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.