A Beginner’s Guide to Crime Fiction

Everyone needs a little mystery in their lives. Like any immense body of work, however (and boy is it immense), we’ve always been a little intimidated about diving into the crime/mystery genre. Luckily for us (and for you, if you’ve ever shared our sentiments), celebrated mystery writer Max Allan Collins, who wrote Road to Perdition, and whose newest book Lady, Go Die (we bet you can guess which genre) comes out May 8th, has offered to give us a mini-lesson on the correct way to dive in to the world of crime fiction — and it’s pretty much head first. “The following list is designed for readers unfamiliar with the crime/mystery genre,” he tells us. “It will also work for those only familiar with the current crop of bestselling mystery writers.” Click through to get started with ten essential crime and mystery novels for any budding reader of the genre, and let us know if you’d add any books to Collins’s list in the comments.

The Maltese Falcon (1930)

The modern private eye story began in a pulp magazine, Black Mask, in 1920s stories by Carroll John Daly, whose melodrama was just a step up from dime novels. Ex-Pinkerton operative Dashiell Hammett brought his experiences to Black Mask, providing a basis in reality via a hard, lean style more understated than Hemingway. Still, Hammett idealized the detective in his Sam Spade. He defined and perfected the private eye novel: tough detective, loving secretary, femme fatale, adversarial cops, punk gunman, criminal mastermind – all the key players, all the key elements. The first great novel in the genre, never matched.