Ten favourite detective authors

To return to "that" list of 10 "greatest" detective novels. David Montgomery’s criteria: "A novel featuring a detective (or perhaps a pair of detectives) as the protagonist, who spends the bulk of the story investigating a crime. Could be an amateur detective or pro, could be private or police." He also excludes authors on the grounds of "a body of work", preferring to give one great work. However, at least three authors on his list don’t meet this criterion — Michael Connelly, Robert Crais and Dashiell Hammett. I’ve read every book those three authors wrote, and I don’t think there is an obvious standout in any one of them (though they all wrote some books that are better than others).

So, here’s "ten favourite detective authors" that I would nominate as my own major influences the genre, that meet DM’s criteria:

Agatha Christie  (Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple novel)

Dorothy L Sayers (Gaudy Night?)

Ngaio Marsh  (pick one of Inspector Alleyn series)

P D James (Unsuitable Job for a Woman is my favourite)

Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr Ripley)

Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone series, some are better than others)

Ruth Rendell (Inspector Wexford series)

Sarah Paretsky (V I Warhsawski series– they get better each time)

Donna Leon (Inspector Brunetti series — some are sublime)

Val McDermid  (series and standalones — "Killing the Shadows"?)

It is impossible to single out one standout book by these authors, as they all wrote or write many books that I think are excellent. Reading one book by each author would provide a wonderful summary of the cream of detective fiction.

Here are some books whose authors I love or have loved reading, but that didn’t make the final ten, some for "strict DM criteria" reasons:

Karin Slaughter, Mary Higgins Clark, Emma Lathen, Karin Fossum, Lisa Marklund, Denise Hamilton,Tess Gerritsen, Elizabeth George, Denise Mina, Marcia Muller, Elizabeth Ferrars, Catherine Aird, Minette Walters, Sarah Dunant, Julia Wallis Martin, Mo Hayder, Alafair Burke, Sharyn McCrumb, Margaret Maron, Margery Allingham, Elaine Viets. (Added later: Patricia Cornwell, Deborah Crombie — early not later in both cases. Linda Barnes.)(Added later again: Hazel Holt, Frances Fyfield.) (And how could I have forgotten Josephine Tey? Also Martha Grimes)

Here are some authors who are highly rated by others, but whose books I haven’t enjoyed all that much:

Laurie King, Laura Lippman, Faye Kellerman, Amanda Cross, Lindsey Davis, Linda Fairstein, Carol O’Connell. Early Janet Evanovitch is very funny, later is not so good. (Added later: Jan Burke, Kathy Reichs) (Added later again: P J Tracy, Lillian Jackson Braun)

And finally, here are some books nominated in the comments and emails, not (yet) read my me. On the reading list now! (sigh)

Dominique Manotti, Kerstin Ekman, Pieke Bierman, Fred Kargas, Alex Barclay, Gillian Slovo, Craig Rice, Dana Stabenow, Leigh Brackett, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (man and woman team), Gail Bowen, Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Margaret Murphy. (Added later: Sarah Caudwell) (Added later again: Rhys Bowen, S J Rozan) (Added eve later: Ann Cleeves)

Thank you so much, everyone, for your contributions — it was lovely to read them all in your comments and emails. Please feel free to refine and opine in the comments.

Career advice for girls

Last night, Cathy and I went to her school to attend a humanities career evening — the school’s first such event on this particular subject. The main talk was given by Sarah Hogg, who told us about her own career. She spoke with self-deprecating humour about how, in her first job as a journalist on the Economist magazine, there was no such benefit as maternity leave or separate taxation for married women. When she had her first child, she ended up working for 17 p of each pound she earned. In those days, only about 12 per cent of women has children and worked (at the same time), and no wonder, as she said.

Things have changed a lot nowadays, of course, but the world is uncertain. Sarah Hogg has had two or three changes of career in her life, from journalist to policy adviser to the Prime Minister to chairman of companies. Currently, she is chairman of the 3i group, which makes the company the only FTS100 company with a woman chairman (ever, I think she said).

This modest yet determined woman spoke with a soft voice. She spoke of how the world is uncertain today, that there are few "jobs for life" with final-salary pension schemes; that large,apparently secure companies can collapse (Enron) or be sold/split up (P&O), and that new, small companies can mushroom (Google) or be sold for vast sums of money overnight (YouTube). Journalism in the mainstream media faces an uncertain future.

Yet she spoke of all the marvellous opportunities offered to people (girls, actually, as she was speaking to an audience of female students) who study subjects at school and university that they love, who have broad educational interests, who are interested in travelling the world, and who aren’t scared of an abrupt change of direction. She said that she sits on the boards of many diverse companies, academic institutions (LSE, for example) and organisations (art galleries), and makes many high-level appointments. Overall, the most interesting candidates, and the ones that often got the job, were people who had had a spectacular failure somewhere in their lives, but who had picked themselves up and carried on, often in a new direction. We can learn from our failures, she told the audience, and can grow from them into new strengths.

Well, I am now a huge fan of Sarah Hogg. Here is her Wikipedia entry (after reading it I now know why she made several jokes aimed at herself about her squeaky voice, which sounded just great to me):

Sarah Elizabeth Mary Hogg, Viscountess Hailsham and Baroness Hogg (born 14 May 1946) is an English economist and a journalist.

Born Sarah Boyd-Carpenter, she is the daughter of the former Chief Secretary of the Treasury and Paymaster-General Lord Boyd-Carpenter. She attended the foremost Roman Catholic convent school in England, St. Mary’s, South Ascot. Following her schooling there, she was educated at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.

She was an economics editor for The Independent newspaper and was the head of the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit for Sir John Major. Other roles include former Deputy Governor of the BBC, Chairman of 3i Group and current/former board memberships of various companies including P&O, P&O Princess and Banco Santander.

Through her 1968 marriage to Douglas Hogg, 3rd Viscount Hailsham, she is Viscountess Hailsham. However, following the granting of a life peerage, she sits in the House of Lords as Baroness Hogg, of Kettlethorpe in the County of Lincolnshire.

She was an early presenter of Channel 4 News, but her voice, with its uncertainty of pitch, was felt by many viewers to be a distraction.

Sarah Hogg Wikipedia entry.