and e-mail we came up a couple of unofficial rules...for authors with a series, we'd list only the first in their series. Several prolific authors had more than one series, but we were able to rally for only one title from those authors. This wasn't a rule and on occasion there was more than one title for an author. This second round had around 85 titles with fairly strong support from several stores. And a large number of titles that seemed worthy of consideration.

The lists were all going into our President and editor, Jim Huang.  He eventually had to appoint owners of The Raven Bookstore and The Black Bird Mysteries to a committee to help narrow down the list. The surprising thing was with all the diversity of the stores how much agreement there was. Keep in mind however this list is NOT the best or bestselling but FAVORITE. It's not favorite authors either. For whatever reason it's the bookstore members chosen favorites (this included employees of the store and/or co-owners.)

After publication, one criticism was that we were influenced by sales. None of us felt this to be true.
It's possible that we have selected titles that we recommended more to our customers because we enjoyed them more.

The second criticism was we tended to list more recent titles. That's probably true because more recent titles are richer in characterization. Authors write more about what's going on in the real world because that's what readers want. Real life situations, but high quality writing. And don't forget, bookseller's are readers too.

All of the above comes from the introduction by Jim Huang, but using my words and some of his,

Part 1

1900-1909
The Hounds of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)
The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1908)

!910-1919
The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)

1920-1929
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926)

1930-1939
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930)
The Sands of Windee by Arthur Upfield (1931)
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers (1933)
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (1934)
The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr (1935)
Hamlet, Revenge by Michael Innes (1937)
The Beast Must Die by Nichols Blake (1938)
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout (1938)
A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (1939)
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chlandler (1939)

1940-1949
Death of a Peer by Ngaio Marsh (1940)
The Wrong Murder by Craig Rice (1940)
Green For Danger by Christianna Brand (1944)
The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin (1946)
The Fabulous Clipjoint by Fredric Brown (1947)
I Married a Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich (1948)
Cat of Many Tails by Ellery Queen (1949)
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

1950-1959
Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert (1950)
An English Murder by Cyril Hare (1951)
The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham  (1952)
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith  (1955)
A Dram of Poison by Charlotte Armstrong  (1956)
The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin  (1958)
The List of Adrain Messenger by Phillip MacDonald (1959)

And that is where I have to stop, class. How many of these have you read?

7 comments:

Fran Rizer said...

Jan, I was familiar with this list, but I found your explanation of its creation interesting. Now a question for you...not how many have you read, but of all those books, which are your favorites?

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

15 out of 29 plus a few more of which I skipped the book but have seen the movie. I love the fact that you liked the more modern ones for richer characterization, a criterion that certainly informs my own list of favorites. Brat Farrar is on my own top ten list, and so is Dorothy L. Sayers, though I would have picked Gaudy Night. On the other hand, Murder Must Advertise was my reader conversion book (from literary fiction to mysteries. I look forward to seeing the rest of the list!

John Floyd said...

Great list, Jan. I'm afraid I've read only 9 of these. But I've heard there's a good way to correct that . . .

Anonymous said...

How fun to see "The Sands of Windee" by Arthur Upfield there! Kind of made my day. :-)

Jan Grape said...

I've only read 7 from the list, however I have read some other titles by the same authors.

Fran, of this group, my favorite is MALTESE FALCON & BIG SLEEP. My favorites early on are PI novels. My absolutely favorite from this time period didn't even make the list, Mickey Spillane's I, JURY. The membership seems to feel he made great contribution to the genre. And my own feeling is most of the membership tended towards traditional mysteries as their favorites, especially in those earlier years.

Jan Grape said...

I didn't finish the sentence regarding Spillane. Although it was believed he made a great contribution to the genre, that wasn't the focus of this group. It was FAVORITE titles.

Jan Grape said...

I've only read 7 from the list, however I have read some other titles by the same authors.

Fran, of this group, my favorite is MALTESE FALCON & BIG SLEEP. My favorites early on are PI novels. My absolutely favorite from this time period didn't even make the list, Mickey Spillane's I, JURY. The membership seems to feel he made great contribution to the genre. And my own feeling is most of the membership tended towards traditional mysteries as their favorites, especially in those earlier years.